When dieters first come into our office, they have all kinds of unhelpful cognitions (which we call “sabotaging thoughts”) about everything related to diet, food, and weight loss:
Dieters have unhelpful cognitions about Dieting
Once I lose weight I won’t have to diet anymore
Dieting should be easy
Dieting should not take a long time
Dieters have unhelpful cognitions about Food
I should eat as little as possible to help me lose weight more quickly
I should cut out all high-fat or high-calorie foods while I’m dieting
It’s not okay to waste food
Dieters have unhelpful cognitions about Hunger
Hunger is bad and something bad will happen to me if I get too hungry
If I get hungry, the hunger will just get worse and worse until I eat something
I shouldn’t ever be hungry
Dieters have unhelpful cognitions about Cravings
If I am really craving something, it means I need to eat it
I might as well eat what I’m craving now because I will just end up eating it eventually
There is nothing I can do to make cravings go away
Dieters have unhelpful cognitions about Weight Loss
Weight loss should be really fast – all the magazines say that it is
Weight loss should be easy – all the magazines say that it is
If I’m dieting, I need to lose weight every day/week or it means it’s not working
Dieters have unhelpful cognitions about Permission
It’s okay to eat this food because….I’m stressed; I’m tired; everybody else is eating it; it’s just a little piece; it’s free; I’ll make up for it later; I’ll exercise more later; someone will be disappointed if I don’t have it; no one is watching; I’ve already blown it for the day so I’ll start again tomorrow; I’m celebrating; it will go to waste; I’m really upset; I’ve been so good lately, etc.
Dieters have unhelpful cognitions about Perfectionism and Cheating
Either I’m 100% perfect on my diet or I’m totally off of it
I’ve already eaten too much today so I’ll continue to eat whatever I want and start again tomorrow
If I make mistakes while dieting, it means that I just can’t do it
Sabotaging thoughts like these are at the root of why dieters are overweight in the first place because they cause dieters to act in a certain way. Let’s say it’s 4:00pm and a dieter passes by a vending machine on the way to the bathroom. If she says to herself, “Those cookies look really good. I’m really hungry and dinner won’t be for another few hours and since there’s no way I’ll be able to hold out, I might as well just have these cookies now,” she’s probably going to end up having them.
But take the same situation – it’s 4:00 and a dieter passes by the vending machine on the way to the bathroom but this time she says to herself, “Those cookies look really good. I’m really hungry but I know that if I have these now, then I can’t have the dessert I’ve already planned to have after dinner. I absolutely don’t need these cookies and I just need to either go have the healthy snack I have at my desk or wait until dinner,” then she’s probably NOT going to have them.
Once we help dieters figure out which sabotaging thoughts they are having in any particular situation, we can help them come up with really strong responses to them so that dieters are no longer at the mercy of these thoughts.