Response Cards can be very effective because they remind dieters of the important ideas they will need to help them stick to their diets. Response Cards are usually one or two lines written on a 3×5 card (or a business-sized card) that dieters practice reading every day. Dieters make Response Cards for issues that come up on a day to day basis, and also ones for specific and potentially difficult situations, like going out to dinner or to a party, going on vacation, during the holidays, etc. In essence, Response Cards contain helpful responses to dieters’ sabotaging thoughts and help provide continual motivation. For example, if dieters frequently have the thought, “I have to eat this because otherwise it will go to waste,” then they may make a card that says something like, “If there is leftover food, it will go to waste in the trashcan or in my body. Either way it’s wasted.”
Response cards can also be fine-tuned over time. If dieters are struggling with emotional eating, they may make a card that says, “When I’m feeling upset, don’t eat! It won’t help solve the problem and then I’ll just feel even worse after anyway.” Once dieters figure out how to cope with negative emotions in other ways, like taking a walk, calling a friend, or listening to music, then they may make a new Response Card that reads, “When I’m feeling upset, don’t eat because it will only make me feel worse. Instead go take a walk or call mom, I’ll be so happy later that I did.”
Response Cards should be very clear and to the point so dieters immediately know what messages they are sending. Response Cards should also be strongly worded and, when needed, be very specific. Here are some examples of okay Response Cards and then how to improve them:
Response Card: If I’m feeling hungry and it’s not time to eat, resist the food so that I can stick to my plan.
Better Response Card: If I’m feeling hungry and it’s not time to eat, don’t eat! I can hold out [X] minutes until it’s time to eat again, and the food will taste so much better if I do.
Response Card: Don’t eat little bites of food that aren’t on my plan because they will sabotage my efforts.
Better Response Card: Every single bite matters. It’s not the calories, it’s the habit. I need to take every opportunity I can to strengthen my resistance muscle.
Response Card: Yes, it is unfair that I can’t eat the way everyone else is eating but I can’t let that get in the way.
Better Response Card: It’s true it’s unfair that I can’t eat everything everyone else is eating, but it would be MORE unfair if I was never able to lose weight and keep it off. I’d much rather be thin!
Response Card: It’s not okay to eat unplanned food because I will regret it later.
Better Response Card: If I eat this food I hadn’t planned, I’ll get just a few moments of pleasure but then I’ll definitely feel bad about it and be at risk for eating more.
Response Card: If I make a mistake, get back on track right away so I don’t make the situation worse.
Better Response Card: Everybody makes mistakes, it’s not the end of the world. Get back on track this minute! It’s a million times better to stop now than to keep eating more. Being on track feels so much better than feeling out of control.
What is the difference between the okay and the better Response Cards? While the “okay” ones do contain kernels of helpful ideas, they are not particularly motivating. The “better” Response Cards are very directive and remind dieters why it’s worth it to them to stick to their plans. They also draw on dieters’ past experiences and use them as helpful reminders of times when they were able to resist in the past, or times when they didn’t but wished that they had.