Hi there, Dr. Judith Beck!
Her previous weight loss book, The Beck Diet Solution, was a New York Times Best Seller. And unlike some best selling self-help books that shall remain nameless, it was actually a realistic and sensible plan for losing weight. (Java Chick, for example, documented some of her experiences with it).
Now Dr. Beck has a new book coming out, The Complete Beck Diet for Life.
I got a chance to read it, and I definitely recommend it for people who've been trying to lose weight but have had trouble succeeding. It's based on techniques that have solid research behind them, and it deals with all the common mental pitfalls one encounters when trying to move to a healthier lifestyle. The book includes an eating plan, but also teaches a set of skills, so that you can have a shot at maintaining weight loss over the long haul.
So I'm pleased I got to ask Judith some questions, as though I were an actual journalist and not just a lazy blogger. And we've got a copy of her new book available to send to a Randomly Selected commenter! (Instructions below).
Crabby: So I notice that The Complete Beck Diet for Life has the word "diet" in the title... but you seem to have forgotten to include any gimmicks! There are no juice fasts, no stringent food combinations, no eating bananas all day long, no "detox" potions to drink. Nor do I see the words "miracle" or "magic" anywhere. What gives? Is that any way to market a diet book? Why no extravagant promises or "easy" solutions?
Judith: I’m sorry to say that there is no magic solution to weight loss; there are no magic foods or combinations of foods or supplements. If there were, someone would be a billionaire.
Crabby: Dang! We'd really like to be billionaires. We were thinking maybe "The Cupcake Diet" might sell a few books...
Judith: The truth is that if you eat fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight. If you eat more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight. There is a solution, though, to losing weight permanently.
Crabby: "Permanent" is the tricky part, isn't it? I tried to make some suggestions once, but somehow I got off track and ended up talking about Eleanor Roosevelt and Mr. Rogers instead. What's the real solution to losing weight and make it stick?
Judith: First you need to learn a specific set of thinking and behavioral skills, such as how to motivate yourself every day, how to get yourself to use good eating habits, how to cope with craving and negative emotions without eating, and so on.
Second, you need a highly nutritious diet you can stay on for life. That means it has to have a sufficient number of calories and be very healthy so your body doesn’t rebel. It also means it has to include your favorite foods—as often as every day—so your mind won’t rebel.
The Complete Beck Diet for Life fills these requirements, and you can individualize it so you can stay on it for life.
Crabby: "For Life" sounds so darn long. Personally, I'm still hoping the scientists invent a way to turn broccoli, tofu, and lentils into tasty chocolate chip cookies, but you're right--in the meantime, we need a healthy diet and a way to stick to it.
Crabby Again: OK, new question. So your approach is based on Cognitive therapy, which I'm a fan of, because research shows it actually works.
If I were to try to summarize Cognitive therapy, I might say it's the process of learning to substitute more realistic thoughts for ridiculous ones. Like: "Crabby, a half hour on the elliptical machine DOES NOT burn off the calorie equivalent of a full pint of Chocolate Peanut Butter Haagen Dazs ice cream. Put down that spoon!"
But perhaps you have a better description of it, and an explanation of how it helps in the weight loss struggle?
Judith: Cognitive therapy helps you make changes in your thinking so you can make permanent changes in your eating behavior. You need to know exactly what to tell yourself when you have thoughts such as, “That looks so good. It’s okay to eat it, even though it’s not on my plan, because....I’m hungry/ I’m tired/ I’m upset/ I’m happy....Everyone else is eating it...No one is watching.....It’s only a little piece....It’s free....I can’t waste food...I hardly ever get to have it.....I’ll make up for it later....I’ve already exercised today....I’ll exercise later....it’s a special occasion.....I can’t resist.... and so on and so on and so on.
Crabby: I think I've used every one of those. Plus the ever-popular "Oh well, chocolate has tons of anti-oxidants in it."
Judith: You need to remind yourself, “If I want to lose weight permanently, I have to follow my plan. Every time I eat something I’m not supposed to, I build up my “giving in muscle” which makes it more likely that I’ll give in next time and the time after that and the time after that."
Crabby: I've never seen a machine at the gym for exercising the "giving in" muscle. Oh wait, yes I have... the vending machine! But it doesn't sound like a muscle you really want to work to hard to develop.
Judith: It's better to tell yourself "If I resist, I’ll build up my resistance muscle, which makes it more likely that the next time I’ll resist and the time after that and the time after that. The truth is that every bite matters; it’s not just the calories, it’s the habit.”
Dieters also need to remind themselves, “I can either eat whatever I want, whenever I want OR I can lose weight permanently. I can’t have it both ways.”
In addition, they need to change their thoughts about hunger. Many dieters mix up hunger with the desire to eat. And they think that hunger is abnormal, should be avoided, and that it will get worse and worse until they can’t tolerate it. But by doing some experiments, they can see that hunger is okay, it’s only mildly uncomfortable compared to other discomfort they’ve tolerated, and that hunger comes and goes.
These are just a few of the changes in thinking that dieters need to learn. And they need to learn how to motivate themselves to read these reminders daily (and sometimes throughout the day).
Crabby: There are some similarities between The Complete Beck Diet For Life and your previous book, The Beck Diet Solution, in terms of theory and techniques. But The Complete Beck Diet For Life builds on the previous one, adding features like recipes, for example. What else is new or improved?
Judith: The Beck Diet Solution suggested that dieters pick any healthy diet they want, then use the skills in the book to learn how to stick to the diet. Since I wrote the book, I found that few dieters actually eat in a healthy, hunger-satiating way. Diets tend to have too few calories, are unbalanced, and don’t include favorite foods. No wonder a lot of dieters can’t sustain the eating plan they’ve chosen.
So I decided to work with a registered dietician to create a sensible, healthy diet. Basically, you calculate an appropriate calorie level and then choose a protein from a list, vegetables from another list, a grain or starch from a third list, and so on. So it’s very flexible. You also get either 150 or 200 calories a day to spend any way you want. You can even have a candy bar every day. Like the first book, you learn—and master--certain essential thinking and behavioral skills before you change your eating because it’s too difficult to stick to a plan and master these skills at the same time.
The program in the book gives you a choice about changing just one meal at a time, changing all your meals at once, or changing all your meals and snacks at the same time. It also contains a formula and strategies for eating when you’re not home and it teaches you not only how to motivate yourself, but also how to keep up your motivation for life.
Crabby: You used a great analogy when talking about how dieters will compound one slip by going on to make many more, when they'd never do the same thing in other areas of their lives. You pointed out that if a cop stops you and gives you a ticket for running a red light, you wouldn't then think, "Oh, well I might as well run as many red lights as I can for the rest of the day and start fresh again tomorrow!" But that's exactly the kind of thinking dieters often do. What do you think it is about food, dieting, or weight loss that makes rational thought so difficult?
Judith: I think dieters are frequently overly optimistic.
Crabby: That's a coincidence, I think pretty much everyone but me is overly optimistic! But that's why they call me Crabby. In what way are dieters too optimistic?
Judith: They think it won’t matter if they restrict their calories severely, if they spend calories on simple carbohydrates instead of protein and healthy fats, if they decide at the last moment what to eat instead of following a plan, if they eat quickly or while standing up, if they cheat and wait until tomorrow to restart their diet. But it does matter.
And I think at some level, they just don’t understand how essential it is to learn how to follow a highly nutritious diet, without making exceptions. In The Complete Beck Diet for Life, I teach dieters how to get themselves to follow a plan inflexibly at first. After they’ve learned this skill, I teach them how to create a flexible plan that can incorporate last minute exceptions.
Crabby: One possible drawback some might see to the Cognitive therapy approach you describe in your book is that it involves a lot of preparation and practice. Changing the way one thinks seems to involve (gulp) homework! There are lists to check off and experiments to try and decks of cards to create. When I was reading through this, I kept envisioning how tempted I'd be to skip a lot of steps, even though I could totally see why that would be counter-productive.
If someone were say, hypothetically, something of a slacker, what would you suggest they do to keep the skimming and skipping to a minimum and not be too half-assed about it?
Judith: When dieters have the sabotaging thought, “Oh, I don’t need to do all this,” I ask them, “What has your experience been in the past? Has NOT doing all these things led you to permanent weight loss? What makes you think you can get away with not doing them?” I’m honest with dieters. I tell them that I’m certain they can lose weight without doing all the tasks; they have all lost at least some weight in the past without mastering these skills. I also tell them I’m certain that they won’t be able to keep off the weight they lose, not unless they master each skill. But sometimes dieters just have to learn the hard way. They skip some tasks, they gain weight back—and then they’re ready to commit to the whole program.
Crabby: What do you think is the most common mistake most dieters make?
Judith: Not effectively responding to the thought, “It won’t matter if I eat this food I haven’t planned.”
Crabby: As this is a book about dieting, exercise is not the main focus. How important do you think exercise is for weight loss? What sort of exercise do you do?
Judith: Exercise helps weight loss and it’s essential for good health, so everyone needs to exercise, whether or not they’re trying to lose weight. I encourage dieters to follow a set eating plan which is independent of their exercise program. So you don’t get to eat more if you exercise but you don’t have to eat less if you don’t exercise on any given day. Research shows that people who eat pretty consistently from day to day are more likely to lose weight and maintain their weight loss, so I don’t tie food intake with exercise. I go to the gym 2-3 times a week and try to walk on other days.
Crabby: From your books it seems like you have a cheerful, can-do, positive attitude. But since this is a blog called Cranky Fitness, I have to ask: is there anything health and fitness related you'd like to complain about? Any obstacles, attitudes, bone-headed institutional policies, media issues, anything at all?
Judith: I really am disheartened by how so many women (and some men), regardless of their weight, base so much of their sense of self on how they think their bodies look. Appearance is so superficial! Yet they often feel so badly about themselves when the number on the scale is higher than they’d like it to be. They become obsessed with food, diet, exercise, and how they look. It starts to take over their lives. They feel self-conscious and inhibited and don’t enjoy daily activities and their lives in general as much as they could. I wish they could learn how to accept themselves and lead better lives.
Crabby: Anything else you'd like to share about your book, future plans, philosophy of life?
Judith: A strong theme in my books is “no wonder.” No wonder people have had difficulty losing weight and keeping it off. They just didn’t know how. It’s funny; people wouldn’t expect to be able to sit down at the piano and play a concerto without taking lessons. Even after they can play a concerto, they expect that their skills will get rusty and their musical prowess will decline if they don’t continue to practice. It’s really the same with dieting. People need to learn a specific set of thinking and behavioral skills, and then they need to practice them, over and over, so they can not only lose weight but maintain their weight loss. It’s not their fault that they’ve gained weight back in the past. They never learned how to keep it off.
Crabby: Thank you so much Judith! And good luck with your book, it sounds like it will help a lot of people.
So Would You Like to Win a Copy of The Complete Beck Diet For Life?
Just let us know in the comments below that you'd like a chance at a copy of the book, so the Random Number Generator doesn't pick someone who's already ordered one or isn't looking to lose weight or whatever. We'll pick a winner as of midnight (EST) Thursday night, Dec 18th and post who the winner is sometime on Friday December 19th. So don't forget to check back! If you win, please email us with your name and mailing address by Monday night, Dec 22 to claim your copy.
Or, you can order one here (available Dec 23), if Crabby can still remember how to do Amazon links. Let's see:
So, have any of you had any interesting experiences with Diets or Diet Books?