December 15, 2008

Interview With Judith Beck (and Giveaway)

So I'm very excited that today we have an interview with Dr. Judith Beck!

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’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?


  1. Oh, wow, my "giving-in muscle" has been getting such a workout since T-day! Thanks for this, Crabby (and Dr. Beck), I so needed the reality-check. And I'd love a copy of the book!

  2. VERY COOL interview Crabby!

    Ive not read her book yet (I know. I know.) but have followed Java Chicks experiences and now shall bundle and head to the library.

    you are SUCH a Blogournalist. Journalogger?

  3. Love this interview Crabby! The idea of the Giving In muscle is so spot on, and I like the idea of learning to be flexible with the plan at first. I'm great at being rigid with my diet, and I'm great at falling off the wagon - I need to find my inbetween!

    And SO refreshing to have a moderate amount of exercise advocated. Much more sustainable for the long-term.

    TA x

  4. You know, I've tried just about everything except the Beck plan (and surgery) the last five years to get rid of my extra poundage. I'd love to win the book and see where her path might lead me.

    What I've learned in my attempts is that I love running, but it doesn't necessarily lead to weight loss, and there is no doubt that I'm an emotional eater. Would love to learn alternate ways of dealing with stress/stuff.

  5. I have not read any of her books but i did love the interview. I would love to her her new book

  6. I loved the interview and would love the book. It sounds like a sound plan to use.

  7. Fabulous and informative interview Crabby! I would love to have this book and will promise to do my best to not skim or slack and actually put it to good use.

  8. I always appreciate those who are fighting the good fight!

  9. Please enter me in the giveaway-I would like to read her book.

  10. My giving in muscle is in tiptop shape.
    I would like this book as I am getting to the point where the weight comes over, makes itself at home in my abdomen, and then sics the dogs on anyone who tries to dislodge it.

  11. This is a very informative interview and the Good Dr. has some great points about weight loss dieters being overly optimistic.

  12. Crabby, Crabby, Crabby - the only reason you haven't seen a 'giving in muscle exerciser' in the gym, is because we all have our right in our own homes. If they were only to be found in gyms - we wouldn't all already have such a well developed giving in muscle. Gotta love Martha Beck and couldn't agree with her more - we need a mind makeover and then the rest can follow. So I'm putting my hand up for her book please: me! me! Me! (see little girl in class trying to get teachers attention!)

  13. I would love a copy of the book! Thanks for the chance.

  14. Great interview Crabby! I really enjoyed reading it and I do think that Dr. Beck makes a lot of sense.

    Though I feel I must confess that I did eat standing up on Saturday afternoon because I was in a rush...Guess it's time to pull out my copy of the Beck Diet Solution again. Would love to read the new book too!


  15. Hhmm, a book to help me deal with my mental issues? Sounds perfect. Please to enter me in the draw!

  16. I would love to give this to my sister-in-law. She needs some inspirational help right now. Her weight is a hugge struggle.

  17. Crabby, Great interview!! I would certainly be interested in the book.


  18. My resistance muscle was well-developed during childhood as I grew up with food allergies. It's tired out by the time it comes to resisting Too Much Dessert.
    Do not want book--want more bookshelves! Moving highlights this. Libraries are good!

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  19. I have a lot of respect for Dr. Beck and own her previous book. I read the whole thing but . . . the exercises? I didn't do them so much. Part of me always rebels against homework! Getting to the root of that little difficulty would help me *so much*.

    I restarted therapy recently and my counselor knows my phobia of homework (I'm scared of "failing" or "doing it wrong") so she couches trying to do things differently in terms of "experiments" . . . which somehow doesn't arouse my rebellion monster. What a difference semantics can make, I guess ;).

    I would love to win Dr. Beck's new book. It sounds sensible and like something I could incorporate into my current weight-loss journey.

    Is it awful that when I read these interviews---loved it, btw, Crabby---the cynical part of me always just wants to know: "How many damn calories do I get to eat per day? How many?!"

  20. Seriously, I think I have used every single excuse listed for eating something I shouldnt...maybe a few more. (Get out of my head!!!!AAAH) So, go ahead, put me in the lotto for the book please!

  21. Must. Get. This. Book.

    It looks GREAT and a must-read.

    Crossing fingers!!

  22. Great interview. I'd love to be entered in the giveaway. Thanks!

  23. i just spoke with her, too, for a story I'm writing. It was a great interview, as was this! thanks!

  24. I would love to win this book!

    I love reading new diet/fitness/nutrition books and adore free goods.

    Hope to read more interviews in the near future, this one was great.

  25. Me and my "giving in muscle" have become good friends as of late.
    I could use some motivation...this book sounds very sensible.

  26. Very cool!Nice interview! Such a talent! :)

  27. Sounds like the Beck diet plan is very similar to what I am already doing.

    I'd love a copy of the book!

  28. Great interview Crabby, it's good food for thought.

  29. Ooh, that was a great interview and she seems to have some really solid advice. I would definitely be interested in a chance to win this book!

    I haven't read a lot of "diet books", exactly, but some of my favourite health type books are 10 Steps to Healthy Eating, Real Food, Rethinking Thin, What To Eat, In Defense of Food, Mindless Eating... the list goes on. Lovelovelove books.

  30. Sign me up! I want to work on my "resistance muscle" instead of my "giving in" muscle. *steps away from the Christmas cookies...AGAIN.*

  31. Great post! I'm going to have to go check this book out asap!

  32. I'd love to win!

    I have such a love/hate relationship with diet books. I love reading them, but I usually hate what's inside. This one sounds way normal though.

    And, I love the analogy with the stoplights -- so true!

  33. Wow, it's so nice to see that not every diet book sucks. Count me in.

    I have to say though, if anyone has ever read Body For Life, it's a similar concept. It's about teaching your self how to eat well, no fads. More of an exercise theme though...

  34. Hi Crabby!

    Please enter me in the drawing. Thanks for the chance!

  35. I loved the Beck Diet Solution and it was what got me interested in CBT for my disordered eating/anxiety issues. Some of her mantras like "No Choice" and "Flex Your Resistance Muscles" and "Give Credit" have stuck with me for the long haul. I'm jelly you got to interview her!!!

  36. I would love a copy of this book!

  37. I'd like a chance to win this book please, sounds great!

  38. My only diet book experience was with the Thrive Diet-it was not workable for me, too many strange ingredients.
    I would love a copy of this book.
    But I am not sure if I could not eat more on the days I run more than 10 miles. Great interview! thanks

  39. What a great idea and very timely for me. I sure would like to have the book.

    I'm learning in my December of Discipline that you have to develop the habit of resisting things that are bad for you, or some that are even good for you if they're not in your plan. I guess that's what this month is all about for me. But I let myself lapse into sluggitude here and there--but I refuse to beat myself up about it. I just give myself an F for the day, or a D-. The point, for me, is at least to make the Dean's List at the end.

  40. I would like a chance of winning the book please.

  41. I would really like to win a copy of this motivation needs a reminder of why I should continue to lose weight!

  42. This book seems to be on th right track. I have tried, but sometimes its the motivation that is lacking. I'd love a copy of this book to try to get motivated.

  43. I'd like a try at the book. Yes, please!

    Great interview. It sounds very reasonable and backs up stuff I knew on some level, but didn't admit to myself outright.

  44. Enjoying your blog Crabby. And, would love to have a copy of this book. Many thanks.


  45. Sure, put me in the drawing, sounds like an interesting (and well balanced, non-fad) book!

    I liked the analogy she had about the pianist. I'd never thought of it that way, but a lot of people do expect to be able to jump right in to dieting and have it work for them, and they never really go through the process of learning how to do it in a way which will work for them.

  46. sounds fascinating! please enter me in the drawing!!

  47. I would love to read more! Sign me up! This is just what I need to keep changing my frame of mind (especially when things are going south). I've started making some changes, but not sure how to do it all. Loved the interview!

  48. I appreciate the fact that Judith Beck looks at a whole picture and not just the "traditional diet" dos and don't. It's really an integrated approach, something I'm working on, and feel is crucial to any kind of healthy eating success.

    And I'd love a copy of this book.

  49. This sounds like exactly what I've been looking for. I'm a big fan of cognitive and behavioral psychology, so I think this will work well with my current mindset. Please throw my name in the hat!

    Thanks for the great interview! I'm looking forward to learning more about Dr. Beck and this diet (whether I win the book or not).

  50. I would love to have a copy of that book. I like the part where she said about being stopped by cops and getting a ticket. If I can only apply that thinking whenever I lapse in my diet, i'm sure I'll loose all the excess fat.

  51. I love Dr. Beck! I was a huge fan of her father and am now enjoying her writing as well. Don't enter me in the contest as I've got my own copy of this book but thanks for the great interview! She's my fave diet guru out there.

  52. I would love to win a copy of the book!! This sounds like a really manageable and sustainable approach to weight loss. Thank you for entering me!

  53. I'd love a copy!

    I really like the "giving-in muscle" idea as well as the "no wonder" comments.

  54. I loved the interview and would love the book. It is a very sound plan to use. I have been using it since June 5, 2008 and have lost 58 pounds so far. It's a miracle!!

  55. Great interview! And I'd love to get a copy of the book. Fingers crossed!

  56. Oh, I loved her first book - it took me from 165 to 145 - and I would love to read this new one - I could use the new motivation. Only thing is I am in Japan so if you can't ship internationally then leave me out, otherwise I am in!

    - Yasmin

  57. Great interview!! How interesting!

  58. What a cool-sounding book. I'd love to win a copy. It's not something I would have even picked up to look at if I hadn't read the interview...

  59. Fascinating, fascinating.
    It's on my list.
    (and will be closer to the top of said list in a couple of months. )

    of course if it were FREE, I would read it RIGHT AWAY.

  60. I really, really, really needed to read this article. I worked building up the skills she talks about for 2 years and then abandoned them after a bad breakup... this article (and this book) would really help me re-acquire and hone all those habits once again!

  61. Oh, please enter me in zee giveaway, thank you!

  62. Please put me in for the drawing!!! I would love to get a copy of that book.

  63. hehe you didn't really speak to dr becks the way you typed it!
    would love THE copy =)

  64. Looks great. I'd love to win the book.

  65. I would love to have a copy of the book- and will even be in the US over the holidays!

  66. It's great to read your interview and hear about a weight loss guide for the real world.

  67. This is a very interesting interview. However, I have to disagree with Beck's idea of focusing on diet independent of exercise. In my experience, the two naturally go hand in hand...they are intricately connected. maintaining a permanent healthy lifestyle requires more than offhandedly going to the gym once or twice and walking around the block. I will agree with her that healthy eating can be simple. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein - how simple is that? But...a rigorous exercise program including resistance training and cardio - at least five days a week - is absolutely key to weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight.
    Great piece - keep 'em coming -

  68. Great interview. I need, need, need this book! Thanks.

  69. I'm a new subscriber to your blog, and it's fantastic--funny, helpful, not too "Pollyannaish" (now there's a term that dates me).

    Anyhoo, I'd love a copy of this book.

  70. This was exactly what I needed today.

    I love, love, love a copy!

  71. Great interview and a great approach to healthy living. I'd definitely be interested in a chance at winning this book :)

  72. This was a great interview. I've read so many books, tried so many diets, and pills...well, I'd be interested in this book.

    Tiffani Atkinson
    1st time commenter from FL

  73. Pick me! Pick me!
    I need Dr. Beck's book to help me keep off the 40kg I've already lost and to lose the 30kg I've still got to go!

  74. The book sounds great! Please include me in the drama and I will move my holiday working out procrastination up at day.

  75. The book sounds great! Please include me in the drama and I will move my holiday working out procrastination up at day. (and unclick anonymous :-)

  76. Oh please for the love of all things cranky please pick me!!!


  77. I would love to Win a Copy of The Complete Beck Diet For Life.

  78. Interview is great count me in!!!
    Love to read the book !

  79. This sounds good! I need a copy of this book so I can learn to shut off my "giving in muscle" and start exercising my "dont put that cookie in your mouth" muscle. haha!

  80. Hi! I loved the interview, it was great--especially her "complaint" about where women put their energy & focus.
    I totally do that thing of losing motivation after a few days...I identify with being overly optimistic: in ALL areas of my life. It feels like (sometimes) TOO big of a wake up call to have to change and turn things around and do them differently.
    I'd LOVE a copy of the book...
    Thanks for your blog,


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