When she was experiencing craving or the desire to eat for emotional reasons, Jean learned to distract herself by calling a friend, taking a walk, doing a Sudoku puzzle, or painting her nails. More importantly, she learned to change her thinking. Twice a day, she read through her response cards. Some of the more helpful cards were, "If I eat this junk food, it'll feel good for a few moments, but then I'll be mad at myself." "Cravings always go away." "Extra food will always go to waste—either in the trash or on my body."
Stage 2: Regularizing Eating
In this stage, dieters learn to eat according to a schedule, which is particularly important because dieters often have difficulty recognizing true hunger and are susceptible to sabotaging thoughts that give them "permission" to eat whenever they want. They get the physiological boost that food gives them on a regular schedule, providing themselves with fuel at predetermined times throughout the day (starting with breakfast) to avoid excessive hunger and cravings that can lead to overeating.
In this stage, dieters experiment to find which schedule works best for them. Most eat three meals and three snacks a day. Some eat three (slightly larger) meals with no snacks. Some avoid snacks during the day, but have two snacks in the evening. They employ the skills they learned in Stage 1 when they want to eat off-schedule and learn how to respond to sabotaging thoughts such as, I should be able to eat whenever I want. At the end of Stage 2, most people have continued to lose weight because they aren't eating as frequently.
Since she was accustomed to eating at will, Stage 2 was difficult for Jean, who found it hard not to head for the refrigerator at every hunger pang. While she agreed in principle with the necessity of regularizing her eating, she was initially besieged with sabotaging thoughts, especially, It won't matter if I eat this one extra time. I reviewed a fundamental concept with her: that every act of eating was important, even if it was just a small amount. "Every time you eat when you're not supposed to," I explained, "you strengthen your 'giving-in' muscle, which makes it likelier that the next time, you'll give in to unscheduled eating, and the time after that, and the time after that. But every time you resist unscheduled eating, you build up your 'resistance' muscle, which makes it likelier that you'll be able to resist unscheduled eating the next time and the time after that. So every unscheduled eating decision is important." Jean wrote this idea on a response card and continued to create cards for new sabotaging thoughts. It took her nearly three weeks to master the skill of scheduled eating.
Stage 3: Changing Food Selections
At this point, dieters are finally ready to change what they eat, one step at a time. They avoid making changes they can't keep up for life. They learn how to respond to sabotaging thoughts, so they can get themselves to eat fruits and vegetables at the beginning of every meal, decrease caloric beverages, limit junk food to just once a day, and decrease portion sizes. If followed, these four steps naturally lead to weight loss.
In this stage, some dieters decide that these changes are enough; they don't want to commit to the considerable amount of effort required to make additional changes. But for those (like Jean) who do, they next learn the skill of planning what they're going to eat in advance (each evening or morning) and monitoring their intake as they go along. In the final part of Stage 3, dieters can start following a balanced eating plan that incorporates moderate portions of their favorite foods and contains enough calories to satisfy them over the long haul. There's no sense in cutting calories to a minimum because dieters will become too hungry, overeat, gain weight, become discouraged, and find themselves right back on the old treadmill. To minimize hunger, the diet plan needs to contain substantial amounts of protein and a moderate amount of fat at every meal.