A Weight Loss Expert Offers Tips for Success

Weight loss tools from cognitive therapist Judith Beck.


Dieting and exercising, yet still having trouble keeping weight off? There really are ways to achieve weight loss success.

Judith Beck, Ph.D., clinical associate professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the new book The Complete Beck Diet For Life, is a renowned cognitive therapist who has helped thousands of people slim down for good. Here, she talks about why some dieters can’t seem to keep the weight off, and shares the tools that will help them – and you – achieve long-term weight-loss success.

AT: Do you think that most of people approach weight loss from the wrong angle? 

Beck: Absolutely. Anyone can change their eating behavior and lose weight – in the short run. But unless they change their thinking, too, they invariably return to old habits. Some examples of unhelpful thinking are: “I deserve to comfort myself with food,” “It’s unfair that I can’t eat what everyone else is eating,” and “I’ve cheated; I might as well eat whatever I want for the rest of the day and start again tomorrow.”

AT: What’s another common mistake you see? 

Beck: People go on diets that they can’t sustain for life. They want to lose weight quickly so they eat too few calories. They often skip breakfast, they don’t eat healthy enough foods, and they try to eliminate certain “bad” foods. They can stay on diets like these for several weeks, months, or even a couple of years – but eventually they revert to their old way of eating. Dieters need a very healthy eating plan that they can stay on indefinitely. In my new book, I worked with a registered dietitian to develop this type of plan. It’s healthy and satisfying and allows people to eat their favorite foods – think chocolate, fries and wine – every day, in moderation.

AT: If you go on a binge or stop exercising, what’s the best way to get back on the wagon? 

Beck: Dieters need to prepare themselves in advance. They need to write a list of all the reasons they want to lose weight and read this list daily, even when dieting seems easy. I recommend creating “response cards,” too, which are index cards with important messages on them, and read these cards daily, too. For example, one important card for a dieter who has cheated says:

“Okay, big deal. I made a mistake. I can start right this moment getting back to what I need to do to lose weight permanently. It makes no sense to wait another minute. If I got a traffic ticket for running a red light, I wouldn’t keep making the same mistake for the rest of the day and wait until tomorrow to get back on track. I’d do it immediately! So go get your list of advantages to remind yourself why you want to lose weight and read your other response cards, too.”

AT: Statistics show that keeping the weight off is even more difficult than losing it. Why is that? 

Beck: We’ve found that dieting is relatively easy for people at first, because they start a diet when they’re highly motivated. Then it inevitably gets harder. But when dieters continue to use their skills [like referring to a list of reasons why they want to stay slim], it quickly becomes easier and easier again. At first, dieters need to practice their new skills daily; then every other day, then once a week, once a month, and once a season. And they need to be willing to return to those skills more often when they slip up and are having a hard time maintaining their weight loss.

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