7 Mistaken Beliefs That Prevent Weight Loss

Can't keep the weight off? Judith Beck thinks cognitive therapy is the answer.

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Nutritionists are often unimpressed by studies showing that a given diet works for weight loss. After all, if you stick to a diet that restricts calories, you're going to drop pounds in the short term. The hard part is keeping it off, and that's where diets fail.

Judith Beck, director of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research, says that's not surprising, given that so many people haven't been taught the mental skills necessary to sustain changes in their eating and exercise habits. In The Complete Beck Diet for Life, she applies the tenets of cognitive therapy to weight loss. (She also offers an eating plan for the initial stages of the program because reader feedback after her previous book indicated that people need help in figuring out what they should be eating.)

Cognitive therapy focuses on solving the problem in the here and now rather than delving into the past to understand its roots. The premise is that people have incorrect thoughts and beliefs that need to be altered in order to eliminate the problem—be it depression, addiction, or in this case, overeating. Two smallish Swedish studies have suggested that cognitive therapy can help people lose weight and keep it off for at least a year and a half, Beck says. Taken from her book and from my conversation with Beck, here are the seven attitudes that may be impeding your weight loss:

  1. Hunger is bad. "People think that it is going to get worse and worse and worse," says Beck, and that the only way to avoid that is to eat. Not so. Hunger is not going to harm you, will probably persist for only five to 10 minutes before fading, and can certainly be tolerated until your next meal. Plus, she says, food tastes better when you're hungry.
  2. It's not fair: Other people can eat whatever they want. Probably not true, says Beck. You may think they're eating whatever they want, but if you followed them around for a day, you'd probably find they keep a lid on their eating; most people do.
  3. Some foods are "bad," and I should permanently avoid them. There's room for your favorite food in your diet, says Beck. Just make sure you control the calories through small portions and plan for the treat.
  4. I can't not give in to a craving. On the flip side, just because the carton of Phish Food is calling doesn't mean you absolutely must give in. Like hunger, cravings come and go. If you distract yourself with some other activity, they will go away.
  5. I don't need to plan my meals and exercise. Winging it doesn't really work, says Beck. You have to make time to eat well and exercise. (Oprah Winfrey also learned this recently; in an episode earlier this month, among other lessons, she discussed the importance of scheduling in fitness.)
  6. I deserve to eat when I'm emotional. Yes, you may be bummed and you are entitled to comfort. Just don't get it through food, says Beck. It's simply not possible to lose weight if you allow yourself a free pigout pass when you're particularly sad, happy, or anxious.
  7. It's OK to take a break if I don't feel like eating well or exercising right now. We all have to do things we don't particularly want to in pursuit of a goal. Even the most avid exercisers have mornings when they'd rather sleep in. But if you want to lose weight, says Beck, you're going to have to get over that and keep your eyes on the prize.