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Section 14
Aspects of Change in Diet

CEU Question 14 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Eating Disorders
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On the last track, we discussed three concepts related to the compulsive dieter.  These three concepts related to the compulsive dieter included:  addressing failure; addressing the need to control; and overcoming the need for self-criticism.

Because bulimic and compulsive overeating clients experience an increase in erratic behavior during a diet, I have found it beneficial to help clients who are chronic dieters to release them of their dieting habits. Think of your bulimic or compulsive eating clients. How is dieting affecting their eating patterns?

On this track, we will examine three aspects of releasing clients from their diets. These three aspects of releasing clients from their diets include:  reluctance; depression; and weight acceptance.

3 Aspects in Release from Diets

Aspect #1 - Reluctance
The first aspect of releasing a client from his or her diet is reluctance. Because compulsive eaters have been on some form of a diet for most of their teenage and adult lives, the prospect of releasing that control becomes terrifying to them. First and foremost, they associate no control with automatic binge. They believe that if they do not constantly regulate their eating patterns, they will go into a perpetual binge and never be able to pull themselves out again. 

Even those that appear to be willing to give up their dieting habits may still be harboring resistant tendencies. In order to fully release themselves from the constraints of diets, the clients must resolve themselves to a lifetime of unregulated food intake. Because their binging results from the constraints of diets, making a willful decision to give up diets releases them from this constraint and subsequently can release them of their binges.

Meredith, age 34, had stated that she wished to give up dieting. For the first week of her no diet life, Meredith bought any food she wished and brought it home. However, Meredith quickly felt like she was losing control. She stated, "Every night I come home with ice cream and cookies and Chinese food and I eat and eat and eat! I’ve gained five pounds this week and I can’t imagine going on at this rate! The problem is that when I have food in the house I feel compelled to eat it. I can’t put away a half-eaten pint of ice cream!" 

What I soon noticed about Meredith’s behavior was that she was trying to see how well she could resist the food she brought home. I stated to Meredith, "Resisting has more to do with diets than with rejecting diets. Essentially, you are testing yourself and saying that you would only stop dieting if you proved to yourself that you could have food in the house and not eat it. Does that sound right?"  Meredith stated, "I didn’t really buy into all that and I didn’t believe in my willpower to not eat compulsively."

Obviously, Meredith was not ready to give up her diets. Think of your Meredith. How would he or she react to giving up his or her diets?

Aspect #2 - Depression
The second aspect of releasing a client from his or her diet is depression. Up to this point, chronic dieting has provided clients with the hope that by altering their bodies, they can alter the way they feel about themselves and their lives. It provides a solution to a number of problems related to self-esteem and general well-being. Clients will also experience some sadness and loss at giving up diets as it represented a way of life. Overeating clients have spent most of their lives preoccupied with their need for food and what to do about it. When they give up that obsession, it may leave them feeling sad and empty.

Hugh, age 41, after a week of not being on a diet, stated, "It was a tremendous relief not be on a diet! My eating did slow down and I even left some food on my plate at a restaurant the other night. But I noticed that I felt kind of depressed. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I wasn’t obsessed with food or with dieting. What happened, however, was that I became more aware than ever of all the problems I face every day! I guess I really was spending a lot of energy distracting myself from those problems by focusing on what I was eating." 

I stated to Hugh, "But now that you are able to push aside the curtain of obsession, you can more easily address those problems that had been hidden up until now. You can focus on those problems and subsequently organize your life." Think of your Hugh. Would he or she feel some slight depression after releasing him or herself from diets?

Aspect #3 - Weight Acceptance
In addition to reluctance and depression, the third aspect of releasing a client from his or her diet is weight acceptance. Have you, like I, noticed that a client that continually feels bad about his or her weight is unable to give up dieting? He or she will view their body shape as a problem to be solved rather than accepted. Unlike the reluctant or depressed client, those clients who refuse to accept their weight will continually try to "solve" this problem. Unless the client is dangerously obese, I ask that they work on accepting this weight and their body image.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy Technique:  Stop the Thoughts
Terence, age 32, hated his weight and body shape. He stated, "Just look at these love handles!  What am I supposed to do with these things?  How do I get rid of them?  Just take them away!"  Terence had internalized the belief that because his body shape and weight were not ideal that they were "bad."  To help clients accept their bodies, however imperfect, I suggest that they try the "Stop the Thoughts" exercise. 

I asked Terence to follow these 2 Steps in order to Help Him Accept his Body Weight and stop the automatic, negative thoughts that constantly jumped into his head.

  1. Catch yourself in the act of thinking negatively about your eating or your weight.  Because these thoughts are second nature to you, it doesn’t feel unusual when you have them, so keep aware!
  2. Address your negative thoughts directly.  Challenge them with any new awareness about your eating, weight and process of change.

I completed the CBT exercise with Terence once in a session.  During the course of an interview, Terence stated, "I can’t stand the way I look!" which was one of his automatic thoughts.  I asked him to stop and address these thoughts directly.  Terence stated aloud, "There’s no point to this kind of thinking.  It just repeats itself endlessly."  I then asked Terence to remind himself of his new way of thinking. 

He stated, "Although I don’t like the way I look, I’m trying to come to terms with it.  If I keep thinking negatively about myself, I’ll feel awful and then I’ll need to eat."  Think of your Terence.  How could he or she address his or her negative thoughts?

On this track, we discussed three aspects of releasing clients from their diets.  These three aspects of releasing clients from their diets included:  reluctance; depression; and weight acceptance.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Buscemi, J., Murphy, J. G., Berlin, K. S., & Raynor, H. A. (2014). A behavioral economic analysis of changes in food-related and food-free reinforcement during weight loss treatment. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82(4), 659–669. 

Cotter, E. W., & Kelly, N. R. (2018). Stressrelated eating, mindfulness, and obesity. Health Psychology, 37(6), 516–525.

Farstad, S. M., & von Ranson, K. M. (2021). Binge eating and problem gambling are prospectively associated with common and distinct deficits in emotion regulation among community women. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science / Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 53(1), 36–47.

Fitzpatrick, S., MacDonald, D. E., McFarlane, T., & Trottier, K. (2019). An experimental comparison of emotion regulation strategies for reducing acute distress in individuals with eating disorders. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science / Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 51(2), 90–99.

Gormally, J., & Rardin, D. (1981). Weight loss and maintenance and changes in diet and exercise for behavioral counseling and nutrition education. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 28(4), 295–304.

Stevenson, R. J. (2017). Psychological correlates of habitual diet in healthy adults. Psychological Bulletin, 143(1), 53–90.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 14
What are three aspects of releasing clients from their diets? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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