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Weight Control: One Day At A Time

Most of us are aware of the AA axiom of "One day at a time." It speaks to the secret of any long term goal - concentrate on taking the right step and the journey will take care of itself. Like the alcoholic who faces the urge to drink at every turn, the overweight fataholic must also steer a narrow passageway through the shoals of temptation and the deadly barrage of food advertisements, ubiquitous drive-throughs, social occasions, and office treats.

While no one would suggest that a recovering alcoholic has it easy, the plain fact is that controlled eating is more difficult because we can't stop cold turkey, at least not on a permanent basis. We must eat to live (but how many of us live to eat?) else die of starvation.

Sometimes, cold turkey seems the easiest way to go. Talk to anyone who has been on a fast and they will enthusiastically describe how after about three days, they no longer even wanted to eat, felt no hunger, and blissfully enjoyed their new sense of freedom and independence from food.

But even a fasting proponent will admit that, at some time, eating must be restored, preferably in a measured, controlled sequence. Returning to real life can be a jolt! This real world living of ours demands that we make it through each day with as few lapses as possible, demanding an arsenal of weapons to help us fight the good fight against our powerful and omnipresent enemy: fat.

Here are some tools to help you get through each day. Mix, match, add others you find, as needed.

1. Consistent Awareness.

Never, ever, (is that strong enough for you?) allow even a seed to pass your lips without being consciously aware of it. You may choose to eat something or you may elect to skip it. The important concept is that you are making a choice and that you control that choice. How many of us pop something into our mouth absentmindedly, almost unaware of what we are doing? How often have you set a second cookie aside and when you reach for it, it's gone? We don't even remember eating it so we can't say we enjoyed it. What a waste --of both an innocent cookie and the pleasurable taste it provided.

2. Substitute delay for denial.

It is sometimes just too hard to say no. If that's the mood you're in, tell yourself you'll wait a little bit and have it later. Chances are that your mood will change, your better self will regain the upper hand, and you'll elect not to have it at all. (And if you do eat it, do it with full awareness and identify your emotional state for recording in your journal).

3. Avoid hot button situations.

If your coworkers pork out on mid-afternoon treats, schedule your beak for that time and go for a walk. You'll feel so virtuous and re-energized by the fresh air that when you return to your desk, even the remaining scraps will not merit a second glance.

4. Avoid public discussions.

Don't fall into the habit of discussing your diet with coworkers. Everyone is on a diet, it seems, and everyone is trying something different. Before you know it, the pros and cons are being earnestly discussed, the forbidden and allowed foods debated, and the whole crew is totally focused on food - a sure recipe (forgive the pun) for disaster! We want you to concentrate on that significant portion of the world that has absolutely nothing to do with eating. Don't think food, don't talk food, don't visualize food, and the likelihood of avoiding eating increases dramatically.

5. Drive past the drive-throughs.

No matter their marketing claims, fast food doesn't belong on your diet, any diet. Even the salads are drenched with fatty dressings and perked up with extras. Everything else is fried - food cooked in animal fat that barely has to change its chemical composition to turn into human fat. If you're stranded on the road, find a good deli.

6. Stay away from fat people.

In some offices, there are whole departments where the staff are uniformly overweight. Being around fatties is guaranteed to turn up the pressure to eat, to give in, to abandon your goals and dreams. Seek out the skinnies - you may feel frustrated when you see them eat carelessly without the dire consequences you suffer, but it will stiffen your resolve to gain their appearance to lessen your self-consciousness about the cut of your own bloated jib.

7. Vary your routines.

We are all creatures of habit. If we didn't possess habits that allow us to accomplish the basics without thinking about it, we'd be worn out by over stimulation, having too, too much to think about to get anything done. Eating, though, is an area where we want to steer clear of habits (because, if you remember, we want to be aware and in control). Without thinking, we slip into the habit of an egg mcmuffin on the way to work, or a bagel with cream cheese at our desk, or a drink when we get home, exhausted by an over demanding day. If possible, try changing your work hours, meal times, getting up and going to bed routines, and regular meetings with friends. The change will increase your recognition of the comfortable habits you unwittingly developed in your old schedule.

8. Find a second job.

Some of you, no doubt, are shaking your heads thinking that the current demands on your time are already overwhelming. If your days are already crowded with your job, your kids, school, chores - you don't have a problem with boredom and the basis of your overeating must be sought elsewhere. Many of you others, be honest, have long evenings stretching out before you, filled only with television (and eating), socializing (and eating), shopping (and eating), or pastimes - crafts, computers, music reading (and eating). If you fill that spare time, in which the lure of nibbling looms boldly, with a part-time job (paid or volunteer), you can significantly lower your daily intake while simultaneously bringing in a little money or gaining a sense of pride in helping others. You can always quit and take it easy later but the change may help you make a diet breakthrough that will reward you handsomely.

9. Don't eat in bed.

The common expert advice is to only eat in the dining room and make each meal an event. Sometimes that is effective but in our rushed lives often unworkable. But draw the line somewhere: bed is for sleeping and making love, much better alternatives for your weight loss goals than midnight refrigerator raids.

10. Learn to live with leftovers.

Many of us hate to see anything go to waste. Remnants of childhood want or simply years of motherly training lead us to cringe at the thought of throwing perfectly good food away. Kids are so smart - they eat only what they want and just leave the rest. We can't bear that so we clean up their plates, make sure we send none of that expensive restaurant meal back to the kitchen, or nosh absentmindedly on the remnants of food we tucked carefully into the refrigerator. Ask yourself: when was the last time you threw away a half full bag of chips? A piece of chocolate? The final piece of cake? No, we tidy up to avoid the emotional pain of waste, and increase our girth in the process. Once you or the kids are done, try to get in the habit of immediately throwing the remainder out - into a messy garbage pail which will avoid the temptation to retrieve scraps later. The longer food stays in sight, the more likely you are to scarf it down. If waste is so painful to you, go save the environment, not the leftovers on your table that have never yet made it to a starving child in China.

Virginia Bola is a licensed psychologist and an admitted diet fanatic. She specializes in therapeutic reframing and the effects of attitudes and motivation on individual goals. The author of The Wolf at the Door: An Unemployment Survival Manual, and a free ezine, The Worker's Edge, she recently completed a psychologically-based weight control book: Diet with an Attitude: A Weight Loss Workbook. She can be reached at


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