How to Stop Yo-Yo Dieting
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How to Stop Yo-Yo Dieting

A four-step process to help you reach your weight-loss goals.

The Brain-Belly Connection

"This year I'm going to stay on my diet and lose weight." How many years have you made this promise to yourself, only to find you've fallen off the weight-loss bandwagon?

According to Dianne Hales, coauthor of the new book Think Thin, Be Thin: 101 Psychological Ways to Lose Weight (Broadway, 2004), the reasons for blowing your diet are plenty. Favorite excuses include, "I work hard, I deserve a good meal," "Why should I diet when no one else seems to be worrying about what they're eating?" and "I'll never be thin anyway."

"I've used those excuses and plenty of variations," says Mary Dill, a social worker in Atlanta. "Every Monday I'd go on a diet. Sometimes I'd last for several days, sometimes a week. But then I'd be off the diet and into the potato chips. I took care of my emotional needs with food. If I was feeling lonely or had a disagreement with one of my children, I'd grab the peanut butter jar and dig in. Food was my salvation."

"Most overeating is not about the belly but the brain," says Hales. "The true key to weight loss and a healthy body is changing the neuro-landscape of the brain. Learn to harness your thoughts and you'll change the way you behave. And you will lose weight."

Before Dill goes to a party, she says she prepares herself for battle because she knows attitude is everything. "I tell myself, 'It's only one party. I can get through it without overeating.' I also limit myself to no more than six snacks, which might include a drink, three shrimps, a piece of cheese, and a brownie. I use the acronym 'HALT' on and off throughout the day, which reminds me, 'Don't get too Hungry, too Angry, too Lonely, or too Tired.'"

When Dill needs an emotional fix, instead of turning to food she calls a friend, talks to her husband, reads, writes in her journal, takes a walk, or prays. "I take heart in knowing that I'm not alone in my struggle with food," she says.

Carol Powers of St. Louis once wore a size 24. She never weighed herself or exercised, and claims she never denied herself "anything" when it came to food. But she has now gotten on the weight-loss wagon. Each night after the David Letterman show she calls to leave a message on her therapist's answering machine. She reports calorie intake and the minutes she spent exercising. "It makes me accountable," says Powers. "If I didn't have to call and report, I know I'd be cheating."

"I used to think about food and what I was going to eat," she says. "Now I think about what it's going to do to me. I've lost almost 50 pounds -- and I'm determined to continue to lose.

"Last week I told my therapist that I feel so thin. She said that I wasn't. And that thinking I was thin wasn't helpful at this point in time. We had a good laugh and made a pact that a year from now I will be thin."

The 4-Step Plan

If you're trying to stay on your diet, here are a few additional tips from the book Think Thin, Be Thin: 101 Psychological Ways to Lose Weight.

Say an affirmation.

Say an affirmation over and over in your head. This is one of the fastest ways to restructure your thought patterns, develop new pathways in your brain, and change your mind-set about food. Some examples are "I eat with restraint and work out with vigor." Or "I choose to be conscious of and control my eating."

Watch for weasel words.

Weasel words such as "I'm hoping to lose weight or planning to go on a diet." Push the delete button in your mind and say instead, "I will lose weight."

Set up an imaginary picture in your brain.

For example, instead of saying, "I must exercise today" create a vivid, mental image and say to yourself, "I'm going to run on the beach today" or "I'm going to walk on my treadmill." Painting such mental pictures triggers electrochemical changes that prime your brain to translate your thought into action.

Develop a good memory.

Develop a good memory that stores the kindnesses that come your way. Pausing to reflect on all the positives in your life before you grab something to eat sets the stage for more mindful eating.

Doris Wild Helmering is a psychotherapist and coauthor of the book Think Thin, Be Thin (Broadway Books).


Originally published on, January 2005.