How to be a good weight loser – Part 3: trouble shooting tough spots

by Shachi D. Shantinath, Ph.D.

Originally published at, 2001.


If you are trying to lose unwanted weight, take a moment to review some of the most common problems people encounter and learn how to effectively troubleshoot. You may find it useful to also read Parts 1 and 2 in this series: Part 1 explains the psychology behind these trouble shooting tips, and Part 2 shows you how you can more clearly identify your particular problem areas through the use of a food log, also called a food diary. If you have not yet tried a food log, I strongly suggest that you do, because it is one of the most effective tools in the psychology of weight loss. You can get to a printable version of a food log by clicking on the link at the end of this article.

As with all weight loss efforts, make sure you have consulted with your health care provider prior to losing weight. In addition, I suggest that you share the details of your food log with your nutritionist, nurse or physician. They can advise you as to whether you are eating correctly and getting enough of the right nutrients. They can also better advise about the proper frequency of meals for your needs, and discuss the negative impact of skipping meals – if you are doing so.

No single high-calorie meal causes you to put on unwanted weight. Rather, excess weight is the culmination of how you live your life on a day-to-day basis. As you troubleshoot, work at incorporating the suggestions into your daily life. While there are many reasons for people to engage in unhealthy eating patterns, here is a list of some of the most common ones. Take a look at your situation – and use a food log if you can. Assess your pattern of inappropriate eating. If you need to change, remember that change is possible with some effort and attention on your part.

Common patterns of unhealthy eating include the following:

Eating Foods in Response to Negative Emotions

Do you eat when you feel upset, tense, stressed, bored or lonely? If you do, then learn to become aware of your feelings.
What are you feeling and why? Separate food from your response to your feelings. For more information on dealing with loneliness, grief, conflict in relationships see the links below.
Look at the article “What to do when I get upset too often” (Parts 1 and 2) for practical ways to cope with people and situations that may be bothering you.

If you are lonely, eating may make you feel better for a moment, but will not solve the underlying problem. Go to the link below for more information on what to do when you are feeling lonely. There you will find suggestions on actions you can take to reduce your loneliness.

If you are bored, there are lots of things you can do in response, other than eating. Explore adult education classes as a way to keep your mind occupied, or consider a hobby or read something interesting or call up a friend. Take up a physical activity, such as walking or swimming and you not only reduce your boredom, but you help improve your physical condition.

Social Settings Where you Feel Prone to Overeat (or eat the wrong things)

Dealing with food in social settings calls for various strategies that can be applied either alone or in combination with one another.

If you are going somewhere and are unsure about managing your eating, try to have a healthy snack (such as some fruit or non-fat yogurt) before you meet up with your friends, so that you are less vulnerable to temptation. The less hungry you feel, the less likely it is that you will feel tempted to eat things that you do not want to.

Learn to be assertive and decline second helpings of food, even if your well-meaning host insists. If you are not sure what will be on the menu, see if you can bring along one low-fat dish so that you will be sure to have something you can eat with certainty. Alternatively, remind yourself that you are there to focus on the company and not the food. So direct your attention to the conversation and focus less on the food. Take smaller portions and don’t feel obligated to eat everything that is served.

If you have a choice about the kinds of things you might be doing when you meet your friends, try to see if you can choose an activity that does not have to do with food (such as going to a movie or for a walk rather than meeting for coffee and cake).

Eating While Distracted

Do you tend to eat on the run or while watching television or reading? If you are doing this, you cannot enjoy what you are eating, and are not likely to even notice how much you have eaten.

The first thing to do is to reduce your distractions and not eat while you are engaged in another activity. If you find that you are too pressed for time and have no other choice but to eat while on the run, then consider improving your time management skills so that you have more time to enjoy your meals.

Try to eat in a fixed place, such as your dining table.
Turn your meal times into a pleasurable ritual with candles and flowers.
Take time to notice the flavors, colors and textures of the food.
Try to “dine” rather than merely “eat”.
For more information on how to eat with more concentration, please see the link to the article on Mindfulness meditation.

Because it is There

Do you eat for the same reason mountain climbers climb mountains – because the food is there? Do you keep high fat snacks in the house, in case you have guests who stop by? The key to this problem scenario is to simply not stock high fat or other inappropriate foods in the house routinely.

If you want to have a treat such as cake or ice cream, then buy only a small portion, which you eat once. Do not buy large amounts to store in the house. Another possibility is to eat one portion of a “treat” in a restaurant, and not bring any of it home. Consider also stocking your fridge full of tasty low fat treats – especially fruits and vegetables. That way, when the urge to eat strikes, you have healthy options on hand.

You Were Taught to “Clean Your Plate”

Some of us were taught as children to “clean the plate” – a habit which unfortunately does not serve us well as adults managing our weight. But like many other habits from childhood which one discards, this is also worth discarding.

The first step in overcoming this habit is to recognize that this attitude is a part of your thinking. If it is, then remind yourself that you are an adult now and have the choice to do things differently from what you were taught.

Additionally, learn to recognize your bodily signs that signal to you that you are full. Focus more on your awareness of these internal signs and try to respond to them, rather than what all is on your plate.

Learn to estimate portion sizes. That way, even if you are served a large portion, you can stop when you have eaten a reasonable amount.

In the United States, it is possible to ask for a “doggie bag” to take the leftovers home, but it is not always possible in other countries and even frowned upon in some areas. If you are able to take the rest home, do so. If you cannot, consider sharing your serving with another person. For example, when I moved to Switzerland – where I now live, I had to adjust to the fact that there are usually no doggie-bags. And pizzas are typically served one per person, which many times is just too much! When I go out with friends, I ask if someone wants to split a pizza with me -and most of the time- my friends are willing to do so. So, we order a salad each and then share one pizza.

Some people also eat everything on their plates because they do not want to be wasteful. I will explore this and other forms of self-talk related to weight and food in Part 4 of this series.

Identify your Triggers for Inappropriate Eating

Take a moment to review the various reasons why you might be eating inappropriately. As I mentioned earlier, a food log is very helpful for this. Once you have identified your particular triggers for inappropriate eating -be it a bad mood, or a social situation or something else- you can plan ahead.

Become familiar with the triggers and patterns that are associated with how you eat. Then using the suggestions outlined here, try to come up with a plan so that the next time your trigger is set off, you can effectively troubleshoot.

Trouble shooting your tough spots also calls for learning to become aware of your self-talk and the various messages you may be giving yourself about food, eating and weight. These will be described in detail in part 4 of this series – along with suggestions on ways to overcome your internal negative self-talk associated with food and weight loss.

1. Behavioral Medicine Treatment Planner DeGood, Crawford, Jongsma, , 1999, pp. 318–361
2. What is the role of cognitive-behavior therapy in patient management? Foryet, Poston III, Obesity Research, 1998, vol. 2
3. Behavioral Treatment of Obesity Wadden, Foster, Medical Clinics of North America, 2000, vol. 84, pp. 441–461

Copyright S.D. Shantinath, Ph.D. All rights reserved.