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By Changing
You Eat
A guide prepared by Peter J. Murphy 1993
How to lose weight behaviourally
By Changing HOW You Eat
Many social and medical problems are associated with being overweight. Yet the condition is
preventable. The equation for losing weight is simple:
Weight loss
less food + more exercise
The difficulty, however, lies in mustering the self-discipline and willpower to carry out
weight-reducing behaviours.
This guide will detail the behaviours that make weight loss an easier goal to achieve. There
are three components to this 'behavioural' package:
Л† learning your existing eating habits,
Л† modifying eating behaviours, and
Л† modifying the environment.
Beyond the Black Stump
Before looking at these components, the three main reasons why people maintain poor
weight-control behaviours will be examined and an unusual relationship between exercise and
body weight will be explained.
In addition, a case study of 'behavioural weight control' and 'guidelines for sensible dieting'
will be given at the end of the paper.
Poor Weight-Control Behaviours
Many people who embark on crash diets and lose significant weight find that six to twelve
months later they have gained all the weight back (if not some extra). This happens because
they do not change their basic eating habits. To get permanent weight loss, you must alter your
eating habits - and perhaps exercise patterns - for the rest of your life, not just for a short time.
Prepared by Peter J. Murphy
How to lose weight behaviourally
People maintain poor weight-control behaviours for three main reasons:
Many overweight people are very much under the control of outside stimuli (the sight
and smell of food). If food is around, they eat it; the availability - rather than hunger triggers the eating. The sight of mouth-watering food in a magazine may send them on a
refrigerator raid. Many indirect stimuli also become signals for eating. In such cases,
people come to associate food with, for example, viewing television or reading, and
hence develop a habit of nibbling foodstuffs as they watch the late news or read.
At some earlier point in life, many people who are grossly overweight learned poor
eating behaviours. The habit of overeating has become like a lifestyle; perhaps
maintained because it is enjoyable, perhaps because not eating may elicit feelings of
insecurity, or maybe because eating gives temporary relief to feelings like anxiety, anger,
and depression. Some people eat in an attempt to avoid stress - for example, by being
overweight they can avoid certain tension-producing circumstances - like closeness with
the opposite sex.
Some people weigh too much because of lack of exercise. They may not eat overly
much, but they don't burn up what they do eat. This is often referred to as 'creeping
obesity' and, not surprisingly, is common among the middle-aged.
Exercise and Body Weight
Exercise becomes so much more difficult for people who are overweight. Being more than
one's proper body weight is usually associated with a low level of fitness, so that even
relatively light physical exercise may be very draining. Besides the sheer effort of carrying
extra body weight, there is often a strong feeling of social stigma attached to being seen in
public in exercise attire. Such feelings can be very demotivating.
Frank and Ernest
by Bob Thaves
Those who do commence an exercise program in an effort to lose weight may experience a
'weight paradox' when they start their program. This paradox is that there may be a gain in
weight despite a combination of rigorous exercise and sensible diet! What is actually
happening is that muscle tissue growth is stimulated by increased exercise and, for a time, it
replaces the lost fat tissue. Because muscle cells weigh more than fat cells, overall weight can
increase! Be assured that after routine exercise is established, muscle tissue eventually stops
increasing and as further fat tissue is consumed, weight does decrease.
Prepared by Peter J. Murphy
How to lose weight behaviourally
The Behavioural Approach
The approach adopted here is a behavioural one - that helps you gain control of the problem
areas outlined above through long-term changes in eating habits. To do this, you will apply
the principles of self-control. You will search for the stimuli that set off your unwanted eating
and eliminate them. You will pinpoint the specific eating behaviours you want to change.
You will eliminate the reinforcers that currently maintain your unwanted overeating. And you
will substitute or strengthen reinforcers that increase desired eating behaviours. Many studies
have proven the success of such an approach.
We will now address, in turn, the three components of a behavioural weight loss program.
You cannot change your eating habits until you are aware of them. The following procedures
will assist in gaining such knowledge.
Self-Monitoring. Simply keeping a record of your eating habits has been shown to assist
weight loss. Apparently such monitoring increases motivation and provides insights into what
stimuli initiate problem eating. For example, self-monitoring has lead to the realisation that
particular negative emotions (jealousy, sadness, anxiety and so on) may stimulate eating. Once
this is recognised, alternate and more adaptive behaviours for dealing with these emotions can
be initiated. Weight and caloric intake are other factors that can be self-recorded daily. A 'diet
diary' will be given to you in order to gain baseline information about the who, what, when,
why, and where of your food intake.
Self-Evaluation. Add a self-rating segment to your daily diet diary. Praise yourself when you
deserve it. Self-reinforcement can add to motivation. Add any other thoughts that appear
Self-Reward. Work out a reward system that is tied to your diet diary. Reward not only
weight loss but also definite changes in your eating habits (for example, eating more slowly).
Money is an effective reward. Put aside the money you would have spent on confectionery or
other unnecessary food and buy yourself something special like
new clothes (you may need them!) when you reach a goal. Do
not use food as a reward.
Make reinforcers harder and harder to earn. At first, promise
yourself that if you reach a caloric goal, you can, for example,
go out to a movie. Soon, you should have to reach your target
for, say, three successive days before you win the same reward,
and so on.
Late at night, his own stomach would foil
Gordon's attempt at dieting.
General Problem Solving. You are encouraged to become
your own problem-solver. Search for solutions to your eating
problems. When you start 'owning' your poor eating behaviours
you are more likely to change them. Self-help also promotes
greater satisfaction and a deserved sense of achievement when
goals are attained.
Prepared by Peter J. Murphy
How to lose weight behaviourally
The following procedures modify undesirable eating patterns to an appropriate, controlled
eating style. For example, much research has shown that overweight people are distinguished
by their high speed of eating.
Pace your Eating. By slowing the rate of eating you will normally eat less. The extra time
allows you to sense the feeling of fullness and to stop
before becoming 'stuffed.' By slowing your pace you
will also avoid the temptation of getting extra servings
Feeding Frenzy!!!
while waiting for others to finish.
Always use eating utensils. Take small bites. Chew
your food well. Put your eating utensils down between
each bite. Introduce delays between bites of up to two
minutes - fill in this time (for example, by chatting or
reading to someone). Eat bulky foods or foods that take
a long time to eat (for example, salads, bony fish). Set a
minimum time for each meal (perhaps 25 minutes).
These procedures may contribute to an earlier sensation
of fullness or succeed in directly slowing you down.
If you find that you still eat faster than others, make sure
that you are the last to sit down at the table and the first to leave.
Plan your Eating. Avoid skipping meals and subsequently eating when starved, when you are
more likely to eat too fast and too much before you feel full. Regular, planned meals promote
controlled eating.
Set a reasonable goal for the amount of calories you want to consume each day. You do not
have to immediately achieve that goal; it is often best to reach it in stages. For instance, you
may currently consume 3 800 calories daily, and your desired goal is 1 200. You may have to
progress through a series of sub-goals - from 2 500, down to 1 600, and eventually to 1200.
Purchase a 'Calorie Counter' booklet (available at most newsagents) to ascertain what
constitutes a proper goal for you.
Focus on Internal Cues. Leave a small amount of your favourite food on your plate each
meal, especially when you eat out. This will help you overcome the habit of automatically
eating whatever is in front of you. This also makes you attend to internal hunger cues rather
than responding impulsively to external stimuli. Whenever you feel an urge to eat, ask
yourself: 'Am I really hungry?'
Alternative Behaviours. Once you have learned what signals or events in your environment
(for example, food advertisements, other people eating, boredom) cue you to want to eat, you
should substitute alternative, competing responses to these stimuli. Examples of such
alternatives include: cleaning your house, writing a letter, taking a walk or a shower, and
talking to a friend. These behaviours will take you away from food and perhaps distract you
until the urge subsides. Another technique is to set a timer for five or ten minutes in order to
introduce a delay before eating. Frequently the urge to eat will subside during this time.
Prepared by Peter J. Murphy
How to lose weight behaviourally
As you more deeply analyse your behavioural patterns relating to eating, you will learn to
intervene early in a chain of behaviours that often lead to eating. Plan competing activities for
times you have consistently noticed feeling hungry. It is easier to substitute alternate
behaviours early in such a chain than late. For example, decide now not to search for your
purse/wallet to get money for confectionery rather than having to decide later not to buy
something as you stand in front of a feast of lollies and chips at the shop or vending machine!
These problem 'behaviour chains' that end in
eating are often caused by negative emotional
states (for example, boredom, anxiety, depression
or tiredness). If you experience one of these
feelings and an associated urge to raid the fridge
or pantry, be ready with competing activities that
are not related to food. If these emotions are
severe, seek professional advice.
Refuse offers of Food. As with cigarettes and
alcohol, people are often offered food in social
situations. You must learn to politely and
assertively refuse food that has not been
specifically requested by you. Do not let other
people influence your eating habits.
Make Eating Outside of Mealtimes Difficult.
People are less willing to eat when it requires
effort to be expended. For example, almonds that
require shelling are often left untouched at parties.
Apply this knowledge to your own eating
behaviour, for example, always toast bread one
piece at a time. And don't accumulate coins that
can be used to purchase 'junk food.'
Control Snacking. Keep a quantity of noncaloric
foods (for example, raw carrot, celery) on hand to
use as snacks instead of confectionery. Every time
you eat something, estimate the number of calories
in it, and keep a cumulative total as the day
progresses. In this way you will know where you stand in relation to your daily caloric intake
goal at any time of the day. You will find that there will rarely be room for snacks.
Most normal-weight people eat when they feel hungry. In many overweight people, the
availability of food or food cues tend to trigger eating. By modifying the environment, you can
control the stimuli that trigger the urge to eat. Because eating can occur under many different
conditions, many different stimuli become associated with the act. These become
discriminative stimuli (stimuli that signal consequences) that say, "Go ahead - eat!" Such
signals may come from watching the tele, being interrupted in your work, reading a book,
riding in a car or just being in your bedroom.
Prepared by Peter J. Murphy
How to lose weight behaviourally
Many people find it extremely difficult to resist all these urges. One solution is to weaken the
signals that these stimuli set off. The first step is the reduction of the number of signals you
associate with the act of eating. This does not require that you stop eating, but that you control
where and when you eat.
Narrow the Range of Cues Associated with Eating. Eat only in a few specified places - for
example, the dining room, the picnic table
outside your workplace. At home, use the one
set of eating utensils and a distinctive place
setting. Try not to eat alone and never eat in
the bedroom. Do not routinely combine eating
with a second activity such as reading or
watching television. Otherwise these activities
will come to elicit an eating response. If you
are watching 'the Simpsons' and feel an
overwhelming urge for something sweet, you
must turn off the television, get the food item,
eat it in your specified place, and when you
finish, you can then turn the tele back on.
"I was reminded of the refrigerator by the
installment I just paid on it."
Minimise contact with Food. Avoid places
that have been troublesome for problem eating.
Don't sit in the kitchen after finishing preparing your meals. Do not linger around the local
shops. Don't stop to talk near the cafeteria or vending machines at work. Don't sit in coffee
shops in shopping centres to eat - order something healthy that you can take away and go and
sit in a park. Minimise the temptation!
Introduce Cues to Eat Less. Put a weight graph on the wall in your room. Place posters of
slim people (how I want to be), or obese people (how I do not want to be), or both, on your
wall. Buy some relevant Garfield or Homer Simpson
posters. Put helpful slogans and reminders in prominent
places. Keep a weight-control scrap book (tips, recipes,
progress charts...).
Pre-Plan. Eat at pre-planned times - three times a day
only. Do not skip meals - especially breakfast. Plan your
meal ahead of time in terms of calorie allowances and
food types. Writing down your plan will increase the
likelihood that you will stick to it. Monitor your intake
and correct the plan if you fail to adhere to it. This
continuous feedback will enhance your control over your
food intake. It is especially important to plan for parties
and dining out where you are more likely to overeat. If
practicable, prepare your next meal soon after eating.
"We're having meatloaf ... Mum's
dieting, so she said she just wanted
a salad."
Eliminate Visual Food Cues. Do not have tempting
foods available. Food should only be kept in the kitchen. Store all food in sealed containers,
preferably opaque ones. Store low-calorie foods in easier reach than 'problem' foods. Put
extra food away before starting to eat. Get rid of any posters related to food.
Prepared by Peter J. Murphy
How to lose weight behaviourally
Avoid Purchasing Unnecessary Food. Shop from a list. Shop shortly after eating. Don't
take extra money or small change with you when you go to buy a paper or magazine or fill the
car. (Have you noticed how some petrol stations have entrances and counters positioned so
you have to walk past long rows of junk food to pay for your petrol?) When you go to town
plan your expenses so that you do not end up with spare cash that you will be tempted to spend
on food. Never buy more than one confectionery item at a time.
At Mealtime. Use small plates at dinner - this makes your portion seem larger than it really is.
Use a dessert or salad plate for your main meal. Do not use serving platters. Leave the table
as soon as possible after finishing what is on your plate. And of course, serve smaller
Avoid Condiments. Don't put sauces on the dining table if possible. Sit at the end of the
dining table in order to be farthest away from any sauces and condiments that are put out. If
you are overwhelmed by an urge for sauce then get up and get it yourself, don't ask for it to be
passed to you.
Gain Support. Ask your partner, child or trusted friend to monitor your eating habits. Let
them read this handout in order to understand what they should be looking for. Arrange a
contract with him or her that will promote positive changes in your eating habits by reinforcing
desired behaviours and discouraging poor eating behaviours. Specify in your contract the
specific behaviours you want to achieve (for example, number of calories consumed; leaving
food on your plate). Don't risk your marriage or friendship - act responsibly, keep your
obligations, and don't get crabby when they try to help. Tell as many people as possible that
you are slimming - this may give you added incentive to succeed.
When you perform appropriate behaviour, the partner/friend should comment on it, encourage
it, socially reinforce it. when you do not perform the behaviour, he or she should ignore it
completely and give no sign of noticing your lapse. Show your 'diet diary' to a particular friend
on a regular basis. The friend should reinforce as above.
Miss J was a self-confessed chocolate addict.
Single, and in her late twenties, she felt her ten
excess kilos impaired her relations with men. She
ate normally at mealtime and drank little alcohol, but
her passion for chocolate kept the ten kilos glued to
her hips. Every afternoon at three she would leave
her office, go down to the newsagent, purchase six to
eight confectionery bars, and, before work ended,
finish them all. Sometimes she would make a return
trip, buy more, and put them in her purse to munch
on the bus.
The suggestion of a small, initial cutback brought an
emotional response: "I can't. I have to have them!"
Many stimuli apparently signalled her to "go eat
chocolate." A behavioural weight loss program was initiated with the aims of finding and
lessening the impact of the cues that triggered her eating.
Prepared by Peter J. Murphy
How to lose weight behaviourally
The program allowed the consumption of chocolate bars but only under these conditions:
Only one chocolate bar could be purchased at a time.
Chocolate could be eaten only in an eating place.
Every bar had to be recorded in her diet diary.
The bar was eaten in small bites; after each bit the remainder was put on the table.
Time between bites was a minimum of fifteen seconds and up to two minutes.
Miss J's employer maintained a
cafeteria that contained a chocolate
vending machine. Whenever she
craved a chocolate bar, Miss J had to
go to the crowded cafeteria (not the
newsagent), buy a single chocolate bar,
sit down at a table, make a tally on her
record sheet, and eat the bar. If she felt
the urge for a second, she had to go
back to the machine, buy the bar, and
repeat the process. If she felt the
craving while travelling on a bus, she
had to get off, find a coffee shop or
cafeteria, go in, buy a bar, sit at a table,
mark her tally, and consume the bar.
Because she really wanted to break her
habit, Miss J cooperated well.
Knowing she could have an unlimited
number of candy bars took away her
fear of deprivation.
It took close to four weeks before Miss
J became aware that she was eating far
fewer chocolate bars. Then Miss J
realised that when she was in the office
or travelling, she rarely felt the signal
"eat." She started to go to the cafeteria
far less often. By narrowing down the
eating cues, control over the 'addiction'
was established. After eight weeks
Miss J. rarely ate a chocolate bar. She
began a light exercise program and she
had lost four kilos at ten weeks after
the behavioural program began.
Prepared by Peter J. Murphy
How to lose weight behaviourally
Ensure that you eat three meals per day. Even though weight loss is the goal, it is important
not to cut out the meal, but rather to adjust the type and quantity of food at each sitting. Some
other guidelines for sensible dieting are:
†The 25, 50, 25 Rule. Research has proven that if you eat the majority of your calories prior
to 1.00 p.m. it will help in weight loss. Eat 25% of your total calorie intake for breakfast,
50% at lunch and 25% for tea.
†Do not purchase pre-prepared meals. Having to prepare your own meals has many
benefits, including: more nutritious meals, more variety, a greater sense of control of your
diet, and it accustoms you to being near food without eating immediately (if you can resist
nibbling as you go!).
†Try and engage in some aerobic exercise prior to your tea. Again research has proven that
exercise prior to meal time will increase the pace of your metabolism and ability of your
body to burn calories. Exercise prior to meals
can reduce hunger in some people - try it!
†Decrease calorie intake (sensibly) and
increase calorie expenditure (exercise).
†Eat foods without much fat. Cut out items
such as fried foods (chips, hamburgers),
margarine, oils, sauces, potato crisps and most
'fast' foods.
†Eat foods without sugar. Cut out items such as
honey, jam, soft drinks, desserts, biscuits and
canned fruit.
†Eat heaps of 'high fibre' foods. You can eat as
much as you like of foods such as fruit,
vegetables, salads, and rice.
"You know? ...
I think I'd like a salad."
†Eat smaller portions of meat, and try fish and
poultry as alternatives.
†Try to drink six to eight glasses of water per day.
Dieting is really just common sense! And remember that losing weight is a gradual process
(after all, it took months - even years - to put weight on, so it is only sensible that it will take a
considerable length of time to lose it).
We all know that certain foods are hazardous to weight control, and so we must learn to
control our desire for these foodstuffs and substitute foods which aid in weight control and
healthy living. Note also that we do not need to eat entree or dessert every day. Our calorie
intake can be satisfied with a balanced main meal. We do not need soft drink - fruit juice or
Prepared by Peter J. Murphy
How to lose weight behaviourally
water are adequate. Items such as chips, lollies and chocolates are downright stupid for anyone
seriously trying to control weight. These items are loaded with 'empty calories' and it is these
calories which pile on weight.
The behavioural weight loss package outlined in this paper should allow you to lose a kilogram
a week - a sensible and realistic goal. If after a number of weeks the scales do not show a
weight loss, either you have set your calorie level too high and you must lower it, or you are
underestimating the number of calories in your food intake. Check this out and make needed
adjustments. Don't forget that regular exercise will help. If you need further assistance or
clarification do not hesitate to contact me.
In summary, remember to:
Ж’ Record and learn your eating habits.
Ж’ Modify your environment in order to control the stimuli that trigger the desire to eat.
Ж’ Change your eating behaviours - in particular, slow the pace of eating.
Good Luck! And if all fails ...
Frank and Ernest
by Bob Thaves
Prepared by Peter J. Murphy
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