Thinking like a thin person?

The tenant who was in my apartment right before me was an avid subscriber to magazines. I have already enjoyed several. Yesterday, I received Health Magazine. It's not a magazine I typically read, or even am really interested in, but it was there, so I started flipping through.

There is a new book out on dieting. Shocker, huh? It's by Judith Beck, a cognitive behavioral therapist, daughter of the creator of CBT, Aaron Beck. The title of the book is: The Beck Diet Solution Weight Loss Workbook: The 6-Week Plan to Train Your Brain to Think Like a Thin Person. I've heard of this book before- it was hyped in Oprah's magazine (as found in my therapist's waiting room). But this article went a little more in depth, which allowed me to be even more astounded than before.

Problem One: Thinking like a thin person.

Have there been any studies that have said that thin people actually think differently than not-thin people? I know lots of thin people who enjoy their food and don't give it a second thought after "What do I want to eat right now?" Is there a "fat brain circuit"?

Problem Two: Assuming that fat people are fat because of their thinking/eating patterns.

Um, apparently Dr. Beck is unaware that body size and shape are largely determined by genetics. Yes, there's a lifestyle portion to it as well, and I'm not saying you should neglect your health for any reason. If you binge eat for emotional reasons, it's not that you "thought your way fat." It's that there are underlying emotional issues to be resolved. Again, working on your emotions is quite different than "thinking your way thin."

Problem Three: Reasons to lose weight

The "official" anti-obesity propaganda says that being fat is a health risk. It rarely, if ever, says anything about fashion or appearance. However, losing weight in the popular culture is as much (if not more) appearance and self-esteem issue as it is a health one. Top weight loss comment? "You look great." Not "I bet your cholesterol levels really took a tumble, Betty!" The sample checklist given in the magazine is the following (I'm reading as I type so this is word for freaking word):

  • I'll look better and more attractive
  • I'll have more confidence
  • I'll be able to wear a smaller size
  • I won't feel so self-conscious
  • My blood pressure will go down
  • I'll have more energy
  • I'll make a better impression on people
  • My family won't remark on my weight or eating
  • I'll feel more in control
  • Add your own reasons below!

Get the idea? There's ONE health reason for losing weight. Here's a solution: your family comments on your food and weight? Tell them to stop it. That's their issue, not yours. Maybe Aunt Susie has good intentions, but you can tell her that you appreciate her concern but please knock it off. You don't have to lose weight.

Problem Four: Stick to "The Plan"

According to Beck, you can't screw up at all if you want to lose weight. Craving something? Suck it up, buttercup. You can't eat that. Screw the crummy boyfriend, house fire, hormones. No chocolate for you (like the Seinfeld soup Nazi). The cheese you were planning to eat turns moldy? Eat the cheese anyway. Or go without. But god forbid eat something similar. To quote, "It's not okay to eat something you didn't plan to eat. Don't rely on making up for it later. If you want to lose weight permanently, you have to learn to stick to your plan."

Problem Five: Sabotaging self-sabotaging

Another part of the plan is countering "sabotaging thoughts." I kind of see that part. Kind of. I know I self-sabotage sometimes. It's a real phenomenon. But these ones? Ha! "It's okay to skip exercising today. I'm too tired." I hate to break it to you, but you're going to continue to be tired unless you give yourself a freaking break. Besides, I don't want someone who's coughing 8 liters of crud out of their lungs working out next to me.

Or "It's okay to eat this food even though I hadn't planned to because everyone else is eating it." Your reply should be: No it's NOT okay to eat that because my goal is permanent weight loss. If that's the case, then your goal is also perpetual insanity. And continuing to feel self-conscious. I've been there, where everyone else is celebrating something, eating like real humans do, and I'm standing against the wall, drooling like a rabid skunk and sipping my Diet Coke. That's self-conscious.

Problem Six: What this diet does to your thinking.

At the end of the day, you don't think like a thin person. You think like a food-obsessed dieter. Here are some comments of successful losers:

"Every time I'm tempted to put something in my mouth that isn't planned, I feel like I have the option in that moment of getting stronger or weaker, not just heavier or thinner."

"I used to be a spontaneous eater, eating whenever and whatever I wanted. But being hungry is not an emergency. Dr. Beck taught me that I have to plan what I eat and stick to it if I want to be thin."

Talk about society at work there. Because fat people are weak and thin people are strong. Right. That's how it works.

Oh, and hunger is an emergency. So is thirst. Your body doesn't give you those signals for fun. It gives you those signals because it needs fuel, dammit. Believe me, hunger can be an emergency. Not being able to honor my hunger nearly killed me.

So, what I've learned from this book is that you may or may not be able to think like a thin person, but you definitely will be able to drive yourself completely insane.

Sorry, Dr. Beck. Save it for someone else. I have better things to do with my time and money.

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Harriet Brown said...

Geez. I'm wondering if I should be embarrassed to be writing for Health magazine right now. Number four especially sounds like a recipe for an eating disorder.

æ said...

yeah, Health magazine is a load of crap. "Health" magazine.

the real irony to me is that CBT is an extremely common ED treatment approach.

Jeanne said...

The title of the book should be:

The Beck Diet
: How to train your brain for a full-out eating disorder.

All of those points that you mentioned - all of them were things I did when in the throes of my ED. Was I thinner? Not really, but I was on my way... to skeletal (or actually, in-patient first.)

And yeah, CBT is an awful common treatment for EDs... but this plan goes against everything that CBT for EDs works towards, doesn't it?

Apparently, Judith has some father issues, hasn't she?

Sarah said...

wow. Although I am a consumer of therapy, I don't know anything about all the different types, methods, etc.

But that all sounds like a load of shite to me.

disordered girl said...

That quote about sticking to the plan is disturbing, and undermines the entire idea of not obsessing about food. Stupid!!!

The magazines should be promoting Intuitive Eating, not this crud.

Katy said...

*bangs head against keyboard*

Shit like this just DOESN'T MAKE SENSE--it's a well documented fact that deprivation leads to binging leads to weight gain. You can't "think" yourself out of biological reality.

Intuitive. Freaking. Eating. Your body wants to be healthy--hunger signals mean you need food. Fullness signals mean you don't. No one would ever tell you to think yourself out of going to the bathroom or drinking when you're thirsty--how is this different?!?!?! Your body no more wants to overeat than it wants to over-pee or over-hydrate!

This cracked me up--I think "...drooling like a rabid skunk and sipping my diet coke" perfectly encapsultes partying with an eating disorder. (I've never seen a rabid skunk, but I'm pretty sure I've been one.)

"Health" magazine my ass.

carrie said...

That's the interesting point, perhaps why so many EDs start out as diets- it's the thinking style, the way you approach food. That, combined with some genetics.

All I have to say is, Amen sisters.

marcella said...

CBT has always been a bit of a bugbear in our house. It is highly recommended in local eating disorders circles, and promoted as effective, but, cynic that I am I'm a little dubious of the statistics.

The favoured approach round here is that of Prof Fairbairn who reckons he has developed an effective transdiagnostic treatment for eating disorders. His stuff is in no way anorexenogenic like this, but the trouble is, even with his approach, it doesn't leave much leeway for intuitive eating (or intuitive anything else really) as it makes the subject concentrate so much on challenging his/her feelings. My daughter backed off at the first hurdle. Does that mean she's "not ready to tackle her eating disorder" or that waiting until someone is "ready" to cure themselves of what is at least in part a brain disease is cruel and pointless and another approach should be tried? Who knows?

Michelle said...

What is it like to think to be a thin person, wheeeeee, wheeeeee, I'm thin, look at me!!!! /sarcasm Restricting food is always a bad idea, and only leads to more disordered eating!!

lauren said...

Thinking about you today sweetie, I hope you are doing well
lots of love Lauren
In the words of Sinfeld "No Health Magazine for YOU"

carrie said...


I do think CBT is good, but I'm really a fan of DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) which is more skills oriented and practical. Z might find it useful, though I don't know how much it's used in the UK.


I don't think I've met anyone who thinks that, thin or not. Thin is an adjective, not a moral imperative.


Ha! The soup Nazi strikes again!

bron said...

Has anyone ever done a study of how many people quoted in "diet" books end up with an ED? As you said Carrie, it's the same thinking style...

Hope you and Aria are settling in, and that Miss Kitty is feeling less need to 'hide' under the sofa (even though it does look very cute).

Tracy said...

Oh. my. Gawd. I'm coming up with a strategy of never buying a book written by the child of a successful psychologist.

One of the best things I did for my health was cancel my subscription to cable television. Someone should write a book about losing weight by putting oneself on an advertising and media diet.

Pavlovna said...

dude. this article is such a perfect example of sacrificing your mental energy and physical energy and spontaneity and aliveness and vibrancy to the gods of Wearing Size X. how sad. it really, really makes me angry how self-control and food discipline instead of self-respect and courage and intuitiveness are flat-out celebrated and just taken for granted as positive qualities. i hope that any people who by this book come to their senses.
thanks for this post, carrie. i really like your sense of humor. =)
take care.
- pav

Tash said...

I am a fan of CBT for me having been through it. The CBT I had didn't just focus on my eating but looked at deeper issues such as where and how I had established my body image beliefs, tackling my low self esteem and giving me new tools and techniques with which to tackle my down days or relapses. The way I see it is that there is no one size fits al approach to treatment and if clinic psychs or other proffessional can't recognise that then they are the ones at fault not the person who hasan eating disorder.

As for the article in Health mag, well, it sounds like a pile of crap.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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