Dealing with Deprivation

in Weight Loss and Maintenance


Feeling deprived often leads dieters or maintainers to get off track. And once they do, it can take some of them days, weeks, or even months to get back on track. Meanwhile, they may have regained weight and become demoralized. So it is critical to address deprivation before it arises, so dieters will be prepared to deal with it effectively and stick to their plan.

Two people go to the same dinner party. After dinner they both limit themselves to two cookies from the lavish spread of dessert. Why does one walk away feeling great while the other walks away feeling terribly deprived? The answer is that deprivation is in the eye of the beholder.

When clients first come to see us as part of the Cognitive Behavioral-based program that we've developed to help dieters lose weight and keep it off, we find that they often initially feel a sense of deprivation when they limit their food intake. When they have just one slice of cake at a wedding, they think, "It's so unfair that I can't eat as much as everyone else is."

One reason dieters often feel so deprived is because of their history of depriving themselves. When they "dieted," they cut out whole categories of favorite foods, such as bread or cake or ice cream. Our program teaches dieters that they shouldn't eliminate any food that they will eventually want to eat again. Instead, they need to learn how to eat their favorite foods in reasonable portions, noticing and enjoying every bite. Many of our dieters, for example, decide to have one dessert a day. They initially find this "legalization" strange because they have traditionally labeled dessert as "bad."

We help dieters understand that there is a huge middle ground between having none of their favorite foods and having way too much. We address their automatic thoughts, e.g., "I shouldn't have eaten that cookie. I'm not going to let myself have cookies again for a long time so I'd better eat as much as I can right now." They often write a coping card for themselves with a message such as the following: "I can have a reasonable portion of cookies every single day if I want. Desserts are an important part of a lifetime eating plan. I don't need to have more right now because I can always have more tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that."

When our dieters realize that they can have a reasonable dessert every day, they break through their former all-or-nothing eating approach and recognize that they never need to go overboard because they will always have the opportunity to have more dessert the next day. Their sense of deprivation decreases significantly. In fact, one sign that dieters are ready to "graduate" from our program is when they leave an event, having followed their plan, and feel so good about the extra food they didn't eat. 
So, the dieter who goes to a party and feels really deprived about eating only two cookies is probably thinking, "I wish I could have more. Dieting is terrible. I never get to eat my favorite foods," while the dieter who feels good about limiting herself to two cookies is probably thinking, "I'm so glad I ate those two cookies slowly and really enjoyed each bite. I don't need to have more now because I can have more every single day, if I want. Besides, when I stick to reasonable portions I can have it both ways: I can eat cookies and lose weight."

Beck, J.S. (2007).  The Beck Diet Solution: Train Your Brain to Think Like a Thin Person. 

Birmingham, AL: Oxmoor House Publications.

CBT for Weight Loss and Maintenance:

A Two Day Workshop for Individuals Who Work With Dieters



This workshop will demonstrate specific skills to help dieters:

  • Overcome reluctance, resistance, and rebellion
  • Motivate themselves daily
  • Deal effectively with hunger and craving
  • Eliminate emotional eating
  • Respond to feelings of unfairness, disappointment, discouragement, and deprivation
  • Recover right away from a dieting mistake
  • Follow their plan, even when they don't feel like it
  • Handle stressful situations and special occasions
  • Set realistic and achievable goals 


When: November 11-12, 2013, 9:00 AM - 4:00 PM

WhereBeck Institute, Suburban Philadelphia

Faculty: Judith S. Beck, PhD, and Deborah Beck Busis, LSW


*This workshop includes 12 CE/CME credits*


For more information, or to sign-up, visit our website.

If you're a consumer, and you'd like to learn more about how to lose weight and keep it off, attend our Beck Diet Solution Workshop for dieters on May 12, 2014. In this one-day workshop, you will learn how to make permanent changes in your thinking so that you can make permanent changes in your eating. For more information on this workshop, click here.
Judith Beck and Deborah Beck Busis
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