It's nearly Easter and as far as food is concerned, it's all about chocolate. Everywhere - on TV, in supermarkets and magazines - you’ll see mountains of chocolate eggs, Easter bunnies and an invitation to indulge (after all, you’re worth it!). Chocolate manufacturers aren’t stupid. They know perfectly well that even the most determined dieter will be tempted, hence comforting messages to help us deal with the guilt, as we are poised to raise the white flag and admit defeat. Some of us, however, have already surrendered. These are those I call “Victim Dieters” and they were out in force at a recent support group meeting!
The conversation inevitably turned towards the subject of Easter and the various holidays and festivities that were planned. Soon the victim dieters were getting into their stride; let’s listen in for a moment:
“Well I don’t know how I’m expected to stay on a diet when I have so many people coming to stay – I can’t just sit there while everyone else eats what they want”
“We’re going away for a few days with friends and the accommodation is full board so the diet will be impossible. It’s such a waste not to eat food when it’s paid for”
“I’m sure my husband will buy me chocolate and will want to go for an expensive dinner somewhere. What am I supposed to do – say no?”
There is something very interesting about this sort of comment. The decision to over-eat and break the diet has already been made. The individuals concerned don’t say that it may be difficult to follow the diet during this period. They make no reference to what strategies they might employ to manage their weight or how they could avoid circumstances where they will be tempted by sweets or chocolate. They simply state that – in effect – they haven’t the slightest intention of working with the diet.
This degree of self-deception is only possible because victim dieters believe they have no control over their circumstances. After all, they didn’t want to have the lunch/eat the chocolate/ have friends to stay/go on an all-inclusive holiday etc, it’s just that they had to. It’s not their fault. And when you have to do something you don’t want, because of reasons over which you have no control – you are, by definition, a victim. By this means the victim dieter does what he/she must do; avoid taking responsibility. Unsurprisingly, this sort of self-deception can be remarkably resilient, especially when challenged. If I suggest to someone that maybe they could have arranged things a little differently, they are often indignant or even angry precisely because they need to hold on to the delusion that none of this is their fault. The moment they concede that they are responsible and could have done things differently, the excuse has vanished.
If you are a victim dieter, you can be sure of one thing; you will not succeed in losing weight. There is no ambiguity about this. Losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight is difficult enough, but attempting to do it on the basis of chronic delusions and wishful thinking is doomed to failure.
If, on the other hand, you genuinely want to succeed here are some simple tips to help you negotiate the Easter festivities.
Whether you are the giver or the receiver, look for Easter gifts that don't involve food or chocolate. Alternatives include beauty products, flowers, a day at a health spa, a basket of fruit, or some seasonal flowers. Don’t be afraid to tell your partner, family and friends about your preferences. Train them!
Keep a diary of your food intake and physical activity. Studies have shown that people who monitor their behaviours in this way are less at risk of gaining weight during holiday periods. Awareness is crucial.
You don’t have to avoid chocolate altogether – but you have to be sensible. Chocolate Easter eggs contain enormous quantities of fat and calories. A large egg - which you might eat in less than 30 minutes - could contain more than 1800 calories - equal to an entire day’s food intake! By all means treat yourself, but make sure you read the labels and choose the small option, preferably a bar so you can avoid all the calories hidden inside the egg.
Remember also that dark chocolate tends to have less fat and fewer calories than either milk or white chocolate. You are also likely to be satisfied with less.
Never, ever choose an all-inclusive holiday. It’s a disaster for anyone trying to maintain a healthy weight. And don’t delude yourself by saying “Oh well, I’ll just have to say no”. This is more fantasy. Remember – “if it’s there you’ll eat it and if it’s there and it’s free you’ll eat even more of it!”
Easter is a time for family and friends and for enjoying food and drink together. But with just a bit more thought and effort, it doesn’t have to result in weight gain.
Dr David Ashton, MD PhD
Medical Director, Healthier Weight