Melanie, a dieter who consulted me a few months ago, recently contacted me for a “booster” session. She was doing great, still losing about 3 pounds a month. She was no longer writing down her food plan in advance, nor did she need to. Instead, she was able to decide at each meal and snack what she wanted to have and to eyeball her portions instead of measuring her food. She made sure to have plenty of (usually) lean protein and vegetables for lunch and dinner (along with a portion of healthy fat and a grain or starch). She mostly ate fruit or nuts for snacks. And she continued to eat whatever junk food she wanted (about 200-250 calories) at night. Melanie wanted to branch out in her selection of dinner entrees. Her husband wanted her to start cooking some old favorites such as lasagna and corned beef brisket. We had the following conversation:

Melanie: I’m afraid if I start to eat foods like that, I’ll gain weight.

Dr. Beck: Not if you keep your portion small.

Melanie: I’m afraid if I have less protein, I’ll be hungry.

Dr. Beck: And what are you afraid will happen if you’re hungry?

Melanie: I don’t know. I guess I just don’t like the thought of it.

Dr. Beck: Do you remember when you did the hunger experiment? (pages 121-125) What did you find out?

Melanie: I know, I know. Hunger is never an emergency. I do remind myself of that some times. But, I don’t know, it seems worse at night.

Dr. Beck: Well, do you want to do some experiments? For example, you could use your protein calories for corned beef. It will be a smaller portion than chicken. But here’s what I want you to do. Don’t linger at the table when you’re finished. Plan an activity beforehand to do right after dinner. And set a timer for 20 minutes. When the timer goes off, check your hunger level. If you’re still hungry, just tolerate it—leave the house if you think you need to. And the next day, do a similar experiment. But this time, skip your morning snack and have it sometime after dinner (immediately if you want to or later on). Plus you’ll still have your regular evening snack. What do you think?

Melanie tried the experiment with various dinner entrees, and to her relief, found that she wasn’t overcome with hunger. But she really liked the idea of eliminating her morning snack so she could have two evening snacks. She’s been sticking with her new plan for a couple of weeks now and is glad to be able to branch out and eat more in the evening.