With a daily calorie goal to aim for, and diet diaries to record how they’d get there, the Blittersdorfs had begun to cultivate a ground-level awareness of the food they were eating, and how much. In their weekly meetings, they learned practicalities: what realistic portion sizes looked like, how to fill their plates with vegetables, salads and other low-calorie foods, how adding a little protein to each meal prolonged its staying power. No food was off-limits, but no food was below scrutiny, either. Even that mini candy bar cadged from a co-worker’s desk had to be accounted for. “You don’t pass judgment on what you eat, but you have to count it,” David says. “So you end up eating better anyway.” Case in point: after years of avoiding salads, he now eats them almost daily.
With time, the calorie awareness became intuitive, and the Blittersdorfs acquired the confidence to handle situations that had previously triggered them to overeat. “I remember being terrified to go to a friend’s house for brunch,” recalls Jan. “How was I going to be around all that delicious food without falling apart?” She smiles. “Now, it’s a no-brainer, because I’ve learned I can have a good time without having to try everything.” Instead, she’ll choose a few items she likes, skipping the rest—and eat them in moderate portions. “If there’s a Danish sitting in front of me, I’ll cut off a small piece, not eat the whole thing. That’s enough for me to be satisfied.”
The behavioral-modification skills the Blittersdorfs honed on the program come in handy when they eat in restaurants too. David learned to control his environment so that he’s not surrounded by tempting food (what behavioral scientists call stimulus control). He no longer lets himself be served a typically huge restaurant portion. “Instead, I’ll say, ‘I’d like it without sauce’—or ‘just bring me half a portion, and wrap up the rest for me to take home,’” he reports confidently. “When you ask for what you want, restaurants are really accommodating.”