What other self-help methods can be used within other non-behavioral parts of the problem?
The 20 methods above are all directed towards changing our behavior, not our emotions or skills or attitudes or unconscious motives. In every problem situation, something is probably happening in all five parts of the problem (see chapter 2). Ask yourself: What is going on at other levels? What can be done?
Part II: The conscious emotions
As you probably realized long ago, and as I have repeatedly emphasized, oral habits--eating, drinking, smoking--are often intimately tied with emotions. The emotions may not be obvious to you; it may just seem like a habit to overeat or overdrink or smoke. There is no way of knowing for sure all the causes for your unwanted habits. However, if some bad habit seems especially hard to change, certainly consider the possibility that the behavior satisfies a basic need, avoids something unpleasant, or is in some way associated with an emotion.
The questions you should ask yourself are: What needs and emotions are connected with this habit? How can I take care of those needs (without continuing the unwanted behavior)? Should these needs and feelings be reduced or handled some other way? If yes, how?
Overeating frequently allays anxiety and loneliness or sadness; drinking may reduce stress or depression and give courage and "good times;" cigarettes help us relax and, according to new evidence, may reduce our depression. Between 30% and 60% of smokers are depressed. Those emotions are discussed in chapters 5, 6, and 9, which give many suggestions for handling those needs and feelings. Over-eating, like most other problems related to feelings, can probably benefit from self-help groups which give encouragement and focus on reducing the stresses of life. Once you have dealt with the unwanted emotions, your unwanted oral habits may be easier to change.
A caution: experienced weight loss experts tell me that perhaps 50% of over-weight people simply lack knowledge about nutrition and metabolic functions. When told what they need to eat and do (exercise), many will do it and lose weight. In such cases, there is no need for therapy for emotions; indeed, the excess weight may cause emotions, rather than emotions causing weight.
Part III: Skills
Besides knowing how to change yourself, a dieter needs knowledge about (1) good nutrition and eating habits, (2) how to count calories and fat calories, and (3) how to organize a good exercise program. A lot of books provide this information. In addition, you need to recognize overindulging and its serious consequences. Many books are useful for overeating (Mahoney & Mahoney, 1976), drinking (Alcohol and Health, 1971), smoking (The Health Consequences of Smoking, 1973), and drugs (Kornetsky, 1976). See recent books about low-fat diets.
You can learn new ways to meet your needs: new social skills could reduce loneliness better than eating. New assertiveness could handle stress and anger better than alcohol. Deep muscle relaxation or meditation might calm you much more than cigarettes. New values, goals, study, and decision-making skills might make the future look brighter than drugs or alcohol or cigarettes ever could (see chapter 13).
Part IV: Self-concept, expectations, attitudes, motivation, values
Factors at this level are likely to be major contributors to overindulging. Examples of self-defeating expectations: "I've always been fat...and I always will be." "I really like my cigarettes, I can't give them up." "I can handle my alcohol." "I need a couple (really 4 or 5 and increasing) of drinks after work; there's nothing wrong with that." If you see yourself as overweight by nature, as addicted to coffee or cigarettes and too weak to overcome the habit, as born to be a nervous person who needs to drink, and so on, it's going to be hard to change your behavior without changing the self-concept of helplessness first (see chapter 14). As mentioned before, if you deny that the behavior is a problem, obviously it makes no sense to struggle with something that's "no problem," right? (See methods #7, #13, & #14 above.)
Many of these unwanted habits are costly as well as harmful. I recently talked with a budding alcoholic who estimated drinking 8 to 10 beers a day and smoking 2 packs of cigarettes. That totals to more than $10 per day or $3650 per year or over $200,000 in a life-time (assuming it doesn't get worse and there is no inflation). You can easily estimate the cost of your unwanted habits. Could it be better spent? Also, what about the value of your time spent this way rather than doing something more helpful to you, your loved ones, or needy others? A moral person will surely consider these factors (see chapter 3).
Part V: Unconscious motives
Can fat meet unconscious needs? Could fat be a barrier to intimacy? Could it be less stressful if you were sexually unattractive and not approached by the opposite sex? Could lots of fat be a way of rebelling against nagging parents or spouses (even dead and divorced ones)? Could fat be a way to express resentment towards a "loved one" (actually a resented one)? Could bigness give a feeling of strength and power to a person who feels inadequate? Could overeating be a form of self-punishment in some people (Orbach, 1987)? Could drinking be a way to forget our troubles? Could alcohol be an excuse for becoming belligerent or sexually aggressive? Could drinking be a way to get attention, become dependent and inept, to fail and feel bad, and to get sympathy and be taken care of (Steiner, 1971)?
Insight into "what makes us tick" can be both helpful and fascinating. Don't run away from considering all the possibilities (see chapter 15).
Pulling it all together into a treatment plan
You may be thinking that I have made the simple act of overeating delicious food much too complicated. You may be right. However, it is to your advantage to know many of the possible causes of your unwanted habit and many of the possible self-help methods, even though you may need only 2 or 3 methods with this problem. (Actually, most people have to try several methods before succeeding. So, you are likely to need several methods.) Our oral habits are good illustrations of the five different levels to each problem.
This chapter helps you understand behavior, but to change your behavior, you need to follow the guidelines in chapter 2, consider your values (chapter 3), and know how to apply the above self-control methods (this is described in chapter 11). This sounds a little complicated--but don't let it scare you.
You have just been exposed to many self-help methods. All might work for you, but the best plan is probably a simple one. (It is your plan that needs to be simple, not your mind or your knowledge of self-help!) So, develop an easy-to-use approach by looking over the list of 20 behavioral change methods above and see which ones seem most likely to work with the problem you are working on. Keep in mind, the generally most dependable, most usable methods for most people are: (1) change the environment to increase your chances of carrying out the desired behavior, (2) observe the antecedents and consequences of the "target" behavior, keeping accurate records of your progress, and (3) do everything possible to reinforce the desired behavior when it occurs. Rather quickly put together a "treatment plan;" the idea is to try something and see if it works. As explained in chapter 2, however, once you have decided to try a particular method, then be very careful to apply the method correctly. Refer to chapter 11 for detailed directions for each method. Try it out and see what happens.
If your first plan doesn't work, figure out what you might be overlooking, perhaps some emotion or an attitude or a skill, and modify your plan. There are hundreds of possible ways to change--and, in most cases, you can find a workable approach better than anyone else.