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Conquer Your Food Addiction: The Ehrlich 8-Step Program for Permanent Weight Loss

Conquer Your Food Addiction: The Ehrlich 8-Step Program for Permanent Weight Loss

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by Caryl Ehrlich

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"If you struggle with compulsive eating, here is my promise to you: I will show you how to lose your excess weight and keep it off permanently -- but only if you are ready to make a serious commitment."

-- Caryl Ehrlich

Nobody can successfully cajole, argue, or prod another person


"If you struggle with compulsive eating, here is my promise to you: I will show you how to lose your excess weight and keep it off permanently -- but only if you are ready to make a serious commitment."

-- Caryl Ehrlich

Nobody can successfully cajole, argue, or prod another person into shedding those excess pounds. It just doesn't work. The commitment has to come from within. But if you are ready to go for it, the Ehrlich 8-step program for permanent weight loss is a godsend. It is not a diet. It does not tell you what foods you must eat or which ones to avoid. There is no need to count the calories, fat grams, or carbohydrates you consume. The perfect solution for compulsive eaters, it is a behavioral approach to weight loss that teaches you how to change habits to overcome food addiction. Caryl Ehrlich, a former compulsive eater, developed this program twenty-six years ago for herself and has taught it to participants in her program with successful results for twenty years.

As Ehrlich observes, no deprivation diet will work for food addicts, because they use food the way other addicts use drugs or alcohol: not to satisfy physical hunger but to stuff down painful feelings -- loneliness, anger, boredom, sadness, and the like -- with a never-ending conveyor belt of food. "If you're eating for physical satisfaction, you don't really need to eat very much. But if you're eating to narcotize, you could back up a truck full of food to your home or office and it still wouldn't be enough."

Conquer Your Food Addiction shows you how to develop the skills necessary to approach food in a new way, and learn how to distinguish physical hunger from emotional hunger. The program explains the trickiness of addiction so that overeaters become aware of their unconscious, ritualized eating habits and awaken to a new, realistic relationship with food. Binge eating, guilt, and anxieties about food and body image will be dramatically lessened as understanding increases. Using original concepts and easy assignments, this proven program retrains the thought process so you see food in a new, better, and healthier way.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This behavioral approach to losing weight is divided into eight weekly sessions in which participants work to overcome their addictive eating habits and strive to meet a personal weight-loss goal. The author, a self-described compulsive eater, is a counselor who designed this nutrition program and currently uses it with clients. Although Ehrlich asserts that her rather complicated plan is not a diet with food prohibitions, no one who faithfully follows it will overeat. Based on limiting the number of food types that can be consumed at each meal, this system, according to Ehrlich, will change ritualized compulsive eating into planned, healthy consumption. For example, breakfast should consist of one or two items, lunch can include two to three items and dinner may contain three to four elements, such as a piece of meat, a starch and a vegetable. She also recommends drinking 10 glasses of water a day and prohibits diet sodas and finger foods. Above all, Ehrlich stresses that readers need to change their habits with regard to food: all meals should take at least 20 relaxed minutes to be consumed, each item should be entered in a food log the author details here and meals should be planned ahead of time. (June) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Free Press
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6.32(w) x 9.50(h) x 0.94(d)

Read an Excerpt


An Overheard Conversation

So then what did you do?

So I finally went to a weight control lady. I'd tried everything -- the spa, the fasting farm, buttermilk and grapefruit, and pregnant woman urine shots! You name it, I tried it. But nothing worked.

How did you hear about her?

I was in a stall in a ladies' room when I overheard two women talking about her. The only thing to write on was toilet paper. Anyway, I found her in the Yellow Pages and met with her. The first thing she told me was that I was an addict.

An addict?

Yes, an addict. She said, "The intelligent me says I shouldn't be doing this" -- overeating or bingeing or purging or avoiding fat one week or chocolate another. Whatever I'm doing that I know I shouldn't be doing, I basically can't stop. "Food is my socially acceptable drug," she said. Instead of shoving it up my nose or into my arm, I'm shoving it into my mouth. Are you eating that potato?

No, thanks. Do you want it?

Well. Just a bite.

What else did she say?

I have to keep a log of everything I eat. Get a notebook. Write it all down.

No way.

Exactly. I can't. It's just too humiliating. And of course if I do write it down -- and I'm not sure I want to -- then I might have to do something about it. Do you want that roll? I just want a bite.

No. You can have it. So are you going to work with her?

I don't know. On the one hand, I want to, have to, must lose some weight. I mean it's not a lot, but I'm so out of control. And she's right: I can't stop once I've started. But I'm not ready to give up all my favorite foods like potato chips or rice pudding with raisins. Of course, she says I don't have to.

Do you want to share some dessert?

Those people over there had something chocolaty. I shouldn't but -- well, she said I can have dessert if I'm hungry. But then I have to write it down.

You're going to write it down? I couldn't. I'd be too embarrassed.

She said it was unrealistic to expect to be perfect.

Yeah. But it's still too embarrassing to write it all down.

Let's get the check. It's 11 o'clock, and I have to be up early tomorrow.

No dessert? I had a really bad day, and dessert always makes me feel better.

I'll keep you company but none for me. Then I don't have to write down anything.

This weight control lady is a good influence. Okay. Nothing for me either. Let's get the check.

Food for Thought...

In order to have what you don't have,

first you must do what you don't do.

And then you must do it again, and again, and again, and again, until the new way becomes the comfortable and preferred way.

When you think of a diet, you may be thinking you shouldn't be doing a regime for more than two days, a weekend, a week, ten days, two weeks, a limited period of time.

You might think: Anchovies and buttermilk for ten days? I can do that because eventually, I don't have to do that anymore.

A diet has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The Program is not a diet. To repeat: not a diet, not a diet, not a diet. There is a beginning, a middle, and no end. For whatever reason -- genetic, ethnic, hereditary, situational, circumstantial, seasonal, or regional -- you've stepped over a line and are eating when you're not hungry. But now and for the future, you might have to think a little differently and plan, buy, prepare, or serve a little differently. No matter what assignments I suggest you do, nothing is as difficult or painful as standing in front of a closet full of clothes that no longer fit. Nothing I tell you is as detrimental to your self-esteem and health as is being so out of control with food.

Whether the mind is creating success or failure,

the mind is still creating.

You are a product of your thoughts.

If you continue thinking that you've tried a few things and nothing works, your Addict Pea Brain -- your reptilian, mindless, unconscious brain -- hears that nothing works.

Since the mind achieves its most dominant thought and all you're thinking is that nothing works, that is what you achieve: nothing works.

When you think success, you achieve success.

Think of how you'll look when you reach your weight-loss goal. What do you look like? How do you zip up your skirt or pants? How do you say yes, thank you, to offered food? How do you say no, thank you, to offered food, when appropriate? How do you look when you walk into a room? Do you blush when someone tells you how great you look?

Think of all the reasons you can do this. It is destructive and serves no purpose to give credence to times when you might not have been as successful as you wanted. Instead think: What could I do next time?

"Habit: An acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary." Random House Dictionary

Think of all the habits you have -- the way you brush your teeth, comb your hair, answer the phone, or wash a dish. It doesn't much matter how you wash a dish. Your way is no better than mine and mine no better than yours, as long as the job gets done.

When it comes to eating, however, you've got a habit that is not working for you.

Regularly follow The Program until it becomes almost involuntary.

I am willing to change. I choose to change. The choice is mine.

The choice isn't hot fudge or lettuce. You can eat both.

The choice is, Do you want to weigh what you now weigh, or more? (Overeating is a progressive disease. If you knew what to do about your weight, you would have done it 5, 10, 30, 50 pounds ago.) Or do you want to weigh pounds?

Every nanosecond of every minute of every day you have an opportunity to change. The old way is destructive and doesn't feel so good. The new, constructive way does feel good. The choice is yours.

The Ritual of Food Addiction

If you've been trying to figure out the weight-loss game for as long as I've been coaching people (twenty years), you've most likely been trying to avoid food, even though that point of view has not worked. What you need to do is to look at the ritual leading up to the part where you finish everything on your plate.

For many years, I had either a radio show or a public access television cable show named Changing Habits. The opening of both shows state: "We cover eating, smoking, gambling, drinking, shopping, spending, and negative thinking." There was also discussion about low-wage earning, debt accumulation, messy apartments, and procrastination. All of these things have something in common: they can be ritualized.

I, too, was seduced by the mesmerizing effect I felt when I was in the mindless, automatic state of a ritual. When in that state of mind, you're comfortable without having to think or feel anything else. I smoked cigarettes, spent too much, drank too much, and went into debt as if I were in a trance. Writing this book became a behavioral ritual; there was always another chapter to write or rewrite or edit or type. I'm in the middle of construction in my apartment. What began as redoing a bathroom and kitchen floor has turned into buying new furniture and designing built-ins.

One tiny part of the redecorating process was looking for knobs for cabinet doors. There were hundreds of styles, shapes, colors, and prices from which to choose. I don't even want to tell you how many choices I had to make when it came to selecting a couch.

Whether gambling or drugging or eating, or writing a book, there is a ritual of things we do, and say, and think, before, during, and after the actual using of the drug. And I use the word drug here because a behavioral ritual is just as much a drug on your system as is food, cigarettes, or alcohol.

The gambler knows the phone number of off-track betting or his or her bookie by heart. A bartender remembers your usual drink. You shop whenever you're bored. The drinker has a favorite drink with a specific amount of ice or mixer or water. He or she might sip the drink rhythmically, with or without others at specific times of the day or week or year, and many people drink only in particular places. It never occurs to me to order alcohol in an Asian restaurant, whereas my friend Tom always orders a beer and my friend Sara orders one large and one small sake when in a Japanese restaurant. Each part of a ritual knits with the other parts to tighten the behavior more and more effectively. Add to your list the way you lock and unlock the door to your home or office, answer your phone, call a friend, get ready for bed, set your hair, or comb your moustache.

When I smoked, there was the buying and smoking of the cigarettes. But there was also my cigarette case collection, a Dunhill lighter, and I used a Lalique ashtray, for goodness sake. I added behaviors to my ritual too: I needed to shop for, and have on hand, lighter fluid for the lighter and extra mouth spray and mouthwash to use after I smoked each cigarette.

The ritual paraphernalia is just as much a part of your eating (or smoking or drinking) habit as the lighting up and inhaling of a cigarette or the swallowing of a bite of food. Each habit has its own ritual actions and reactions.

Think about other rituals and habits you mindlessly perform each day. You brush your teeth, shower, shave, or put on makeup. Checking on mail or retrieving telephone answering machine messages may be a part of your repertoire. I've recently added to my ritual the periodic checking of my e-mail -- to see if "I've got mail."

Getting dressed in the morning is ritualized too. You might comb your hair and put on makeup, then put on clothes. Others put their clothes on first, and then comb their hair and put on makeup. I eat breakfast and take my one-a-day, two-a-day, three-a-day vitamins and minerals, and my calcium pills. I even arrange them on a paper plate in four little piles for easy access later. That's a ritual too. That's what we do.

We organize and ritualize, so we can narcotize.

All this busywork distracts you, at least for the moment, from feelings or thoughts with which you don't want to deal.

I've practiced and perfected many constructive rituals in my life. After doing them consistently for many years, they are now automatic and mindless, and they serve my needs. They help make my day run smoothly, like using a pencil when I write in my appointment book. There is comfort in the familiar.

It is the ritual of the first thought or word or action that leads to the next thought or word or action to the next, and the next, and the next. Eventually, you succumb to what you think is the allure of the taste, smell, or even sight of food. But it is really the tail end of a ritual where you might be tired or bored and just used to surrendering to whatever is set before you. Some of us eat as an excuse to take a break or to rest. It is hard to say no because it is all knit together from the first thought of a ritual to the first feelings of remorse. There's always remorse. That's part of the ritual too. This cycle of behavioral ritual needs to be interrupted and unraveled. Identifying these patterns -- even acknowledging you have patterns -- is a wonderful first step in changing habits.

As you become more aware of your patterns of thought, word, and action, you can begin the process of rearranging or omitting the automatic next steps and create constructive new patterns for yourself. Eventually, you'll learn to be comfortable thinking, saying, and doing something else instead of putting food into your mouth just because it's there.

This unraveling of the ritual of food addiction helps you to make choices so you can become the person you want to be. Sometimes the new way is quite different from what you've accumulated in the way of behavior. Your old way was built over a lifetime of unconscious actions and reactions. You now have the opportunity to create something new and wonderful that better serves your present need to weigh ___ pounds.

Bobby F. danced the I can go all day without eating, but once I start, I can't stop tango, a remnant from a previous weight-loss plan.

Since evening activities weren't as stimulating as the daytime ones, he was without things to occupy his mind; old feelings and thoughts bubbled up. With no place to go and no one to talk to, he incorporated going into the kitchen into his usual evening activity of killing time. One trip to the kitchen yielded a piece of candy, another trip yielded a nibble of leftover salad, another trip two grapes. The once- or twice-a-night ritual became more and more frequent. It really took off when he had a phone installed in the kitchen. He found himself sitting on a chair with wheels while speaking on the phone and rolling over to the refrigerator where he'd open the door and window-shop the shelves.

When he worked on breaking that ritual, I had him put a little tick mark on a piece of paper whenever he thought of putting something into his mouth. Between 9 P.M. and midnight, he found himself thinking about food forty-two times -- approximately one episode every five minutes!

Forty-two times in three hours he had gotten in the habit of putting something in his mouth even though he wasn't hungry. Forty-two times he nibbled a bite of this and a swallow of that just because he was bored. Whether eating one item or one bite from many items, it all adds up. It doesn't matter if it is salad or soda. You're eating when you're not hungry. If you practice this habit every day of the week, you've got a behavioral addiction that becomes a weight gain. Keep doing the same thing, and it becomes a part of the evening's entertainment. When Bobby moved the phone out of the kitchen, the picture changed. His weight changed. His habits changed. This was just one of many patterns he discovered as a result of being mindful. There were even more to find.

He realized that he always ordered a glass of wine when he took clients to dinner and that each meal ended with a cup of coffee. Every visit to a theater to see a movie seemed to be bonded to eating a bag of popcorn or buying a soda. The buying -- I call it a compulsion to purchase -- is a ritual too.

When I talked about his patterns with another program participant, she commented that keeping the logbook, in which she enters her daily weights and what she eats, was a ritual. I agreed. Some rituals help us to become mindful of what it is we are doing and enable us to see, in writing, the patterns we've created. Some rituals are better than others.

Barbara J. had difficult times at 4 P.M. each day. It was clear that her desire to eat wasn't about hunger; her lunch was usually only a few hours before. It was connected to her children arriving home from school. When she had to prepare food for them, she mindlessly nibbled on the food herself. She also had a phone in the kitchen and practiced some version of talking on the phone and browsing among the bratwurst. You may be thinking: But I only pick at the broccoli. If you're eating when you're not hungry, it doesn't matter what it is. It all adds up.

In an office, an eating ritual might begin at the onset of a coffee wagon bell ringing at 10 A.M. and 3 P.M. Rachel S. told me of a mindless habit she had when she commuted from Manhattan to her home in New Jersey. Every trip, five days a week for a year, she'd eat a candy bar. That one candy bar habit could add up to approximately 20 pounds by year's end.

I used to have a habit of buying a large bottle of fruit juice and would sip it a few swallows at a time (It's only juice, I used to think) until all 64 ounces were sipped away and I'd buy another bottle. When I realized how often I repeated this behavior, I began buying juice in individual bottles of 4 ounces each, put the bottles on a different shelf from the top one in the refrigerator. If I didn't see it, I didn't think about it. If I didn't think about it, I didn't drink it. The habit started to collapse on its own. Sometimes changing just one part of a ritual -- whether thought, word or action -- loosens the entire knot of behavior without much effort. Sometimes it takes more thought. In this case, changing the size of the container did the trick (a physical action). I also thought (mental repatterning, to be discussed later) that I'd gone years without drinking juice so many times during a day and it had always been okay. It could be okay again. You get used to anything.

What are some of your rituals and habits?


A component of addiction is denial. You might travel from thinking, I'm okay, I'm okay, I'm okay around food to I'm not okay.

Consistently eating more than you need, even though there are negative consequences, is part of the addiction too.

I am an addict. No matter how many years I practice the new, mindful way of eating, the new habits will always be less substantive than the old habits and patterns I have practiced over a lifetime of mindless eating. The old way will always have more practice, heft, weight, and power than the new way.

From years of pushing the envelope myself -- that's what addicts do -- I know for sure you don't have willpower or self-control; they were both surgically removed at birth. You can, however, learn to buy a little less, order a little less, prepare and serve a little less. By the time food is presented, you'll eat a little less. Ultimately, you'll weigh a little less.

It is the times that you've gone off The Program by leaving food lying around in a too instant, quick, and available form, you're most likely thinking: I can handle it or One won't hurt. (That's denial.)

It is not one of anything that causes a weight gain. It is that the old way has a ritual, frequency, and portion size that has been established over a lifetime. And if the item you choose happens to be one of the current foods you use to distract yourself, then it is not one of anything, because you can't stop once you've started. You're gonna eat it 'til it's gone.

Do you believe you should be able to leave junk food lying around your home and office and not eat it? (That's denial.) If you're using a food or beverage to distract yourself from feeling angry, lonely, tired, stressed, and worried and you've received some temporary surcease from your emotional discomfort, why should you stop going into the kitchen to get that food -- that distraction? When you get there, you always get what you want: something with which to self-medicate. When you create a new automatic response to replace your old automatic response (repatterning), then when you go to the kitchen, the food isn't there. You'll find something else (less destructive) with which to distract yourself. Eventually, you'll stop going into the kitchen.

When you bury feelings, you bury them alive -- and not just the bad ones: pain, sorrow, anger, disappointment, but the good feelings of joy and spontaneity as well.

By not stuffing your feelings down one more time, you finally deal with them (the good, the bad, and the ugly) more directly.

The few moments of comfort you receive from drugging with food are totally disproportionate to the quantity of drugs (food, portion size, and frequency of usage) you need to achieve those few moments. Because you build a tolerance to drugs (you cannot ever get it big enough and you can't get it frequently enough) you're never satisfied.

Taking Responsibility

There are no fat fairies who wrestle you to the ground and pour hot fudge into your mouth. You may be making jokes and excuses but there are no demons, comas, or food trances, and the devil didn't make you do it. The culprit is habit.

Every time you shop, order, purchase, and prepare food, there is an opportunity to choose precisely what you want, prepared exactly the way you like it, and more or less in a portion that reflects your ultimate weight-loss goal. Whether in a restaurant, a friend's home, or your own, you have a choice. Even if you are a captive audience, you don't have to say yes to every course, and you don't have to finish everything on your plate.

This is no time to lie to yourself. As with changing any other habit, you must honestly define where you are and decide where you want to be. "If you don't know where you're going, you could end up someplace else!" said Yogi Berra. By putting in writing (and in your mind) a detailed plan for what it is you're trying to accomplish, the process of change begins.

There are many types of addictive behavior: eating, smoking, gambling, drinking, and drugging, to name a few. You can stop smoking, gambling, drinking, and taking drugs, but you cannot stop eating. You have to learn how to eat, how to feed the smaller person you want to be.

Even if you don't have an obvious weight problem, you may have an eating behavior that needs attention. Answer the following questions as honestly as possible:

  • Do you use food to change your mood?

  • Do you need food or drink to add enjoyment to a social situation?

  • Do you eat moderately in public or with friends, only to eat in a frenzy when alone?

  • Can you go for hours without eating, only to finish an entire basket of bread in a restaurant?

  • Do dessert and coffee end every meal?


Why do you want to lose weight?

"I'm tired of feeling my body plop up and down when I walk."

"I hate standing outside a closet of beautiful clothes while looking for something that will cover my fat. Sometimes I'm not comfortable in whatever I'm wearing."

"I found a bathing suit that I could get into, but I wouldn't parade around any beach looking as I do, so I didn't buy it."

"I stopped skiing because I looked like a stuffed sausage in my ski pants."

It doesn't matter what your reasons are. In order to gain control of your eating, there are areas of responsibility that must be awakened.

Analyze where you are and where you want to be with regard to your weight. Once you have a firm goal, every food choice you make should reflect that goal.

What you weigh. What you weigh, what you eat, and what you're trying to accomplish are the three vital awarenesses. How much did you weigh this morning? How far are you from where you want to be?

Try to be realistic concerning the number of pounds you want to weigh. Set a goal based on the fact that you're not satisfied with your present weight.

Weighing is probably the most resisted assignment. People invest their scale with emotional likes and dislikes, fears and fantasies. Rather than fearing the scale, you should think of it only as the tool it is: to let you know how you're doing. If the number on the scale is on its way down, it is a pleasure to get on it every morning and evening to acknowledge that all your efforts are paying off.

If the needle isn't moving downward, you're most likely continuing to feed the bigger person you were. Maybe you need to slow down when eating. It's not a marathon, it's a meal. If the scale is moving upward, this knowledge will prompt you to take a swift, purposeful, and immediate action so that a 2-pound weight increase won't become 5 and then creep to 10.

Here are examples of how much you weigh in the morning and the evening translates to your weight the next day.

If you weigh 150 pounds in the morning and 152 pounds in the evening, you'll probably weigh 150 pounds the second day:

1st Day

150 A.M.

152 P.M.

2nd Day

150 A.M. (no change from previous day)

If you weigh 150 pounds in the morning of the first day and 153 pounds that evening, the scale will probably be 151 pounds the second day:

1st Day

150 A.M.

153 P.M.

2nd Day

151 A.M. (1 pound weight gain from previous morning)

But if you weigh 150 pounds the first morning and 151 pounds or less that evening, you'll probably weigh 149 pounds or less the second day:

1st Day

150 A.M.

151 P.M.

2nd Day

149 A.M. (1 pound weight loss from previous morning)

You've burned off almost everything you consumed that day. Your body burned the stored fat. That's what you're striving for: burning stored fat.

What you eat. Keeping a log is another tool you need to help you achieve awareness of your eating habits. Keeping a record of what you eat is a small part of the information you'll garner from a log once you understand you're creating resource material. Your eating is unique, and your log will reflect that fact.

A log will help you to make the connection between what you are eating and what you are weighing. It will point out the foods you choose most frequently and help you identify the times you are most likely to overeat. (Weekends? Holidays? Dinner with friends?) As soon as you enter your home, do you look for something to eat? Do you use food in the afternoon as an excuse to take a rest break? You'll see patterns emerge in your log.

What you are trying to accomplish. Measuring your chest or bust, waist, hips once at the onset of your weight-loss program and once when you reach your goal is an interesting exercise. It shows that you lost inches. For larger people, the ratio is approximately 10 pounds per inch, one belt notch, or suit, shirt, or dress size smaller. For others, even a 5-pound loss could be a smaller clothing size.

As your clothes get looser, you'll realize you're getting smaller. You're losing inches. Be aware that you lose inches all over. You may not be aware you have lost inches in these areas, but your blouse or shirt feels looser, a zipper slides more easily, pants are hanging, and your ring is spinning on your finger.

When I'd gained weight, a ring I frequently wore became so tight I was unable to remove it from my pudgy fingers even with soap and water. A jeweler had to cut the ring off my finger.


Food preparation. I asked a man in one of the sessions who was responsible for food preparation in his home. He said impishly, "I don't know how responsible I am, but I do it."

Taking responsibility isn't only selecting the correct foods. It is learning how to plan ahead and shop a little differently, buy a little differently, and prepare, serve, and eat differently.

Planning the foods you will eat with an eye on the day's activities is being responsible, as is deciding on foods with the best balance, variety, and overall nutrition. Think about which category of food (protein? soup? salad?) you're planning to eat if you hadn't had that same category already today. Or yesterday at the same meal.

Saying no. Being responsible is finding the right words to head off others when they insist on offering food and won't take no for an answer. It is declining the waiter's offer of a second piece of bread, choosing a glass of wine rather than sharing a bottle, or eating only when you're hungry, not when others are. Being responsible is creating an atmosphere in which you make the right choices with confidence, once the right choices are acknowledged. Only you can say no.

Alternate activity. Learning to breathe deeply is a responsible day-to-day practice. It supplies oxygen to the brain and helps burn fat the way aerobic exercise increases oxygen to the brain. Relaxing helps reduce stress, lessens anxiety, and becomes a healthful replacement for many discomforts. To delay and eliminate your old automatic response of, "I want what I want when I want it," inhale deeply through the nose, hold to the count of five, and exhale slowly while relaxing body parts from head to toe.

Mouth freshening. Taking responsibility is making sure you always have a toothbrush and tube of toothpaste in your pocket or purse, at the office or in a restaurant, where mouth freshening may be the right move away from the food table. (Sometimes people don't feel like eating with the taste of toothpaste in their mouths.) Valerie and I laughed (another wonderful repatterning technique) when she thought I'd suggested brushing her teeth while she was sitting at the dinner table. Of course, what I meant was for her to excuse herself from the table to brush her teeth in the ladies' room of the restaurant.

Drinking water. Eight to ten glasses a day are essential. Carry water wherever you go. Put bottled water in the car along with plastic cups. Take it on a plane or train when traveling, as well as to the movies. Ask a waitperson to leave a pitcher on the table in a restaurant, and drink a glass or two before eating.

As I'm typing this chapter, there is a bottle of water next to my computer. Is there a bottle of water near you while you're reading this chapter? No? Get some.


Being responsible is not becoming cocky, complacent, or comfortable while losing weight, or after your goal is reached. If you've created new habits while attaining your goal, being responsible is to avoid thinking, "I don't have to do this any more."

Food is available everywhere you go. You will encounter numerous occasions each day where there are eating opportunities. Each time you encounter a fork in the road, you have the choice of going in either direction. The old choice may feel comfortable. It is familiar, but it has an unhappy result. A new choice may feel awkward and unfamiliar at first but presents the real possibility of reaching your weight-loss goal. As you consider your choices, repeat over and over to yourself: I want to weigh ___ pounds. Envision a slimmer, confident, more attractive person -- an improved version of the present you. Imagine in detail the terrain you're going to travel each day, the foods you are going to eat, whether to have a Filler (by the end of the book you'll know what that means), the number of items you're going to eat, and the alternative behavior that may prove successful if your Plan A isn't working. The entire process can be considered in a minute or two...as when you're traveling in a car and give thought to which route is best. Do the same by thinking about the best path to follow with your eating habits.

If a difficult moment arises before, during, or after a meal, ask yourself these questions:

Was I thinking of eating two minutes before I saw food?

Will this food help me reach my weight goal?

Am I even hungry?


Write a paragraph or two about why you want to weigh ___ pounds (not why you don't want to weigh your present weight).

An example might be, "I, _________ [insert your full name], want to weigh pounds [insert your goal weight. Go for it!], because:" ____________________________________________________

Give thought to the reasons you want to weigh ___ pounds. You may want to look better and feel better, fit more easily into your clothes. Perhaps you want to have high energy and higher self-esteem. Think about how you will look and feel when you reach your goal.

If you want these things, it means you not only don't have them, you most likely have the reverse. You may be unhappy, out of breath, not fitting into your clothes, feeling unsexy, have low self-esteem, and no energy. That is the cost of your addiction. Now write those paragraphs.

Unrealistic Expectations Can Cause Failure

Weight gain is an evolutionary process. Some people call it creeping weight. The scale turtles inexorably upward -- a tight skirt, a belt notch, a can't-zip-up-my-pants inch at a time. Yet you expect the scale to go down as rapidly as a high-speed elevator. This erroneous thought pattern -- practiced and perfected as with any other bad habit -- is an unrealistic expectation. It is dangerous with any endeavor and deadly when it comes to weight reduction.

I could have, I should have, I didn't, I wanted to are the loud laments of the perfectionist. Perfection is an illusion, however. Since you'll never be perfect, in your mind, you don't ever succeed. Then you think: I failed, I blew it, I'm weak (or bad), or whatever you say to beat yourself up, and you stop trying altogether.

Why not acknowledge small, incremental improvements -- times when you did better at one meal, one day, or one event than you might have? Focus only on what you did, not on what you thought you should have done. The inclination to focus on the negative is part of the all-or-nothing addict mind. You think that if you can't do it perfectly for an entire week (even though it is unrealistic to think you can), you won't do it at all. It would be more pleasurable to look for the positive and see that list grow.

All-or-nothing thinking is far more destructive to your weight-loss goal than a friend baking brownies and leaving them on your desk. If you eat even one brownie but manage to give the rest to coworkers and friends, you think you've blown it. A better way of thinking would be to realize you ate only one, when in the past you probably would have eaten several, or maybe all.

Unrealistic expectations give substance, heft, and power to an unrealized goal. They quash the budding crocus of success as it pushes through the thick asphalt of failure. Unrealistic expectations kill the flowering of dreams, because you become so disappointed that you give up hope.

Thomas Edison never stopped trying. "I have not failed 10,000 times," he said. "I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work."

The only reality is where you are today -- perhaps 150 pounds -- and where you were a week ago -- perhaps 155 pounds. And even if your weight remains the same, there are other questions to ask: Did you keep a food log of everything you ate? Did you drink the requisite amount of water? Did you do better with your eating at an industry function than you might have? Did you eat less than usual at your mother's? Yes? Then you're ahead of the game.

Marcia S., an unrealistic thinker, lost 7 pounds in two weeks. The third week she lost 1 pound. When I asked for a positive story, she said, "Nothing good happened." She was miserable.

"But you lost 8 pounds," I reminded her.

"Yeah, but," she continued, "I was so good all week, and the scale didn't move."

"You lost 1 pound this week," I reminded her, "and you didn't gain back the previous 7."

"Yeah but..." she repeated. "I lost that pound at the beginning of the week and didn't lose anything the rest of the week." She was unable to acknowledge anything positive. So great were her unrealistic expectations that it was impossible for her to feel joy or satisfaction in what she had accomplished.

Ignoring these fragile buds -- by not watering, nurturing, and turning them to sunlight -- they turn to dust. You're used to seeking out the imperfect, and because you're not yet in the habit of recognizing the fruits of your labor, they dwindle on the vine. What remains are the weeds of destructive, negative, unrealistic thinking. These thoughts can and do take over your mind and your heart. Unrealistic expectations make you believe you'll never succeed, every effort is for naught, and you are forever destined to fail.

If you give too much credence to your real or imagined failures and not enough to your attempts, your interim successes, and your accomplishments, you will become the failure you think you are.

Were your parents critical and judgmental? Are you too hard on yourself? You may have internalized their voice.

Create your own positive voice. Think of the reasons you want to reach your weight-loss goal (or any other goal), not the reasons you don't want to remain at your present weight.

Tell friends how good you feel rather than reliving your less-than perfect efforts. Give importance to the good stuff. Let everything else go.

Try to monitor your negative, unrealistic thinking. See how many times you give yourself credit for doing something positive -- "I only ate when I was hungry the entire week" -- only to take it away by adding, "...except for Thursday night when I worked late and had three slices of pizza." It is not a good habit of thought to give one evening of pizza the same weight as six days of staying on your program.

Thinking realistically and positively may be tricky at the beginning because you've been thinking unrealistically and negatively for a long time. It takes practice and perseverance to change your attitude, but you will succeed. Perhaps not immediately. Perhaps one baby-step at a time. Perhaps 10,000 attempts later. But, as Georgia O'Keeffe said, "You musn't even think you won't succeed."

Misdirected Anger

Maryanne C., a jogger, broke her ankle while getting off a bus. There was no one to blame for the accident, yet Maryanne blamed herself. "I should have watched where I put my foot," she said. "I wasn't holding onto the railing tight enough. I learned my lesson." She then went home and made herself feel better, with food.

Oh, yeah. That'll do it. Eat. Gain weight. Put more pressure on the already strained limb. I can't imagine why the doctor didn't think of that.

Maryanne's injury hurt physically, but she was in even more emotional pain from feeling stupid about her accident.

When she went to dinner with friends, she ate twice as much as everyone else. When she got home later, she ate the leftovers she'd brought home for tomorrow's lunch.

In a short time, the feel-better food didn't feel so good: she'd gained back some of the weight she had lost. She also felt depressed. She was out of control with food again but couldn't seem to stop eating.

If you're eating because you're angry instead of hungry, you're using food to stuff down feelings, not to nourish your body.

Unvented anger becomes like gasses in a pressure cooker. Stuffing down feelings such as anger does not allow them to be examined. Eventually, the feelings build up and finally explode into misdirected action, hurting yourself by eating when you're not hungry. You might think that the way to make anger go away is to stuff it down with food, to self-medicate, to zone out the brain, to narcotize. But when you bury feelings, you bury them alive. This type of behavior doesn't resolve anything. You eat, and you gain weight. You gain weight, and you get depressed. You get depressed, and you eat again -- but you're most likely still lonely, tired, bored, frustrated or angry, and you still have your weight problem.

To stop the cycle of addiction, try to identify the original feelings of pain to release the long-pent-up feelings. Try to make a connection by asking yourself questions such as, "Does this incident remind me of anything in my childhood?" Or, "Does this person remind me of anyone in my childhood?" If you're self-medicating with food, it is hard to feel. One woman finally realized this truth when she said, "Oh, I see. I don't always have to make myself feel better. I just have to make myself feel."

Try keeping a feelings journal. Instead of letting thoughts and feelings spiral into an out-of-control eating episode, write. As you do this, you'll be able to identify the moments when you're thinking of eating. Ask yourself: "Am I hungry, or what?" The answer might be: "Hungry? How could I be hungry? I just ate an hour ago."

By writing, you'll discover that the things that cause you psychological pain today were most likely learned in childhood. The urge to use food to quell these feelings -- to literally stuff down sadness or anger, for example -- begins at an early age too. Sometimes you're in denial until you hear someone else's story and realize you do that too.

Lynn P. was losing weight, although she continued to eat almost every night after dinner. It didn't seem like much: a bowl of cereal at 10:00 P.M., leftover chicken from the night before, a handful of grapes, and so on. I told her that although she was losing weight and would most likely reach her goal weight, if she continued eating after eating, she would not be able to keep off the lost weight because the need to use the drug would increase in volume and frequency. It's progressive.

I suggested she use writing as a repatterning technique in lieu of eating. She should pick two days during the week and one on the weekend when she would not eat after dinner. In all three instances, she would write instead of eat.

She told me later how this worked: "I didn't eat after dinner on Tuesday or Sunday as planned. I didn't use any repatterning techniques to get me through the difficult time. I said I wouldn't eat, and I didn't. I just came home, got ready for bed, and used my up-until-now nonexistent willpower and self-control to get through the next few hours." She called me after each episode, and I told her that toughing it out has a limited effect because the next time, you'll be a little more lonely, tired, bored, frustrated, or angry, and you will eat. I urged her to write about feelings the following Monday -- after dinner with friends.

She later told me that she had done this: "I put pen to paper, and for the first ten or fifteen minutes I wrote things like, 'I hate Caryl' or 'This is the stupidest thing I've ever done,' but then something interesting happened. I began writing about my childhood and my mother, and I did that for about fifteen minutes. It just kept pouring out of me -- the sadness I felt when my mother would leave every evening for dinner or the theater. I always felt abandoned. And then I began to cry...really big crocodile tears. I couldn't stop sobbing and crying, but I kept writing, and the crying continued for almost a half-hour. It was the first time this ever happened except years ago when I was in therapy, but when it was over, I dried my eyes, turned on the television, and read the newspaper until I fell asleep. I had no desire to eat."

I'd be lying to you if I claimed that Lynn never had the urge to eat after eating again. She continues to have these urges, but now she diffuses them more quickly than ever before. She writes in her journal or brushes her teeth or calls a friend. She also understands the connection between her feelings and her inappropriate food usage. And since she knows the writing exercise has worked several times, it will work again and again. In that way, her new automatic response (to write and feel) has replaced her old automatic response (to eat and not feel).

Try this exercise. You'd be surprised at what floats to the top once you've abstained from your drug, food.

Talk to yourself. Are you alone? Did friends just leave? Perhaps you're reliving childhood fears of abandonment.

Did you just get cut off by another driver, another speaker? You may be angry at not being able to express your feelings.

Is a coworker too busy to listen to your problems? Maybe you're feeling lonely or angry. After all, you listened to her when she had a problem. Try to understand it. You learned these conditioned responses in childhood.

Perhaps the driver reminds you of a cousin who drove recklessly, or the coworker too busy to listen to your problems might remind you of a childhood relationship with an older sibling who was always too busy to give you any attention. You might be stuck in that childhood trauma. It might seem foolish to be thinking about it as an adult, but that doesn't mean it isn't a valid connection. You certainly could enter short-term therapy, but unless you're completely immobilized by your behavior, try to make some of these connections yourself.

Do you find yourself eating cookies late at night and convince yourself you're there because it tastes good? If you clean your cabinets of all these [instant/require no preparation/easily available] foods and you find your hand in the breakfast cereal box, you know it's not because it tastes good. Try to repattern by dealing more directly with the feelings. Eating when you're not hungry only changes the measurement of your waistline and further erodes your self-esteem.

Repatterning is delaying an instant (and temporary) gratification. It gives you insights into your eating disorder. Often waiting, even a few minutes, helps one more moment pass without eating. You experience a catharsis in expressing the emotions you've only stuffed down with food in the past. You'll experience a proud sense of accomplishment at making a great plan, executing it, and ultimately peace of mind in understanding the inappropriate way you've been using food.

I saw Lynn the day before New Year's Eve. She'd planned a party for a few family members and close friends. "It's going to be dessert and champagne, but I've also made a pot of pea soup for me and those who might want something to cushion the alcohol," she smiled, clearly pleased with her pre-party planning. As we walked into her kitchen, she showed me all the plastic containers and plastic bags waiting on the countertop for guests who'll be taking home leftovers, a wonderful example of repatterning thought, action, and outcome.

I Speak to You One-on-One

Let's think of each of the following chapters as a session, in which I speak to you one-on-one.

The pages that are marked for you to rewrite into your own logbook are the same forms participants in The Program are told to rewrite when they meet with me. Rewriting will help you internalize the information. You will know that you are internalizing the information when you start using the terms you've found in the book.

The other information in the book is everything I would have said to a participant had we had more time to spend together. These are the things I would say if I could speak to each one of you in person when you work on patterns newly identified as time goes by.

And so I've thought of these chapters as sessions, in which you're meeting with yourself daily or more often. In that way, you will progress as slowly or quickly as you are able. I recommend approximately a seven-day interval between the reading (and filling in) of the review and assignments for each session. This will give the information time to take hold. Practice each week's assignments until they are reasonably internalized. Then you will be ready to handle the next layer of program concepts.

Since each week's assignments build on the previous week's assignments, repetition and review are important so you will be reminded of the things that need to be done -- need to be practiced. The smallest insight, when repeated daily or even weekly, can make the biggest difference in your weight.

Copyright © 2002 by Caryl Ehrlich

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Conquer Your Food Addiction: The Ehrlich 8-Step Program for Permanent Weight Loss 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After struggling with achieving and maintaining weight loss for most of my life, this book REALLY "clicked" for me. Helped me to learn how to change my bad food habits so that I no longer respond to food "triggers". Very practical, easy to understand, and easy to implement once you understand the concepts.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just spent a year-long journey in recovery discovering who I am and realized how codependent I was for years. After peeling off the layer of codependency, I found out I had a food addiction to help cope with my anger, sadness, boredom, etc. Food was prevalent growing up with big family gatherings and outings to ice cream joints. During the first five years of my marriage, food had not been a complete issue. After I found out about my husband's own addiction five years into our marriage, my relationship with food had changed. It became my drug, medicating pain and loneliness. When my husband let me down and I couldn't change his behavior, food was there for comfort. I spent a good 10 plus years developing my addiction to food until my life became really unraveled in 2007 and joined a recovery group. I first dealt with my codependency and now am dealing with my food addiction. Since being in recovery, I have developed a love of reading and started my research on food addiction. I had read two other books before reading "Conquer Your Food Addiction". This was the book that made the most sense to me. It talked to me right where I was at with my food addiction with using food for boredom, medicating pain, anger, etc. What I needed was help in repatterning my addictive ways and meal parameters and she helped in that area. I have now lost 10 lb since starting The Program and am very grateful to Caryl for writing her book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was 30 pounds over weight and not happy with myself when I found Caryl Ehrlich's book. After I read it I knew clearly what I must do to lose those pounds. For example, after reading the book I came to see that I was eating far more then my body needed. What I really needed to do was cut down and eat portion sizes of food that would fill me up yet not stuff me. What I love most about this book is that It was written by a woman who herself weighed 50 pounds more then she was comfortable with and managed to lose the weight and keep it off for more than 25 years. I found the writing to be gentle, funny and very clear. The book focuses on changing behaviour to lose weight. For instance the author suggests that we slow down when we eat instead of rushing through our meal so that we can pay attention to our body's signals of when its had enough to eat. Once we've nurished our hunger, the author expalines, we should put down our knife and fork and say 'that was enough'. Oh..and yes, I have lost all the weight- and I know that I'll be able to keep it off because I now have the skills to manage my eating.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Caryl Erlich's book is wonderful! After years of overeating and always feeling deprived, this book has showed me how to feel very satisfied with what I eat. I actually eat less and still feel more satisfied. The book is funny, insightful and packed with logical information. I highly recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For years I have tried every diet to lose 8 lbs. Nothing worked. A friend mentioned a book that dealt with losing weight through a behavioral approach. Needless to say, I HAD to read this. The book of course was Conquer Your Food Addiction. As you read it, you realize how sensible Caryl Ehrlich's program is. It's clear to follow, and by the end of the book, you're eat differently, and the best part, you're thinner. It really worked! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you
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This is a diet.
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I don't think this is a very good plan...saying not to count calories/fat, but instead count everything that is not water. Not too sure on how this would work in everyday life...just me!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I never had a lot of weight to lose but struggled up and down for most of my life. After years of trying every new weight control fad I found this book. For the first time my overeating, my deprivation and my binging, all made sense to me. I was a food addict. When I knew what I was dealing with, it was easy to take the book's a.b.c. steps and do something about it. The book changed my habits but not the foods I eat. I lost weight eating real food in the real world and I'm keeping it off by modifying my behavior. Ms. Erlich's plan works because it is so flexible and no one even knows that I am doing anything special. By the way, I'm not perfect but if I get off track, I have the skills to recover so that the 2 pounds does not turn into 10 pounds. The book is very easy to read and follow.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had been trying to lose weight for 20 years and finaly did it with the Ehrlich Program. I have kept the weight off using this plan because it isn't a diet, just common sense eating, being mindful, and establishing good habits.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I know, 'move more - eat less,' is the way to lose weight. I'm not much in calorie counting and forget perspiration! I found this book and it made me view this weight loss thing completely differently. I just had a pesky 15 pounds to lose and did it - and it stayed off - now for the heck of it, I'll go another 5. I recommend CONQUER YOUR FOOD ADDICTION to anyone that really wants to lose weight in a simple logical way that makes you take a new look at how you do things. Great work!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
For years I only had to lose 8 lbs. I tried all the diets. A friend told me about Conquer Your Food Addiction, so I read the book, and I lost the weight. She made it clear and simple to understand. It all made sense to me. Step by step I lost the weight. The humor throughout the book, made me realize she was a real person, and I could associate with her words. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.