"The Four Day Win" Author, Dr. Martha Beck, Talks with The Diet Channel

Thursday, May 10, 2007 - 11:28am

By Katie Clark, MPH, RD

NPR referred to you as the best known life coach. What life coaching strategies did you incorporate in The Four Day Win?

What I do, is try to look at what I call the essential self of the client. I differentiate between the essential self, which is your genetic personality and the social self, which is also really hardwired into us so it reforms other people. I sort of stumbled into the topic because I was working with people's lives and then found out that if you work on weight you can't help but effect the rest from the life and vice versa.

Would you mind explaining the theory behind the four-day chunking strategy?

Well, if I give you a number that had ten digits and I just rolled it off for you, you would probably (unless you are a complete genius or an artistic savant) not remember all ten digits. In fact, you would have trouble memorizing them.  But, when we chunk information into units of three or of four it becomes much easier to remember.  So, if I gave you my ten-digit phone number with dashes every three numbers to four numbers, suddenly it becomes much easier for you to look at and to remember.  There seems to be a powerful component in the human brain that likes to see things in groups of three or four.  So I found that just as I randomly researched, interviewing people who had lost weight, I found that the number four actually played a really powerful role in their diet success.

The psychological approach to weight loss makes the book quite different from other traditional diet books. What, in your opinion, has been missing then from the conventional popular diet plans of the last fifty years?

Well, there is a lot of research on the way adults change. And, dietitians have always told us that it is not just dieting--you have to change your

lifestyle. And, I would always think because I struggled with this issue, Oh okay, tell me how I change my lifestyle, because I can fill my house with organic food, but when I am under pressure I am in the car at 3:00 AM driving to the Krispy Creme outlet. I focused on the first two stages of change: pre-contemplation and contemplation, where you go into your own mind and see why you do what you do, so that you can change that from the absolute core.  So, that you don't melt down on your diet.

The Four Day Win does not lay out specific foods in a diet plan, but recommends other popular diet plans. What are your criteria for choosing a popular diet plan that you endorse in the book?

I just spoke to a number of dietitians like yourself. My criteria (which is in the book) was that I asked clients again, What helps you most?  There are a few that are especially dear to my heart like the book UltraMetabolism, and I think the South Beach Diet is very reasonable.  Our teeth show that we are meant to be omnivores, and I don't really trust diets that focus on only one food over all others.  So, those are my criteria: first were they working for my client, second when I read them, do I think that they seem reasonable and sensible.

There are two ways to approach your book-by either doing the Jump Start Plan or reading the entire book.  What are the benefits of each approach? And how do the results differ?

The Jump Start Plan is there for people who say, enough with all this psychology garbage. I want to lose weight today. And, you know especially Americans are very, very into that immediate chagrin on to the battlefield kind of psychology.  So, the Jump Start takes them as quickly as humanly possible through the first few stages to get live action and try to maximize weight loss right at the beginning. And, people have been telling me, yes, I went right to the Jump Start Plan. But then they say they went back and read the remainder of the book and they realized that by reading through it, they were able to stay with their program much more easily after they had gone through the book you know as it is written.

How does The Four Day Win differ from your book The Joy Diet? Are they supposed to build upon each other or they are separate concepts?

They are separate and very much complimentary, I hope. The Joy Diet is all about how to maximize a positive experience of life. The whole eating programming network there has two sets:  One, only eat things you enjoy; and two really enjoy everything you eat. That is the only food advice in the whole Joy Diet. It is all about getting centered, and learning to recognize what parts of your life are working and what are not.

In The Four Day Win, why do you recommend cutting goals in half until they are ridiculously easy?

Very simple, because I have worked with literally thousands of clients, who have been working toward a high goal that they had in their mind for years and years and they have never taken one step toward it. I tell them, "What I want you to do is drive to the gym, park your car, start your car again and drive home for four days."

They tell me, "Oh that's shocking, I can't do that."

And I say, "What? You have been trying to exercise for the last ten years and you haven't been to the gym once. Suppose we cut it down to something ridiculously easy?"

And if they do that and then the second four-day they go and they ride the bike for five minutes, and the third four-day they spent ten minutes then within a couple of weeks you get them very happily going to the gym as a habit.

The Four Day Win asks readers to spend a lot of time in personal reflection. About how many minutes a day should someone who is following this plan spend completing your mental exercises?

No more than fifteen minutes.  I don't considered it as too much to ask, especially since you can do this as you are brushing your teeth, while you are waiting in line at bank, or while sitting in a doctor's waiting room.

Okay, what does your term "evasion of suppression" mean?

Evasion of suppression comes from a professor of psychology at Harvard named Daniel Wegner in his book Pink Elephant Tramples White Bear: The Evasion of Suppression. So the next five seconds you can speak about anything you want so long as it has nothing to do whatsoever with polar bears.  So for five seconds no ice, no Eskimos nothing, okay? And of course, the minute you say that, people think about polar bears.

So, if you tell the brain don't think that thought or don't feel that feeling, what you get is an upsurge of very thing you are trying to suppress, and that's evasion of suppression and it's very, very strong in diet. People suppress their appetite for a while, and then they have a backlash.

You also referred to a dieter working towards achieving the "thinner peace." What is that and how does a follower of your plan achieve the thinner peace?

Thinner peace refers to taking the brain's energy off the struggle of what to eat and or to not eat, and putting it in a part of the brain that is dealing with pure appreciation and compassion. You can go there very quickly just by saying, okay, tell me one thing that is not food that you love the smell of, like lavender or coffee or something like that, and go deeply into the experience of that pleasurable aroma. Immediately you take your brain out of struggle and into a place of appreciation. And, psychologists tell us that those two parts of the brain don't function at the same time, it's not possible.  So, when you got to a pure appreciation, what you experience is instead of oh no, is the experience of oh, and when you are in oh, you have less compulsiveness.  It's the way around the evasion of suppression.  So, what happens when you are in that place is the experience of peace and that's what I called "thinner peace," because it is a place that feels good, and has virtually no compulsive behavior associated with it.

Okay, many people claim that willpower is the key to weight loss. Why do you say that willpower wastes work?

Willpower wastes work, because there are two parts of you and they push against each other if you try to use force against yourself.  So, for example I get a dieter who is very overweight and I say repeat in your mind all the mean, angry things you tell yourself when you have overeaten (you know, just because everybody has this litany of angry, abusive comments, and I feel I can get those thoughts in your mind and ask, "Now tell me, do you feel more or less like eating with these thoughts in your mind?"). And, I have never had a single person who didn't want to eat more, when they were telling themselves to say they absolutely must not eat.  Your willpower says, do not eat and the effect is that you want to eat more and under a high level of stress your willpower will break and you will eat more.

Are there any published studies out there that quantify the success of an intuitive eating program model such as The Four Day Win?

There are few studies just beginning that I was sort of privy to because I was working with some of the psychologists at Jenny Craig.  Until recently, they have been on a fairly small scale, so, for example the effective mind for my son eating has being studied in trying to have very, very positive results, but only in smaller sample sizes.


So. I borrowed from literature on addiction, I borrowed from the literature on mindfulness in general, and put it together with that research.  I think there is going to be a wave of this research coming out.

You have had the opportunity to work with Oprah, someone who has notoriously experimented with numerous weight-loss plans. Is she an advocate of The Four Day Win?

Well, she ran the article that was an abbreviation of The Four Day Win in the magazine, and she is very open to all these, to any kind of mind-based strategy.

Throughout the book you reference your own personal struggles with disordered obsessive eating patterns. How did that influence your approach to this book?

It made me come out of it from the position of someone who had been lost in the darkness for many years. I had seen so many experts who talked to so many overweight people, and they would think, they (the experts) don't understand me, they don't understand this battle, they don't understand the despair and the terrifying loss of self-control.  So, I came out of it from a very, very personal experience because I haven't seen that really addressed in some of the more medical approaches.

Do you believe then that The Four Day Win can cure people of disorder eating or does it merely alleviate their obsessions?

I believe that if people go to apply the peace, everyday of their lives, you can call them cured.  But, I also think that it is a bit like saying that somebody is cured of getting angry. You can't, unless you take out part of the brain, there is always the opportunity for dysfunction, but if you have a consistent practice in it, and a methodology for getting yourself back on track if you relapse, you are close to a cure as I think, we could ever get.

The tone of your book is very straightforward, yet laced with humor. Why is it important for someone with obsessive-compulsive eating patterns to maintain a sense of humor?

It is seems to work lot better than for example suicide. If you are going to go into those dark places and you are able to find humor there, it not only enables you to survive but it teaches you. It puts you in a status of a warrior instead of a victim. And, that's mindset is really, really powerful.

What would you recommend to parents who have disordered eating, as far as what they can do to prevent their children from following the same path?

Get therapy. Please go and get an expert who will help you change yourself. As your children show curiosity, or when it feels appropriate, be very transparent and open with them, and say you know, when I used to be a binge eater, it was because I would so anxious about my life, now, I see you getting anxious about your homework, let's relax let's find ways for you to have fun, so that you don't go the same way.

Are you happy to see the waning popularity of low-carb diets?

You know what, low-carb, low-protein, low-fat-those all come and go. It is just part of the flow of life, so in a couple of years, they will come up and say, you can have anything as long as it is frozen or whatever.


It is just the part of human psychology to go to the extreme.  So, I view it with the amusement, more than with any kind intense like or dislike.

So, then the last question: If you had to choose one thing that all chronic dieters would stop doing today, what would it be?

Not to not be afraid. Fear is the single most fattening thing you can experience. So, learn to be the hero instead of the victim or the runaway. Stand and deliver.