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My name is Michelle and I am a full-time teacher, wife and mother of five. About 18 months ago I began to see that my family’s eating habits needed to change. My husband’s doctor encouraged him to lose a significant amount of weight. We are partners in everything we do, so I knew that a change for him meant a change for me. After working to lose weight through serious habit changes, I have lost 40 pounds, but I am still not where I want to be. My goal is not just loss, but permanent lifestyle change.

I’m now participating in Smart Nutrition’s “I Quit Overeating” 10-week program and got a chance to talk to Jessica Penner, the program’s creator, before beginning.

Michelle Daly (MD): What was your inspiration for creating the “I Quit Overeating Program”?

Jessica Penner (JP): In late December, I sat down to write an article for all the people getting ready to make New Year’s resolutions. I called it “10 Tips to Stop Overeating.” As I wrote, I realized I could write a 10-part series on the topic; there was so much to say! I started to reflect on the impact the article might have on a person. Would reading an article really inspire someone to make a lasting lifestyle change? Most resolutions start out strong and then lose steam when the willpower fizzles out. I wanted to do more than just inspire someone for five minutes. So I started transforming all the content I had written into a ten-week program that would keep the inspiration coming on a daily basis. As I reviewed the scientific literature on habit formation, I started to get excited about how powerful this program could be for helping people make real change in their lives. I launched the first session in April of this year, and I’ve been adding to it ever since.

MD: What can participants expect to receive as part of this program?

JP: If you join the program, you can expect to learn how to eat according to your body’s needs. Your relationship with food will improve so that you’re confident about your food choices as you base them on your body’s cues.

In order to achieve that outcome, you’ll receive:

  • daily email lessons you can rely on to keep you on track
  • tips about choosing food strategically to lower appetite
  • a step-by-step solution to manage cravings
  • how to recalibrate your hunger and fullness cues
  • how to create an eating environment to set you up for success
  • tips on the kinds of foods to eat first
  • how to slow down your eating so that your mind registers that you’re full
  • lifetime online group support from a registered dietitian
  • weekly group calls with a registered dietitian for personal guidance and coaching
  • a workbook of exercises/reflections to help you set goals and track your progress, shipped to your door!
  • a meal plan containing over 50 recipes!
  • motivational postcards to help keep you focused
  • the option to be placed in a small group (three people) for added accountability
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Photo Credit: Smart Nutrition

MD: With so many diets out there, why is this program different?

JP: The fundamental difference is that this program is NOT a diet! I really like this quote from a fellow dietitian, Robyn Webb: “I used to ‘go on a diet’ to get rid of my stubborn pounds. The ‘going on’ something only caused me to then ‘go off’ and I finally realized this light-switch mentality was doing me more harm than good.”

I Quit Overeating is about making lasting changes to three crucial aspects in the eating relationship: 1) thoughts and attitudes towards food, 2) everyday eating habits, and 3) eating environment. These three things can either work for you or against you. People who think their problems will be solved by dieting are actually struggling because these three aspects are working against them.

Think of diets as a medication that only treats symptoms without targeting the cause. They work for a short while but eventually you end up off the diet or needing a new one. This program gets at the root cause of overeating. Once you start to understand why you’re overeating, you can set yourself on a path towards a rewarding, nourishing relationship with food. This will stick with you the rest of your life!

MD: What changes can a person expect to develop their way of thinking that may increase their success with this program over others?

JP: The biggest change is how we typically think of food as either “good” or “bad” for us. When you think of food as “bad” for you, the implication is that you should never eat it. But there’s no evidence to suggest that the occasional dessert is harmful to our health.

Thinking of food as bad for you is harmful in itself, though. If you think you should never eat something, you’ve made that your boundary, your “no trespassing” sign. Once you give in to the “temptation” and eat some of it, you’ve already broken through the boundary you’ve set for yourself. Once you’re beyond the “no trespassing” sign, there’s no reason to stop going further. In this way, the stigma that we put on rich food is partly what makes us binge on it.

That’s why I encourage people to think of all food as good food. Instead, distinguish foods as “often” and “sometimes” food. That gives you permission to indulge yourself occasionally, while retaining a boundary to rely on in order to keep you from eating too much of it. This shift in thinking is incredibly powerful. It allows you to enjoy desserts without feeling guilty about it! And you can do so while feeling empowered by your ability to stop eating that food after you’ve had an appropriate amount.

This is one example of changing a mindset. There are so many I could write about!

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MD: What type of ongoing support can participants expect to receive both during and after this program that will make this more of a lifestyle change?

JP: Once participants join the program, they have lifetime access to a private online community of “quitters” – where I’m an active member – for professional encouragement and advice. I host this community on Facebook so that people can easily interact with this community as part of their daily routine. Throughout the 10 weeks, there will be group calls to give participants the opportunity to ask me questions or receive feedback on the changes they’re implementing. Additionally, participants have the option to be placed into a group of three people. This small, intimate group setting will be fantastic resource for further accountability and encouragement. This is a brand new component of the program for this fall session. My hope is that lifelong friendships will be formed in these groups! Oh! And graduates are welcome to join in on the daily emails each time the program is offered (winter/spring/fall sessions).

MD: If you had to give a 30 second explanation (an elevator pitch) to someone about your program, what would you say?

JP: This program spells freedom. It’s designed to walk you through the steps and reflections needed to change your attitudes, habits, and environment that is stacked against you and causing you to overeat. Once you put these key components together, you will no longer have to count calories, you will no longer have to wonder if the next diet will be your miracle cure. You have the skills and the ability inside of you to eat well. You just need to be shown the way to tap into them!

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MD: How flexible is this program and how does it fit a variety of lifestyles?

JP: Since there’s no requirement to follow a specific diet, this program is literally appropriate for everyone!* It’s for the person who eats in response to emotions and feels helpless to change. It’s for the person who exercises regularly but can’t work the pounds off. It’s for the person who is able to manage their weight but does so by obsessing over food choices 24/7.

The time commitment is approximately 10-15 minutes each day for the daily readings and filling out the exercises/reflections/challenges in the workbook. This can be done at any time so it’s flexible to fit anyone’s schedule! This also fits the lifestyle of people who struggle to fit exercise into their daily routine. Obviously exercise is important for general health, but there are no intensive exercise requirements for this program to be successful.

MD: Is there anything else you would like us to know about your program?

JP: If the idea of a life free from food rules sounds enticing to you, sign up here! The registration deadline is September 27th and the program starts October 4th.

Skinny Mom readers can enter the promo code SKINNYMOM at the checkout to get 10% off!

*Note: this program is not a replacement for professional individualized counseling for those diagnosed with an eating disorder.