Ice Cream and Regrets

Jamie came into session today and reported that she had a significant experience over the weekend at an ice cream parlor.  She explained to me that she had planned in advance to go and have a small size ice cream so that she could still have a drink with dinner.  However, when Jamie and her friend were waiting in line at the ice cream counter, they discussed what they were going to have and her friend said he was going to have a medium-sized cup. Immediately Jamie’s sabotaging thoughts started kicking in – “If he’s having a medium, then so can I; It’s not fair that I should have to get a smaller size; I’ll enjoy it more if I get the bigger size; I know I planned to have a small but it won’t really matter if I get a medium” and so on and so on. 

Jamie reported that she did not at that moment take the time to identify what thoughts she was having and come up with responses to them, and so she ended up ordering a medium despite her initial plan to get a small. I asked Jamie how she felt after finishing her ice cream and she said that she felt bad about herself and guilty because she went off plan.  Jamie also believes she would have actually been happier ordering the smaller size because then she would have been able to enjoy each bite knowing she had planned for it, instead of feeling guilty about the extra ice cream she was consuming.  And because Jamie continued to feel bad about the situation and let her sabotaging thoughts go unchecked, she also ended up eating more at dinner than she had planned.

Jamie and I discussed this situation in depth during her session to see what we could learn from it.  First I asked Jamie if she had done any preparing before she went out for ice cream, such as reading her Advantages List or Response Cards which would remind her how and why to not give in to cravings.  Jamie told me that she thought about the ideas but didn’t actually read the cards, assuming the messages were well-enough engrained.  I explained to Jamie we’ve found this to be true for the majority of the dieters we work with – that just thinking about the response cards is not good enough; something about actually reading them seems to enter the brain in a different and more substantial way. 

Jamie and I also discussed the paradox that she thought she would be happier with the larger size, and then ended up enjoying it less because she felt guilty about going off her plan.  I reminded Jamie of her previous experience with the french fries and how good it felt to eat a smaller, planned portion, and how much she enjoyed each one.  I asked Jamie if she regretted not eating more fries on that day and Jamie realized that while she did not regret not eating more fries, she did regret eating more ice cream.

Lastly, Jamie and talked about how this one experience of giving in to sabotaging thinking led her then to give in to more sabotaging thoughts later in the day.  I reminded Jamie that this experience wasn’t only significant because she took in extra ice cream calories, it was also important because this one time of giving in led her to give in again later that day.  Jamie agreed, saying that if she had stuck with the small ice cream, she thinks it would have been easier for her to stay on plan the rest of the day because she would be feeling good about herself and her eating and would already have experiences from that day of not giving in.

I asked Jamie to think about what she would away from this discussion and she listed:

1. It’s important to actually READ her Advantages List and Response Cards before going into a challenging situation

2. Make a new Response Card reminding her that when she sticks to her planned portion of food, she feels much better about it, is able to enjoy it more, and absolutely does not regret not eating more

3. Remember that every time does matter, and going off her plan earlier in the day strengthened her giving-in muscle and triggered her to eat off track later in the day.

I ended by giving Jamie a whole lot of credit for not allowing herself to continue eating out of hand the next day and for getting back on track.  I reminded her that even experiences where she doesn’t do as well are extremely important because we can learn as much from them (and sometimes more) as from successful ones.

What Type of Eater Are You?

The Emotional Eater is one who eats when she feels strong emotions – either negative or positive.  When she feels upset she may think, “I deserve to eat now because I’m very upset,” or “The only way I can calm down is to eat.”   Through these sabotaging thoughts and others, the emotional eater convinces herself that it is okay to eat when she is feeling heightened emotions and that eating is a reasonable way to calm down and feel comforted.  In reality, people do deserve to calm down and receive comfort when they are upset, but they do not need to do this by turning to food, because that will likely just make them feel worse in the end. 

Tips for ending emotional eating:

  1. Emotional eaters need a list of distracting activities that they can immediately start doing when they feel aroused emotionally, which will help them calm down without turning to food.
  2. Emotional eaters should remind themselves that people who have never had a weight problem don’t eat when they are upset. Instead they usually they try to solve the problem, answer back their negative thinking, take deep breaths, go for a walk, call a friend, or get back to a task.
  3. Even if it is a scheduled time to eat or drink, if someone is upset, it is best that she wait until she has calmed down to eat so that she proves to herself that she is able to calm down without eating.

The Deprived Eater is one who tries to eat as little as possible and often attempts to eliminate all foods that he considers “bad.”  The deprived eater may think, “It’s important that I eat as little as possible and never touch sweets or carbs so that I can lose weight as quickly as possible.”  Through these sabotaging thoughts and others, the deprived eater enters a cycle of deprivation and overeating, because eating too little leads his body to eventually rebel and then he goes on to consume way too many calories. In reality, it is important for the deprived eater to eat in a healthy and scheduled way, and not try to cut anything out of his diet permanently, so that he will be able to find a system of eating that works for him that he will be able to keep up for the long term.

Tips for ending the Deprivation/Binge Cycle:

  1. Deprived eaters need to get rid of the idea, “ I should eat as little as I can,” by reminding themselves that eating like that in the past has only caused them to eventually overeat and gain back any weight they may have lost during their period of deprivation.
  2. Deprived eaters need not to eliminate any food from their diet now that they would eventually like to start eating again. Instead, they should learn how to work their favorite foods into a healthy lifestyle from the beginning. Otherwise, they are likely to gain weight back when they try to reintroduce these foods.
  3. Deprived eaters need to treat most days the same and not deprive themselves some days and overeat on other days, so that they can build up their skills and abilities to maintain healthy eating no matter what day it is.

The Stressed Eater is one who does not feel entitled to take the time to sit down and enjoy her meals and instead will often grab something while sitting at the computer or doing other tasks.  The stressed and distracted eater often will end up eating much more than she had planned to later on because she will not notice how much she is eating and will  then feel unsatisfied.   Stressed eaters need to build up their sense of entitlement to take care of themselves and maintain a healthy lifestyle by taking the time to prepare meals and enjoy eating them.

Tips for ending distracted and stressed eating:

  1. Stressed eaters might need to initially do some problem-solving to figure out when and how they will take the time to get and prepare healthy foods and sit down to enjoy them, distraction-free.
  2. Stressed eaters especially need to make sure that they are noticing every bite of what they are eating it and enjoy it, so that they feel satisfied and do not end up overeating later.
  3. Stressed eaters need to remind themselves that they are entitled to take time for themselves and develop a healthy lifestyle, and they will function better once they start doing this on a regular basis.

The Social Eater often will overeat in the presence of family or friends, telling themselves a number of sabotaging thoughts, including “it’s okay to eat this because…everyone else is doing it/it’s a special occasion/I’ll stand out if I don’t eat it/I don’t want to have to eat differently from other people.”  Social eaters need to remind themselves that they can’t have it both ways: they can’t eat everything they want, when they want, and also lose weight and keep it off.  Social eaters have to work toward accepting the fact that they may not be able to eat the same foods or the same portions of food as everyone around them, but they will be able to feel great about being able to lose weight and keep it off.

Tips for ending social eating:

  1. Social Eaters can often eat what people around them are eating, but in smaller quantities.  However, they may be better off eating larger portions of more healthful foods so that they feel more satisfied.
  2. Social Eaters need to remind themselves that just because everyone around them is eating something does not mean it’s okay for them to eat it, because calories other people take in has nothing to do with calories they take in.
  3. Social eaters should remind themselves that while they may be giving up eating as much as everyone around them is eating, they will also get to lose weight and feel good about themselves, which is more important than any momentary pleasure from food.

So we ask:  What type of eater are you?

Out to Dinner

Jamie came into session today and told me about a great experience she had with eating out the night before.  She reported that she deliberately did several important things in preparation of going out to eat, which greatly contributed to her feeling of success.  First, Jamie asked her friend if they could pick the restaurant ahead of time so that she would be able to look at the menu online and make preemptive food decisions.  While she was looking at the menu earlier in the day, Jamie knew that she wanted to incorporate a reasonable portion french fries into her dinner because she loved them at this particular restaurant.  Because of this choice, Jamie also definitively decided not to take anything from the bread basket when it was served although she knew that, in the moment, this wouldn’t be easy.  Another thing Jamie did was make sure she got to the restaurant a few minutes early and used that time to read her Advantages List and also a response card that she had made about saying no to the bread basket.  By doing this, Jamie ensured that  it would be front and center in her mind why it was worth it to her to stay on track during dinner.

Jamie told me that at the restaurant she didn’t even bother looking at the menu because she didn’t want to be tempted into ording something she hadn’t planned for. Jamie ordered what she had previously decided to, and then when the bread basket came out she was able to remind herself of why she wasn’t going to have any.  Jamie told me that she was surprised to find it wasn’t very difficult for her to stay away from the bread, but that she thought deciding ahead of time not to have any really did make it easier.  Not so easy was when Jamie’s food came and she looked at the huge pile of french fries on her plate, knowing that she could not stick to her diet and eat them all.  Jamie  said that her sabotaging thoughts immediately began popping up urging her to jump in and eat them [this one time won’t matter; I’m having dinner out, I can treat myself; I did so well turning down the bread that I deserve more fries; I won’t be able to enjoy myself unless I eat all of them].  Jamie reminded herself strongly that it was worth it to her to not eat the whole portion because not only would she feel sick and mad at herself after, but she would also be giving into her resistance muscle and making it more likely that she would do the same thing in the future.  Jamie also told herself that it was imperative that she prove to herself that she could eat fries and stay in control and she had NO CHOICE about not eating them all.

Throughout dinner Jamie was careful to divide her attention between talking with her friend and eating her food. Jamie knew that if she did not pay attention to her food she would wind up eating more than she had planned and she wouldn’t be able to enjoy what she did eat nearly as much.  Jamie was also cognizant of the condiments she used with dinner and did not fool herself into thinking that these things did not contribute to the calorie count of her meal. 

Because Jamie had thoroughly prepared herself ahead of time, she was able to stick to a very reasonable portion of fries and she was able to notice and enjoy every single one that she did eat, which enabled her to not feel deprived.  Jamie and I discussed this situation in session and listed all of the many things that she deserved credit for.  I asked Jamie if, looking back, she regretted not eating all of her fries or not taking from the bread basket and Jamie answered that she absolutely did not regret it; rather she felt incredibly proud of herself that she was able to stay in control and enjoy everything she ate.  Jamie and I discussed this paradox – that dieters think they’ll be happy if they can eat any food they want in whatever quantity they want, when in reality most find that the exact opposite is true. This certainly was true for Jamie because actually restricting her bread and french fry intake allowed her to enjoy her meal more, knowing that she was staying in control and would still feel good about it later.

Weighing In

Here at the Beck Institute’s Diet Program, we don’t necessarily have a firm guideline on how often our clients should weigh themselves.  For some people it works to do it every day, and for some just once a week.  One of the benefits of getting on the scale every day is that it more quickly accustoms dieters to the fact that their weight will definitely NOT go down every single day (or even every week).  We always tell our dieters that when they step on the scale, their weight should be plus or minus two pounds of where it was the day before.  There could be any number of reasons to account for why a dieter’s weight might up on any particular day that have nothing to do with how well or not well their diet is working, such as eating something salty the night before, hormonal changes, retaining water, or other bodily functions.  If dieters weigh themselves only once a week, it takes much longer for them to gather enough evidence to see that their weight won’t go down every day, or even every week, but this is normal and what is supposed to happen.  Dieters who weigh in weekly may happen to get on the scale the one day that week in which their weight is abnormally up – and then they get very discouraged and sometimes contemplate quitting, even when nothing is really wrong.

We prepare our dieters with this knowledge and from there let them decide how often they want to get on the scale.  Most dieters end up trying it both ways and then figuring out which feels better to them.  When Jamie came to see me this week, this is something she was trying to work through.  She was having a very hard time getting herself on the scale every morning (when she had lost weight the first time she weighed in every morning, and then when she started gaining weight she avoided the scale altogether), but she also had strong memories of how helpful it was when she was losing weight the first time, and how it really facilitated her in controlling her night eating. 

Jamie and I discussed various options for how she should handle this, and we talked about what sabotaging thoughts she was having that made getting on the scale in the morning so hard.  Jamie identified that she was having sabotaging thoughts such as, “If my weight is up it means: I’ve failed; I’m never going to be able to lose weight again; I’m a bad person; nothing is working.”  Jamie and I came up with helpful responses to these thoughts, including that she would remind herself that her weight has nothing to do with who she is as a person or her value, she was able to lose weight in the past which means she’ll be able to do it again, she has already proven to herself before that just because the scale goes up one day it doesn’t mean her diet isn’t working, there’s no such thing as failing as long as she keeps working towards her goals, it’s okay if she stumbles from time to time because she’s only human, and it’s worth it to her to push through the discomfort because she knows getting on the scale will be worth it in the end.  Jamie made response cards for each of the new, helpful responses and committed to reading them every morning before she gets on the scale.

Ask the Diet Program Coordinator

I get a lot of questions from dieters on a daily basis, via email, phone, tweets, Facebook messages, carrier pigeon, etc.  Today I’m going to answer a few of the most commonly asked ones.  If you have any questions that you would like to see answered on future “Ask the Diet Program Coordinator” segments, feel free to post them in the comments section.

Q: Is it better to cut tempting food out of my life when I’m dieting?

A: In our experience, the answer to this question is no, you should not cut anything out of your diet that you plan to begin eating again at some point, whether it be three months or three years from now.  The reason for this is because if, let’s say, you cut out all bread from your life even though you really love it, chances are at some point in the future you are going to wind up eating it again.  If you have the idea in your head that bread=bad and after this one time you won’t be eating it again, then you will likely end up eating a lot more bread than you would if you were having it every day, because subconsciously you’ll be thinking “this might be the last time I allow myself to have bread for a long time so I better load up now.” Additionally, because you had some bread at that meal, you might also then be tempted to think “Well I’ve made one mistake, I might as well keep eating whatever I want and get back on track later.”  However, ‘later” might not end up being the next meal or even the next day and it could take a lot longer than that to get back on track. 

Because of these reasons, we find that it works better to learn specific cognitive and behavioral skills which will enable you to eat some of your favorite foods while staying in control and not eating more than you planned.  While this is not easy in the beginning, it’s so worth it.  If you want to eat it in the future, learn how to eat it today.

Q:  How do I deal with the desire to be heavy for psychological reasons?  Since I was little I’ve used eating as a way to put a barrier between myself and other people and I can’t seem to get past that as an adult.

A: People develop coping strategies for any number of reasons and while they may work at the time, sometimes they eventually become unhelpful.  Try to keep reminding yourself why it is worth it to you to work past this now adverse coping technique and all of the myriad ways in which it is holding you back.  Try making a list of all of the advantages of losing weight AND all the advantages of overcoming the desire to stay heavy.  Read them both daily as motivation to keep working toward your goals.  Another thing that we recommend people do is just set a goal to lose 5 pounds.  Once you reach that goal, make the decision of whether or not to set another 5 pound goal.  That way you don’t have the stress of thinking about completely changing your body right away, because in reality it wouldn’t happen that way anyway.

 While we know that this can be a difficult thing to work through, we’ve also seen and helped people do this successfully and it is so gratifying when they finally shed this thing that has been holding them back for years and years. 

Q: What should I do when dieting starts to feel really unfair?

A: Dieters feel the “unfairness factor” at different times and for different reasons.  It may happen when they are having a craving for something that is not on their plan, when they are watching other people eat something they want, or when dieting on that particular day feels especially difficult and onerous.  Regardless of why the feeling of unfairness arose, the ways to deal with it are often the same.

 First of all, it’s important for dieters to validate their feelings: Yes, dieting is unfair, and it’s not fair that the vast majority of people can’t eat whatever they want whenever they want, and also have the body and health that they want.  But unfortunately, that is reality.  Dieters need to remind themselves that either way they will feel some unfairness, whether it is because they can’t eat everything they want or because they can’t achieve and maintain the health and weight they really want.  And really, which is the bigger unfairness: giving up eating some (not all!) of the foods they want, or never being able reach and maintain a healthy weight, feel good about themselves, be more confident, achieve a sense of pride, etc.

It’s also important for dieters to counter this feeling of unfairness by reminding themselves of just why it’s worth it to them to keep staying on track.  This is why we have all of our dieters write out a list of all the advantages of losing weight and read it daily.  When dieters have a craving for something and find it very unfair that they can’t give in, it’s so important for them, in that moment, to remember why it’s worth it to NOT give in. When dieters are not thinking about why they want to stand firm and instead are thinking about how unfair dieting is, then it is much, much more likely that they will give in to the craving. 

Yes, dieting can be unfair.  But the greatest unfairness would be if dieters let this feeling stand in the way of achieving their extremely important goals.  There will always be unfairness in life, but dieters don’t have to let overweight be one of them.

Holding Out

After dinner and evenings have always been the hardest times for Jamie to maintain her control.  She finds that she has the urge to snack all evening long and often struggles very hard to not overeat after dinner. For Jamie, it wasn’t that she kept getting hungry over and over after dinner; rather she had a very strong and compelling urge to eat at those times which didn’t seem to have much to do with hunger.  Jamie finally sat down to try to figure out what was going on in the evenings so that she could get her eating under control during that time. 

Jamie thought about the rest of the day and realized that it was much easier for her to maintain her control up to and during dinner, and that she was often pretty easily able to stick to her planned meals and snacks.  Upon further reflection, Jamie began to formulate the hypothesis that the reason the day was so much easier for her than the night is because during the day she always knows when her next meal or snack is coming, and therefore she is able to “hold out” until then.  Jamie knows that food tastes better when she is hungry and she enjoys sitting down to meals and snacks with a reasonable degree of hunger.  Jamie realized that her biggest pitfall was not planning her evening snack or snacks well enough (because she would often just have a general plan of having some snack sometime) so therefore she wasn’t able to tell herself to just hold out until the next planned time to eat, because there wasn’t necessarily a next planned time to eat. 

This concept of “holding out” was very important for Jamie because it shows that she clearly has the ability to exert control over herself and her actions.  Jamie realized that it wasn’t that something suddenly overtook her in the evenings which made her want to eat constantly, it was just that subconsciously she didn’t know when her next meal or snack was coming so she wasn’t able to respond effectively enough to the sabotaging thoughts that were urging her to eat.

Once Jamie figured out what was going on, it made figuring out a way to solve the problem pretty easy, and she gave herself a lot of credit for being able to do this. Jamie decided that it would probably work best for her to plan two evening snacks – one a little while after dinner and one right before bed so that she would always have a next snack for  hold out for during the evening and night.