In Session with Deborah: Vacation Goals

My dieter, Mark, came in to see me this week.  Over the past month, Mark’s weight loss has slowed down and, in general, he and I have been working on consistently maintaining his healthy eating habits with the awareness that he may or may not continue to lose more.  This week, one of the things Mark wanted to put on the agenda was his upcoming trip with his wife and kids.  Mark and his family are driving to Maine and spending two weeks there before driving back home.  Mark told me that he wanted to discuss how he would handle both eating during the car rides and also while he was in Maine.

I first asked Mark: What is your goal for this trip? Is it to lose weight, gain a little, or stay the same?  Mark replied that since he has been in such a good eating groove lately and has been feeling good about himself, about the way his clothes fit, and about how much easier healthy eating has become now that he’s gotten in control and stayed in control, his goal for the trip is to stay the same – not lose any weight over the next two weeks, but not gain any, either.  The reason I posed this question to Mark before we talked about anything else is because defining his goals for the trip was necessary in order to figure out what his plan should be; Mark’s vacation plan would differ depending on the answer.   

With the goal in mind of maintaining his weight, Mark and I then began figuring out what a reasonable plan would be.  Mark and I first discussed the car rides to and from Maine, because in the past Mark has used being in the car for long periods of time as an excuse to continuously overeat junk food snacks and unhealthy foods he would buy when he stopped for gas.  Mark and I came up with the following plan for the car trips:

1. Make sure to eat three normal meals.  Eat breakfast before I leave and take the time to stop and eat a real lunch (getting there 45 minutes later won’t matter in the long run).  Stop for dinner on the road or wait until we get there to sit down and eat dinner. 

2. Bring all snacks with me. Continue to eat like I do on normal days: one snack between breakfast and lunch and one snack between lunch and dinner.  Bring snacks with me so I’m not tempted to buy unhealthy food when we stop for gas.

3. Respond to my Sabotaging Thoughts. Remind myself that just because I’m in the car doesn’t mean I can snack all day long. My body doesn’t know or care that I’m in the car and it, and I, will be so much happier if I eat the same way as I do on a normal day. 

Mark and I then discussed what he wanted his plan to be for while he was in Maine and he told me about a homemade ice cream store that his family frequents whenever they are in Maine.  Mark said that he would feel deprived if he couldn’t eat ice cream with his family if they went during the day, but, at the same time, he also didn’t want to give up his nightly treat.  Here is a snippet of our conversation:

Mark: I think maybe the plan should be that, while I’m on vacation, I have two treats a day.  What do you think?

Debbie: Well, do you eat two treats a day now?

Mark: No, I only eat one.

Debbie: So you only eat one treat a day now and in general have been maintaining your weight. My guess is that if you eat two treats a day while on vacation, you’ll gain some weight.  Let’s take a look at your goal again.  At the beginning of session you said that you wanted to maintain your weight on this trip, and that goal seems to be incompatible with the plan of eating two treats a day.  So – do you want to change your goal, or do you want to change your plan? The choice is entirely up to you.

Mark: No, I really don’t want to gain any weight while we’re away, especially since we take this trip every year and I don’t want to gain weight every time we’re in Maine. I guess I’ll cut it back down to one treat a day while I’m on vacation.

Debbie: Okay. And remember, it’s reasonable to have a different plan when you’re away than you do normally. I know that you follow the rule, “No dessert until after dinner,” but I’m wondering if that’s one you might want to amend while you’re in Maine. Maybe in Maine, the rule should be, “one treat a day,” but you can choose when to have it. That way, if your family goes out for ice cream during the day, you can have it then, but not have your treat at night.  What do you think of that idea?

Mark: I think that’s a good idea because I really don’t want to miss out on our favorite ice cream, but sometimes it just doesn’t work to get it after dinner.

Debbie: So what do you want to say to yourself on a night when you’ve already had ice cream during the day, but now want to eat your nightly treat?

Mark: I guess I need to remind myself that I’ve already had my treat that day, and I can always have another one tomorrow. I can’t eat two treats and maintain my weight, and not gaining weight is so much more important to me than having an extra treat.

Debbie: That’s a great response!  Do you want to make a Response Card to remind yourself of that idea?

Mark: Definitely. 

Mark and I continued to hash out his vacation plan, and I frequently asked him: What is your goal for this trip? Do you want to change it or keep it the same?  This made our planning easier because it helped Mark remember that he had the choice of changing his goal, but since he didn’t want to, he had to make a plan that would enable him to reach it.  Here are some of the items on Mark’s vacation plan:

1. Eat three meals a day – brunch just doesn’t work for me.

2. Eat one treat a day except on my daughter’s birthday, when I’ll have two.

3. Make sure to do some form of exercise every day, even if it’s just taking a short walk on the beach.

4. Limit alcohol consumption to just on the weekends – when I don’t have it, I don’t miss it anyway.

5. Go with Emily to the grocery store to ensure that I have healthy foods readily available.

6. If we’ll be out for the day, bring snacks with me whenever possible so I don’t have to rely on finding something healthy on the fly.

7. Continue to read my Advantages List and Response Cards every day and practice my healthy eating habits.

8. Continue to weigh myself everyday with the scale in Maine.

9. Remind myself that my goal for this trip is to prove to myself that I can go to Maine every year without gaining weight.

10. Remember that I will feel GREAT if I stay in control of my eating, and that it will put a huge damper on my trip if I feel out of control.

At the end of our session, Mark told me that he felt much more confident in his ability to stay in control while in Maine. He also decided that if he was tempted to eat or drink something that wasn’t on his plan, he would ask himself, “Is this going to help me reach my goals or not?”

By centering our discussion on Mark’s goal for the trip, and by reminding him that he could change his goal if he wanted to, Mark was able to come up with a plan that felt reasonable and doable, and one that he felt good about, knowing it would help get him to where he wanted to be.

August 8, 2012 – Wednesday Sabotage

Sabotaging Thought: I’ve blown my diet for the day so I might as well keep eating and get back on track tomorrow.

Response: It’s not as if, at a certain point, the calories stop adding up. If I go on to eat 2,000 more calories, my body will count them. If I go on to eat 4,000 more calories, my body will count those, too. It makes NO SENSE to continue eating off track because the more I eat, the more weight I may gain. Get back on track RIGHT NOW!

August 7, 2012 – Tuesday Reality Check

If you think, “I don’t have time to exercise now, I’ll do it later,” ask yourself, “When has ‘doing it later’ ever gotten me the results I want?” It’s so helpful to PLAN IN ADVANCE when you’re going to exercise and then just do it – no excuses!

August 6, 2012 – Monday Motivation

When dieters say to us, “Dieting is so hard! Why am I doing this?” we answer, “That’s a great question. Why ARE you doing it?” and then we have them review their list of all the reasons they have for wanting to lose weight. When dieting gets tough, it’s crucially important to remind yourself of exactly why you’re doing it and exactly what you hope to get out of it.

August 3, 2012 – Friday Weekend Warm-up

Overeating during the weekend will likely cause you to feel guilty and badly about yourself – no matter how much your sabotaging thoughts try to convince you otherwise. On the other hand, maintaining control of your eating during the weekends will help you continue losing/maintaining weight AND feel good about yourself and your eating. It’s a win/win!

August 2, 2012 – Think Thin Thursday Tip

If you make a dieting mistake, it’s important to continue eating normally for the rest of the day. If you tell yourself, “I just ate too much so I’m not going to eat anything else today,” you may feel anxious or panicky when you get hungry later in the day and wind up eating way more than you would have if you had just decided to eat normally.

In Session with Deborah: The Hangover Effect

Over the past few weeks, my dieter, Karen, and I have been working on strategies to help her stay in control when she eats out.  Meeting friends for meals is a large part of Karen’s social life, and she has found that over the years, eating out has been a contributing factor to her steady weight gain.  When Karen first came to see me, she was feeling somewhat hopeless and asked me whether or not she should just stop eating out entirely. I assured Karen that she wouldn’t need to stop eating out as long as she was able to learn and practice skills that would enable her to eat out without losing control. I also assured Karen that I felt confident that she would be able to achieve this goal, as long as she put in the time and effort, and persevered.  After some trial and error and with lots of practice, Karen and I were able to come up with an “Eating Out Protocol” which successfully enabled her to stay in control when she ate out.  Here is some of what it entails:

1. If possible, always look up the restaurant’s menu online before I go and determine ahead of time what I’m going to eat and drink. If I’m going to a friend’s house, call and ask what will be served beforehand, and plan accordingly.

2. Read my Advantages List and Response Cards before I leave the house.

3. At the restaurant, don’t tempt myself by opening the menu.

4. When I’m ordering, make sure to request for the food to be prepared in the way I want it.

5. When I get my food, immediately portion off how much I’m going to eat and either push the rest aside or get it wrapped up.

6. Make an effort to eat slowly and mindfully and really enjoy the experience.

7. If I feel tempted to eat or drink more than I had planned, go to the restroom and read my Response Cards again.

With these strategies, Karen has made great strides in staying in control at restaurants.

At our session earlier this week, Karen explained a new struggle she’s experiencing: While it’s become easier and easier for Karen to remain in control at restaurants, the moment she gets home, she tends to “lose it” and ends up overeating. This, Karen explained, has caused her distress.

I reassured Karen that what she is experiencing is normal and happens to many dieters.  We call it the “Hangover Effect,” which refers to a situation in which dieters are able to stick to their plan well and remain in control when eating out, and then, due to sabotaging thoughts that affect their eating, lose control once they get home. In order to help Karen combat the Hangover Effect, we first examined a specific situation that had occurred in the previous week: Karen had eaten out at a Mexican restaurant with two friends, stayed in control, and then came home and ended up giving in to cravings for ice cream, cereal, and crackers.

I asked Karen if she could identify what sabotaging thoughts she had that night, and Karen responded that the strongest one was, “I was so good at dinner and didn’t have any of the tortilla chips and salsa, and no dessert, so I deserve to eat extra now.”  First, I reminded Karen that her body has no idea what she didn’t eat, it only knows what she did eat.  So even though Karen passed up a lot of food at the restaurant, she still ate a reasonable portion of food. Since Karen’s goal is to lose weight and keep it off, it was then unreasonable for her to eat more, even though it might initially seem otherwise.  Karen and I discussed this idea further and she made the following Response Cards:

It’s so important and so great that I stayed in control at the restaurant, but it’s equally important that I stay in control at home, too.  It’s the only way I’ll reach my goals.

My body doesn’t know or care how much I didn’t eat when I was out, it only knows how much I did eat, so I can’t eat extra now that I’m home.

Karen and I also discussed what might be helpful for her to do and say to herself once she gets home. I asked her if she can think of anything that’s been particularly helpful, and she replied that drinking a cup of hot tea as soon as she gets home has helped her to relax and unwind.  Since having her Eating Out Protocol has been helpful for Karen, we decided to devise a “When I get Home” protocol so that she could continue her success at home.  Here is what Karen’s “When I get Home Protocol” looks like:

1. Before I go out to eat, put a tea bag in a mug and place it on my table, along with my Response Cards.

2. When I get home: Go to the kitchen and read my Response Cards while I make my tea.

3. Take my tea upstairs and don’t go back into the kitchen until morning.

I also reminded Karen that it took time and practice for her to be able to stay in control when she ate out, so it would likely be the same for this problem, too.  Karen told me that, armed with these strategies and with the mindset that she would do her best and keep practicing, she felt much better and more confident in her ability to overcome the Hangover Effect.

August 1, 2012 – Wednesday Sabotage

Sabotaging Thought: It’s okay to eat this because it’s just a little bit.

Response: It’s not about the calories, it’s about the habit. Every time I give in and eat unplanned food, I make it more likely I will the next time because I’ll be able to say to myself, “I gave in last time, so it’s okay to do it again this time.” Whether the food has 20 calories or 200 calories, it still reinforces the habit of giving in.