In Session with Debbie: Getting Through a Hard Time

My dieter, Diane, is going through a hard time. In session she told me that, over the past week, it has been much harder for her to get herself to do what she needs to do, and she hasn’t been as focused on skills like eating everything sitting down, slowly, and mindfully.  I told Diane what I tell every dieter going through a hard time: hard times are normal, they happen to everyone, but they always pass and things will get easier again.

In order to help this hard time go away more quickly, Diane and I first discussed how she could get herself to be more focused on her skills.  Diane said that part of the reason she was having trouble getting herself to eat sitting down is because she was having sabotaging thoughts like, “It’s just some grapes, so it’s really okay to eat them while I’m walking to my car.”  I reminded Diane what she used to remember very clearly – that it’s not about the calories, it’s about the habit.

“Every time you eat something standing up,” I told her, “whether it has 20 calories or 2,000 calories, you’re still reinforcing the habit of giving in and making it more likely you’ll give in the next time, too.”  Diane and I discussed that not only was eating sitting down every single time important to reinforce the habit of sitting down, but it was also important because every time she ate standing up, she reinforced the more general habit of giving in and sent herself the message, “It’s okay to not do what I say I’m going to do.”  Because Diane was going through a hard time, it was particularly important for her to focus on small, as well as big habits, because once she allowed leniency in one area, it would quickly extend to other areas, making it much harder for her to do what she needs to do.

Diane told me that she had also been having sabotaging thoughts about not wanting to follow the “rules” and feeling rebellious.  “I don’t know,” she said, “I just don’t feel like following the rules lately. I guess I want more freedom.”   To help with this, I said to Diane, “If you think about it, we’ve never used the word ‘rules’ in session, and part of why you’re struggling with this right now may be because you’re using that word with yourself.  I wonder if, when you say that you don’t feel like following the rules, it brings back memories of being a kid and having rules imposed on you by sources of authority – and usually those rules were things you didn’t want to do and weren’t happy about.  Right now, it’s completely different. No one is imposing these diet rules on you. Instead, these are thing you’re doing for yourself in the service of reaching really, really important goals.”  Diane agreed that it would be helpful for her to remind herself that these are not like the rules she had to follow as a child, and that if she didn’t practice good eating habits, the only person she’d be rebelling against is herself.

Next, Diane and I discussed her wanting ‘freedom.’  “Let’s talk about you feeling a lack of freedom,” I said to her. “You’ve already lost 30 pounds. Let’s think back to what your life was like 30 pounds heavier.  How much freedom did lack when you had to carry around 30 extra pounds? How much freedom did you have when you had to stop midway up a flight of stairs to catch your breath, or when you couldn’t easily take the laundry down to the basement? How much freedom did you have when you felt at the mercy of your hunger and cravings, and when you spent so much time thinking about needing  to make changes but felt helpless to do so? How much freedom did you feel when you went to your closet to find something to wear and worried about whether or not something would fit?”

Diane and I discussed the fact that, while she now doesn’t have the freedom of eating everything she wants whenever she wants it, she does have the even greater freedom that comes from not being at the mercy of her hunger and cravings, from knowing that she can wear anything in her closet, from not worrying that people will judge her based on what she eats, and from going into a party or event and not being concerned about how she’ll be able to stay on track.

Diane told me that this was all very helpful, but the last thing that was still on her mind was the persistent question she had lately about whether or not it was really worth it to her keep working on healthy eating.  I asked Diane if she wanted to return to her old weight and gain back 30 pounds (or more) and she told me that she definitively did not.  “Therefore,” I said to her, “we know that it’s worth it, if for no other reason than you not wanting to go back to the way things were.”  I also discussed with Diane that when she is not going through a hard time and when she is consistently doing well and on track, she doesn’t struggle with this question of whether or not it’s worth it, because she just knows that it is.  “Because of this,” I said to her, “It’s not even worth engaging in the mental struggle of questioning whether or not it’s worth it. We know that it is, and we know that once the hard time passes, you won’t doubt this anymore.  So whenever you have the thought, ‘is it worth it?’ just strongly remind yourself that it is and move on.”

In Session with Debbie: Vacation Plans

A few months ago my client, Susan, went on vacation with her friend, Caroline, and Caroline’s two kids.  After the trip, Susan and I spent some time in session discussing what had gone well and what could have gone better. This was especially important because we knew that Susan was again going away with Caroline and her children in a few weeks.

Susan told me that the major area that needed improvement was dessert.  While it was great that she and Caroline took a walk every morning, they also stopped at a local donut and bagel shop on the way home so that Caroline could get breakfast for her kids.  Susan told me that more often than not, she would go inside with Caroline, be tempted by everything she saw and smelled, and would end up buying and eating at least one donut before she walked out the door.  Not only was this problematic from a calorie perspective, but Susan told me that it also threw off her eating for the rest of the day, because when she got home she wasn’t hungry for her usual healthy and satisfying breakfast, but then got very hungry an hour or two later, and would eat something which would throw off her lunch, and so on. 

Susan also struggled with treats when she, Caroline, and the kids would take their after dinner boardwalk stroll during which everyone picked out a treat for dessert.  This was difficult for Susan because not only would she eat what she bought, but she would also end up eating some of Caroline’s dessert, too (because Caroline, lacking a big sweet tooth, always had extra and Susan always developed a craving for it).

In session Susan and I first talked about how she would handle the stop at the donut and bagel shop.  Since Susan knew she’d prefer to have dessert at night when everyone else was eating it (and since she also knew that she couldn’t eat two desserts a day and not gain weight) and because donuts were always gone very quickly and then negatively impacted her eating the rest of the day, Susan decided that she would rather just not have any donuts in the morning.  To help her follow through with this, we came up with a two part strategy.

1. Susan wouldn’t even go into the donut shop with Caroline, thus limiting her exposure to temptations, and would wait outside to do stretching or check her email on her phone.

2. While Caroline was in the shop, Susan would read the following Response Card:

I have a healthy, satisfying, and delicious breakfast waiting for me at home. I’m not having a donut because it will be gone too quickly, negatively impact my eating, and make me feel guilty.  It’s worth it to wait!

Susan and I then discussed how she would handle dessert at night.  Since Susan knew that she was highly susceptible to craving what everyone else was eating, and since she was in the habit of sharing some of Caroline’s desserts, she decided that the best course of action would simply be to order whatever Caroline ordered.  Having just been on vacation with Caroline, Susan knew that she, too, would enjoy whatever Caroline decided to have, and if they both had the same thing, then Susan didn’t have to worry about going overboard eating two desserts.  To help her stick to this plan, Susan made the following Response Card:

Whatever Caroline gets for dessert, I’m sure to like. If I get something different, the whole time I am eating my dessert I will be craving whatever Caroline has, thus diminishing my enjoyment in my own dessert and causing me to eat Caroline’s extras.  Just order what Caroline orders.

In session with Susan last week, she told me that she had just gotten back from her second beach trip with Caroline and her kids – and it was a huge success.  Susan said that these strategies, along with the Response Cards that helped her implement them, took her from overindulging and feeling guilty, to enjoying her food and feeling great.