In session last week, my client, Jeremy, told me that he was feeling worried because he had two events to attend on Saturday night. He explained to me that there would be a lot of food at each one and he was nervous about his ability to stay on track. I reminded Jeremy that it’s never the situation in and of itself that would cause him to get off track –it wouldn’t be the fact that he was at an event surrounded by a lot of appetizing food that everyone else was eating that would cause him to overeat, it would be his thinking about the situation. So we needed to do two things: first, come up with a plan for how he would handle his eating, and second, figure out in advance what sabotaging thoughts he might have that would lead him to stray from this plan and come up with responses to them.
Jeremy and I discussed the two events and decided that a reasonable course of action would be for him to have dinner at the first event and a reasonable portion of one dessert, or smaller portions of two desserts, at the second event. Jeremy also decided to stick to water or club soda, knowing that he would rather spend his calories on food, and also because he would be driving.
Next I asked Jeremy to think about what sabotaging thoughts he might have at either even that would lead him to get off track. Here are the sabotaging thoughts that Jeremy came up with and our responses:
Sabotaging Thought: It’s okay to eat extra because I’m celebrating.
Response: My body doesn’t know or care that I’m celebrating; it processes all calories in the same way regardless.
Sabotaging Thought: I’ll make it for it later by eating less during the week.
Response: “Making up for it later” just doesn’t work because there’s no guarantee that I’ll actually be able to get myself to eat less later on. It also doesn’t work because if I overeat, I reinforce my giving-in muscle and make it more likely I’ll overeat the next time, and the time after that. It’s important to continually reinforce the habit of eating consistently. It’s not about the calories, it’s about the habit.
Sabotaging Thought: I really want it.
Response: It’s true, I do really want that food. But I EVEN MORE want all the benefits of losing weight (better health, fewer aches and pains, improved self-confidence, getting to feel like myself again). Either way I’m missing out on something I want. If I overeat, I miss out on the advantages of losing weight. But if I miss out on extra food, then I GET all the advantages of losing weight.
Sabotaging Thought: Everyone else is eating a lot, why can’t I?
Response: My body doesn’t know or care what anybody around me is eating, it only knows what I eat. So just because everyone else is eating (and drinking) a lot, doesn’t mean that I can. My body doesn’t care what they’re doing.
Sabotaging Thought: My wife won’t know about it, so it’s okay.
Response: My wife won’t know about it, but I’ll know about it, and my body will know about it. If I overeat, I’ll negatively impact myself psychologically and physically. Psychologically because I’ll reinforce old, maladaptive habits and I’ll also feel badly and guilty about my eating. Physically because I’ll likely feel overly full, take in too many calories, and possibly gain weight.
Jeremy decided that he would review his eating plan, his Advantages List, and these Response Cards before each event (and during them if he felt vulnerable to overeating while he was there).
When Jeremy came back to see me this week he reported that the events had been a success and that, with the strategies and tools we put in place, he was able to stay completely on track. This is a great example of how any situation can be handled, no matter how difficult it may seem initially, when dieters take time to formulate a plan, think about what sabotaging thoughts might get in the way of them sticking to their plans, and then coming up with responses so they don’t give in.