In Session with Debbie: Off-Track Mentality

This week, I had a session with my client, Jane, who last week returned home from a vacation. Before she left on vacation, Jane was feeling very good about her eating, and while she was on vacation, she felt she did really well (and, in fact, didn’t gain any weight). However, in the six days between her return and our session, Jane hasn’t been feeling on track.  Jane and I discussed what has been going on since she got back, and Jane told me that once she arrived home, lots of things seemed to hit her all at once – she had a big work project to get done, her elderly mother was having problems with her nursing home, and there was a leak in Jane’s bathroom.  Jane said all of these things combined made her feel like she just couldn’t deal with anything else, and that being on track with her eating felt too difficult.

Jane was clearly having many thoughts typical of someone who is off-track, such as, “I can’t do this,” “This is too hard,” and “I can’t handle it.”  I discussed with Jane that these thoughts were not a true reflection of reality; this was her off-track mentality talking.  Even though she was thinking it was too hard, it didn’t mean it actually was too hard. I pointed out to Jane (who is herself a therapist) that this is similar to someone who is experiencing depression. We often say that depression lies. Depression tries to convince someone that she has always been depressed, that she’ll always be depressed, that she’s weak and that she’s not worth anything. But that, too, is not a true reflection of reality. That’s the depression talking.

Jane felt enlivened by the idea that her thinking about not being able to handle her eating was not necessarily accurate and was just her off-track mentality lying to her.  When she was able to take a step back from these thoughts and really evaluate them, Jane, too, was able to see that they weren’t true. She was able to remember other times when her life felt really stressful but she maintained control. She was also able to remember that, when she’s on track, on a day-to-day basis it really doesn’t feel overly hard because she has positive momentum built up.  Jane and I discussed that while it is true that getting back on track can be hard, it’s not true that staying on track is too hard to manage.  By the time she left session, Jane told me that she felt much stronger and willing to do what she needed to do to get back on track. She knew she could do it, and she knew that once she did, it would feel so much easier again.

In Session with Debbie: Kitchen Cleanup

In session this week, my client, Brian, told me he was having trouble getting himself to refrain from eating while he was cleaning the kitchen after dinner.  Brian explained to me that he and his wife split household duties, and while she was in charge of most of the cooking, he was in charge of the kitchen clean up.  Unfortunately, Brian really disliked kitchen cleanup duty, and he used food (eaten standing up) to procrastinate getting started.  Brian realized that he would eat more (also standing up) while he was cleaning as a means to make the task more pleasant.

To help Brian with this, I first asked him, “What goes through your mind when you think about cleaning the kitchen?” Brian told me it was something like, “I hate that I have to do this. This stinks. This is so annoying.”  Upon hearing this, it was no surprise to me that Brian had such trouble getting himself to start cleaning the kitchen; it was clear that he was making it so much harder for himself by telling himself such negative things. I asked Brian if there was a way in which he could reconceptualize kitchen duty and make it more pleasant.  Brian and I talked about this further, and Brian told me that one of his values was being a good family member and taking care of his family.  His wife does many things to take care of the family, and his cleaning the kitchen was one way in which he could do the same. We agreed that instead of viewing kitchen duty as a hated and inconvenient task, he would instead view it as an important way in which he was being a good family member.  Instead of telling himself, “I hate cleaning the kitchen, this stinks,” we decided that Brian would tell himself, “I’m being a good family member by cleaning the kitchen. It’s great that I get to take care of my family in this way.”  Brian made a Response Card with this idea and agreed to read it every night after dinner.

We then discussed what other strategies Brian could put in place to make the cleaning more pleasant.  I asked Brian how long it actually took to clean the kitchen, and Brian guessed it was about 20 minutes. “Although,” he told me, “It would probably be even less if I didn’t waste time eating while I was doing it.”  We agreed that as a first strategy, he would time how long it actually took. Brian guessed it might be only about 10 minutes.  We then decided that he would do something like put on music, or listen to a podcast on his phone, while he was cleaning.  That way, he’d have something interesting to focus on and would be less likely to turn to food to make the task more pleasant.

With these strategies in place – changing his thoughts about cleaning the kitchen and reading a Response Card before he got started, timing how long it takes, and listening to something pleasurable while he cleaned – Brian felt confident that he could get himself through kitchen cleanup without eating.