This week I had a session with my client, Rob. Rob used to struggle with the common diet trap of making an eating mistake, using that as an excuse to keep making more mistakes (“I’ve blown it for the day. I might as well just keep eating and get back on track tomorrow.”), and then taking sometimes days or weeks to really get back on track. Because of this, Rob was constantly losing and gaining the same 10 pounds. Whenever he was down in weight, at some point he would inevitably make a mistake, which would then snowball into more mistakes, and he would gain weight back. Rob and I have worked hard on the skill of recovering right away from a mistake and fighting against the thought that since he made one mistake, he might as well keep making more. Rob has made great progress on this front and now is usually able to recover immediately following a mistake – he never waits anymore until the end of the day, or the end of the next day, or the end of the week.
When Rob came to see me this week, he told me about an experience he had over the weekend of being at a party, being tempted by the variety on the dessert table, and eating more than he had planned. Although he got right back on track and didn’t continue to overeat (which was really great), it made me realize that Rob has had many such experiences recently. In fact, when I thought about it, I realized that I could identify at least one time every week when Rob would get off track. I asked Rob about this, and he acknowledged that it was true – he was having a lot of off-track moments, although the good news was that he never stayed off track. I had a hypothesis as to why this was happening. I asked Rob if, whenever he was tempted to go off track, he had a thought along the lines of, “It’s okay to overeat because I’ll just get right back on track.” Rob thought about it and realized that the thought he was having was, “It’s okay [to overeat] because I know I can recover.”
Although it was great that Rob had confidence in his ability to recover, it wasn’t great that he was using this as an excuse to get off track. Rob and I discussed the “I know I can recover” thought and came up with a number of reasons why it was worth it to him to overcome that thought and not give in.
1. It reinforced his giving-in muscle. Every time Rob was tempted to get off track and gave in, he made it more likely he’d give in the next time, and the time after that. Every time Rob reinforced his giving-in muscle, he made it harder to stay on track the next time. Even though Rob was able to recover, by exercising his giving-in muscle he was just making it harder on himself to stay on track.
2. It was causing him to take in extra calories. Rob had noticed that in recent weeks his weight loss has slowed considerably, and he realized that all the extra calories he was taking in from his off-track moments was likely a huge contributor of this. Because Rob wanted to go on to lose more weight, he knew it was worth it to try to cut out the off-track moments because they were jeopardizing his weight loss.
3. There were no guarantees that he would be able to recover. Although Rob had gotten so much better about getting right back on track, there was always the possibility that he might not be able to pull himself back and would stay off track. This wasn’t a risk Rob wanted to take.
4. He felt badly about himself when he overate. Rob realized that whenever he got off track, although he recovered right away, he still got down on himself for having overeaten in the first place, and that’s not a pleasant feeling. Rob didn’t want to have to put up with the negative self-talk that always accompanied him making a dieting mistake.
With all of these reasons in mind, Rob felt much more prepared to deal with and overcome his sabotaging thought that it was okay to get off track because he could recover right away. He was convinced that it wasn’t okay!
Read about this trap and more in our new book, The Diet Trap Solution, available for pre-order now.