In Session with Debbie: Slowing Down

This week, my client, Theresa told me that she was having trouble controlling portions at dinnertime.  I asked her to describe what specifically was happening in the evening, and she told me that often she would finish her planned meal, feel unsatisfied, and then go back and eat more. I asked Theresa if she was taking the time at dinner to eat slowly and really enjoy every bite that she took, and Theresa answered that she wasn’t. She told me that she often sat down to dinner right when she got home and then proceeded to eat very quickly.

I discussed with Theresa that there is a difference between feeling physically satisfied after eating and feeling psychologically satisfied. Because Theresa was planning a reasonable dinner, she likely felt physically satisfied after eating (once her stomach and brain registered satiety), but because she was eating too quickly and not paying enough attention to her food, what she was really lacking was psychological satisfaction. Because of this, we knew that what Theresa didn’t need was to plan more food; rather, what she did need was to get more enjoyment from the food she was eating.

Mindful Eating

Theresa and I came up with a plan for how she would get more psychological satisfaction from dinner. The first part of the plan involved not sitting down to dinner right away because if she did, it often meant she was still in work mode, and work mode was fast-paced and unrelaxed. Theresa decided that as a rule she would change out of her work clothes and spend at least 10 minutes doing some type of relaxing activity before she would put a single bite of food in her mouth, no matter how hungry she was.  Doing so would allow her to transition from work mode to home mode, which would enable her to enjoy her food more.

The next part of the plan involved Theresa slowing down and really taking the time to enjoy what she was eating so that she could maximize physical and psychological satisfaction.  Theresa decided that, before sitting down to dinner, the first thing she would do is read a Response Card that reminded her of the importance of eating slowly and mindfully.  She also made a commitment to not put a new bite of food on her fork until she swallowed the bite she was eating – which would enable her to pay attention to what she was currently eating as opposed to having her attention be on what she was eating next.  Then we discussed a number of strategies she could try to help her slow down:

  1. She could try eating a few meals with her non-dominant hand, just to help knock her out of her fast-eating habit.
  2. She could eat dinner with chopsticks, which would force her to slow down.
  3. She could take sips of water in between each bite.
  4. She could set a timer to go off every few minutes and each time it went off, she had to take a small break from eating.
  5. She could change something in her eating environment, like get a new plate or a new placemat, or place a vase of flowers on the table. Each time she noticed the change, she would use it as a cue to slow down.
  6. She could pretend she was a food critic and that after the meal she would have to describe, in detail, the taste and texture of what she ate.

With these strategies in place, Theresa felt committed to slowing down and really savoring dinner.

In Session with Debbie: Stress Relief

This week I had a session with my client, Jennifer, with whom I only meet every few months for booster sessions.  When Jennifer came in to see me this week she told me that on the whole things have been going well but she’s been having more trouble controlling her sweets intake in the afternoons. Jennifer, who works from home, is a big baker, and through our work together had gotten to the point where she can make any type of tempting baked good and limit herself to just one per day, because she knows she would thoroughly savor and enjoy one and that eating more would make her feel off track.  Jennifer told me that there had been a few instances in the past few weeks where she baked and ate two or more of what she made – something she hadn’t done at all for months and months.

To figure out why this was happening, Jennifer and I discussed what else was going on in her life and she told me that her work life had gotten much more stressful lately and she and her husband were also contemplating a big move.  I asked Jennifer if she had incorporated stress relievers into her life to help her cope with her increased level of stress. She thought about it and said that no, she hadn’t, in part because she felt guilty about taking time during her day to listen to music or just sit with a mug of hot tea.  At this point I realized that Jennifer was falling 2675532274_09d939aa01_zinto a common Diet Trap – the Lack of Alternatives Trap. She was feeling extra stressed and wasn’t allowing herself any means of calming down except eating and so it was no wonder she was having trouble controlling her afternoon eating.

I gave Jennifer the following analogy: If she had diabetes, would she feel guilty about taking time during the day to check her blood sugar and monitor her insulin? Jennifer answered that no, of course she wouldn’t.  We discussed all the ways in which stress takes a negative toll and I pointed out to her that doing self-care activities to reduce her stress is just another way of taking care of her health – both physical and psychological.  We also discussed the consequences of not allowing herself other means of stress relief, namely that she would keep turning to food and would likely gain weight.

Jennifer and I created a list of things she could do in the afternoons when she felt stressed, along with the reminder that doing any of them would mean taking care of her health, and not something she should feel guilty about.  We also discussed that if she was tempted to take more than one baked good she would identify what was happening and label it: She was feeling stressed and her body was telling her she needed to calm down.  Jennifer would then remind herself that in that moment she wasn’t depriving herself by not having more to eat because what she didn’t need was more food, what she did need was stress relief, and that’s exactly what she would be giving herself.

In Session with Debbie: Being Too Restrictive

This week, my client, Katie, told me that she was having trouble staying on track during the weekend.  She said that she did really well during the week, but was consistently “losing it” once Friday night hit.  I first asked Katie to describe to me what her weekday eating was like. After hearing what a typical Monday-Friday looks like for her, one thing stood out to me very clearly: Katie was eating almost the exact same thing day in and day out.  6835999820_ab1d0a905a_mI questioned Katie about this and she told me that she had just fallen into the habit of eating the same thing for breakfast each day, lunch each day, and dinner each day because she found meals that were easy, convenient, and filled her up while tasting good.

It was clear to me that Katie was being too restrictive during the week.  Being too restrictive can come in different forms – sometimes dieters are too restrictive from a calorie standpoint and eat too little food. This eventually backfires on them because after a few days of eating too little, they’ll inevitably end up overeating.  Dieters can also be too restrictive in terms of the types of food they let themselves eat. If they try to cut out favorite foods entirely, this eventually backfires because when they inevitably give in and have their favorite foods, they eat way too much of them.  Katie was not being too restrictive during the week in terms of the number of calories she was eating, but she was being too restrictive in terms of the types of food she was eating. While Katie wasn’t limiting her food options because she thought certain foods were bad, per say, but more because she didn’t feel like putting in the effort to think about and make something different, it was still backfiring on her all the same. She ate the same foods during the week and then would use the weekend as her time to finally have variety. And because the weekends were the only time she was having any variety, it was no surprise that she was going overboard and was having trouble staying in control.

To help her combat this, Katie and I decided that having the same thing for breakfast during the week every day was probably okay, but she should have at least two different lunches that she switched off between.  We also agreed that it would be best if she didn’t have the same thing for dinner more than twice in a row and she committed to trying at least one new recipe each week during the week, and not waiting for the weekend. Even if she shopped for and prepped the ingredients on Sunday, she would wait until a weekday to actually make the meal. This way she would have plenty of variety during the week and wouldn’t have to cram in everything she wanted to eat once the weekend hit.

If you’re having trouble staying on track during the weekend, ask yourself: Am I allowing myself enough of my favorite foods during the week?