Earlier this week I received an e-mail from my dieter, Rachel. In this email, Rachel described how she got off track during the day because she had gone to a party that afternoon and was highly tempted by the desserts they had. Despite initially planning to have no desserts, Rachel gave in to temptation, telling herself that, “Just this one time won’t matter.” However, Rachel quickly figured out that that time really did matter because it caused her to feel very guilty about her eating and lose confidence, which then led her to continue overeating for the rest of the day. In her email to me, Rachel said that she very much wanted to get back on track but she felt like she was in a “deep rut.” Here is part of the email I sent back to Rachel:
As we’ve discussed before, what language we use with ourselves is really important. When I first read your e-mail, my initial thought was, “What?! Rachel’s only been off track for one afternoon/evening, which is in NO WAY a deep rut! A deep rut is maybe a week or a month off track.” As we know, you have the tendency to be all-or-nothing about mistakes (like the time you made one mistake in a day and said, “I thought I was doing well but I guess I wasn’t” – when in fact you were doing well. One mistake never indicates that you’re not doing well; it indicates that you’re human!) and this seems to be another example of that. I wonder about the psychological impact of telling yourself you’re in a deep rut and if doing so may make it harder to get back on track, because it may convince you that you’re more deeply rooted in the mistakes than you actually are. Telling yourself, “I’m off track, but it’s only one day, it’s not the end of the world,” may make it easier to get back on track than when you say, “I’m in a deep rut.” What do you think about that?
As you see here, what dieters say to themselves can make a really big difference, particularly where mistakes are concerned. If a dieter makes a mistake and says to herself, “This is so terrible! I can’t believe I did that, I’ve really screwed up,” she may have a hard time getting herself right back on track. By contrast, if a dieter makes a mistake but this time says to herself, “Ok, I made a mistake. I’m human, it happens, and it’s not the end of the world. The rest of the day will be fine,” then she’ll probably have a much, much easier time getting back on track. In the situation with Rachel, my concern was that by telling herself she was in a “deep rut,” it may make it harder to get back on track because getting out of a deep rut likely seems so much harder than just needing to bounce back from one off-track day.