In Session with Debbie: Cravings Script

My client, Rachel, was having trouble resisting cravings.  While she was able to resist them much of the time, she told me in session last week that it was really hard for her and the whole experience was causing her distress. In order to figure out what was going on, I asked her to tell me in detail about a craving that she had over the past week – what she thought while she was having the craving, what she said to herself that enabled her to resist, and how she felt about it afterwards.  Rachel described the following scenario to me:

Rachel’s daughter, Samantha, had a birthday that weekend and Rachel had planned a big celebratory dinner for her, including Samantha’s favorite chocolate cake.  Rachel had decided in advance that she would stick to one piece of cake and she would forgo the ice cream, knowing that she was already taking in more calories at dinner than she usually would have.  Once dessert rolled around, Rachel ate her piece of cake and then had a strong craving for another piece, plus some ice cream.  Rachel thought to herself, “I really want more cake. It tasted so good. It stinks that I can’t have more, and I didn’t even get to experience it with the ice cream.” Rachel was able to resist the extra cake, though, telling herself, “No, you’re just not having any more. You said one piece and that’s it. You can have more another time.”

I asked Rachel how she felt after she resisted the cake and she told me, “I felt terrible! I was so resentful that I couldn’t have more.”  This, I realized, is why Rachel was finding it such a painful experience to resist cravings.  When she was able to resist extra food, instead of giving herself so much credit for doing so, and reminding herself of all the wonderful things she would get as a result of resisting, she was instead focusing on how deprived she felt, how much she wanted to eat the food, and how terrible it was that she couldn’t have it. Because Rachel was saying such negative things to herself, it’s no wonder she didn’t feel good about resisting.

To help reverse this, Rachel and I wrote out a script of exactly what she would say to herself when she resisted a craving. I asked Rachel to read this script every day, at least three times a day, plus every time she overcame a craving. Here is what Rachel’s script said:

Good for me for resisting this craving.  I deserve so much credit for this! This will help me reach my weight loss goals which are so important to me.

When Rachel came back to see me this week, she told me that she had a much better week in terms of resisting cravings.  Instead of feeling badly and deprived when she didn’t eat something, she began to feel proud of herself because she gave herself lots and lots of credit.  By reading this script every time she resisted a craving, it helped Rachel begin to refocus her attention; instead of thinking about all the negatives of not eating something, she began to pay more attention to why it was worth it to her to resist.  Rachel realized that resisting, and giving herself credit for doing so, felt great, and it was a good feeling that lasted (as opposed to giving in and eating something, which is a pleasure that is much, much more fleeting).

If you’re finding resisting cravings to be a painful experience, think about what you say to yourself when you resist. What are focusing on? Are you thinking about how deprived you feel for not eating it, or are you paying attention to all the great benefits you’ll get as a result of resisting? If you need to, consider writing out your own script, as Rachel did, and read it multiple times a day. Eventually these new ideas will take root in your mind and make a difference. Resisting cravings can feel great –as long as you give yourself lots of credit for when you do.

In Session with Debbie: Treats in the Office

Last week I had a session with my dieter, Joe.  Joe works in a large office and told me that this time of year, holiday treats are everywhere.  Over the past few weeks, Joe had been having a very hard time maintaining control over his sweet tooth and his sugar cravings. 

In session last week, I told Joe that one of the strategies that works well for many dieters is to make the decision to have one treat per day. It could be at any time of his choosing, but most of our clients decide to have one treat per day after dinner. That way, they get to look forward to having dessert all day long and it is easier for them to turn down treats during the day because they are able to say to themselves, “I don’t need to have this now, I know I get to have something after dinner.”  Joe thought about this and decided that that would work well for him because he really likes to have dessert after dinner with his wife, and so he knew that if he had his one treat during the day, he would really miss it in the evening. Joe and I discussed the fact that if there was something that looked really good at work, he could always take a portion of it home and have it after dinner.

Joe told me that while he realized that having one treat per day, after dinner, was a good plan which would help him get through the holidays without gaining weight, he knew it wouldn’t be easy to stick to.  Joe and I discussed what thoughts he might have that would get in the way of him sticking to his plan and came up with Responses to them.  Here are the sabotaging thoughts and response:

Sabotaging Thought: It’s okay just this one time to have a treat at the office.

Response: It’s not okay just this one time! Every time matters because every time I’m either strengthening my giving-in muscle or my resistance muscle.  If I give in and eat this treat now, I’ll make it so much harder to stick to my plan the next time.  This time matters because every time matters so I have to stand firm and strengthen my resistance habit.

 

Sabotaging Thought: This treat looks really good. I just want to eat it.

Response: While I want to eat this treat right now, I so much more want all the benefits of losing weight. Even though I want it, it’s worth it to me not to eat it right now. Besides, if it’s something I really like, I can always take it home and have it later. It’s not that I can’t eat it, it’s just that I’m not going to eat it right now.

 

Sabotaging Thought: I can’t resist those cookies – they look too good.

Response: It’s true that it’s hard to resist but it’s not true that I can’t.  There is a difference between things that are impossible and things that are hard. Telling myself I ‘can’t’ resist is really just an excuse to give in. I’ve resisted plently of cravings before, and I know I can now, too. Besides, when I give in I feel crappy and when I resist I feel great!

 

Sabotaging Thought: I don’t want to have to think about healthy eating right now so I’m just going to give in and have this treat.

Response: There’s no such thing as ‘not thinking about it.’ If I decide to ‘not think about it’ and eat the treat now, I’ll definitely think about it a lot later when I’m feeling guilty and badly about my eating.  On the other hand, if I do put in the effort to think about it now and resist, I’ll feel so great and proud later that I did.

 

Sabotaging Thought: Maybe I should have just one cookie right now.  I can’t decide

Response: I’ve already made the decision not to have any! There is no decision to be made in this moment.  Move on and get distracted with something else.

When Joe came in to see me this week he told that things had been going really well and he was feeling much more in control both during work and after.  Joe told me that there were many days that he was tempted to eat treats at the office but by reading his Response Cards each day, he was able to respond to his sabotaging thoughts and resist – and that he always felt so great about it once the craving had passed.  What Joe experienced is what many dieters eventually come to experience –  he found that not eating the treats (as a result of giving in to a momentary craving) felt even better than eating them because he was able to maintain his sense of control and he didn’t have any guilt or regret about his eating. Joe told me that sticking to his holiday treat plan was often not easy, but it was always 100% worth it.

In Session with Debbie: Vacation Plans

A few months ago my client, Susan, went on vacation with her friend, Caroline, and Caroline’s two kids.  After the trip, Susan and I spent some time in session discussing what had gone well and what could have gone better. This was especially important because we knew that Susan was again going away with Caroline and her children in a few weeks.

Susan told me that the major area that needed improvement was dessert.  While it was great that she and Caroline took a walk every morning, they also stopped at a local donut and bagel shop on the way home so that Caroline could get breakfast for her kids.  Susan told me that more often than not, she would go inside with Caroline, be tempted by everything she saw and smelled, and would end up buying and eating at least one donut before she walked out the door.  Not only was this problematic from a calorie perspective, but Susan told me that it also threw off her eating for the rest of the day, because when she got home she wasn’t hungry for her usual healthy and satisfying breakfast, but then got very hungry an hour or two later, and would eat something which would throw off her lunch, and so on. 

Susan also struggled with treats when she, Caroline, and the kids would take their after dinner boardwalk stroll during which everyone picked out a treat for dessert.  This was difficult for Susan because not only would she eat what she bought, but she would also end up eating some of Caroline’s dessert, too (because Caroline, lacking a big sweet tooth, always had extra and Susan always developed a craving for it).

In session Susan and I first talked about how she would handle the stop at the donut and bagel shop.  Since Susan knew she’d prefer to have dessert at night when everyone else was eating it (and since she also knew that she couldn’t eat two desserts a day and not gain weight) and because donuts were always gone very quickly and then negatively impacted her eating the rest of the day, Susan decided that she would rather just not have any donuts in the morning.  To help her follow through with this, we came up with a two part strategy.

1. Susan wouldn’t even go into the donut shop with Caroline, thus limiting her exposure to temptations, and would wait outside to do stretching or check her email on her phone.

2. While Caroline was in the shop, Susan would read the following Response Card:

I have a healthy, satisfying, and delicious breakfast waiting for me at home. I’m not having a donut because it will be gone too quickly, negatively impact my eating, and make me feel guilty.  It’s worth it to wait!

Susan and I then discussed how she would handle dessert at night.  Since Susan knew that she was highly susceptible to craving what everyone else was eating, and since she was in the habit of sharing some of Caroline’s desserts, she decided that the best course of action would simply be to order whatever Caroline ordered.  Having just been on vacation with Caroline, Susan knew that she, too, would enjoy whatever Caroline decided to have, and if they both had the same thing, then Susan didn’t have to worry about going overboard eating two desserts.  To help her stick to this plan, Susan made the following Response Card:

Whatever Caroline gets for dessert, I’m sure to like. If I get something different, the whole time I am eating my dessert I will be craving whatever Caroline has, thus diminishing my enjoyment in my own dessert and causing me to eat Caroline’s extras.  Just order what Caroline orders.

In session with Susan last week, she told me that she had just gotten back from her second beach trip with Caroline and her kids – and it was a huge success.  Susan said that these strategies, along with the Response Cards that helped her implement them, took her from overindulging and feeling guilty, to enjoying her food and feeling great.

In Session with Deborah: Valentine’s Day Candy Success

In session this week my dieter, Amy, told me about a major triumph she had during a long and stressful work meeting the day before.  Midway through the meeting, someone started passing out a big bowl full of Valentine’s Day candy, and everyone started digging in.  When the bowl was passed to Amy, Amy looked down at the treats and thought about how much she wanted one. But instead of taking one (or many) treats and eating them, Amy did something different – she didn’t take any and passed the bowl onto the next person. 

I asked Amy what she said to herself that enabled her to resist the Valentine’s Day candy.  Amy told me that although she really wanted the candy, not only because everyone else was eating it but also because she was feeling really stressed, she reminded herself of the following ideas:

If I give in, I’ll enjoy this for a few moments but then I’ll feel guilty about it the rest of the meeting, and probably afterwards.

This meeting is already stressful and I’m going through a stressful time at work. If I eat this, I’ll just feel even more stressed because I’ll worry about gaining weight.

Just because everyone else is eating it doesn’t mean I can. My body doesn’t know or care what they’re eating. It only knows what I eat.

I asked Amy if, looking back, she regretted not having eaten the candy and she told me that she absolutely didn’t regret it and, in fact, she hadn’t really thought about it again until our session that day.  I also asked Amy if she was actually feeling good about not having eaten the candy and Amy said that she really did because she felt proud of herself.  Amy and I then discussed some important things for her to remember based on this experience:

  1. She now was proven to herself that she can resist eating something, even when the situation is really difficult.  Amy has also now made it easier for her to resist the next time because she has made her resistance muscle stronger.
  2. Once Amy did resist, she didn’t spend the rest of the day regretting it. In fact, she didn’t even think about it once the situation had passed.  It wasn’t as if she spend the rest of the hour/day/week thinking, “I really wish I had eaten that candy.”  It just didn’t come up again.
  3. Not only did Amy not regret resisting the candy, but she actually felt good about it because she gave herself a lot of credit for doing so.  Although Amy continued to feel stress about her work situation, she didn’t add to that stress by also feeling guilty about her eating.

What I did with Amy is important for you, yourself, to also do. Whenever you have a success, ask yourself:

1. What was the situation and what were my sabotaging thoughts?

2. What did I say to myself that enabled me to stand firm?  How did I feel when I did so?  How am I feeling now about doing so?

3. What do I need to remember about this situation for next time?

The Year In Review

Over the past year on the Beck Diet Solution Blog, we’ve written about many topics dealing with everything related to dieting/healthy eating, losing weight, and keeping weight off.  In case you missed any of them, or if you’re dealing with some issue in particular and want a quick reference of articles to read on that topic, we’ve broken down some of the posts we’ve written from the past year into separate categories.

Cravings
In Session with Deborah: Do Cravings Really Go Away?
Ask the Diet Program Coordinator: Sugar Cravings
A Peek Inside a Diet Session: Cravings

Getting Back on Track
In Session with Deborah: Green Days
Ask the Diet Program Coordinator: Getting Back on Track Today
Ask the Diet Program Coordinator: Getting Back on Track

Dealing with treats
Ask the Diet Program Coordinator: Office Treats
In Session with Deborah: I Deserve a Treat
In Session with Deborah: Tempting Treats

Response Cards
In Session with Deborah: Reviewing Response Cards
How to Write Response Cards

Getting through Hard Times
5 Strategies to Get Through Hard Times
Ask the Diet Program Coordinator

Eating Out
In Session with Deborah: The French Fry Plan
In Session with Deborah: The Hangover Effect

Motivation
In Session with Deborah: Regaining Focus
Ask the Diet Program Coordinator: Staying Motivated

Making a plan
Components of a Thanksgiving Plan
In Session with Deborah: Making a Food Plan
In Session with Deborah: Birthday Plan

Going on Vacation
In Session with Deborah: Vacation Goals
A Peek Inside a Diet Session: Going on Vacation

If you have any questions or topics you’d like to see covered on our blog, please email us: dietprogram@beckinstitute.org.  Stay tuned for more in 2013!

In Session with Deborah: The French Fry Plan

This week I had a session with my dieter, Sarah.  Although in recent weeks Sarah has been doing well with her dieting skills, she told me that one food in particular keeps tripping her up: french fries.  Sarah has two young children and she and her family often go out to eat. Sarah told me that she usually goes into meals with the plan of not having any french fries, but more often than not ends up eating some off of her kids’ plates.  Sarah told me that most children’s meals in restaurants come with french fries, and since her kids never finish what’s on their plates, the fries call out to Sarah until she eventually gives in and eats some.

When Sarah came to see me she was feeling distressed because, although she knew continually overeating fries was a problem, she didn’t know how to control herself around them.  The first thing I discussed with Sarah is that she needs a French Fry Plan – she needs to plan in advance whether or not she’s going to have fries each time she eats out.  I reminded Sarah that since she really likes fries, it’s not reasonable to expect that she’ll never eat any.  The goal isn’t to never eat fries; rather it’s to plan in advance when she’s going to have them and when she’s not so she’s able to stay in control. This way, she doesn’t have to sit through meals looking at fries and struggling about whether or not to give in and have some, because the decision will already be made.

I also discussed with Sarah that during the meals when she plans to have fries, it’s crucial to order her own fries separately. Even if the meal she orders doesn’t come with fries and her kids’ meals do, she still needs to get her own side order. The reason for this is so that Sarah can start sending herself the message that it’s never okay to eat fries off her kids’ plates. If she’s going to eat fries, it means that she eats her own fries.  This is important because if Sarah some of the time allows herself to eat her kids’ fries (and there leaves the possibility of doing so open), then they will continue to call out to her, even during meals when she’s planned to not have any.  If Sarah has the rule, “I never eat fries off my kids’ plates,” then it will be much easier to resist every time they eat out because she won’t have to even consider (and therefore struggle about) whether or not to have some of theirs.  Sarah and I discussed the fact that, while this may end up costing her a few extra dollars, it’s 100% worth it because it will drastically reduce her french fry struggle (not to mention helping Sarah reach her enormously important weight loss goals).

I then asked Sarah what sabotaging thoughts she is likely to have during the meals when she hasn’t planned to have fries but is tempted to do so. Sarah said that some of the thoughts she may have are, “I’ll just have one. One won’t matter,” and “I really like fries and I just want to eat them.”

In response to these sabotaging thoughts, Sarah made the following Response Cards:

French Fry 1RC french fries 2

By the end of session, Sarah had a very clear plan of how to deal with her french fry troubles.  Here are the steps of her plan:

1.  Always plan in advance whether or not to eat fries at any given meal.

2. When I am going to have fries, make sure to order my own.

3. Remember – the fries on my kids’ plates are completely off limits. I just never eat them.

4. Read my French Fry Response Cards before meals when I haven’t planned to have fries.

5. Enjoy meals out even more because I’ll no longer be struggling about whether or not to eat the fries on my kids’ plates.

In Session with Deborah: Making a Food Plan

I recently had a session with my dieter, Kara, who is a busy stay-at-home mom to her four boys. In earlier sessions, Kara and I worked on all of the foundational dieting skills and she got very adept at consistently instituting good eating habits.  Because of this, we then started talking about having Kara make a food plan in advance and stick to it.  Kara was initially resistant to this idea and stated that her lifestyle just wouldn’t work with a strict eating plan because she was always on the go and she often didn’t know ahead of time what her next meal would be.  Kara also said that she didn’t want to give up spontaneous eating and liked being able to eat something if it was offered to her unexpectedly.  I discussed with Kara the fact that making a food plan and sticking to it would likely make her life a lot easier because she wouldn’t have to rely on willpower at any one given moment to resist unplanned treats. I also pointed out that it might actually be very helpful for Kara to have a food plan, because she was often scrambling around at the last moment to make sure that she had dinner on the table for her family. 

Despite these compelling reasons for why it might be worth it to try making a plan and sticking to it, Kara still resisted the idea and so we agreed to try it her way first – she’d work on staying in control of her eating and resist cravings, but without having a formal plan.  Over that week, Kara tried hard to reign in her eating without a food plan and without violating her rule: no junk food until after dinner.  However, when Kara came in to see me the following week, she dejectedly told me that something had thrown her off almost every single day, like when she was offered licorice at the park, cookies at a PTA meeting, or a dinner out with her husband.  

Kara and I discussed what had happened over the week and she realized that, right now, she faces too many temptations each day to be able to resist all of them easily enough, and therefore making a plan and sticking might be very helpful in overcoming this obstacle.  I reminded Kara that she probably tried very hard each day to resist the temptations and to reason herself out of eating food she knew she shouldn’t, and therefore likely had a much harder week than if she had just known ahead of time whether or not she was going to have something.  Kara decided that she was willing to try and stick to a food plan for at least one week and see if it made a difference in her overall day. 

Before she set out to do this, Kara and I spent some time in session thinking about when it would be hardest for her to stick to her plan and what sabotaging thoughts might get in the way of her doing so.  Kara thought that the hardest times would be, as it had been, when she was offered or saw food she didn’t expect, and to not give in in that moment.  I asked Kara what thoughts she might have in those moments, and then she made Response Cards with responses that we formulated together.  Here are some of Kara’s sabotaging thoughts and then the responses we formulated:

Sabotaging Thought: I really want to eat that right now even though it’s not on my plan. Just this one time won’t matter.

Sabotaging Thought: It’s not fair that I can’t eat this treat right now.

Sabotaging Thought: I really don’t like having to make a food plan.

When Kara came in to see me earlier this week, she reported that she had had a much better week. As we predicted, once Kara made a food plan and worked on sticking to it, it made several aspects of her life easier. First of all, Kara struggled a lot less about whether or not to eat something that was offered to her because she knew that if it wasn’t on her plan, she shouldn’t convince herself that it was okay to eat it. Second, Kara also found that she really enjoyed having meal plans for the day (and even for the week) because it allowed her more time with her boys in the afternoon because she was spending less time trying to figure out what to prepare for dinner.  Once Kara decided to try making a food plan, she realized that it wasn’t nearly as bad as she thought it was going to be and, in many ways, it actually made her day better, not worse.

When a Dieter Becomes her own Diet Coach

 

Whenever I first meet with a new diet client, I always make sure to explain to them that the ultimate goal of treatment is to teach them to be their own diet coach so that they don’t need to work with me for life.  In my work with dieters, there are a few things that really mark a turning point in their progress and which signify that they are on the road to ultimate success. 

One such turning point is when dieters demonstrate that they are becoming their own diet coach.  In a recent session, my dieter, Michelle, really proved that this was starting to happen for her.  Michelle has two young daughters.  Both of their birthdays happen to fall within the same week and both of their favorite treat is Michelle’s homemade chocolate chip cookies.  The afternoon of her first daughter’s birthday, Michelle set out to bake chocolate chip cookies which would be served at her daughter’s birthday dinner that night, in addition to the cake she had bought.  Michelle told me that she made the cookies in the late afternoon (which happens to be one of her more vulnerable times for sugar cravings) and while she was making the cookie dough, she started to get a craving to eat some, despite the rules she’s set for herself: “No junk food until after dinner” and “Eat everything sitting down, slowly, and mindfully.”  Michelle ended up giving in to sabotaging thoughts and mindlessly ate a lot of cookie dough while standing at the counter. 

After this happened, Michelle felt sick from all of the cookie dough she had eaten, and she was angry with herself for giving in to a craving and breaking her rules—especially since she had previously been following them so well.  This afternoon incident continued to stay with Michelle and caused her to feel out of sorts into the evening, resulting in her again giving in to sabotaging thoughts and eating a piece of birthday cake, despite having already had more than enough sweets for the day. 

That night, Michelle realized that she had made several mistakes, and she knew it was worth it to her to figure out how she could correct them, especially since the same situation would reoccur just a few days later for her younger daughter’s birthday.  Michelle sat down and thought about what had gone wrong and why. She realized that one of her first mistakes was not reading any Response Cards or her Advantages List before she started baking, even though she knew it could be quite difficult to resist the sweets.  She also had set aside time to bake during her most vulnerable time of the day, when she is most likely to give in to sabotaging thoughts. Additionally, Michelle didn’t have a clear plan for when she was going to eat the cookies, if any, and how she would balance that with having cake, so she wasn’t able to say something to herself like, “You don’t need to eat any now, you’re going to have one soon enough after dinner.” 

Michelle realized that planning was, indeed, necessary, so she set about making a plan for her upcoming cookie-baking.  This was her plan:

1.  Bake cookies right after lunch when I’m not hungry.

2. Read my Advantages List right before I start baking.

3. Plan to have one cookie after dinner and one half-size slice of cake.  If I want more cookies, I can plan to have one the next day.

4. Remember what happened last time and how I felt.  I want this time to be different!

Michelle also took the time to really think about what sabotaging thoughts got in her way the first time and made the following Response Cards to read with her Advantages List:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few days later on her younger daughter’s birthday, Michelle carried through with her plan and the day went off without a hitch.  When Michelle came into session this week, she told me this whole story and we discussed what an important milestone this was for her.  Michelle had a challenging situation, she sat down and figured out what went wrong, she made new Response Cards in response to her sabotaging thoughts, and she came up with a plan to do things differently the next time.  I reminded Michelle that if we had had a session right after her first cookie-baking experience, I would likely have done almost the exact same things she did on her own.  This really proves that Michelle is fast on her way to becoming her own diet coach.   

It’s important to keep in mind that a big marker of Michelle’s progress is not when she stops making mistakes altogether, because everyone makes mistakes from time to time. The ultimate goal is for dieters to make mistakes and then recover from them right away and figure out how to handle the situation differently in the future, which is exactly what Michelle has done

In Session with Deborah: Tempting Treats

In my last blog post, I detailed a session I had with my dieter, Amy, in which we focused on her mindset and plan for her upcoming birthday.  When Amy returned for her session this week, we first discussed how things went on her birthday.  Amy reported that it had all gone “amazingly well” and that she followed her birthday plan exactly as it was laid out. 

Debbie: Last week we discussed some of the sabotaging thoughts you’ve experienced on previous birthdays.  The thought, “I won’t be able to enjoy my birthday if I stay in control of my eating,” seemed particularly strong. Did that come up this time?

Amy: It did, actually, when I was reviewing my plan before the guests came—I was thinking, “This just doesn’t seem like enough for my birthday.”

Debbie: And were you able to respond to that thought?

Amy: Yes, I did. I reminded myself that I still get to eat two pieces of dessert. . . that I’ll be full after two pieces anyway, and that I really don’t need more food, whether or not it’s my birthday.

Debbie: That’s great! Did reminding yourself about these things help?

Amy: It did, and I also read my Response Cards which helped.

Debbie: Great.  Were there other times throughout the night when you had sabotaging thoughts?

Amy: The only other time was after I had two pieces of dessert. I was looking at this really delicious cake that my sister had made and I was thinking, “I really want to have another slice. I know that cake tastes so good.”

Debbie: What did you do when you had that thought?

Amy: I excused myself and went to the bathroom to read my cards – again.  And I kept thinking, “You won’t be happy when you go to bed tonight if you eat more cake.  You’ve done so well all evening; don’t give in now.”

Debbie:  And so you were able to resist?

Amy: I was, and once everybody left and all the leftovers had been put away, I was really happy I did. 

Debbie: So, this may seem like an obvious question, but looking back – do you regret not eating more cake that night?

Amy: No! Not at all. And it was one of the first birthdays I can remember in which I went to bed not feeling stuffed. . . and instead, feeling really good about my eating. It was great.

Amy did really well on her birthday, although, as we predicted in our previous session, she did experience sabotaging thoughts.  However, because we had taken time in advance to formulate responses to possible sabotaging thoughts and she had taken the time to prepare before her party, she was able to effectively respond to them and not give in.  And, Amy experienced what most dieters eventually find to be true: once the event was over, she didn’t regret not eating more.  In fact, instead of feeling deprived, she felt proud of herself for the things she didn’t eat because she was able to go to bed feeling good about herself and her eating.

Amy next told me about a challenging experience she had later that week.  Two evenings after her birthday, she was reading before bed and found herself thinking about (and having a craving for) the leftover cake that she had wrapped up and put in the freezer after her party.  Amy told me that she struggled for a while about whether or not to give in to her craving, but ultimately her sabotaging thoughts got the better of her; she ended up going downstairs and eating a large piece of cake. 

Amy and I discussed this situation in more depth, including the sabotaging thoughts that led her to give in to a craving that night. Amy realized that one of her strongest sabotaging thoughts was, simply: “That cake was so good.  I really want to eat some of it right now.”  I asked Amy what her plan was supposed to have been for the leftover cake and she responded, “I don’t know, I hadn’t really thought about it.”  Amy and I discussed this further and we realized that one of the reasons she was unable to effectively respond to her sabotaging thoughts that night was because she didn’t have a plan for when she was going to enjoy the rest of the cake. Because she didn’t have a plan, she was unable to say to herself (something like), “Even though I want to eat the cake right now, I’m planning on having it tomorrow, and I can definitely wait until then. Besides, if I eat it tomorrow when I’ve planned to, I will be able to enjoy it so much more because I won’t feel guilty about it.” 

Amy and I then came up with a new rule for her: whenever she has a highly tempting food in her house, she is going to make a plan for when she’s going to eat it. We agreed that this will make it so much easier to resist cravings that arise at any one given moment, because she will know exactly when she does get to eat it. 

This session with Amy is a good example of the importance of both successes and challenging “slip ups”.  Even though Amy ended up giving in to a craving, we learned something very important from her experience. And we were able to figure out an important guideline for her which will help her handle similar challenges more easily in the future.

In Session with Deborah: Do Cravings Really Go Away?

Earlier in the week I had a session with my dieter, Jeremy, during which we talked mostly about cravings. In previous sessions, Jeremy and I had spent time discussing cravings and the fact that they go away one of two ways: either when he decides to give in to them, or when he decides to definitely NOT give in.  Through effort and practice, Jeremy had been able to prove to himself:

  • He is capable of not giving into cravings
  • Cravings go away, and they go away much more quickly when he gets distracted
  • He feels so much better and he is so proud of himself after the fact when he has stood firm

However, when Jeremy came in to see me this week, he told me that he has been struggling more with cravings lately and has been having a hard time making them go away completely.  I asked Jeremy to describe a situation in which this happened, and he told me that over the weekend, he and his wife held a birthday party for their daughter in which they served chocolate cake – Jeremy’s favorite.  Jeremy had planned in advance to have a slice of cake after dinner that night, knowing that he would enjoy it so much more if he ate it then, as opposed to at the party when he was responsible for supervising 18 six-year-olds. 

However, once dinner was over that night and he had had his planned cake and stowed the leftovers in the refrigerator, Jeremy started having a craving for more.  Jeremy was able to accurately label what he was experiencing as a craving (as opposed to hunger) because he knew he was feeling it in his mouth and not his stomach.  In order to combat the craving and distract himself, Jeremy got busy doing things like reading to his daughter, doing household chores, and catching up on one of his favorite television shows. Despite these distractions, Jeremy kept picturing the cake in his mind, beckoning to him from the refrigerator.  Jeremy felt frustrated because although the craving for cake would temporarily go away when he was distracted, it kept coming back throughout the rest of the night.  While he was ultimately able to stand firm (and asked his wife to bring the cake in to share with her colleagues the next day) he felt unsteady because his cravings never really went away that night.

Jeremy and I discussed this situation in session and I reminded him of times in the past when he has had a craving and has definitively said to himself, “No choice, I’m absolutely not giving in,” and the craving went away completely.  Jeremy confirmed that this was true and said he couldn’t figure out why that night with the cake was different.  I asked Jeremy to reflect back on what he said to himself each time he had a craving for the cake.  Did he definitely say to himself, “No way, I’m not having any,” or was it possible that each time he had a craving, he took a moment to consider the possibility of actually having the cake, and then was able to ultimately make the decision to not give in at that time.  Jeremy thought about it and recognized that because the cake was so good, and because it was his favorite, each time he thought about it he probably had a dialogue in his head that went something like, “Maybe I should have a little more cake. Just a little bit won’t hurt, and besides, it’s my daughter’s birthday.  No, you’re not supposed to have any more tonight.  But it was so good and it’s my favorite so maybe just this one time it’s okay.  No, you know that ‘just this one time’ doesn’t work and so you shouldn’t any more tonight.  But maybe it really would be okay, and besides, it would taste so good,” etc.  

Jeremy and I discussed this further and I pointed out to him how different and how much more indecisive that was from how he used to answer to cravings not that long ago.  He realized that the reason the craving probably never went away for good that night was because each time he had it, he gave himself the option of giving in, thus psychologically opening the door to more cravings.  Likely if Jeremy had been able to conclusively say NO to himself (like he has in the past), the craving wouldn’t have kept reoccurring because he would have sent himself the message, “no matter what, I’m not having any more.”   Jeremy left session armed with the knowledge that he can and does have the power to make cravings go away completely, but that one surefire way of making them continue is to think about giving in each time he has one.