In Session with Debbie: Two Events

In session last week, my client, Jeremy, told me that he was feeling worried because he had two events to attend on Saturday night.  He explained to me that there would be a lot of food at each one and he was nervous about his ability to stay on track.  I reminded Jeremy that it’s never the situation in and of itself that would cause him to get off track –it wouldn’t be the fact that he was at an event surrounded by a lot of appetizing food that everyone else was eating that would cause him to overeat, it would be his thinking about the situation. So we needed to do two things: first, come up with a plan for how he would handle his eating, and second, figure out in advance what sabotaging thoughts he might have that would lead him to stray from this plan and come up with responses to them. 

Jeremy and I discussed the two events and decided that a reasonable course of action would be for him to have dinner at the first event and a reasonable portion of one dessert, or smaller portions of two desserts, at the second event.  Jeremy also decided to stick to water or club soda, knowing that he would rather spend his calories on food, and also because he would be driving. 

Next I asked Jeremy to think about what sabotaging thoughts he might have at either even that would lead him to get off track.  Here are the sabotaging thoughts that Jeremy came up with and our responses:

Sabotaging Thought: It’s okay to eat extra because I’m celebrating.

Response: My body doesn’t know or care that I’m celebrating; it processes all calories in the same way regardless.

 

Sabotaging Thought: I’ll make it for it later by eating less during the week.

Response:  “Making up for it later” just doesn’t work because there’s no guarantee that I’ll actually be able to get myself to eat less later on.  It also doesn’t work because if I overeat, I reinforce my giving-in muscle and make it more likely I’ll overeat the next time, and the time after that.  It’s important to continually reinforce the habit of eating consistently. It’s not about the calories, it’s about the habit.

 

Sabotaging Thought: I really want it.

Response:  It’s true, I do really want that food. But I EVEN MORE want all the benefits of losing weight (better health, fewer aches and pains, improved self-confidence, getting to feel like myself again).  Either way I’m missing out on something I want. If I overeat, I miss out on the advantages of losing weight. But if I miss out on extra food, then I GET all the advantages of losing weight. 

 

Sabotaging Thought: Everyone else is eating a lot, why can’t I?

Response:  My body doesn’t know or care what anybody around me is eating, it only knows what I eat. So just because everyone else is eating (and drinking) a lot, doesn’t mean that I can. My body doesn’t care what they’re doing.

 

Sabotaging Thought: My wife won’t know about it, so it’s okay.

Response: My wife won’t know about it, but I’ll know about it, and my body will know about it. If I overeat, I’ll negatively impact myself psychologically and physically. Psychologically because I’ll reinforce old, maladaptive habits and I’ll also feel badly and guilty about my eating.  Physically because I’ll likely feel overly full, take in too many calories, and possibly gain weight. 

Jeremy decided that he would review his eating plan, his Advantages List, and these Response Cards before each event (and during them if he felt vulnerable to overeating while he was there). 

When Jeremy came back to see me this week he reported that the events had been a success and that, with the strategies and tools we put in place, he was able to stay completely on track. This is a great example of how any situation can be handled, no matter how difficult it may seem initially, when dieters take time to formulate a plan, think about what sabotaging thoughts might get in the way of them sticking to their plans, and then coming up with responses so they don’t give in. 

In Session with Debbie: Food Gifts

My dieter, Karen, is a well-loved teacher, whose students frequently bring in treats and baked goods for her.  Karen is always very appreciative of these gestures and often brings the treats home for her husband to enjoy, too.  In session last week, Karen told me that she recently realized that her husband rarely ate the treats she brought home and that, in moments of weakness, she often ended up eating a lot of them, even when she didn’t really want them.  Karen had never had much of a sweet tooth, and it wasn’t often that sweets or baked goods would call her name.  However, since she often had a steady stream of them, supplied by her students and their appreciative parents, Karen found herself eating more and more of them both because she didn’t want to seem ungrateful and because they were “there.”  Karen told me that it seemed very rude to not eat what her students and their parents had so generously given her. 

Karen and I discussed this situation in session and we realized one thing: Karen could not continue to eat all of the treats her students gave her and lose and maintain a healthy weight.  Karen once again stressed that it wasn’t even that she particularly wanted to eat the treats, but it seemed very ungrateful to her not to.  I asked Karen how she felt whenever a student brought in a treat, and she said that it always made her feel very good and appreciated.  I then asked Karen why she thought her students’ parents sent in treats for her, and Karen replied that they probably did so to show their appreciation to Karen and to let her know that they valued the work she was doing with their children. 

I pointed out to Karen the simple logic of what she had just stated: her students brought in baked goods and treats for her to show their appreciation and gratitude for her work, and Karen felt very appreciated and happy when she received these things – without ever putting a bite of food in her mouth.  Karen and I discussed the fact that even if she didn’t eat what her students brought in, this doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel grateful for the gesture and what it symbolizes. She experiences the purpose of the gesture whether or not she eats anything. 

Karen was able to take to heart the logic of this idea and realized that if she continued to eat all of the treats that her students brought in (even when she didn’t want to), it would actually negate the point of them in the first place because it would cause her to feel badly about herself and her eating. 

The moral of the story: if someone gives you a gift of food, you never need to actually eat the gift to accept the person’s gratitude and for the gesture to have meaning.  What happens after you accept the gift in no way takes away from the meaning behind it.

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: After Party Plan

This week I had a session with my dieter, Audrey, who is having a holiday-themed housewarming party on Sunday.  In session we discussed how she would handle this – although we didn’t spend very much time talking about what she would do during the actual party.  Over the last few months, Audrey has had a lot of practice going to parties and has gotten very good at doing things like making plans in advance, eating everything sitting down, not taking seconds, reading Response Cards, and saying no to food pushers.  Audrey is also a classic secret eating – she is able to control her eating when other people are around and watching, but once she is alone, staying on track becomes much more difficult. Because of this, we knew that the main struggle for Audrey would be staying on track once the party was over and everyone had left, so that is what we focused on in session. Here is the After Party Plan we came up with:

Get rid of as many leftovers as possible. Knowing that she has trouble when she has crunchy, snacky food and sweets lying around the house, Audrey decided that she would send home as many leftovers as she could with her family and friends to minimize what she had left once the party was over.

Assess what leftovers are left and make a plan.  Audrey knew that she would make her life much easier if she had a plan for each component of leftover party food and so for each one she would decide whether to keep it, throw it away, or bring it to her office the next day.

Put the office leftovers right into the trunk of her car.  Audrey knew that, even if she had a pile of leftovers specifically ear-marked for her office, there was still a chance she would get into them Sunday night if they were hanging around on her counter. Because of this, Audrey decided that out of sight-out of mind was her best strategy and so she would put the office leftovers right into the trunk of her car where she couldn’t see them or easily access them.

Immediately throw away what leftovers she was planning to toss.  Audrey knew it might be difficult to get herself to actually throw away certain leftovers, and identified that these are the sabotaging thoughts she’s most likely to have: “I paid for it so I should eat it,” and, “I might have company over again soon so I should save the half box of crackers for then.”  To help her overcome these sabotaging thoughts, Audrey made the following Response Cards:

I’ve already paid for the food and so the money is already gone. Eating the food won’t bring the money back, it will just cause me to take in extra calories and gain weight. Just throw it out!

The cost of keeping a half box of crackers is so much higher than the cost of throwing it out and buying another one the next time I have company. If I keep it, I’ll likely end up overeating them, getting off track, and feeling badly and guilty.  It’s worth the cost of a new box of crackers to stop this from happening.

Individually portion the leftovers she was keeping and make a plan for when she would eat them.  Audrey decided that there were some leftovers that would be worth keeping because she could bring them as part of her lunch over the next week or have them for dessert in the evening. However, Audrey also knew that having large bags of snacks has been problematic in the past, so she decided that she would immediately divide the leftovers into individual portions and then wrap them up.  Audrey also knew that having highly tempting food around her apartment with no specific plan of when she would eat it was a recipe for causing lots of struggle, so she decided that she would figure out ahead of time exactly when she would have it. That way, she was much less likely to go overboard when she did eat this tempting food because she would be able to say to herself, “I don’t need to eat more now, I know I can have it again tomorrow.  And, if I wait until tomorrow, I’ll enjoy it more because I won’t feel guilty about eating it.”

In Session with Debbie: Weekend Strategies

This week I had a session with my client, Rachel.  Historically, Rachel was a dieter who was able to eat healthfully during the week but would tend to “lose it” during the weekends.  Over the last few weeks, Rachel and I have been working hard to come up with strategies, techniques, and responses to her weekend sabotaging thoughts so that she would be able to maintain her control throughout the weekend.  When Rachel came to see me this week, she told me that things have finally turned around for her and that she’s noticed a significant change in her ability to stay on track during the weekend.  How did Rachel do this?

Rachel ate the same way she did during week days.  Rachel says one of the most important shifts she has made is finally accepting that, if she wants to lose weight and keep it off, her weekend eating just can’t be all that different from her weekday eating. Rachel started reminding herself that her body doesn’t know or care that it’s the weekend and that it will process all calories the same no matter what day of the week it is.

Rachel stuck to a weekend eating schedule. One strategy that really helped Rachel gain control over her eating during the week was following a set schedule of eating. This enabled her to cut out the all-day grazing she used to do because she had defined times for when she would eat and when she wouldn’t. Initially, Rachel resisted following this schedule during the weekend, saying that she wanted her weekends to have more spontaneity.  Rachel found, however, that not having an eating schedule on the weekend led her back to constantly grazing in the kitchen and continually asking herself, “Should I have eat now?” This meant that she struggled with whether or not to eat so much more often than she did during the week – and it also meant that she took in many more calories.  Rachel realized that it was worth giving up her eating spontaneity (but not necessarily her activity spontaneity) if it meant she regained her sense of peace!

Rachel began exercising at least once during the weekend. Rachel was always good at getting herself to exercise during the week, but she used to think that weekends were an excuse to not move a muscle. Rachel knew that, on the days she exercised during the week, it made her feel better, more energized, and more easily able to stick to healthy eating.  Rachel realized that not exercising on the weekend played into her “unhealthy weekend” mindset, and that getting herself to do at least 30 minutes of walking outside, either Saturday or Sunday, made her feel just as good as it did during the week.  Rachel changed her thought from, “Exercising on the weekend will make my weekend worse,” to, “Exercising on the weekend will make me feel great, just as it does during the week. It makes my weekend better, not worse.”

Rachel got out of the kitchen when it wasn’t a time to eat.  During the week, Rachel works in an office and can’t spend the whole day hanging out in her work kitchen.  During the weekend, however, Rachel was in the habit of spending a lot of time in her kitchen because it’s one of her favorite rooms in her house. Rachel realized that this was really working against her because the more time she spent in her kitchen, the harder it was for her not to think about food and eating.  Rachel instead set up a nice area for herself in her living room, with a new chair she really liked, and decided that, at least for the time being, the kitchen would only be for eating, not for hanging out. This made a huge difference for Rachel because once she wasn’t constantly looking at food, it made it easier to focus on other things.

In Session with Debbie: Getting Through a Hard Time

My dieter, Diane, is going through a hard time. In session she told me that, over the past week, it has been much harder for her to get herself to do what she needs to do, and she hasn’t been as focused on skills like eating everything sitting down, slowly, and mindfully.  I told Diane what I tell every dieter going through a hard time: hard times are normal, they happen to everyone, but they always pass and things will get easier again.

In order to help this hard time go away more quickly, Diane and I first discussed how she could get herself to be more focused on her skills.  Diane said that part of the reason she was having trouble getting herself to eat sitting down is because she was having sabotaging thoughts like, “It’s just some grapes, so it’s really okay to eat them while I’m walking to my car.”  I reminded Diane what she used to remember very clearly – that it’s not about the calories, it’s about the habit.

“Every time you eat something standing up,” I told her, “whether it has 20 calories or 2,000 calories, you’re still reinforcing the habit of giving in and making it more likely you’ll give in the next time, too.”  Diane and I discussed that not only was eating sitting down every single time important to reinforce the habit of sitting down, but it was also important because every time she ate standing up, she reinforced the more general habit of giving in and sent herself the message, “It’s okay to not do what I say I’m going to do.”  Because Diane was going through a hard time, it was particularly important for her to focus on small, as well as big habits, because once she allowed leniency in one area, it would quickly extend to other areas, making it much harder for her to do what she needs to do.

Diane told me that she had also been having sabotaging thoughts about not wanting to follow the “rules” and feeling rebellious.  “I don’t know,” she said, “I just don’t feel like following the rules lately. I guess I want more freedom.”   To help with this, I said to Diane, “If you think about it, we’ve never used the word ‘rules’ in session, and part of why you’re struggling with this right now may be because you’re using that word with yourself.  I wonder if, when you say that you don’t feel like following the rules, it brings back memories of being a kid and having rules imposed on you by sources of authority – and usually those rules were things you didn’t want to do and weren’t happy about.  Right now, it’s completely different. No one is imposing these diet rules on you. Instead, these are thing you’re doing for yourself in the service of reaching really, really important goals.”  Diane agreed that it would be helpful for her to remind herself that these are not like the rules she had to follow as a child, and that if she didn’t practice good eating habits, the only person she’d be rebelling against is herself.

Next, Diane and I discussed her wanting ‘freedom.’  “Let’s talk about you feeling a lack of freedom,” I said to her. “You’ve already lost 30 pounds. Let’s think back to what your life was like 30 pounds heavier.  How much freedom did lack when you had to carry around 30 extra pounds? How much freedom did you have when you had to stop midway up a flight of stairs to catch your breath, or when you couldn’t easily take the laundry down to the basement? How much freedom did you have when you felt at the mercy of your hunger and cravings, and when you spent so much time thinking about needing  to make changes but felt helpless to do so? How much freedom did you feel when you went to your closet to find something to wear and worried about whether or not something would fit?”

Diane and I discussed the fact that, while she now doesn’t have the freedom of eating everything she wants whenever she wants it, she does have the even greater freedom that comes from not being at the mercy of her hunger and cravings, from knowing that she can wear anything in her closet, from not worrying that people will judge her based on what she eats, and from going into a party or event and not being concerned about how she’ll be able to stay on track.

Diane told me that this was all very helpful, but the last thing that was still on her mind was the persistent question she had lately about whether or not it was really worth it to her keep working on healthy eating.  I asked Diane if she wanted to return to her old weight and gain back 30 pounds (or more) and she told me that she definitively did not.  “Therefore,” I said to her, “we know that it’s worth it, if for no other reason than you not wanting to go back to the way things were.”  I also discussed with Diane that when she is not going through a hard time and when she is consistently doing well and on track, she doesn’t struggle with this question of whether or not it’s worth it, because she just knows that it is.  “Because of this,” I said to her, “It’s not even worth engaging in the mental struggle of questioning whether or not it’s worth it. We know that it is, and we know that once the hard time passes, you won’t doubt this anymore.  So whenever you have the thought, ‘is it worth it?’ just strongly remind yourself that it is and move on.”

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 Debbie: Getting Back on Track

I recently had a session with my client, Allison, with whom I’ve been working for a few months.  In session, Allison told me about an experience she had over the weekend that she wasn’t feeling very happy about.  Allison explained that one of her close friends was moving out of state and so over the weekend she had a goodbye party. At the party, there were drinks and passed appetizers.  Allison found herself taking appetizer after appetizer and eating them while talking with her friends. Midway through the party, Allison realized that she was overeating and that she had lost track of how much she had already had.  Allison told me that she went to the bathroom and read her Advantages List and her Response Cards, both of which she keeps on her phone.   After taking a few moments to fortify her resolve and refocus, Allison went back to the party and didn’t eat another bite.

When Allison explained this to me she, she expressed disappointment over getting off track during the party. I, on the other hand, had a different view of the situation.  Even though Allison had gotten off track during the party, she did something that can be extremely difficult to do: she got back on track in the middle of the party.  She didn’t say to herself, “Well, I’ve already blown it for the party, I might as well keep eating whatever I want.”  She also then didn’t go on to say to herself, “Well I’ve blown it for the day so I might as well keep eating whatever I want and get back on track tomorrow.”  No! The moment Allison realized she had gotten off track, she immediately turned herself around and didn’t wait for the end of the party/the day/the week/the month to get back on track.  I pointed out to Allison how significant this was because she has now proven to herself that whenever she gets off tack, she never has to wait even one moment longer to get back on track.

I reminded Allison that the most successful dieters and maintainers are not those who never make mistakes; rather they are those who make mistakes but get immediately back on track.  Allison and I discussed the fact that she will continue to make mistakes for the rest of her life, but as long as she recovers from them immediately (as she did at the party), they will remain very minor and won’t negatively impact her weight. 

Allison and I also took a few moments to assess the situation and figure out what had led her to get off track in the first place. Allison realized that the major problem was that she hadn’t gone into the party with a strong plan. She went in thinking she would have “just a few” bites to eat, but had nothing specific in mind. Allison also realized after the fact that she overate partly because she didn’t have a plan, partly because she was distracted talking to her friends, and partly because she was feeling upset and emotional about her friend leaving town.  In order to better prepare herself for a similar situation in the future, Allison decided that she would ahead of time formulate a strong plan and make the effort to deliberately eat everything slowly and mindfully. And, if she knew that she might be going into a potentially emotional situation, like a good-bye party, Allison decided that she would read Response Cards ahead of time that specifically reminded her that eating for emotional reasons  ultimately always has the opposite of the intended effect, meaning it  makes her feel worse, not better. 

 

Eating Slowly and Mindfully

Early in treatment we teach our clients the skill of eating everything slowly and mindfully.  For many people, this skill is critical because it helps them really slow down, notice what they’re eating, and take more accountability for every bite they put in their mouths because it forces them to not tune out while they’re eating. 

Sometimes, when dieters first come to see us, they are actually doing the opposite of eating slowly and mindfully – meaning they may sit down in front of the television with a large bag of chips and eat them very quickly, without paying attention to how much they’re eating. For some dieters, this is almost a purposeful tuning-out, because it allows them to ignore the voice inside their heads that says, “You’re eating too much! What are you doing?”   Dieters may also neglect to eat slowly and mindfully when they’re highly distracted while eating (doing work, talking with other people, etc.), when they feel really hungry and want to get food in their stomachs as quickly as possible, and when they’re feeling guilty about what they’re eating and want to finish quickly.

Our clients have observed a number of interesting things when they begin to work on eating slowly and mindfully.  One client of mine, Kate, a busy lawyer, always ate a salad for lunch at her desk while she was working.  When Kate and I worked on this skill and required that she take 15 minutes for lunch without doing any work, Kate was surprised to find out that different bites of salad tasted differently depending on what ingredients were on her fork.  Previously, all bites had tasted the same to Kate because she hadn’t really tasted any of them. 

Another client, Victor, really loves sweets and desserts.  When he first came to see me he told me, “I never met a dessert I didn’t like!”  When Victor started really focusing on the desserts that he ate, he was shocked to find that not all desserts were created equal and that there were some that he just didn’t care for, like caramel.  “My whole life I always assumed I liked caramel because it was a sweet dessert. I never took the time to really taste it and question whether or not I liked it. Turns out, I don’t!”

Marissa, a mother of four, used to make a big dessert for her family every night because that’s what her mother did growing up.  As it turns out, two of Marissa’s children lacked her sweet tooth and her husband had a take-it-or-leave-it approach to dessert.  Because of this, Marissa would frequently end up eating a huge amount of dessert every night because nobody else was eating it. When Marissa and I worked on cutting down her portion to just one dessert every night and eating it slowly and mindfully, she truly came to realize that she enjoyed one brownie, eaten very slowly and with an emphasis on enjoying every bite, more than eating half a pan of brownies because when she was overeating them, she would eat huge bites as quickly as possible, without really tasting them.

Eating slowly and mindfully is a difficult skill for some people, and one that may require a lot of practice, but unquestionably the results of doing so are worth the extra work.

Advantages List – Part II

I described in Part I how I helped Angie make her Advantages List.  This was only half the battle, however, and our next job was figuring out how she could get herself to read it every morning.  I told Angie that it would be best for her to read her Advantages List first thing in the morning, before she ate anything for the day, and asked her when, during her morning routine, she might be able to incorporate this.  Angie decided that it would be best if she kept it on her bedside table and read it first thing in the morning before other people (like her husband and kids) started asking her to do things.  I asked Angie if she would mind if her husband saw her list, and she told me that while he was very supportive, her list was private and she preferred that no one else in the family read it.  Because of this, Angie decided that she would keep the list in the drawer of her bedside table. 

With the list out of sight, I was concerned that Angie might forget to read it, and asked her if she had any ideas on how to solve this potential problem.  Angie said that another thing she does every morning before she gets out of bed is take her medication, and so we decide that she would put a sticky note on her medicine bottle, which would cue her to read her list.

After figuring out these logistical issues, Angie and I then discussed what thoughts might get in the way of her reading her list every morning.  Angie told me it was possible she might think something like, “I’m too busy/rushed to read my list this morning.”  To help combat this thought, I asked Angie to read her list aloud to me in session, and Angie was surprised to hear that it only took her 35 seconds to read the entire list.  “Isn’t it worth 35 seconds in the morning if it will help you lose weight and keep it off?” I asked her.  Angie agreed that it certainly was worth 35 seconds, and to help her remember that it would only take this short amount of time, Angie decided that she would write the number “35” on the sticky note she was attaching to her medicine bottle.

Angie also identified that the thought, “It’s okay if I skip reading my list this morning, I know what it says,” might get in the way of her reading her list this week.  Angie and I discussed this thought and I let her know that, at least for right now, it was not good enough to just think about the items on her Advantages List, she actually has to read it, not only because reading it helps enter it in the brain more firmly but also because Angie needs to prove to herself that she can do it, whether or not she feels like it.  With these ideas in mind, Angie made the following Response Card:

 “Whether or not I feel like reading my list, do it anyway!  It’s an important step in helping me lose weight and besides, it will only take 35 seconds.”

Although Angie didn’t feel comfortable having her list out in the open, she didn’t mind having this Response Card on her bedside table, so she decided to keep it right next to her medicine bottle so she would see it and read it first thing every morning. 

With these strategies in place, Angie felt confident that she was off to a good start and would be able to read her list every morning.