Earlier this week I had a session with my dieter, Amy, whose birthday is coming up this weekend. Amy and I discussed her plans for her birthday — she explained that she and her husband will host a dinner party at their house for a few close friends and family. Amy told me that she was feeling somewhat anxious about this because, in the past, she has used her birthday as an excuse to overeat. She’s told herself things like, “Since it’s my birthday, it’s okay to eat whatever I want,” and, “I’ll have a bad birthday if I don’t eat everything I want,” which often led her to overeat on her birthday AND to continue to overeat for days, even weeks, later. Amy and I first discussed what we thought her mindset should be going into her birthday. We had the following conversation:
Debbie: Let’s talk about your birthday last year, if that’s okay with you.
Debbie: Okay, so what happened last year? Did you end up feeling good about your eating?
Amy: Oh no. I remember I was out to dinner with my husband and I was definitely thinking something like, “It’s my birthday, so I should order whatever I want,” and, “I won’t be able to have any fun at dinner or on my birthday if I restrict myself.” I ended up eating way too much at dinner. Then my husband had the waiter bring over a slice of carrot cake, my favorite dessert, with a candle in it—and I ended up eating all of that, too. By the time I got home, I was feeling out of control and ate lots more from the kitchen, even though I was really full by then and already feeling badly.
Debbie: And so was your thought true? Did you end up having fun because you didn’t restrict your eating at all?
Amy: No, it was just the opposite. I ended up feeling physically sick, and I was so mad at myself for my eating. It wasn’t a good night. I also ended up staying off track for at least a week afterward, which made the whole thing even worse. It’s definitely my destructive pattern.
Debbie: So in terms of this year, what do you think now about the thought, “I won’t have any fun on my birthday unless I eat everything I want?”
Amy: Well, I guess I’ve proven to myself that that’s just not true. When I ate that way last year, it made me not have any fun at all because I felt sick and guilty. I want this year to be different.
Debbie: So what do you think you could do to make this year different?
Amy: Well, first of all, I want to stay in control of my eating. I guess I should make a plan for what I’m going to eat, and remind myself that I’ll feel better if I follow it, even though it’s my birthday.
Debbie: I think that’s a great idea. It’s so important to remind yourself that even though it’s your birthday, it’s not worth eating out of control because doing so will still ruin your night by making you feel sick and guilty. The same things that make you feel badly on a normal day, like overeating, will still make you feel badly on your birthday. And, the same things that make you feel great on a normal day, like having a plan and staying in control, will still make you feel great on your birthday. In fact, it will probably help you to have an even better birthday night, too, and better days following your birthday.
Amy: You’re right. I want this year to be different and I want to go to bed that night feeling good about my eating, not regretting what I’ve eaten.
With this mindset in place, Amy and I began to construct her birthday eating plan. We discussed the fact that it’s perfectly reasonable for Amy to eat some extra food on her birthday, as long as she does so in a planned manner. Eating a little extra in a planned manner will enable Amy to retain a sense of control over her eating, which will mean that she’ll actually get to enjoy what she’s eating. As Amy has proven to herself in the past, the moment she starts to feel like she’s out of control is the moment she stops really enjoying what she’s eating.
Amy’s birthday plan looked like this:
Drink between 0-2 glasses of wine
One piece of bread
One serving of the main course and starch, and two servings of vegetables
Reasonable portion of two desserts (birthday cake and something else)
Amy also made the following Response Cards to read on the morning of her birthday and again right before dinner:
Armed with a plan and Response Cards, Amy told me that she felt much more confident going in to her birthday this year than she ever has in previous years. She felt determined to avoid repeating mistakes from her past and to set a new precedent on her birthday so that she can go to bed feeling happy this year and for years to come.