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.

Instituting Exercise – Part II

I asked Jamie to think about the week to come and what sabotaging thoughts she might have that would get in the way of her enacting her exercise plan. Jamie reported that she might think:

• 20 minutes is almost nothing and it won’t do anything anyway

• It’s too hard to get myself to do it

• I’ll never be able to keep it up so why should I start

• I’m too busy/rushed/stressed to exercise this week, I’ll start next week

• I just don’t feel like exercising right now

[Do any of these sound familiar to you?]

In session I helped Jamie to examine each one of those thoughts and come up with responses to them. Here are Jamie’s new responses:

Sabotaging Thought: 20 minutes is almost nothing and it won’t do anything anyway

Response: 20 minutes is MUCH better than 0 minutes. I can work up from here but it’s important to start off smaller so that I don’t fall back into my all-or-nothing habit by having too hard of a goal and then getting overwhelmed and quitting, like I have done so many times in the past.

Sabotaging Thought: It’s too hard to get myself to do it

Response: The hardest part is just getting my sneakers on. Once I get myself out the door it will be easier. I’ve proven to myself that I can do hard things where dieting is concerned so I know I can do this hard thing, too. It’s so worth it!

Sabotaging Thought: I’ll never be able to keep it up anyway so why should I start

Response: In the past I’ve never kept up with exercise because I didn’t know how to identify and respond to my sabotaging thoughts. Now I have learned to talk back to the thoughts that would get in the way of my exercising consistently and I’ve also learned how to make diet and exercise a TOP priority and to not make excuses.

Sabotaging Thought: I’m too busy/rushed/stressed to exercise this week, I’ll start next week

Response: When has “starting next week” EVER helped me to reach my goals? I need to start doing these things THIS MINUTE or I never will. Besides, exercise will actually help me calm down and make me less stressed, not more. And being busy is NO excuse because I won’t be able to do all those other things if I’m not healthy.

Sabotaging Thought: I just don’t feel like exercising right now

Response: It’s true, I don’t feel like exercising. But even more I don’t feel like being overweight, putting my health at risk, and not being able to run around with my kids. Even though I don’t feel like it I just have to do it anyway because the payoff will be more than worth it.

I had Jamie write down each one of these responses onto Response Cards and part of her homework was to read them every single day until the ideas started to get more into her head.

I also discussed with Jamie that just doing the exercise is not the only important factor because it’s also very important what she says to herself while she’s doing it. I pointed out to Jamie that if, while she’s walking, she says to herself the whole time, “This is terrible. I hate doing this. I really wish I didn’t have to ever exercise. This stinks and I should be doing 100 other things right now,” then she’s going to have a pretty bad time and it’s going to be that much harder for her to get herself to exercise the next time. On the other hand, if Jamie says to herself while she’s walking, “Okay, I may not like this all that much but it’s GREAT that I’m doing this. This is so important for my health and my well-being and I know I’m going to get so many positive things in return. I deserve lots of credit for doing this,” then she’s likely going to have a much better time, actually end up feeling good about it, and will have an easier time getting her sneakers on the next time.

The bottom line: I had to help Jamie change her thinking so that she would be able to effectively change her behavior.

Instituting Exercise – Part I

Last week in session, my dieter, Jamie, and I tackled the question of exercise. Should she do it? How much should she do? How much is reasonable to do? What types of exercise can she do? Will she hate doing it? How will she fit it into her busy schedule? How will she get herself to do it?

Like many of my dieters, when Jamie first came to see me she was a classic all-or-nothing exerciser, meaning she was either exercising intensely 7 days a week or she wasn’t exercising at all. Jamie had very little middle ground and was always either “on” her exercise plan or “off” of it. Jamie had also told me that she really hated to exercise and she was not looking forward to the day that I would “make” her do it.

As soon as I heard that from Jamie – that I would “make” her do it – I immediately reminded her that my job wasn’t to make her do anything because these were not MY goals for her, they were her goals for herself. I pulled out Jamie’s Advantages List and asked her how important all of those things were and Jamie responded that they were the most important things to her and agreed that she would be willing to try new things if it meant she could achieve them.

In session last week, I discussed with Jamie the fact that she might not need to exercise to lose weight, but almost definitely would need to exercise to maintain her weight and she unquestionably needed to exercise to have good health. Since a lot of Jamie’s goals involved having better health, preventing future health problems, and being able to be more active with her children and husband, I reminded her that all of those things implied a better level of fitness, which she would not be able to achieve without some form of exercise. Albeit reluctantly, Jamie agreed that exercise seemed like a necessary evil.

The first thing Jamie and I did was discuss what type of exercise plan would be reasonable for her. Jamie initially told me that since she would have to exercise again, she might as well do as much as she can so that the weight would come off more quickly. I reminded Jamie that we are working on getting her away from all-or-nothing thinking of all kinds, and besides, when has being an all-or-nothing exerciser ever helped her to maintain an exercise plan and reach her goals?

Jamie and I decided that since she loved the fall season, and since the weather was cooling down, she would start off by walking outside for at least 20 minutes 3 days this week. I encouraged Jamie to not make her plan for more days or for more minutes/hours this first week because setting too hard of a plan would only be counterproductive. I discussed with Jamie the fact that it’s always important to set reasonable homework because that way she can achieve it and feel good about it. If Jamie had decided to make her plan for 6 days that week and instead was only able to walk on 4 days, she would wind up feeling bad about the 2 days she didn’t walk, instead of feeling great about the 4 days she did. Jamie and I then discussed what would be the easiest time for her to get this walk in, knowing that the earlier in the day she aimed to do it, the more likely she would be to get it done. Jamie decided that 3 days this week she would get up a half hour earlier and get her walk out of the way before her kids woke up.

Now that Jamie had her exercise plan, the next step, which will be covered in Part 2, was to discuss with Jamie how she would get herself to actually institute the plan, in part by helping her to identify in advance what sabotaging thoughts might get in the way of this.

Recapturing Confidence: Rose

Rose has returned to diet counseling after having been away for two and a half months, dealing with a family crisis. She regained 5 of the 21 pounds she originally lost. She can’t wait to lose the 5 pounds again, predicting that she won’t feel good about herself until she does. We discussed with Rose that what shows up on the scale is just a number and that part of her feeling so good before was not only feeling thinner but also feeling confident and in control. We decided that it would be good for Rose to immediately recapture the confidence she had three months ago. We made a list of all the things she had been doing but is no longer doing, or no longer consistently doing.  In this spirit, Rose is going back to the basics. She has committed to reading her Advantages List and other response cards at least twice a day every day and she’s also going to go back and reread measuring1.jpgsections from The Beck Diet Solution.  Although she has returned to making food plans, this week she’s going to start measuring her food again to ensure that her portion size hasn’t crept up and she’s committed to at least a five minute walk every day.  Finally, Rose is going to try to give herself credit for all the dozens of small things she’s doing right every day to raise her awareness of how well she is doing. 

With these strategies in place, Rose is already feeling more confident and in control, even though she’s five pounds heavier. 

Gym Reluctance

Our dieter Lucinda really wanted to start taking a yoga class but was yoga1.jpgextremely fearful that she would be judged negatively by both the instructor and the other people in the class.  Lucinda is not alone in this fear.  In fact, a number of our dieters have told us that they’re reluctant to go to the gym because they’re afraid that other gym-goers will view them disapprovingly.  We’re working hard with Lucinda and others to combat their reluctance because we think it’s essential for dieters to get over their fear of other people’s judgments.

We don’t want to mislead dieters. If they have a lot of weight to lose, some people may indeed make negative judgments about them, but what dieters don’t realize is that these thoughts are likely to be fleeting—in people’s consciousness for milliseconds—and then they’re on to thinking about something else. In reality, most people at the gym are really just focused on themselves.  They are there with a clear purpose and a routine, and for the most part, they’re paying attention to their workout–not to everyone around them.  In fact, many gym-goers view the gym as “me time” – a clear period of time where they don’t have to focus on anyone but themselves. 

We help our dieters develop a “so what,” attitude. “So what if some people make these superficial judgments about me? I’m going to do what I need to do to reach my goals.” Our dieters have been able to generalize this idea to a variety of non-weight related situations, too: “So what if people….don’t agree with my opinion/think I’m too spirited/don’t like what I wear.” Getting over their fear of the gym is often an important first step for our dieters in reducing their fear of other people’s reactions in many other life situations.

With this, “so what,” attitude in mind, Lucinda went to her first yoga class last week, and told us she was thrilled she had done so.  She reported back that the instructor was very kind and encouraging, and she didn’t feel out of place in class.  Lucinda is excited to start going to yoga weekly and is very happy she didn’t let her initial reluctance stand in the way of achieving her goals. 

Just Do It!

One of our new dieters, Sarah, had to go on a week-long trip because her two kids were competing in a roller derby competition.  During class Sarah reported feeling nervous that she might end up gaining weight while on the trip because she wouldn’t really have opportunities to exercise.  We brainstormed with Sarah ideas for how and when she could fit some exercise in.  We first asked her if her kids would be competing all day, every day, or if there would be some down time during the day that she might be able to at least squeeze a few minutes of exercise in.  After all, we reminded her, five minutes of exercise is better than zero minutes! (discussed on Day 9 of The Beck Diet Solution).  Sarah acknowledged that her kids weren’t competing all day, and that there was actually a running track conveniently located just a couple of minutes from the roller rink.  We then asked her what would get in the way of her slipping out for a little while each day to get some walking in, and Sarah admitted that what was holding her back was her reluctance to wear sneakers and shorts in public. 

We’ve found that feeling self-conscious or embarrassed is a common problem for many dieters, particularly women, and they avoid a number of physical activities in which they would expose their body. We helped Sarah see that most people, if they noticed or thought about her at all, would only have a fleeting thought and then go on to think about other things. Some might even have a positive thought—“Good for her for exercising.” If they had a negative thought, though, what did it really matter? They weren’t important in her life. Another dieter in the class had a great suggestion, too, to ask another mom at the competition to walk with her, so she’d have company and feel less conspicuous.

Armed with a plan, Sarah walked several days during the week, stuck to her diet, and lost two pounds. Perhaps more importantly, she changed her ideas, became less self-conscious, and is now resolved not to let embarrassment stand in her way in the future.

Is It Worth It?

woman_working_out.jpgOne of our dieters, Andrea, has been doing extremely well lately.  She’s been working out hard at the gym, following her diet faithfully, and really working on all of the skills in The Beck Diet Solution.  She has lost 40 pounds over the course of five months and is absolutely thrilled with her new body.

We were talking with Andrea this week about her sister’s upcoming visit, which she was eagerly anticipating.  In the past, Andrea has had a somewhat troubled relationship with her sister, who was always been thin and has made some negative comments to Andrea about her weight.  Andrea reported that her sister knew she’d been “working out” but has no idea about how much Andrea has truly transformed her body and attitude in the past few months and she is really looking forward to shocking her sister with her weight loss.

We took time this week to help prepare Andrea for two possible scenarios of her sister’s visit: either her sister will be complimentary, or she might have a different reaction.   While it would be wonderful if Andrea’s sister expresses nothing but delight, it’s possible that she could say something negative (“You know, it might not last.” “You really should lose more.” “I thought you’d look better than you do.”)  We reminded Andrea that she has been looking and feeling great, and nothing her sister might say can take away from the amazing accomplishment of reaching her goal.   We also reminded her to list the names of all the people who have said complimentary things to her and to look at this list to counteract her sister’s words, if she says anything unkind.

Priorities: Maria

One skill that Maria has gotten very good at is putting herself first – making sure that she continually has the time and energy for diet and exercise (discussed on Day 8 of The Beck Diet Solution).  For Maria this particularly means making sure she keeps exercise a priority.  In the past, when her life got busy, exercise was always the first thing to fall off her plate. 

Maria exercises on a machine at home. When her kids interrupted her exercise in the past, she would always drop what she was doing and tend to them.  Now she tells them to wait until she’s done and then she helps them.  After dinner, if she’s already exercised, Maria may watch television with her husband. But if she hasn’t exercised yet, she nicely refuses to join him until she has finished.  Now she feels entitled to get her activities done first. 

Building this sense of entitlement is crucial to lasting weight loss because life always gets busy and things always come up.  If dieters don’t learn to put themselves first and ensure that they continually make diet and exercise a high priority, other factors will always get in the way of their best efforts.  Maria now knows that she is entitled to exercise because she deserves to be thinner and feel good about herself, and she is a good example for all of us. 

Dealing with a Plateau: Diana

Diana’s weight loss had reached a plateau for quite a while. We discussed with Diana the fact that this often happens to dieters as they’re losing weight. Initially they are able to lose a certain amount given the number of calories they are taking in versus the number they are expending.  But as they lose weight, their bodies require fewer calories. Many dieters, if they do not continue to decrease their calorie consumption (or increase their exercise), find that their weight loss stagnates (discussed on Day 38 of The Beck Diet Solution).  When this happens, it’s very easy for them to become discouraged (Day 24) and blame themselves, thinking they just can’t lose weight.

Diana recently decided to cut her calories a little and increase her exercise a little to see what happens. She recognized that enough time has gone by—and her weight hadn’t budged. She sees that it’s wishful thinking to expect that she’ll suddenly begin to lose weight again without doing anything differently. She’s disappointed that she has to eat less, but she’s realistic. If she wants her weight loss to continue, she has to make some changes.  Diana has since decreased her number of calories and is making an effort to take lunchtime walks.  She reports that her pants already feel looser.