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.