My dieter, Jeff, is a police officer and after a long shift he usually feels exhausted, both physically and emotionally. Because of this, whenever he gets home from work he usually ends up eating a huge meal (of unhealthy foods) because he feels a lot of self-pity and stress and has the sabotaging thought that he “deserves” to eat to feel better. Jeff told me that the thought of coming home and not eating a big meal makes him feel deprived and more self-pitying. Although Jeff knows that this is something that was sabotaging his weight loss efforts, he couldn’t figure out how to break the cycle.
Jeff and I discussed this situation in depth during our last diet session. The first thing I did was ask Jeff how he felt after he got home and ate a big meal and whether or not it achieved his goal of feeling better. Jeff reported that while he did temporarily feel better while he was eating because he was distracted from thinking about his long shift, towards the end of his meal, or almost immediately after, he started feeling a lot of guilt, regret, and self-recrimination. When he thought about it, Jeff admitted that he actually ended up feeling worse than he did before he started eating.
I pointed out to Jeff that this was good news: it’s a good thing that eating didn’t ultimately satisfy his goal because that would give him extra motivation to work on making changes and figuring out what would actually make him feel better, both in the short term and in the long term.
Jeff and I discussed the fact that after a hard work shift, he certainly does deserve to relax and he certainly does deserve to calm down and de-stress, but he certainly doesn’t deserve to go off his diet, feel even worse, and maintain his unhealthy weight. Jeff and I discussed a number of strategies that he could use when he gets home which would help him relax and shed the burden of his job without turning to food. We also came up with a number of Response Cards for Jeff to read while he was still in his car, before he even walked into his house. Here are some of Jeff’s Response Cards:
When I think I deserve to eat something that will make me feel good, remember: THIS WILL ACTUALLY MAKE ME FEEL BAD. And it will cause MORE self-pity because then I’ll also feel bad about myself, guilty about my eating, and weak.
When I’m feeling stress/self-pity and I’m tempted to eat, ask myself: Do I want to feel better or do I want to feel worse?
Eating when I’m feeling stressed is effective – but ONLY IN THE SHORT TERM. It has 100% negative consequences in the long term – I’ll gain weight, I’ll stay overweight, I’ll reinforce the tendency to give in, I’ll feel bad about myself, I’ll feel guilty about what I ate, it may cause me to continue having a bad eating day, etc.
If I feel “deprived” because I can’t eat everything I want when I’m stressed, remind myself: either way I’m deprived. Either I’m deprived of EVERYTHING on my Advantages List, or I’m deprived of some food, some of the time. Which would be the bigger deprivation?
Jeff and I also discussed the fact that when he maintains control over his eating, regardless of the situation, he feels great about himself. Because of this, we knew that if Jeff stayed in control of his eating after a long shift at work, this in and of itself would help him feel better because he would at least be able to feel good about his eating.