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In Session with Debbie: Being Too Restrictive

This week, my client, Katie, told me that she was having trouble staying on track during the weekend.  She said that she did really well during the week, but was consistently “losing it” once Friday night hit.  I first asked Katie to describe to me what her weekday eating was like. After hearing what a typical Monday-Friday looks like for her, one thing stood out to me very clearly: Katie was eating almost the exact same thing day in and day out.  6835999820_ab1d0a905a_mI questioned Katie about this and she told me that she had just fallen into the habit of eating the same thing for breakfast each day, lunch each day, and dinner each day because she found meals that were easy, convenient, and filled her up while tasting good.

It was clear to me that Katie was being too restrictive during the week.  Being too restrictive can come in different forms – sometimes dieters are too restrictive from a calorie standpoint and eat too little food. This eventually backfires on them because after a few days of eating too little, they’ll inevitably end up overeating.  Dieters can also be too restrictive in terms of the types of food they let themselves eat. If they try to cut out favorite foods entirely, this eventually backfires because when they inevitably give in and have their favorite foods, they eat way too much of them.  Katie was not being too restrictive during the week in terms of the number of calories she was eating, but she was being too restrictive in terms of the types of food she was eating. While Katie wasn’t limiting her food options because she thought certain foods were bad, per say, but more because she didn’t feel like putting in the effort to think about and make something different, it was still backfiring on her all the same. She ate the same foods during the week and then would use the weekend as her time to finally have variety. And because the weekends were the only time she was having any variety, it was no surprise that she was going overboard and was having trouble staying in control.

To help her combat this, Katie and I decided that having the same thing for breakfast during the week every day was probably okay, but she should have at least two different lunches that she switched off between.  We also agreed that it would be best if she didn’t have the same thing for dinner more than twice in a row and she committed to trying at least one new recipe each week during the week, and not waiting for the weekend. Even if she shopped for and prepped the ingredients on Sunday, she would wait until a weekday to actually make the meal. This way she would have plenty of variety during the week and wouldn’t have to cram in everything she wanted to eat once the weekend hit.

If you’re having trouble staying on track during the weekend, ask yourself: Am I allowing myself enough of my favorite foods during the week?

Dieting and the Unfairness Issue

The unfairness issue crops up often among chronic dieters. “It’s unfair that everyone gets to eat whatever they want [and only I have to limit myself].” Aside from being erroneous, this sabotaging thought is unhelpful because it leads dieters to feel resentful and deprived and makes it more likely that they will stray from their diet.

But another thought is equally damaging. It occurs when dieters find they either can’t achieve or maintain the amount of weight loss they want. Often they desire to be the same weight as their thinnest friend or family member or a celebrity whose appearance they admire. But few are able to reach this goal. Why? Because to do so they would have to eat in a way that they would be unable to keep up for life. Even if they do get down to as low a weight as they wish, they rarely stay there because they are unable to sustain such a low calorie level. And as soon as they raise their calorie level, they start to gain weight back.

Their sabotaging thought? “It’s so unfair that I can’t be as thin as I want.” This idea brings them significant emotional pain. Often they are preoccupied by a sense of unfairness. Instead of being proud that they were able to lose and maintain some weight loss, they feel a great injustice. “I worked so hard and I have to continue to work just to stay at this weight [which is unsatisfactory to me.]” How sad that they feel so negatively, when to lose weight at all is such an accomplishment.

I often say to them, “Yes, you’re right. It IS unfair…. But it seems to me  like the GREATEST unfairness is for you to suffer for even ONE more day because of this terribly painful idea that you have that you have to be thinner–an idea that makes you obsess, that makes you unhappy with yourself, that creates a negative frame of mind, that doesn’t give you peace with yourself….”

I often give them the following analogy. “It’s like someone who’s a good runner who says, ‘I HAVE to make it to the Olympics.’ He becomes obsessed with running, he’s unhappy with himself, he doesn’t have good peace of mind, and so on. Maybe he’s a good guy and doesn’t deserve to suffer–but he does suffer because he has the realistic expectation that he should be able to make it to the Olympics. And on top of it, instead of accepting the fact that he just isn’t built to be a world class runner, he’s preoccupied with the idea that it’s unfair–which makes him feel deprived and a little bitter and puts a negative edge on much of his day-to-day experience.”

Of course, there is lots more we talk about in terms of fairness. (For example, by and large, many dieters have unfairly positive lives compared to many other people in the world.) But this initial discussion, which implies that dieters have some over their suffering, via their thinking, is an important start.

5 Ways to Gain Weight When You Don’t Want To

How often have you noticed that formerly normal weight people have gradually gained weight throughout the years? Or dieters who have lost a significant amount of weight and then gained it back quickly? Should people even try to lose weight at all? The answer is yes, if they are already having weight-related health problems or if they are putting on extra weight every year and so are likely to have health problems in the future. On the other hand, studies that have examined how much weight people are able to lose and how much they are able to keep off long term are fairly dismal. Most people gain weight back. Here is a sure fire formula for gaining weight:

  1. Lose weight quickly.
  2. Go back to your old way of eating when you lose weight.
  3. Continue to eat and exercise exactly as you have been as you get older.
  4. Eat in the way “everyone else” is.
  5. Make excuses for why it’s okay to eat when you shouldn’t.

Each of these items is explained below.

  1. Lose weight quickly: One of the best ways to gain weight quickly is to drastically cut your calories. Research shows that the faster people lose weight, the faster they tend to regain it.
  2. Go back to your old way of eating when you lose weight: It’s plain biology. If you lose weight on 1200 calories a day, for example, and then your weight plateaus, you will start to gain weight back once you go up to 1300 calories a day. That’s the equivalent of one good sized apple or four crackers. And if you return to eating 2,000 or 3,000 calories, as perhaps you did before, of course your weight will increase.
  3. Continue to eat and exercise exactly as you have been as you get older: It seems unfair, but it’s true. Metabolism tends to decrease with age. If you don’t start eating less and/or exercising more, you’ll gain weight. Now it’s reasonable to gain a little weight, especially if you’re eating in a healthy way, but those pounds can really add up as the decades go by.
  4. Eat in the same way you assume everyone else is: It’s possible that you know the rare person who can consume a great number of calories a day and not gain weight. But it’s more likely that the people you know (especially if they’re over 40), are either restricting their eating in some way or are themselves gaining weight each year. In any case, it’s irrelevant. If you don’t want to gain weight, you’ll need to figure out what’s right for you to eat—which isn’t necessarily right for another person.
  5. Make excuses for why it’s okay to eat when you shouldn’t: Your body processes calories in exactly the same way, regardless of circumstances. It doesn’t care if you’re stressed, tired, or celebrating; if it’s a special occasion; if no one is watching you eat; or if the food is free. It may be reasonable to plan in advance to eat a little more in some circumstances but understand that if you don’t compensate by exercising more or cutting an equivalent number of calories another time, you will gain weight.

It seems unfair. It’s so hard to lose weight and so easy to gain it back. But once you learn the cognitive (thinking) and behavioral skills you need, the process of losing and maintaining a weight loss (it’s the same process!) becomes much easier.