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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?

Stress and Emotional Eating: Using Cognitive Behavior Therapy to Break the Habit

Most of the dieters whom I treat overeat when they’re feeling stressed or experiencing a negative emotion such as anxiety, sadness, anger, shame, and so on. They often have one or both of the following unhelpful ideas:

 “There’s nothing I can do to calm down when I’m upset.”

“I deserve to eat when I’m upset.”

As long as they hold beliefs like these, they will remain vulnerable to regaining the weight they have lost. They need to change their thinking. They need to learn how to accept and tolerate negative feelings and how to cope with stress in more healthy ways.

Katie, a dieter whom I saw last year, had been doing so well initially. Early on, she was highly motivated and was able to stay on track even when she was upset. When she became upset, she would tell herself, “NO CHOICE. It’s not time to eat. I CAN’T eat now.” She would turn her attention to something else, her negative feelings would slowly subside, and she’d feel proud that she had stuck to her plan.

But then Katie went through a particularly stressful period. Her father was hospitalized. Her youngest child started having problems in school. She got a new supervisor at work who was making unreasonable demands on her. Katie continued to follow her eating plan throughout each day. But come 9 pm, when her children were in bed, the permission granting beliefs above led to Katie’s consuming “all the carbs I can get my hands on,” until she went to sleep. She quickly started regaining the 22 pounds she had lost. She was frustrated and angry at herself but couldn’t seem to stop.

First Katie and I did some problem-solving. As soon as she got her kids in bed, she would decompress by doing deep breathing and then she’d have a cup of herbal tea. Next we did some cognitive work. Following our discussion, Katie composed messages on index cards which she was to read each day after work, just before she walked in the house. She was to read them again as she was sipping her tea. This is what Katie’s cards said:

“If I want to lose weight permanently, I have to stop eating when I’m upset—every time. People without weight problems don’t eat when they’re upset. They either tolerate their negative emotions or try to solve the problem or call a friend or take a walk or go online or read a magazine or watch television. But they don’t eat.”

“Negative emotions are uncomfortable but not dangerous. I don’t have to “fix” them. I’ve had lots of times when I’ve felt very upset but I haven’t eaten. I’ve never exploded or lost control. The worst thing that will happen if I don’t eat is that my distress will peak and then the intensity of my emotions will go down. “

“If I eat, I’ll be temporarily distracted from my distress but whatever problem led to my distress in the first place will still be there and then I’ll also have the problem of feeling badly that I ate and I’ll really feel badly when I see that the scale has gone up.”

Katie also started back on Day 1 of the cognitive behavioral program for weight loss and maintenance so she could sharpen her skills of re-motivating herself, gaining confidence by giving herself credit, tolerating cravings, and getting back on track immediately when she made a mistake. The incidence of her eating for emotional reasons declined sharply. She slipped a few times but the challenge became easier and easier as time went on. The chance that Katie will be able to maintain her weight loss into the future has increased exponentially.