Recently I had a session with my client, Jenny. Among others skills, Jenny and I are working on her not having dessert before dinner. In session, Jenny told me that she was distressed because although she was able to resist dessert before dinner, on many occasions she was really tempted earlier in the day and wanted to give in. “I shouldn’t be having these thoughts!” she said to me. In a previous session, Jenny had told me that she had committed to going on a run with a friend one day after work. Although she was really tempted to cancel, Jenny ended up going. I reminded Jenny of this during our session and I asked her, “Did you feel really bad about having thoughts about cancelling the run?” Jenny thought about it and said that, no, she didn’t feel bad about it.
I discussed with Jenny that these two situations were very similar: in both cases she was tempted to do something she knew she shouldn’t do (in one case, have dessert before dinner, and in the other, cancel her exercise) but she was only thinking negatively about the first situation. Jenny thought about this and said, “But I just shouldn’t be thinking about and wanting dessert so much during the day. It’s not good.” “Yes, you should!” I answered back. “You love dessert and it’s normal to be tempted by it when you think about it. What’s important here is not that you never think about dessert. What’s important is that you don’t give in and have it when it’s not time.”
I reminded Jenny that thoughts are just thoughts. Thoughts are not necessarily facts and just because we think something, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. Some thoughts are 100% true; some thoughts are 100% false; and some are somewhere in the middle. Ultimately, we can’t control the thoughts our brains create, but what we can control is whether or not we act on them. Jenny couldn’t control the fact that she was tempted to give in and have dessert before dinner, but she could control whether or not she acted on those thoughts – which is exactly what she was doing.
Like many dieters, Jenny thought that once she got her eating under control, her sabotaging thoughts should go away, and if they didn’t, it meant that something was wrong, or that she was somehow wrong.
What Jenny didn’t know was that our goal was not to make her sabotaging thoughts go away entirely – because we can’t do that. We can’t control her mind. Our goal actually was to have her get really, really good at responding back to her sabotaging thoughts and not giving in to them. I reminded Jenny that instead of being distressed that she was having so many sabotaging thoughts about dessert, she should instead be proud of herself for overcoming all of them.
When you’re working on getting your eating under control, it’s important for you to not base your sense of how well you’re doing on how many times you have sabotaging thoughts throughout the day; instead, base it on how often you’re able to overcome them and stick to your plan. Don’t judge yourself by your thoughts. Keep in mind that just because you think something doesn’t mean it’s true and that ultimately your best weapon in losing weight and keeping it off is your ability to respond back to your thoughts.