In Session with Debbie: Getting Back on Track

I recently had a session with my client, Allison, with whom I’ve been working for a few months.  In session, Allison told me about an experience she had over the weekend that she wasn’t feeling very happy about.  Allison explained that one of her close friends was moving out of state and so over the weekend she had a goodbye party. At the party, there were drinks and passed appetizers.  Allison found herself taking appetizer after appetizer and eating them while talking with her friends. Midway through the party, Allison realized that she was overeating and that she had lost track of how much she had already had.  Allison told me that she went to the bathroom and read her Advantages List and her Response Cards, both of which she keeps on her phone.   After taking a few moments to fortify her resolve and refocus, Allison went back to the party and didn’t eat another bite.

When Allison explained this to me she, she expressed disappointment over getting off track during the party. I, on the other hand, had a different view of the situation.  Even though Allison had gotten off track during the party, she did something that can be extremely difficult to do: she got back on track in the middle of the party.  She didn’t say to herself, “Well, I’ve already blown it for the party, I might as well keep eating whatever I want.”  She also then didn’t go on to say to herself, “Well I’ve blown it for the day so I might as well keep eating whatever I want and get back on track tomorrow.”  No! The moment Allison realized she had gotten off track, she immediately turned herself around and didn’t wait for the end of the party/the day/the week/the month to get back on track.  I pointed out to Allison how significant this was because she has now proven to herself that whenever she gets off tack, she never has to wait even one moment longer to get back on track.

I reminded Allison that the most successful dieters and maintainers are not those who never make mistakes; rather they are those who make mistakes but get immediately back on track.  Allison and I discussed the fact that she will continue to make mistakes for the rest of her life, but as long as she recovers from them immediately (as she did at the party), they will remain very minor and won’t negatively impact her weight. 

Allison and I also took a few moments to assess the situation and figure out what had led her to get off track in the first place. Allison realized that the major problem was that she hadn’t gone into the party with a strong plan. She went in thinking she would have “just a few” bites to eat, but had nothing specific in mind. Allison also realized after the fact that she overate partly because she didn’t have a plan, partly because she was distracted talking to her friends, and partly because she was feeling upset and emotional about her friend leaving town.  In order to better prepare herself for a similar situation in the future, Allison decided that she would ahead of time formulate a strong plan and make the effort to deliberately eat everything slowly and mindfully. And, if she knew that she might be going into a potentially emotional situation, like a good-bye party, Allison decided that she would read Response Cards ahead of time that specifically reminded her that eating for emotional reasons  ultimately always has the opposite of the intended effect, meaning it  makes her feel worse, not better. 


May 20, 2013 – Monday Motivation

One dieter we’re working with recently got back from a trip and said, “Every part of the trip was different and better than previous ones. I didn’t have anxiety about my eating going in, I was able to maintain my control during the trip and didn’t feel at all worried or guilty about what I ate, and, most surprisingly, I even felt great when I got home from trip, knowing I hadn’t gained weight! That’s never happened before.”

Eating Slowly and Mindfully

Early in treatment we teach our clients the skill of eating everything slowly and mindfully.  For many people, this skill is critical because it helps them really slow down, notice what they’re eating, and take more accountability for every bite they put in their mouths because it forces them to not tune out while they’re eating. 

Sometimes, when dieters first come to see us, they are actually doing the opposite of eating slowly and mindfully – meaning they may sit down in front of the television with a large bag of chips and eat them very quickly, without paying attention to how much they’re eating. For some dieters, this is almost a purposeful tuning-out, because it allows them to ignore the voice inside their heads that says, “You’re eating too much! What are you doing?”   Dieters may also neglect to eat slowly and mindfully when they’re highly distracted while eating (doing work, talking with other people, etc.), when they feel really hungry and want to get food in their stomachs as quickly as possible, and when they’re feeling guilty about what they’re eating and want to finish quickly.

Our clients have observed a number of interesting things when they begin to work on eating slowly and mindfully.  One client of mine, Kate, a busy lawyer, always ate a salad for lunch at her desk while she was working.  When Kate and I worked on this skill and required that she take 15 minutes for lunch without doing any work, Kate was surprised to find out that different bites of salad tasted differently depending on what ingredients were on her fork.  Previously, all bites had tasted the same to Kate because she hadn’t really tasted any of them. 

Another client, Victor, really loves sweets and desserts.  When he first came to see me he told me, “I never met a dessert I didn’t like!”  When Victor started really focusing on the desserts that he ate, he was shocked to find that not all desserts were created equal and that there were some that he just didn’t care for, like caramel.  “My whole life I always assumed I liked caramel because it was a sweet dessert. I never took the time to really taste it and question whether or not I liked it. Turns out, I don’t!”

Marissa, a mother of four, used to make a big dessert for her family every night because that’s what her mother did growing up.  As it turns out, two of Marissa’s children lacked her sweet tooth and her husband had a take-it-or-leave-it approach to dessert.  Because of this, Marissa would frequently end up eating a huge amount of dessert every night because nobody else was eating it. When Marissa and I worked on cutting down her portion to just one dessert every night and eating it slowly and mindfully, she truly came to realize that she enjoyed one brownie, eaten very slowly and with an emphasis on enjoying every bite, more than eating half a pan of brownies because when she was overeating them, she would eat huge bites as quickly as possible, without really tasting them.

Eating slowly and mindfully is a difficult skill for some people, and one that may require a lot of practice, but unquestionably the results of doing so are worth the extra work.