Friday Weekend Warm-up: What we THINK will lead to a great weekend is eating whatever we want, in whatever quantity we want, but when we do the opposite – control our eating and stay on track – that’s truly what feels so great.
My client Jeff was in the habit of eating a whole pizza several nights per week. While he knew this was sabotaging his health and weight loss goals, he found that he kept giving in to the lure of the pizza. In session, I asked, “What’s so great about eating a whole pizza?” Jeff thought about it and said, “I don’t know. It’s just so great. There’s so much sauce and cheese, and it’s so filling and satisfying.” I said, “Let’s look at this objectively. How do you feel psychologically when you finish eating a whole pizza? Are you thinking, ‘That was a great decision?’” Jeff answered that he often felt pretty regretful. I responded, “How do you feel physically when you finish a whole pizza? Do you feel pleasantly full?” Jeff responded that he often felt stuffed and somewhat uncomfortable.
This was very interesting to me: when asked what eating a whole pizza was like, Jeff said it was great and satisfying. When asked how he specifically felt psychologically and physically after eating a whole pizza, the answer was very different. No wonder Jeff kept eating a whole pizza! He kept buying into the fantasy of what eating a whole pizza would be like: satisfying and great. He would either not recognize or not pay attention to what the reality of eating a whole pizza was like: full of feelings of regret and being overly stuffed. Jeff made the following Response Card:
It’s true the idea of eating a whole pizza is great, but the reality is not great at all. I end up uncomfortably stuffed and mad at myself. In giving up eating a whole pizza, I’m really not giving up anything that actually feels good. It’s worth it to stop at a reasonable amount.
I’ve seen this fantasy vs. reality concept play out in many other ways in my clients throughout the years. When we first started working together, my client Jen would overeat ice cream every time she got very upset. We worked hard on building up alternate coping mechanisms for Jen to employ when she got upset that helped her feel better and continue to feel in control of her eating. In time, she saw that eating to soothe her upset feelings ultimately caused more upset: she ended up mad at the situation and mad at herself.
There was one instance a few weeks ago when Jen had a really bad day at work and fell back into her old pattern. She stopped at a convenience store on the way home from work, bought a pint of ice cream, and ate the whole thing. In session, I asked, “What were the thoughts at play?” Jen said she was thinking, “I don’t care. I had such a bad day, and I just want to feel better.” I asked, “And did you feel better? How did you feel when you finished the ice cream?” Jen answered that she actually didn’t feel better. She felt mad at herself for reengaging in old, sabotaging habits. But the reason she lapsed back into it was because she was thinking about how overeating ice cream used to make her feel, and not how it makes her feel now. Jen made the following Response Card:
It’s true that overeating ice cream used to make me feel better when I was upset, but it no longer does. Now that I know how great being in control of my eating feels, letting go of that control makes everything feel worse. Overeating ice cream no longer provides me the relief it once did.
Think about your own thoughts. Might there be times when you think something will be better than it actually is? If so, make a Response Card and start reminding yourself of the reality, not the fantasy!
Thursday Think Tip: If you think, “I’m alone so it’s okay to eat [this unplanned food],” remember that your body processes all calories the same whether you’re with 100 people or no people.
Wednesday Sabotage: I don’t want to work on healthy eating right now because I just don’t feel like thinking about it.
Response: Either way I’m going to think about it. When I’m off track, I spend time thinking about needing to get back on track and feeling guilty about my eating. There’s no such thing as ‘not thinking about it.
Tuesday Reality Check: Remember, avoiding the scale has never gotten you to where you want to be. It’s important to prove to yourself that you face the consequences and get on the scale even when you don’t want to. Doing so may help hold you more accountable because you’ll know that you won’t let yourself stick your head in the sand.
Friday Weekend Warm-up: You will likely have lots of opportunities to strengthen your resistance muscle (and simultaneously weaken your giving-in muscle) this weekend. If you think, “It’s okay to give in because just this one time won’t matter,” remind yourself that EVERY time matters because every time, you’re strengthening one of those two muscles.
Thursday Think Tip: Make sure you have a healthy, fast snacks readily available. If you do, chances are high you’ll eat one and feel good about it. If you don’t, chances are you’ll eat something unhealthy and not feel good about it.
Wednesday Sabotage: I just want to eat without consequence.
Response: Oh, well! I don’t like that I can’t eat without consequences, but I can’t change that fact (not if I want to lose weight and keep it off). I need to stop struggling against it, accept that this is the way it is, and move on.
Tuesday Reality Check: How do you feel physically after you eat a big, heavy meal? How do you feel physically after you eat a reasonable, healthy meal? Our guess is you feel very differently! Next time you’re making a decision about what to eat for a meal, ask yourself, “How do I want to feel when I finish?”
Monday Motivation: If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. Gaining control over your eating and eating in a (mostly) healthy way is hard but so, so worth it.
The Beck Institute Weight Management Program was developed by Dr. Judith S. Beck with Deborah Beck Busis, LCSW.
Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy is a leading international source for training, therapy, and resources in CBT.
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