Recovering from Mistakes

One of the most common diet-sabotaging thoughts is, “I’ve made a mistake. I’ve blown healthy eating for the day so I might as well keep eating and get back on track tomorrow/on Monday/next week/next month/next year.” We work hard with our clients on the ability to catch themselves as they make a mistake and not wait to correct it. We always say that the most successful dieters and maintainers are not those who never make mistakes; on the contrary, they are those who get right back on track after doing so. Learning this skill may be the most significant predictor of long-term success.

My client, Tara, is a classic all-or-nothing thinker. She is someone who, in the past, has lost and gained upwards of 50 pounds multiple times. This is in large part due to her thinking that once she makes a mistake, she’s “blown it.” Sometimes, her eating can snowball for days or weeks at a time.

Tara and I have spent a long time working on the notion that in virtually no other area of life would she ever say to herself, “Since I made a mistake, I might as well keep making mistakes.” The analogy that resonates with her most strongly is, “If I’m walking down a flight of stairs and stumble down a few, I would never say, ‘Well I’ve blown this stairwell’ and throw myself down the rest of the stairs. No! I would get up right from where I fell and walk down the rest.” Every time Tara makes a mistake, we work on reinforcing the notion of picking herself up right at that moment and continuing the day on track.

Tara was finally able to put this into place over the weekend. She and her husband had rented a mountain house for a small vacation from the monotony of quarantine life. Although Tara and I had talked through eating plans for the trip, on Saturday afternoon her husband spontaneously suggested getting takeout from a nearby restaurant. Tara acquiesced and ended up eating something that had far more calories than she had planned for lunch. man cutting food with knife

In the past, there’s no question that Tara would have said something to herself like, “I’m already over for the day. I’m on vacation anyway, so who cares? Just keep eating and worry about getting back on track when you get home.” This time, Tara didn’t do this. Continuing to eat in an off-track way would be throwing herself down more stairs, and she was determined not to do that. She rethought the rest of her day and swapped in a lower-calorie dinner to help offset her unplanned lunch. She read her Response Cards and her Advantages List, went for a hike with her husband that afternoon, and stuck to her new dinner plan.

Tara told me that when she went to bed that night she felt victorious. She proved to herself that she could catch herself in the middle of the day (and in the middle of a vacation!), get right back on track, and end up feeling so great about her day. This is such a great example that even though Tara made a mistake earlier in her day, she was able to catch herself and go to bed feeling proud, not upset and regretful.

Nighttime Struggles

In session this week, my client, Rebecca, told me that nighttime (specifically the hours between dinner and bedtime) was hard for her lately. She found herself having to continually fight off cravings, and it was wearing her down. I asked Rebecca two questions: 1) Did she have a plan for exactly what she’d eat in the evening? and 2) Was she craving things that were in her house currently or things that she’d have to go out and get? Rebecca told me that she didn’t have an exact plan for the evenings (she used to make one, but that habit had somehow dropped off her radar), and that she was craving food that was in her kitchen.

Those answers did not surprise me, and I predicted that they were both at the root of her trouble. First, not having a strong plan in the evening (especially since evening has historically been Rebecca’s ice cream servingshardest time) is a recipe for trouble. If she didn’t know exactly what she was going to eat, then it’s no wonder she was having lots of cravings because everything in her kitchen felt like an option. During her quiet moments, her mind was invariably scrolling through the possibilities of all the things she could eat, and cravings were the inevitable result. Going back to planning in advance exactly what she would eat in the evening will hopefully cut out a lot of the cravings. Her brain will know exactly what she’s going to eat, and therefore can focus on one food instead of many.

Second, the fact that Rebecca craved food currently in her house likely made her cravings a lot stronger because the food was right there, easily within her reach. Cravings for food outside the house are generally easier to resist because of the effort involved in going to get them (no instant gratification!). I asked Rebecca if, in addition to not planning her evening snack, she had also lapsed into bringing too much junk food into her house. Rebecca realized that she had.

For a while, she was good at keeping things like ice cream and cookies out of her house. It wasn’t that she didn’t eat these foods, but on nights she planned to have them, she brought in single servings at a time. Keeping her house a craving-free environment was critical to Rebecca’s early success in curbing her constant nighttime eating. Again, it’s no wonder that Rebecca was struggling so much in the evening – she had way too many tempting foods right at her fingertips. Rebecca agreed to get rid of the junk food (and/or ask her husband to keep the things he wanted to have in his home office) and go back to bringing in single servings.

With these two action plans in place Rebecca felt much better about her ability to return to more peaceful evenings!

Off-Track Mode

Dieters get into “off-track mode” when they get off track, the scale has gone up, and they believe they are helpless in the face of their weight problem.

Off-Track Mentality

My client, Scott, has had a really hard two weeks.  He’s been dealing with a lot of stress at work and his eating has definitely suffered. He’s struggled to track his calories (something he was fairly easily getting himself to do before) and was feeling too worn out to get himself to prepare healthy dinners at night, and consequently fell back into old habits of ordering takeout.

Making Mistakes

Jen had been doing exceptionally well for months and months, but recently has gone through some hard times in her personal life, and was struggling more with eating. 

I’m Failing

While it’s true that there were some things that had started to really slip (he all but stopped giving himself credit, started eating standing up again, started taking much bigger portions at meals, especially dinner, and stopped counting calories), it wasn’t true that everything was going poorly. In fact, when Mike looked at this list, he realized that a lot of things were still going well – he just wasn’t acknowledging or giving himself credit for them.

I Need Something

My client, Megan, has been getting off track in the evening hours. She told me in session this week that she’s generally doing really well during the day, but ends up snacking too much in the hours between dinner and bed. I asked Megan what thought she might be having around that time, and she said, “It’s probably, ‘I need something.’ ”  Megan admitted that it wasn’t necessarily that she was hungry in that moment (she knew that if she had already eaten all her calories then her body has had enough food), but it was her mind that was feeling unsatisfied.

The Off-Track Mentality

Lauren told me that she has felt very off track the last few days. She said that controlling her eating has just felt really hard, and she’s not sure it’s worth it. I discussed with Lauren something I know to be true for myself and virtually all my dieters: that the “Is it worth it?” question is just a product of the off-track mentality.

Dessert Planning

My client, Jen, recently gave up all sugar and desserts for a month leading up to her birthday because she wanted to prove to herself that she could do it. She knew that she wouldn’t give them up forever, but she wanted a bit of a reset. I worked with Jen to create a clear dessert plan, a helpful Response Card, and a compelling activity to help her achieve her goals.

Counting Calories

Jason started to get off track and stopped counting calories for the rest of the day. This is very common. Often when dieters get off track, they don’t want to face how many calories they’re eating so they tell themselves, “I’m already over for the day. I’ll just stop counting and start again tomorrow.”