What I Want

In session this week, my client Michael told me that in the evenings he keeps having the nagging thought, “Maybe I should just go into the kitchen and eat whatever I want.” While he has not been giving in, he told me he’s had this thinking pattern in the past, and it’s making him nervous about his ability to continue to stay on track.piece of cake

I first asked Michael, “In the past when you’ve given in to that thought, how long did the good feelings from eating last? Ten minutes? An hour? All evening?” Michael said he probably felt good while he was eating, and then for an additional five minutes after. I asked him, “How did you feel after those five minutes? Were you happy about what you had eaten and thinking it was a good decision?” Michael told me that of course he wasn’t happy once the food pleasure had worn off. He was always mad at himself, regretful, and worried about what it would do to his weight. I asked him how long those feelings lasted, and he said usually the rest of the night. With this in mind, Michael first wrote this Response Card:

Eating “whatever I want” feels good for about five minutes and then makes me regretful for five hours. It’s not worth it.

I asked Michael if he was hungry while engaging in eating whatever he wants, and he said he usually wasn’t. We discussed that in the evening his body was telling him he wanted something, but since hunger wasn’t the source of the problem, food wasn’t the only possible solution. Michael thought about it and realized that this thought usually arose when he was feeling a bit bored and lonely. Although he thought he wanted to go eat whatever he wanted, he was actually craving entertainment, human connection, and some form of pleasure. Michael and I made a list of other things he could try in the evening to get what he really wanted, and Michael made the following Response Card:

Food is not actually what I need in this moment, so by not eating I am not depriving myself of what I really want. What I need is entertainment, pleasure, and/or connection. Instead of eating, try: calling, texting, or sending an email to someone; drinking hot tea; playing a game on my phone; reading an article; going for walk; or connecting with someone on a dating app.

Last, Michael and I discussed that though he would like to be able to go eat whatever he wanted, there are other things he wants more. He wants to lose weight. He wants to feel in control. He wants to not worry about his health. He wants to have a steady wardrobe and not worry about his clothes fitting. He wants to have more self-confidence and higher self-esteem. Michael made one last Response Card:

Even though I want to eat right now, there are so many things I want more than that. Focus on what I am getting – progress towards my goals, feeling in control, going to bed feeling proud of myself – and not on what I’m not getting – extra unplanned food I don’t need.

We agreed that for the next week Michael would read these three cards every evening after dinner to help bolster his ability to stay on track.

Huge Hunger

Right from our first session, my client Ellie told me she always has an incredibly difficult time stopping at a reasonable amount of food. She always wants to eat more, even if she’s just eaten a lot. Ellie described herself as having a “huge hunger” and initially felt powerless to make changes in her eating.

I asked Ellie if we could first look at the phrase “huge hunger” and examine whether or not that was entirely accurate. The problem with telling herself that she had a huge hunger was that it legitimized eating. If you’re hungry, you should eat, right? I said to her, “This week, pay attention. When you’ve eaten dinner and then you want seconds, where is that urge coming from? Is it an empty rumbling in your stomach, or is it coming from somewhere else?”person at restaurant table

Ellie came back the following week and said that once she’s eaten a meal and wants to continue eating, it’s her mouth and her mind that want more. Her stomach didn’t feel empty, but she still felt like eating. Because it wasn’t an empty rumbling in her stomach that was demanding more food, and instead a psychological urge, I proposed to Ellie that we reconceptualize her “huge hunger” as actually her having a “huge appetite.” Telling herself she was hungry for more dinner after she’d eaten a reasonable amount legitimized her continuing to eat. Recognizing that her appetite – her desire to eat – was motivating her to want more, not a lack of sufficient food or physical fullness, is crucial in helping her stop at a reasonable point.

Ellie made the following Response Cards to help her start working on this idea:

I have a huge appetite, not a huge hunger. I don’t physically need a lot of food to feel full, but it’s true that I do like to eat a lot. Working on slowing down and eating mindfully will help maximize my psychological satisfaction and get my appetite more aligned with my hunger. I need to remember that I’ll never give up eating, but I will have to give up overeating in order to lose weight. But, in doing so, I won’t be depriving my body of food that it needs.

While Ellie and I have more work to do in uncovering and addressing other beliefs that get in her way, helping Ellie realize that it was her appetite, not her actual hunger, that was leading to a lot of her overeating is an important first step in Ellie ultimately learning how to eat but not overeat.

TV Plus

One of the most frequent conversations I have with my clients centers around helping them gain control of their eating in the evenings. This week, my client David he told me that he was struggling to not snack all evening as he watched TV with his wife. He said, “I sit down in front of the TV in the evening after the kids are finally in bed, and I immediately feel hungry.” I reminded him that if he had a reasonable dinner, it probably wasn’t physical hunger he was feeling in that moment; rather, it was a psychological need.

It’s what David was saying to himself that matters. If he tells himself, “I’m hungry,” then it legitimizes going to the kitchen and getting a snack. The first step is to accurately label what’s going on. Instead of saying, “I’m hungry,” it’s more accurate for him to say, “I’m tired, I had a long day, and I need to unwind right now.”Snacking while watching TV

The problem with watching TV in the evening is that it is often an entertaining but not fully immersive experience. When people are watching TV in the evenings, they may still feel a little bit bored and want to do something else while they watch to fully engage their brain. TV plus snacking does that for people – it fully engages them, and they’re able to watch TV without feeling that tinge of boredom. But, the important thing to recognize is that eating is only one option of something to do while watching TV, and there are countless other activities that don’t sabotage weight loss or weight maintenance goals.

I talked to David about building up his “TV Plus” roster – things he could do in the evenings while he watched TV that don’t include eating, to help him keep his snacking at bay. Here is the initial list David came up with:

  1. Play game on my phone
  2. Sticker by number book or adult coloring book
  3. Sudoku or crossword puzzle
  4. Delete photos I don’t need
  5. Scroll through social media

If you have trouble with the urge to snack all evening long, especially if it occurs while you’re watching TV, then it’s important for you, too, to build a list of things you can do besides eating. TV plus eating is very distracting and entertaining, but TV plus knitting, TV plus coloring, TV plus doing a crossword puzzle, TV plus brushing your dog, etc. can provide the same help.

Delaying Instant Gratification

Last week, I had a session with my client Sarah, who told me about an experience she had the previous day overcoming a big craving. It was late afternoon, and she was feeling tired and stressed about an important work project. She started to have a strong craving for something sweet, specifically the cookies that she had bought at the grocery store the previous day. Although Sarah and I have been working on the guideline of “no dessert before dinner,” her sabotaging thoughts tried to convince her that, “just this one time was okay,” and that she “would have dessert before dinner but not have it again later.” (Both of these are clear sabotaging thoughts because every time has consequences for the next time. Even if she didn’t go on to have dessert after dinner, she would still be strengthening her giving-in muscle and reinforcing the notion that if she didn’t feel like sticking to her plan, she didn’t have to.)

Sarah got up from her desk and started walking to the kitchen when something lucky happened. A coworker called her with a question, and it took Sarah about 10 minutes to finish her phone call. Once it was over, she realized that the urgency of the craving had gone away. While she still wanted to have a cookie in that moment, she recognized that doing so would sabotage her goals, and it wasn’t worth it. She ended up making herself a cup of tea and got back to work.

Sarah and I discussed this in session, and we realized that the delay between wanting to eat a cookie and being able to allowed her rational mind to intervene and recognize the consequences of giving in before she did so. This is hard to do – like most people who struggle with their eating, Sarah focuses on how much she wants the food and not why it’s worth it to her to resist a craving. Especially for most people currently working from home with their kitchens only steps away, having a craving and giving in to the instant gratification of fulfilling it is way woman writing notestoo easy.

We decided that whenever Sarah had a craving, she had to set a timer on her phone for 10 minutes and find something distracting to do in the interim (call someone, take a short walk, play a game or do a puzzle on her phone, organize a drawer, do a meditation, read Response Cards, etc.). Once the timer went off, she could decide whether to eat the food. Doing it this way meant she couldn’t rely on instant gratification to make decisions for her. By taking some time before acting, it would allow her rational mind to be more deliberate.

When I met with Sarah this week, she told me the timer strategy had been enormously effective. While it was hard to get herself to set the timer and not give in immediately, she found that it almost always did the trick in terms of allowing her enough time to make a choice that supported her goals.

If you’re struggling with having the kitchen available to you all day, consider this strategy! When you have a craving, remind yourself that you can have that food, you just have to wait 10 minutes to decide. In those 10 minutes, find something distracting to do so your brain stops thinking about eating and starts thinking about something else. Chances are by the time your timer goes off, the urgency of the craving will have passed and you can think more clearly about what you want to do.

Three Things You Can Do When You Feel Like Eating, But It’s Not Time To Eat

Intuitive eating is a great concept, but we find that for many people who have struggled with their eating, their intuition can be unreliable. It urges them to eat when they’re bored. It tells them to eat when they’re stressed, anxious, celebrating or angry. Their intuition doesn’t differentiate between hunger, being tired or having a craving. For this reason, we work with many of our clients on eating according to a set schedule throughout the day. In doing so, they rely on the clock and their predetermined eating structure to tell them when to eat, not what is going on internally.The witching hour

Because of this, many of our clients find themselves in the position of wanting to eat but it not being time to eat. What motivates this desire to eat? It could be one of 100 different things: hunger, stress, boredom, fatigue, anxiety, anger, wanting to procrastinate, sadness, loneliness and so on. Here are three things that we work with clients on doing when they want to eat but it’s not yet time.

  1. Mindfulness Meditation

My client Jason found that his mind often strayed to what food was in his kitchen mid-morning. He’d already had a good breakfast, and lunch usually wasn’t for at least another hour or two, yet Jason found himself with very strong food cravings many mornings. Jason and I discussed what was typically happening around the time of his food cravings, and he realized it was usually right around when he was figuring out his work schedule for the day and trying to figure out how to accomplish everything he needed to do. We determined that the desire to eat wasn’t about hunger, it was about stress and/or having trouble getting work started. Jason came up with the strategy of doing a 10-minute mindfulness meditation every day after breakfast and before he started work, to help get centered and focused for the day. He found within the first week that this made a huge difference in getting through the mornings without wanting to eat.

  1. Go for a walk/get some exercise

My client Rachel found that she had developed a food “witching hour” – usually around 4 or 5 p.m., during which her food cravings were very strong and she had a hard time not going into the kitchen and eating snack after snack. Like many people, Rachel is now working from home and we realized that much of her “witching hour” food cravings were not actually about a craving for food, it was Rachel’s brain craving a transition from her work day to her evening. In the past, Rachel would walk home most days (which took her about 25 minutes) and without even meaning to, that walk was likely the signal that her workday was over. We decided that every day (weather permitting) at 4:30 Rachel would go out for a walk (or do yoga inside if she needed to). This way, not only would she be out of the house and away from the kitchen, she would be giving herself a transition between work and home and getting in some exercise.

  1. Read Response Cards and do a distracting activity

My client Jen was struggling to maintain control over her eating in the evenings. After dinner and getting her kids to bed, Jen would settle in front of the television with her husband and just want to eat and eat. For Jen, we did two things. First, we instituted a set evening snack time of 8:30 p.m. This was the midpoint for her between settling in for the evening and going to bed. When Jen was tempted to eat before her snack time, the first thing she would do was read Response Cards and remind herself exactly why it was worth it to her to wait. Then, she would do an activity. While watching TV with her husband was great, it still left enough of Jen’s mind idle, and when her mind was idle, it turned to food. We decided that while she watched TV, she would do another activity to fully engage her brain, like an adult coloring book, knitting or playing a game on her phone.

If you are struggling with wanting to eat too often throughout the day, consider if any of these strategies might work for you, too.

Leave the Struggle at the Store

A big way COVID-19 has changed many people’s lives is that they are grocery shopping far less often than they used to. I was discussing this with my client, Lauren, in session this week. She told me that now that she’s only going to the grocery store about once every week and a half to two weeks (instead of multiple times per week as was her habit in the past), she’s been struggling to figure out how much and what food to buy.cookies in a bowl

She described to me that when she’s at the store, she’s always tempted to buy things that weren’t necessarily going into her shopping cart in the past (like chips and cookies) because she feels a degree of anxiety: “What if I really, really want these things over the next two weeks?” If she wanted to insert cookies into her food plan in the past, she would just go to the store the next day and get them. Now, that’s no longer an option.

I asked Lauren, “What happens when you do end up bringing the chips and cookies home?” She thought about it and described how having those highly tempting foods in her house was really taxing her resistance muscle. Throughout the day, and especially at night, her mind wanders to those foods in her pantry and she has to overcome a craving to go eat some. In short, it was causing her lots and lots of struggle once she brought them home.

Lauren came up with an amazing response to record on a new Response Card: Leave the struggle at the store. She realized that when she gave in to her sabotaging thoughts and brought cookies and chips home, it caused her many minutes and hours of struggle throughout the week, trying to overcome cravings. When she put in the work at the supermarket to overcome her thoughts and not buy those foods, she left the struggle at the store. When they’re not at home, sitting in her pantry, they don’t tempt her.

If you, too, are bringing home foods from the grocery store that are causing you a lot of cravings, consider leaving the struggle at the store! Work on overcoming bringing them home, and you will save yourself so much struggle for the next week.

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!

Halloween Survival Guide

Halloween is just around the corner! It’s important to start thinking about what plans and Response Cards you need to navigate it successfully!

Regaining Dessert Control

Today I had a session with my client, Melissa. For the past few months, Melissa has been working on not having dessert before dinner. This is a necessary skill for Melissa to implement because, like a lot of dieters, Melissa encounters dessert all day long.

Wednesday Sabotage – September 11, 2019

Wednesday Sabotage: I can’t believe I gave in to that craving. I can’t do this. I should just give up.

Response: Learning to lose weight and keep it off is a process and it takes time. I’m not going to learn it overnight, and I’m not going to be good at it overnight. Just because I gave in once, doesn’t negate all the other times I didn’t. I need to take an accurate picture of how things are really going and acknowledge that while I’m not perfect, I’m better than I was. As long as I keep working at it, I’ll keep moving forward.