Why It Matters

I’ve had many sessions with clients over the past two weeks who are understandably very uneasy, scared, and thrown off of their normal healthy eating routines. One common thought I’ve heard them relate is, “What does this really matter with all that is going on with the coronavirus?” While I understand that the state of the world can be overwhelming and frightening at the moment, I would argue that working to control your eating is important now more than ever.

Why is this? Well, one thing we know for certain is that when people have a good eating day, they feel good, period. They feel physically better as a result of eating good food, and they feel mentally better because they feel in control and proud of themselves. When people have an off-track eating day, they feel regretful and out of control. They sometimes feel physically uncomfortable, and psychologically they feel mad at themselves, knowing they were degrading their health. Right now there is so much going on in the world that you can’t control – eating is something you can control. Taking control of the things you can will feel so much better than letting everything slide out from under you. Right now when we’re all holed up at home and everything is closed, many of our usual sources of pleasure aren’t available to us (movies, meeting friends, dinners out, concerts, museums, etc.). Maintaining control over your eating is one major thing you can do to help boost both your physical and mental health, which is sorely, sorely needed right now.

When I was in session with a client this week (all of which are done remotely), she recognized that she was giving in to coronavirus-related stress eating, and felt determined to turn things around. We made this list of things she could do when the stress and anxiety felt particularly strong:

  1. Go for a walk, either outside or in her house.
  2. Call or video-chat a friend.
  3. Use her meditation app and do a 3-5 minute meditation.
  4. Give herself permission to not be productive for 30 minutes and read a book, listen to a podcast, take a nap, etc.
  5. Declutter something.
  6. Make a gratitude list – either of things she will be grateful for when this is over (stocked shelves at the supermarket, giving a stranger a handshake, meeting a friend for lunch) or something she’s grateful for right now (food delivery service, spending more time with her daughter, reading more).

If you don’t have a list of things to help you de-stress, make one now! Consult it daily and remind yourself why it matters to care about your eating right now. Regaining control or staying in control is guaranteed to make you feel better than the opposite, and we need all the good feelings we can get. This matters. This is important. You can do this.

The Number on the Scale

In a follow up to my previous blog post, I’d like to return to my client, Jessica, who got off track during the holidays. This week, Jessica and I added getting back on the scale every day to her list. This is another habit that Jessica got out of while she was off track. She dreaded getting back on the scale because she hatedWeight Scale seeing the higher number.

Jessica and I discussed that the number on the scale is subjective. If someone had just lost 50 lbs and now was at 186 (where Jessica is now, up from 163 where she was for over two years), she would be thrilled to see 186 on the scale. So not everyone feels bad about seeing that number on the scale, and the reason Jessica felt bad about that number was 100% due to what she was saying to herself when she got on the scale. I asked Jessica what went through her mind when she got on the scale. She said it was something like, “This number is so high and so terrible. I can’t believe I let things get so far off track. I’m so mad at myself.”

Jessica and I made some Response Cards for her to keep right by her scale and read before she gets on it:

Even though this number is higher than I’d like it to be, I’m doing what I need to be doing to make it go down again.

I’m in control of my eating which means I’m in control of the number on the scale. It will go down, and I’ll get to enjoy feeling on track and feeling at peace with my eating while it does.

It’s so important to say the right things to yourself before and during getting on the scale. Keep in mind that if you feel terrible about the number on the scale, it’s due in large part to what you’re telling yourself about that number. Berating yourself will do nothing but demoralize you and make it harder to do what you need to do. No matter what that number is, give yourself lots of credit for taking accountability and getting on the scale in the first place, and remind yourself that you’re doing what you need to be doing to make it go down. If you were at the lowest weight you’d been in 20 years but were out of control of your eating, it wouldn’t make any difference that the scale was down because it would be about to go up. Being on track with your eating (even if it means taking the first few steps and working up to doing the rest) is what is most important because it means you’re in control of the number and it’s going to go down.

I’m Doing It

My client, Jessica, got off track during the holidays (which is far too easy to do!). When I met with her this week, she told me she was tired of feeling out of control, tired of avoiding the scale, tired of worrying about her clothes fitting, and tired of not feeling good about her eating choices. Her mind and her body were suffering as a result of being off track, and she was done with it! We discussed what steps she would start taking in order to rebuild her resistance muscle. We decided that this week she would concentrate on eating Hand writing out a list.everything slowly and mindfully while sitting down, write down/track everything she eats (but not worry about total calories yet), and give herself credit.

While Jessica wanted to immediately get back to putting a calorie cap on how much she was eating per day (knowing that this is what will help her lose weight again), I reminded her that just doing the things we discussed would be a stretch. When trying to rebuild her resistance muscle, consistency is key. It’s critical to commit to goals that she can actually accomplish and follow through with every day. If we made goals that were too much of a stretch, she likely would be able to do it some days but not every day, and that doesn’t build the resistance muscle.

Jessica said she understood but just wanted to be “doing it” already since she was so motivated. I said to her, “By doing these things this week, you will be ‘doing it.’ ‘Doing it’ doesn’t just mean doing every single thing you ultimately need to do to get back on track and see the scale go down. ‘Doing it’ is also every step that leads you there. You can’t get there without these steps first, so from this moment on you are doing it!” Jessica made a Response Card to remind herself that in doing these things, she absolutely is “doing it.”

Other Sources of Pleasure

This week I had a session with my client, Sarah. Like many dieters, Sarah has been having a lot of trouble limiting her dessert portion in the evenings. This isn’t happening all the time. Some days it doesn’t feel very hard – but most of the time it does. I asked Sarah if there were any commonalities among the days she has an easier time (or among the days it feels harder), and one thing she realized is that on days when she’s taken the time to have coffee with a friend, or do fun errands, or in some way build in some pleasure, it feels easier to contain dessert. On days when she hasn’t given herself a break (which happens much of theWoman looking away from a dessert. time), she struggles in the evening. On those days, right before dinner, Sarah often has the thought, “Finally it’s time for dinner and then dessert! I’ve been depriving myself all day, and now it’s finally time.”

When Sarah has the thought, “I’ve been depriving myself all day,” it feels extra hard to limit dessert because she feels entitled to make up for a perceived deprivation. Sarah and I discussed the fact that by limiting herself to one reasonable portion of dessert in the evening, she’s not depriving her body of either calories or nutrients that it needs. Instead, she may be depriving her brain of pleasure it needs – if dessert is her only source of pleasure.

I discussed with Sarah that when in the evening her brain is saying, “Finally, it’s time for dessert; I’ve been depriving myself all day,” what it’s really saying is, “Finally it’s time for some pleasure. I’ve been depriving myself of pleasure all day.” Sarah and I decided that one of her goals this week was to build more pleasure into her daily life, even if it’s in very small doses. In doing so, she won’t need to rely on dessert to fulfill her pleasure need and staying at one reasonable portion won’t feel as depriving. If she gets to the evening and has the same thought, “Finally it’s time for dessert; I’ve been depriving myself all day,” she’ll remind herself that what she really needs that night is extra pleasure (a walk, a call to her sister, buying a new magazine, watching her favorite show, doing a beauty routine, etc.) not extra dessert.

Not Every Day Can Be Thanksgiving

I recently had a session with my client, Mark, who has lost twenty pounds and would like to lose more. Mark has set himself a reasonable calorie cap that he tries to stay under each day, although occasionally there are times when it’s reasonable for him to plan to eat extra. In session this week, Mark noted that his weight had plateaued for the past several weeks. The first thing we did was look at his calorie counts over the last month. Mark realized that there were many days when he ate over his cap. Most of them were things he had planned in advance (his birthday, a vacation with his wife, his son’s graduation, a wedding, celebrating a friend’s retirement, etc.), but they clearly added up to too many calories overall.Turkey Dinner

Unfortunately, Mark fell into the trap that many dieters fall into – treating too many days like Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving it’s absolutely reasonable for most dieters to plan to eat extra calories, simply because sticking to their normal amount isn’t realistic. And if planning extra calories happens only occasionally, it doesn’t sabotage weight loss or maintenance. However, we all have to draw the line somewhere because not every day can be Thanksgiving – i.e., an extra calorie day. While all of Mark’s extra calorie days seemed reasonable in the moment, when taken in total they were too much if he wanted to continue to lose weight.

I pointed out to Mark that he was lucky! It’s great that he has so many special occasions to celebrate, both his and those of his family and friends. But since they occur so frequently (something he hadn’t realized before), he can’t treat every one of them as an opportunity to plan to eat extra. Mark made the following Response Card to help remind him of this idea:

Not every day can be Thanksgiving! When I plan extra calories for every special event, it means I stop losing weight. Thanksgiving calories have to be the exception, not the norm for special events.

It’s likely to be hard initially for Mark to pull back his calories on days when he has a special event. But rereading his Advantages List has motivated him to commit to doing so because losing more weight is his top priority. We decided that for the next month, he wouldn’t make any exceptions to his normal calorie plan (because there are no actual Thanksgivings in the next month!) to give himself a reset and prove to himself he can stick to a calorie cap even when it feels hard. To help him do this, we decided that he’ll make very careful plans before challenging events, read Response Cards right before he goes, and really focus on his Advantages List and the enormously important reasons he has to keep the scale moving down.

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!

If You Want It, Plan It!

This week I met with my client, Lauren. Lauren has been doing well the last few months, feeling very focused and in control of her eating. Lauren told me about a breakfast she had with friends the day before in which she made healthy decisions, including forgoing a pancake even though she really wanted one. I asked Lauren the same question I often ask dieters in this type of situation: “Now that the situation/temptation is over, are you sorry you didn’t have the pancake?” Lauren thought about it for a moment and said, “Not exactly. I’m glad I made good decisions, but a pancake really would have been good.”

This was an interesting reply, because 19 out of 20 times I ask clients this (or maybe even more frequently than that!), the answer is a resounding, “No! I’m glad I didn’t give in.” Most times whenStack of pancakes on a plate dieters are faced with eating something that’s not on their plan, it’s a momentary craving. The food looks good. They wish they could eat it, but once they leave the restaurant, or the party, or the snack room at work, they forget about the food entirely. The fact that Lauren was still thinking about the pancake–and wanting one–was worth paying attention to.

I discussed with Lauren that if she really wanted a pancake but repeatedly denied herself one, what she would be doing (purposely or not) was sending herself the message, “You can’t have this food you really want.” In my experience, when dieters’ brains hear that message enough, eventually they will rebel against it. This doesn’t happen when they see a food that looks good and resist it once, moving on with their day, but it absolutely happens when dieters resist a food they want and continue to think about that specific food. If they don’t plan for when they can have it, it usually causes them to feel deprived and increases the likelihood that they will rebel against their plans.

Lauren understood this concept and agreed that having a pancake soon would be important, if only to prove that she’s not depriving herself of pancakes in general. Instead, she will tell herself that she’s simply not having them unless she plans to in advance. Lauren decided that she would have a pancake when she had brunch with her grandchildren over the weekend – and that she would make sure to eat it slowly and mindfully and really enjoy it!

Thanksgiving Night: How Do You Want to Feel?

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, dieters should begin to think about how they’ll handle their eating on that day. While Thanksgiving is considered by many to be a day in which it’s just too difficult to control their eating, it doesn’t have to be that way. When we help dieters formulate their Thanksgiving plan, we always ask them to think about one important thing: How do you want to feel going to bed once Thanksgiving is over?

Asking dieters this question reminds them that the experience of Thanksgiving is not limited to the time when they’re eating with family and friends. The experience also extends to how they feel afterwards. Dieters often have sabotaging thoughts such as, “If I have to limit how much I eat, I just won’t be able to enjoy myself.” If they then overeat, they may wind up feeling sick both People eating Thanksgiving dinnerphysically and psychologically: physically because they consumed way too much food, and psychologically because they feel out of control and guilty for overeating.

When we ask dieters how they want to feel once Thanksgiving is over, they usually say something along the lines of, “I want to feel full and satisfied and I also want to feel good about myself.”  We then ask, ”Will getting off track and overeating on Thanksgiving lead you to feeling that way?” Because the answer is no, we suggest coming up with a plan that will make them feel good. It makes sense to dieters that they simply can’t have it both ways: They can’t overeat during Thanksgiving and still wind up feeling proud and in control – these are incompatible goals.

We remind dieters that it’s not all-or-nothing – it’s not as if they can eat every bite of food that they want or they can’t eat any food that they want. In fact, there is a huge middle ground between these two extremes. While it’s true that they may not be able to eat as much of everything they want and still go to bed feeling good that night, it’s also true that they can eat reasonable portions, enjoy every bite that they take, and feel really good.

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.