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 when 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!