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.

Play it Forward

Usually when dieters are faced with eating something they want to eat, in that moment they’re thinking about how good it will taste and how deprived they’ll feel if they can’t have it, rather than looking at what will happen once the food is gone.

Progress Not Perfection

For the last few weeks, my client, Jenna, has been working hard on overcoming emotional eating.

Working on Eating During a Crisis

My client, Megan, is going through a really hard time. Her mother is facing a major health crisis and when Megan and I met this week, she told me she was having trouble staying in control of her eating. She kept having thoughts like, “I just can’t deal with worrying about my eating right now. It’s too hard.”

Stress Eating

A client I worked with a few years ago recently had her second baby and was having trouble getting her eating back under control. Lara told me that during her pregnancy, she let herself eat whatever she wanted and ended up gaining more weight than was healthy. Now at six months postpartum, she’s still struggling to put the skills that we had worked on back in place.

Vacation Plan – Part 2: A Realistic Strategy

A realistic strategy is the most important thing to bring on vacation. Eric lists the Sabotaging Thoughts and responses to help him stay on track.

Common Holiday Sabotaging Thoughts

Everyone knows that it’s harder to stay on track with healthy eating during the holidays, and most people assume that it’s because there are so many more parties, eating events, and treats out during this time.  While that’s accurate, it’s only part of the picture. The truth is that what really makes the holidays so hard are the sabotaging thoughts that people have that they aren’t able to respond effectively to. It’s never a party that directly gets someone off track, it’s when she has sabotaging thoughts while at the party, like, “I won’t be able to have fun unless I indulge.”  Learning to identify, in advance, what sabotaging thoughts you’re likely to have and coming up with responses to them ahead of time is the missing link between wanting to stay on track during the holidays and actually being able to do so. Below are four of the most common diet sabotaging thoughts that we hear and some helpful responses to them.  If you find any of these responses helpful, consider making your own Response Cards and reading them every single day from today until January 1st.

1. I only get this food once a year.

When dieters are telling us about a holiday meal that didn’t go as well as they’d have liked, part of the problem tends to be that they overate food and justified it with the thought that they “never get this food” or “it’s the only time of year I can eat it.”  The truth of the matter is that in this day in age, there is almost no food that can’t be bought, ordered, or made 365 days a year. While it’s true individuals many never think to make a certain food at other times during the year, or only come in contact with it organically during the holidays, that doesn’t mean that they can’t find/make/buy it at other times.  Also, it’s good to keep in mind that it’s true the holidays are only once a year, but they’re once a year every year, so it’s never the last opportunity to have something. While it is certainly fair to eat reasonable portion of favorite holiday foods, it doesn’t work to go overboard on those foods. Reminding yourself that you never need to overeat a food because you can and will have it again can help you stay on track around favorite holiday foods.

Response Card - I only get this food once a year

2. I have to do things the way I’ve always done them or someone will be disappointed.

Dieters often put themselves in traps when thinking about the holidays.  They think that they have to do things the way they’ve always done them or there will be negative consequences, such as disappointing someone or themselves. The truth of the matter is that they way they’ve always done things probably just doesn’t work, not if they’re trying to stay on track with their eating during the holidays. If dieters want this year to go better, it means they have to do things differently. While it’s true that others may be temporarily disappointed if you, say, decide to only make three kinds of Christmas cookies instead of ten, or go out and buy some holiday food to save yourself the time and energy of making it, it’s likely that the disappointment won’t be as great or as long-lasting as you’re fearing.  And they’ll get over it, probably in much less time then it will take you to lose the extra pounds you put on as a result of not making changes.  It’s important to keep in mind that traditions can always be changed and new ones can always be instituted.  If you start the tradition this year of taking a walk after Thanksgiving dinner instead of picking at leftovers, in few years that will start to feel like a time-honored tradition – and one that will help you reach your goals instead of taking your farther away from them.

Response Card - I have to do things the way I’ve always done them or someone will be disappointed.

3. I’ve already been messing up, I’ve blown it so I’ll just wait until the New Year to get back on track.

This is a thought that often plagues dieters who start out trying to have a healthy holiday season, get off track at some point, and just decide that their efforts are wasted and they might as well wait until January 1st to start working on healthy eating again.  We are here to tell you: Don’t buy into that thought! And here’s why: First of all, it is impossible to blow it for the holiday season. It just doesn’t work that way. It is possible to get off track at one party, and then get off track at the next, and then get off track again at the third. But it’s also possible to get off track at one party, recover, and do fantastically well during the rest of the parties.  There is always, always the option of recovering and making the rest of the days until January 1 great days.  And in doing so, it means that you don’t gain weight (or gain less weight), start out the New Year in a much stronger position, and likely have a happier holiday season.  Remind yourself – just because you were on the highway and missed your exit, it doesn’t mean you have to spend the rest of the day driving in the wrong direction.  You can always get off at the next exit, turn around, and get right back on track.  The same is true with dieting. Just because you make a mistake, you can always catch yourself, recover, and get right back on track. In the same way you wouldn’t’ keep driving in the wrong direction, don’t keep making mistakes!

Response Card - I have to do things the way I’ve always done them or someone will be disappointed. (1)

4. I won’t be able to enjoy myself during the holidays if I have to work on healthy eating.

In reality, the opposite of this thought is usually true. When dieters decide to throw healthy eating out the window and get off track, it actually puts a negative tint on the holidays because they spend time feeling badly about their eating, worrying about gaining weight, and dealing with the nagging knowledge that they’re going to have to face up to all this in the New Year.  By contrast, when dieters work on staying on track, it often helps them feel so much better during the holidays because they feel confident in themselves and what they’re doing.  No one (at least no one we’ve ever met!) has ever gone to bed after a really great, on-track eating day and thought, “Well, I shouldn’t have done that.” It just doesn’t happen!

Response Card - I won’t be able to enjoy myself during the holidays if I have to work on healthy eating. (1)

In Session with Debbie: Breaking up With Food

This week I had a session with Leslie, a veterinarian in her 40’s.  Leslie and I have been working together for a little over a month and the topic we discussed this week was overcoming emotional eating.  I discussed with Leslie the fact that negative emotions are a part of life and that they aren’t harmful.  We then brainstormed some things besides eating that Leslie could try to help soothe herself when she was feeling upset, like drinking hot tea, online window shopping, and playing solitaire on her phone.  I could tell, though, that Leslie wasn’t convinced so I asked her what she was thinking.  She told me, “Food is my friend,” and that she just couldn’t imagine that, if she was upset, looking at housewares online would be helpful when she had the comfort of her old friend, food, right in her kitchen.

Leslie and I then examined this notion that food was her friend.  Leslie realized that when she got upset and wanted to eat to soothe herself, she was only looking at part of the picture: She was thinking about how soothing and comforting food was while she was actually eating it.  But she wasn’t thinking about everything that happened after – when she felt guilty and mad at herself, when she took in a lot of extra calories, and when she was forced to stay overweight.  When Leslie thought of food as her comforting friend, she was only remembering the positives and completely pushing aside the negatives.

To help her hold on to a more balanced view of what it really means to have food function as her friend and as her primary coping mechanism for negative emotions, we composed a “Disadvantages of Food as my Friend” list. Here is the list she came up with:

Disadvantages of Using Food as my Friend

1. After I’ve finished eating, it brings out my self-dislike

2. It makes me stay overweight (and potentially continues to increase my weight more)

3. It makes me not fit into my clothes, into airplane seats, into booths in restaurants, etc.

4. It means I can’t move around easily or gracefully

5. It makes it so painful on my knees when I have to bend down to get animals out of the lower cages

6. It makes me want to avoid seeing my real friends and family

7. It makes me not recognize the person I see in the mirror

8. It wreaks havoc with my sense of confidence and makes me feel hopeless about being able to lose weight

9. I know food doesn’t really love me back. It can’t – it’s just food.

I asked Leslie to read this list every single day over the next week so that she can get these ideas more firmly in her head.  Leslie and I then discussed that while doing the things we mentioned previously – playing games on her phone, drinking hot tea, calling a (real) friend, giving herself a facial – might not be as soothing as eating when she was upset, they would come with no negative consequences, as opposed to eating, which comes, ultimately, with 100% negative consequences.  With a more balanced view in mind of what using food as a friend really did to her, Leslie was able to willing this week to start working on breaking up with food and trying to soothe herself in other ways.

In Session with Debbie: Getting Back on Track

I recently had a session with my client, Allison, with whom I’ve been working for a few months.  In session, Allison told me about an experience she had over the weekend that she wasn’t feeling very happy about.  Allison explained that one of her close friends was moving out of state and so over the weekend she had a goodbye party. At the party, there were drinks and passed appetizers.  Allison found herself taking appetizer after appetizer and eating them while talking with her friends. Midway through the party, Allison realized that she was overeating and that she had lost track of how much she had already had.  Allison told me that she went to the bathroom and read her Advantages List and her Response Cards, both of which she keeps on her phone.   After taking a few moments to fortify her resolve and refocus, Allison went back to the party and didn’t eat another bite.

When Allison explained this to me she, she expressed disappointment over getting off track during the party. I, on the other hand, had a different view of the situation.  Even though Allison had gotten off track during the party, she did something that can be extremely difficult to do: she got back on track in the middle of the party.  She didn’t say to herself, “Well, I’ve already blown it for the party, I might as well keep eating whatever I want.”  She also then didn’t go on to say to herself, “Well I’ve blown it for the day so I might as well keep eating whatever I want and get back on track tomorrow.”  No! The moment Allison realized she had gotten off track, she immediately turned herself around and didn’t wait for the end of the party/the day/the week/the month to get back on track.  I pointed out to Allison how significant this was because she has now proven to herself that whenever she gets off tack, she never has to wait even one moment longer to get back on track.

I reminded Allison that the most successful dieters and maintainers are not those who never make mistakes; rather they are those who make mistakes but get immediately back on track.  Allison and I discussed the fact that she will continue to make mistakes for the rest of her life, but as long as she recovers from them immediately (as she did at the party), they will remain very minor and won’t negatively impact her weight. 

Allison and I also took a few moments to assess the situation and figure out what had led her to get off track in the first place. Allison realized that the major problem was that she hadn’t gone into the party with a strong plan. She went in thinking she would have “just a few” bites to eat, but had nothing specific in mind. Allison also realized after the fact that she overate partly because she didn’t have a plan, partly because she was distracted talking to her friends, and partly because she was feeling upset and emotional about her friend leaving town.  In order to better prepare herself for a similar situation in the future, Allison decided that she would ahead of time formulate a strong plan and make the effort to deliberately eat everything slowly and mindfully. And, if she knew that she might be going into a potentially emotional situation, like a good-bye party, Allison decided that she would read Response Cards ahead of time that specifically reminded her that eating for emotional reasons  ultimately always has the opposite of the intended effect, meaning it  makes her feel worse, not better.