How Full Do I Want to Feel?

While my client April was out running errands last week, she realized that it was past lunch and she was really hungry. April was right near her favorite pizza shop, which had recently reopened, and the idea of getting pizza seemed hugely appealing. When April got to the restaurant, she knew that getting one slice of pizza and a salad would be the smart choice. She ended up ordering two pieces of pizza, a salad, and she threw in a black and white cookie for good measure. After eating both pieces of pizza and the cookie, she ended up feeling very overly stuffed.Pizza

We discussed this situation in session, and April realized a few things that she could have done to have a different outcome. First, we recognized the importance of prioritizing eating on a regular schedule and not allowing herself to get caught up in errands, even if she was being productive. It is unquestionably harder to make a decision that’s in line with your goals when you’re very hungry and have no clear plan in place.

I said to April, “At least you had the thought that getting one piece of pizza and a salad would be smart. What were the thoughts that led you to get a second piece and a cookie?” April thought about it and realized that she must have said something to herself along the lines of, “I’m starving. I just want to eat something that will really satisfy me.” I asked, “If you had gotten one piece and a salad, how do you think you would have felt when you finished eating? Would you be satiated? Would you still be hungry?” April told me that she definitely would have been full, because one piece of pizza and a salad is a satisfying meal.

In talking it through more, April realized that either way she would have ended up full. If she ordered one piece of pizza and a salad, she would be pleasantly full and would have the satisfaction of knowing she made a good choice that was in line with her goals. If she veered from that and ordered two pieces and a cookie (plus a salad that she never ended up eating), she would wind up overly full and regretful.

To help her remember this idea the next time she was faced with an eating decision and was having the sabotaging thought, “I’m starving. I need something extra and really satisfying,” she’ll ask herself this question: Do I want to feel one piece of pizza and salad full, or do I want to feel two pieces of pizza and a cookie full? This will help remind her that either way she’ll be satiated, but if she sticks with the first choice, she’ll be full and proud of herself.

Systematize Before Optimize

In session this week with my client Tara, we discussed the trouble she was having staying in control on weekends. Now that Tara and most of her friends are vaccinated, she’s been able to safely start to socialize with friends again. While this is wonderful, resuming eating at restaurants and at friends’ houses has caused her a significant amount of trouble reining in her food and alcohol intake.

In session, Tara told me about a dinner she went to at a friend’s house this past weekend. Her plan was to stick to one glass of wine, have no appetizers, eat her main course, and have half a dessert. Instead, she wound up having three glasses of wine, plenty of appetizers, and a full dessert. I first gave Tara a lot of credit for even making a plan! That’s an important first step. I then discussed with her that while that plan might have been optimal in terms of curbing her caloric intake, right now while she’s still working on getting stronger in social situations, it probably wasn’t realistic (yet).woman writing notes

I told Tara about a concept I read about in the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. When you’re trying to establish a habit, you have to systematize it first, and then you can optimize it. After all, you can’t optimize a habit that isn’t in place. Tara and I decided that right now we need to first work on establishing the habit of sticking to her plan in social situations. Even if that plan right now includes more alcohol and food than she would ideally like to consume in the future, we have to get the “sticking to my plan” habit established first. Then, we can work on optimizing what the plan actually entails.

Tara and I discussed her social events this coming weekend and made plans for all of them. Because these plans weren’t overly limiting, Tara felt confident that she could stick to them. I had Tara write down the plans, and we made a Response Card about why it was worth it to her to stick to them. Tara agreed that she would read her plan and her cards right before leaving the house and bring them with her to reread if she started to lose focus while she was out.

Is It Time to Reevaluate COVID Habits?

Now that we have passed the one-year mark since life changed dramatically, I started thinking about habits that some of my clients fell into during COVID. While many of these were understandable in the chaotic and scary first few months, they are not serving them well anymore.

Like many, my client Mark started drinking alcohol much more frequently in the early days of COVID. While he used to be a social drinker, we realized that somewhere along the way he started drinking about two glasses of wine every day – which is roughly 1,600 extra calories per week! Because his eating is relatively healthy and he has still been exercising, the extra alcohol calories weren’t causing him to gain weight. They were, however, probably the culprit for why he stopped losing weight.

Mark decided he didn’t want to rely on alcohol every night to relax; he wanted to get back to only having some on the weekends. We decided he would cut back to one glass a night for two weeks, and then work on cutting it out entirely on weeknights from there. Since alcohol was acting as a stress reliever, it was critical to put other deliberate coping mechanisms in its place. Mark decided that every night before cooking dinner, he would do a 10-minute meditation. Instead of watching the news while he cooked, he would instead listen to music or entertainment podcasts. This way, he would still get stress relief but not the extra calories.

My client Kara was also having trouble losing weight. Like Mark, we looked for where the extra calories might be coming from. For Kara, it was extra indulgences when she ordered takeout. When restaurants shut down and Kara started ordering takeout more frequently, she might order a salad and French fries, because she felt the need to indulge. Kara realized that pre-COVID, she never would have ordered takeout French fries, but it was a habit that stuck around. Kara decided that she would make list of reasonable takeout options and stick to that moving forward.

When he shifted from his office to working from home last year, my client Jeff started staying up too late. Since he didn’t have to commute to work anymore, he rationalized staying up later and sleeping in. Jeff hasn’t been able to institute a regular bedtime or sleep routine for himself over the last year. He man running along pathoften stays up late snacking in the evening.

Jeff acknowledged that this habit wasn’t working for him anymore, and he was ready to reinstate a regular bedtime. Not only would this ensure he got enough sleep, but it meant he wouldn’t be up too late snacking. He would once again be able to get up early enough to exercise in the morning – a habit he had in place for years and helped him thrive.

If you’ve let some bad COVID habits creep in, now is the time to reevaluate them! It’s been over a year, so it’s high time to make sure your habits are working for you, not against you

Planning in Advance

This week, my client Jennifer told me that while her days have been going well, things have been falling apart around dinner. The first question I asked Jennifer was, “Are you planning dinner in advance, or are you getting to dinner time and then trying to figure out what to eat?” Jennifer told me that most nights it was the latter. She often thought about making a dinner meal plan but resisted the idea because she didn’t want to feel hemmed in. She wanted to be able to eat whatever she was craving that night for dinner and not something she had predetermined earlier in the week.

While I sympathized with this desire, I reminded Jennifer that in-the-moment decisions are the hardest to make effectively. In-the-moment decisions require us to use our “hot” brains, an id-driven brain that mostly focuses on what it wants in the moment and doesn’t take other goals into account. Future-oriented decisions, by contrast, allow us to use our “cool” brains, a rational brain that thinks through big goals and consequences and makes decisions based on them. It’s not a guarantee that an in-the-moment decision will lead us awry, but it is far more likely.

It’s no surprise that dinners haven’t been going well for Jennifer. End-of-the-day Jennifer, when she was tired and worn out, was not a great Jennifer to be making dinner decisions. Morning Jennifer was a great Jennifer to be making decisions! Morning Jennifer was fresh and sharp and could formulate how a successful day should go. Even though Jennifer understood this intellectually, something was still standing in her way. She still didn’t like the idea of planning dinners in advance.Hand writing out a list.

I asked Jennifer if she ever planned in advance or if she always waited until the last minute to make dinner decisions, and she said that sometimes she and her partner would decide in advance what to have for dinner. “How does that usually work out?” I asked her. “Are you happy when you get to dinner, or are you resisting the plan?” Jennifer told me that usually she was fine with the plan, and it sometimes was helpful because she and her partner often get frustrated with each other trying to figure out dinner every night.

I said to Jennifer, “I wonder, then, if the idea of planning dinner in advance is actually worse than the reality of doing so. The idea of planning dinner in advance makes you feel trapped, but the reality is that it keeps the peace between you and your partner, and it means you feel on track all evening long.” We discussed this idea more, and Jennifer was able to see that this was probably the case, at least some of the time. The idea of not being able to make spontaneous dinner decisions was worse than the reality. She made a Response Card to remind herself.

Jennifer also admitted that even though she resists making dinner decisions in advance, she often ends up eating the same things anyway, so it wouldn’t be that much of a hassle to make the plan more formalized, and that way it would cut down on tensions with her partner, she could make sure to have the food that she needed, and she increased her likelihood of staying on track all day. We also agreed that she should have an escape clause: for the first week, at least, if she really doesn’t want what she planned to have for dinner, then she didn’t need to have it! We decided that she would put some backup meals in her freezer that she could pull out if this happened.

I reminded Jennifer of one more thing: the reason to start planning dinners in advance was not to take away her freedom. It was because not planning in advance wasn’t working for her, and doing so would be in the service of a greater goal: achieving everything on her Advantages List. She would be doing it for hugely important reasons. Jennifer made a Response Card to remind her of this idea, too.

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.

Working from Home

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been talking to most of my clients about how to manage their eating now that they’re all working from home. While there are eating challenges when people work in an office (break room goodies, lunch meetings, tempting restaurants close by), working from home and being near the refrigerator and pantry all day can be hard to manage.

The number one biggest strategy I’ve been working with my clients on is follow an eating schedule. Without the structure of a day in the office to guide their eating, many of my clients found themselves wandering into the kitchen multiple times a day looking for a snack (boredom, stress, wanting to procrastinate, etc.). Without some type of eating schedule in place, every time they thought about eating – and right now they’re thinking about eating a lot – they have to make the decision whether or not to eat. Every time a food thought pops into their Cutting board of healthy food.head, they have to ask themselves, “is this hunger? Is this just boredom? Should I eat? Should I try to wait?”

Having to engage in those questions over and over throughout the day can get exhausting and leaves a lot of room for error. When they follow an eating schedule, every time they think about eating, they just look at the clock. If it’s time to eat, they eat. If it’s not time to eat, they don’t eat. They don’t have to worry about figuring out whether it’s hunger, or a craving, or emotions welling up, or boredom. It just doesn’t matter why they want to eat. If it’s not time to eat, they don’t eat. Period.

My client, Rachel, started following this eating schedule last week:

  • Breakfast: 7:00-8:00
  • Lunch: 12:00-1:00
  • Snack: 3:00-4:00
  • Dinner: 6:00-7:30
  • Dessert: 8:30-9:30

In session this week she told me that following her schedule made a huge difference in helping her feel in control of her eating. She said it took so much stress off of eating during the day because it was so clear cut when it was time to eat and when it wasn’t. On one day when she started thinking about food around 11:00am, she said to herself, “It’s not time to eat right now. Lunch is in an hour, go find something distracting to do and it will be here before you know it.” On another day when she wanted to eat around 5:00pm, she said to herself, “You just had a snack an hour ago. This isn’t about hunger, it’s about feeling stressed. Go take a walk, that will help me destress just as much as eating would.”

While following an eating schedule puts restrictions on when you can eat, most people actually find it incredibly liberating because it frees you from having to make food decisions all throughout the day. If you’re struggling to control your eating right now, follow an eating schedule! Figure out what times it makes sense for you to eat throughout the day and whenever you want to eat at an unscheduled time, remind yourself that your next meal or snack isn’t so far away and find something else to do.

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.

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.