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.

Trick, Not Treat

This week, my client Julie told me that she had gotten a little off track the previous night and had eaten too many cookies. Julie had been working on one planned dessert every night, which wasn’t always easy for her to stick to. She had previously been eating dessert throughout the day, but she had made big progress. We talked through what happened the night before, and she realized she had the sabotaging thought, “I’ve been so good at just having one dessert recently, so it’s okay to have a little extra tonight.” This type of thinking is very common: often, my clients feel justified in having extra, unplanned food as a reward for having done so well.cookies in a bowl

I reminded Julie that by having extra dessert, what she was doing in that moment was rewarding her hard work by undoing her hard work. She was rewarding great, on-track behavior by exercising her giving-in muscle, strengthening unhealthy habits (using food as a reward, eating beyond fullness, not sticking to her plan), and jeopardizing her weight loss. We discussed how, in virtually no other area of life, we would think it made sense to reward progress by undoing it. For example, when Julie was learning to drive and had months of accident-free driving, would she “reward” herself by purposely getting in an accident? Of course not!

Julie and I discussed that when she’s doing well and consistently making on-track food decisions, she absolutely does deserve a reward. She doesn’t, however, deserve a reward that ultimately sabotages her, like extra, unplanned food. Julie made the following Response Card to help her remember these ideas:

When I’m doing really well, I do deserve a treat. I don’t deserve to use extra, unplanned food as a treat because that’s really a trick, not a treat. I can’t reward hard work by undoing it!

Julie and I made a list of some other things she could try that would really be a treat, and not a trick: getting a new candle, buying a new book, scheduling a massage, or picking out a fun, new recipe to try that week. All of these things will help reward Julie for her hard work without undoing any of her progress!

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.

Making Your Nighttime Self an Ally to Your Daytime Self

Like many, my client, Jess, has been having a hard time getting to bed at a decent hour. Once her two kids are in bed, she feels like she can finally relax for the first time all day. Even when she knows she needs to get to bed, Jess has been staying up longer because she wants to continue enjoying her “me time.” Unfortunately, staying up too late has been negatively impacting Jess, setting up a downward cycle the next day.

When she gets to bed late, she sleeps later and misses her window for exercise (because at this time of year it quickly gets too hot for her to exercise outside). She also has been finding herself rushing around in the morning trying to get too many things done in a too-short window, which makes her feel harried and out of control. Her eating gets off track because she doesn’t have time to sit down and plan her eating day, which she previously did every morning when she used to go to bed on time. Because she’s staying up so much later, Jess is also finding she’s getting hungry again in the evening and eating more than she used to, which has caused the scale to stop moving down. All in all, getting to bed too late is not working for her!People eating and drinking outside

Jess told me that every morning when she’s in this negative cycle, she says to herself, “I wish I could remember this at night! I wish I could convince my night self that it’s worth getting to bed so that my day self can benefit all day.” I loved this idea – that nighttime Jess needs to be an ally to daytime Jess. Jess and I discussed a major hindrance to nighttime Jess getting to bed on time: her need for me time.

I reminded Jess that me time is not an all-or-nothing thing. It’s not as if she gets every minute she wants to relax and unwind in the evening or she gets no minutes. There’s a lot of middle ground. Even if she would rather have two hours of me time, one hour is certainly a lot better than nothing! And, when she sacrifices some me time in the evening (but not all me time), she’s getting an enormous amount in return. Her following day is better, and she gets to make progress towards her weight loss goals, which are profoundly important to her. Jess agreed that me time is not all-or-nothing and made the following Response Card to read every evening:

Nighttime Jess needs to be an ally to daytime Jess. Daytime Jess knows how important getting to bed on time is, and nighttime Jess needs to respect that. Even though I want more me time in the evening, it’s not an all-or-nothing thing. I can still have some me time, and have a great next day, and make progress on my weight loss goals. It’s entirely worth it to get to bed on time!

If you’re struggling to make your nighttime self an ally to your daytime self, consider making a Response Card that addresses this and start reading it every evening!

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.

Don’t Push the Lazy Domino!

As I help my clients navigate this unsettling time, one major topic of discussion has been helping people learn to control their eating (and their lives) in their sudden and new work-from-home lifestyle. Most of my clients work the majority of the time in an office setting, so suddenly being home 24 hours a day is a huge change. I had a session this week with my client, Sarah, who works in software sales and is now working from home. She has been struggling to find a new sense of normalcy now that she doesn’t have to get up every morning, shower, and drive to work. She told me that when her alarm goes off in the morning, she often has the thought, “What does it matter if I stay in bed a little bit longer?” So, I asked Sarah, “Does it matter?”

Sarah thought about it and said that yes, it does matter because when she starts out the day by not getting up at her normal time, it sets off a domino effect that negatively impacts the rest of her day. It means she doesn’t get up in time to eat her healthy breakfast, and sometimes doesn’t end up eating anything until lunch, by which point she’s overly hungry, feeling deprived about not eating breakfast, and often ends up making poor choices. When she doesn’t get up, she also starts work later, which means she works later into the night, which throws off dinner and means she gets to bed way later than she knows she should. Additionally, it decreases the chance that she’ll end up getting some exercise that day (either a walk or run outside, or an exercise video at home), because her timing is all thrown off, which is highly detrimental because exercise is so critical to helping Sarah release stress and boost her mood. In short: Getting up when her alarm goes off matters, and it matters a lot.

Sarah realized that when she ignores her alarm and stays in bed, she’s setting off her “lazy domino,” which then spirals down the rest of her day. When Sarah gets up with her alarm and gets her day started, she sets off a much different, much happier and more productive chain of dominos. Sarah made a Response Card that said, “Don’t be the lazy domino!” as a reminder of exactly why it mattered, even in this uncertain time, to get up and get her day started when her alarm goes off.

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.

Eating Without Information

This week I had a session with my client, Lauren. Lauren told me that while she had a good week, one day she ended up going way over her allotted calories.

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.

Recommitting

If you’ve gotten off track with your New Year’s resolution, this is exactly what you need to do, too! Stop expecting yourself to do everything and instead figure out what feels completely doable this week. Recommit to it, do it (and give yourself so much credit for doing so!), and then add one or more things next week.