Evening Treats

In session this week, my client Lisa told me she was struggling in the evenings. While she found it fairly easy to stick to her plan of healthy meals and snacks during the day, in the late evening (usually around 9pm) she was going into the kitchen and eating treats, telling herself, “It doesn’t matter.”

The first thing I asked Lisa was, “What’s in your kitchen? Do you have a lot of treats in the house right now?” Lisa said that she did. She had a lot of leftover holiday desserts, plus she loads up on groceries (including junk food) when she grocery shops, since she now goes less than usual. I told Lisa that having a house full of a variety of desserts would be hard for anyone, no matter how long they’ve been working on these things. The greater variety of treats there are, the more it tricks people into thinking they should eat.

Lisa said, “That’s true. When I think about having the ginger snaps I have planned, that doesn’t sound as appealing as all that other stuff.” I responded, “Exactly! But if ginger snaps were the only dessert you had in the house, chances are they would sound more appealing. You would eat them and feel satisfied.”People eating and drinking outside

Another reason having so many treats in the house was sabotaging Lisa was because whether or not she was fully aware of it, she was probably actively resisting eating them all day. The more times in a day she tells herself, “No, you can’t have that,” the more decision fatigue starts to set in, in addition to real fatigue in the evening! Saying “yes” starts to feel more reasonable.

I told Lisa, “It’s not as if your body tells you, ‘You said no ten times, so the eleventh time you can say yes and I won’t process the calories.’ Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Saying ‘no’ ten times doesn’t necessarily mean it’s okay to say ‘yes’ the eleventh time, especially if it’s not on your plan.”

Lisa and I discussed her thought, “It doesn’t matter.” I said to her, “Actually, I’m wondering if it’s just the opposite. I’m wondering if those late night decisions actually matter the most because by giving in in the evening and taking in too many calories, it’s stopping you from being able to lose weight. So, it does matter; it matters the most.” Lisa and I discussed that by staying on track all day but giving in late in the evening, it’s like she’s run 24 miles of a 26.2 marathon. It’s still a huge achievement, but she won’t get the finisher’s medal without the last 2.2 miles.

Lisa and I made some Response Cards for her to read in the evening, and we agreed on a three-part plan: First, she’ll get rid of most the treats in her house. Second, she’ll make a strong plan for what she’ll eat in the evening, and third, she’ll read Response Cards to remind herself exactly why it does matter.

The Holidays

While some aspects of the holiday season are easier to manage this year (no office kitchens stocked to the brim with holiday goodies, no parties or get-togethers, no out-of-town trips), there are still very difficult challenges. I’ve been discussing some of them with my clients over the past few weeks.

My client Rachel found that she was overbuying holiday treats for her kids in an effort to make the holidays feel special. Even though she didn’t have to contend with an office breakroom full of temptations, however, she just moved that hot zone into her own house and sabotaged herself. When we looked at the situation objectively, Rachel was able to realize that loading up on sugary treats wasn’t good for anyone in her household – not her kids, not her husband, and certainly not herself. Rachel and I made a list of new holiday traditions she and her family could institute this year that had nothing to do with eating and would enable them to celebrate safely.Vacation Plan 2

My client Lisa got off track during the beginning of the pandemic and ended up gaining about 20 pounds back from the 60 she had lost. Lisa doesn’t live close to her parents or her sister, and she said that not seeing them this holiday season made it harder for her to get back on track and lose the weight she had gained. In the past, knowing they were going to see that she had gained weight back would have been a huge incentive for her to get refocused. Lisa and I discussed that, at some point, she will be able to safely travel again. Lisa made the following Response Card to help her get back on track:

Even though I’m not seeing my family this year, at some point I will see them again. If I keep going down this off-track path, I’ll gain even more weight than I have now. Getting back on track right now is worth it because not only will it help me lose the weight I’ve regained, but I’ll feel better about myself and more in control. I need to do this for myself, not for them.

My client Jason was feeling disappointed that the holidays weren’t going to look “normal” this year, and he was overeating to help him cope. With many feeling deprived of many of their usual pleasures (dinners out, movies, museums, trips, coffee dates, etc.), it makes sense that these feelings would be more acute during the holidays. Jason and I discussed that since he wasn’t going to get joy from many typical holiday sources – most notably time with family and friends – he had to be very deliberate about finding joy in other ways to avoid turning to food to fill that need. Jason made a Response Card to help remind him of that:

Even though the holidays will look different this year, there are still things that bring me joy. I have to be intentional about filling that need, or it will come out through overeating. Overeating to bring myself joy is a trick, not a treat, because it makes me feel out of control and jeopardizes my hugely important weight loss goals.

Eating Pizza

I’ve been working with my client Emily for a few months now. In session last week, she told me about an experience she had eating pizza with her family in which she got off track, ended up eating too much, and felt overly stuffed (and mad at herself). She said, “I can’t seem to control myself around pizza, so I don’t think I should have it anymore.” I reminded Emily that just because she doesn’t yet know how to eat pizza in an on-track way, doesn’t mean she can’t learn.woman writing notes

In fact, it is critical for Emily to prove to herself that she can do it. She loves pizza, has no medical reason not to eat it, and at some point in the future she will want to eat it again. If she doesn’t know how to eat it in a controlled way, she will likely get off track.

This is a notion we try to build with all our clients – that there’s nothing they can eat when they’re off track that they can’t also eat when they’re on track. And it’s important for long-term success for them to prove to themselves they can enjoy their favorite foods while also enjoying staying on track and feeling in control. Otherwise, they’ll always be at risk for getting off track while around foods they think they “shouldn’t” eat (but likely love!).

In session last week, Emily and I made a plan for pizza. We decided that she would have it the next night and since the slices weren’t very big, we decided two pieces was a reasonable amount. Emily and I discussed what would help her stick to her amount and she made this card to read before and after her pizza:

Pizza Action Plan

  1. Eat two pieces
  2. Eat them slowly and mindfully and give myself LOTS of credit for stopping.
  3. When I finish my two pieces, remember: I just go to enjoy pizza! And I didn’t have to feel guilty about eating it! But don’t fool myself into thinking that if I eat more it will taste nearly as good as the two I just had. Whenever I eat beyond a reasonable amount, I feel guilty even as I’m eating it, and I wind up physically feeling stuffed. It’s 100 percent worth it to stop here and prove to myself I can eat pizza in an on-track way.
  4. Set a timer for 10 minutes. During those 10 minutes, I will: call my sister, organize a drawer, pick out the kids’ clothes for the week, do a five-minute stretching routine or a five-minute meditation, or go for a walk.
  5. When the timer goes off, assess my level of pizza cravings. Most likely, it will have gone away!

When I met with Emily this week, she was so proud of herself! Tor the first time in a very long time, she was able to stick to her pizza plan and felt great about it. She felt empowered and realized that she now had tools in her arsenal to help her enjoy her favorite foods and still stay on track. She even made a similar card for herself and experimented with having chocolate for the first time in a while (she had been avoiding it due to fear of getting off track). This was successful, too!

Emily was starting to prove something critical to herself: with the right plan and the right tools, eating any food and staying on track is not only possible, it’s important.

The Scale

This morning, I had a session with my client Rob, who has been having a hard time with the scale. Rob has been weighing himself every day (which we recommend most of our clients do). One day this week, his weigh-in was much higher than he expected, which made him feel demoralized. He got off track, and it took about three days for him to get back on track. Rob said that now that he’s back on track, he can see how irrational it was for him to be off track for several days. In the moment, he felt powerless to stop it.Weight Scale

I discussed with Rob that what happened made total sense. He got on the scale, saw a higher number, and it immediately triggered a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. And because he felt helpless and hopeless, of course he got off track. I told him that my goal for next time would be for him to regain access sooner and continue whittling away at the amount of time he gets off track. I asked Rob, “Now that you’re past it, back on track, and the scale is once again trending down, what do you want to remember next time the scale goes up? Because it will go up again! It’s part of the process.”

Rob and I made the following Response Cards:

The scale going up is part of the process. Nothing bad or wrong is happening. Keep doing what I’m doing, and the scale will go down again.

Just because the scale is up, doesn’t mean it will stay up. I’m not helpless, and this situation is not hopeless. The last time the scale went up, I was off track for three days. Once I got back on track, I was so glad I did. The scale going up didn’t matter in the long run because it went down again. Don’t get off track this time. Prove to yourself that you can overcome the discouragement, stay on track, and the number will be down again in no time.

Rob and I also discussed that part of the reason he felt so discouraged by the number on the scale going up was because he was relying on the scale as a reward for his hard work. I reminded Rob that the scale is a very unreliable reward! Sometimes it goes up when we think it should be down, and sometimes it goes down when we’re shocked it’s not up. Even though the scale isn’t a reliable reward, his sense of control when he’s on track is a reliable reward. His not feeling overly stuffed after meals and feeling good about the choices he’s making is very reliable.

Rob made one last Response Card:

I can’t rely on the scale to be a reward for my hard work because it’s unreliable. That’s just the way it is. But what I can rely on is how great it feels to be in control. How great it feels to leave a meal not feeling sick and stuffed. How great it feels to go to bed at night knowing I made good choices. Those things are reliable.

Halloween 2020 Do’s and Don’ts

While this year’s Halloween will undoubtedly be different from years past, one thing remains the same: Halloween treats everywhere you look. If you have weight loss or weight maintenance goals, don’t let Halloween derail you! Even though it may be difficult, it can be done. Here are some strategies to help you stay on track during this year’s Halloween:Halloween

  1. DON’T buy candy early. Just don’t do it! Having it in the house ahead of time will do nothing but tax your resistance muscle. Keep your home a craving-free environment. It will make staying on track so much easier
  2. DON’T buy your favorite candy. Why would you buy the thing that’s hardest for you to resist? Just because it’s your favorite, doesn’t mean it’s everyone’s favorite. Buy candy that you don’t like as much, and you’ll have an easier time resisting it.
  3. DO plan to have some candy. But the key word is plan. Maybe you get a big bag of candy you don’t like as much to give out to trick-or-treaters (if there even are any this year!) and then get one of your very favorite. That way, you get to enjoy candy you love and won’t mind not eating the candy you don’t love.
  4. DO make a plan for the leftovers. There’s nothing harder than having a house full of candy and no idea of where it’s all going to go. If you think, “I can’t deprive my kids by getting rid of their Halloween candy,” remember that kids don’t need to be loaded up on sugar, either. It’s doing them no favors in the same way it’s doing you no favors. And no one is saying you have to get rid of all of their candy. There’s a big difference between getting rid of all Halloween candy and saving every piece. Maybe you save enough for them to have a few pieces every day for two weeks. And then donate/throw out/give away the rest. And maybe you save some for yourself, too, and keep it in a different spot. That way, it’s clear that their candy is their candy, and yours is yours.

Think about how you want to feel when you go to bed on Halloween night. Do you want to feel overly full, in a sugar haze, and regretful of overdoing it? Do you want to feel proud of your ability to enjoy some candy and still stay on track and make progress towards your goals? We’re guessing it’s probably the latter! If so, consider making a Response Card to read on Halloween. It could say something like:

Remember, enjoying Halloween and staying on track/making progress on weight loss are not mutually exclusive goals! I can enjoy some candy and still enjoy feeling on track, feeling good physically, and feeling proud of myself. It’s true I won’t be eating every bit of candy that I would like, but doing so doesn’t make me feel good, anyway. It will be such a triumph to go to bed tonight feeling good in my head and my body.

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.