Flareups

I’ve been working with my client Jeremy for about six months. While it took him a few weeks to learn how to tune into his thinking and get better at identifying his sabotaging thoughts, Jeremy has been doing well recently. He’s feeling very in control, he’s eating and exercising in a reasonable and healthy way, and he’s seeing the scale come down.

In session this week, Jeremy described an experience in which he was tempted to order a big takeout meal after a hard day, but he reminded himself that it ultimately wouldn’t get him to where he wants to be. He said something I’ve heard other clients say in the past: “I’ve really got this figured out. Now, I know I can do this.” While this is not a sabotaging thought in theory, I knew it was important to discuss it with Jeremy because, surprisingly, it could get him into trouble in the future.

The growing understanding of obesity is that it’s a chronic problem that requires lifetime care. And, like most other chronic problems, it’s not under control 100 percent of the time for most people. Other clients I’ve worked with have been in Jeremy’s shoes: they learn the necessary skills to gain control over their eating, and they lose weight. They feel great, and they realize that, finally, they’ve got this problem that has plagued them for years – sometimes decades – figured out.

Then, they get off track. Maybe it’s a stressor at home or work, maybe it’s a vacation, maybe it’s a global pandemic. Regardless of the cause, they find themselves reverting to old, unhealthy habits, which causes panic. They think, “I thought I could do this, but I guess I can’t. I thought I had it figured out, but I actually don’t.” Having these thoughts makes them feel demoralized. They lose hope, get very off track, and often gain back some or all of the weight they had lost.

The heartbreaking thing is that they did have it figured out. They can do it. But what they don’t realize is that just because they finally have it figured out, it doesn’t mean they’re going to be able to stay on track 24 hours a day, every day. Like most chronic problems, it doesn’t work that way. There will always be flareups from time to time. The mistake that people make is thinking that once they know what to do, they’ll be able to do it flawlessly, forever. When they inevitably stumble, they take it as a sign that they can’t do it.

I explained this to Jeremy and reinforced that he does have it figured out. He knows what to do and how to do it. Even so, he’s going to make mistakes in the future, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s unavoidable because he’s dealing with a chronic problem. As long as he has realistic expectations and knows that flareups are a part of the process, he’ll be much better equipped to deal with them. Instead of thinking, “This is terrible. I thought I could do it, but I guess I can’t,” he’ll be able to think, “I knew this would happen. Flareups are a part of the process, but I need to get refocused, recommitted, and I’ll be just fine.”

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!

I Want More

This week, I had a session with my client Sonia, a 45-year-old mother of four boys. Sonia told me the sabotaging thought that kept popping up over the past week: “I want more.” When she’s eating something that tastes good, she keeps thinking she wants more even when she knows it’s enough. Often, she feels deprived if she doesn’t have more.cinnamon bun on plate

I discussed with Sonia that when she’s eating something – assuming she’s already eaten a reasonable amount – and she chooses to continue, she’ll get more food but feel less in control and make less progress towards her goals. When she stops eating after a reasonable amount, she’s getting less food (not no food!), but she’ll feel more in control, make more progress towards good health, and reinforce healthy habits. In either scenario, she’s getting less of one thing and more of another.

Another way to look at this is that either way she’s going to feel deprived. Either she’s going to feel deprived of some food, some of the time (but not all food all of the time), or she’s going to feel deprived of achieving everything on her Advantages List. For Sonia, and many others, the unfortunate truth is that eating every bite of food she wants, losing weight, and keeping it off are mutually exclusive goals.

Sonia and I discussed that she has a bit of a hair-trigger deprivation meter. Every time she tells herself, “No, you can’t eat that,” she immediately feels very deprived. This is likely because in past weight loss phases, she actually has deprived herself. In the past, she would allow herself no carbs, no sugar, or too few calories each day. We discussed that this time is different. This time, she is eating carbs, she is eating sugar, and she is taking in a reasonable amount of calories each day. Although she’s not necessarily eating as many of these things as she would like each day, she is still eating a reasonable amount.

I told Sonia that we have to work on reprogramming her brain to understand that “No” doesn’t mean “I can’t ever have this food” (as it did in the past). Now, “no” just means, “I’m not having any more right now. But I can still plan to have more another time.”

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.

Two Minutes Versus Sixteen Hours

Jen realized that she was sacrificing around 16 hours of feeling good for a maximum of two minutes of enjoying a taste – not a trade she wanted to make!

Off-Track Mentality

My client, Scott, has had a really hard two weeks.  He’s been dealing with a lot of stress at work and his eating has definitely suffered. He’s struggled to track his calories (something he was fairly easily getting himself to do before) and was feeling too worn out to get himself to prepare healthy dinners at night, and consequently fell back into old habits of ordering takeout.

Just This One Time

In session this week, my client, Tom, told me that over the weekend he’d eaten an unplanned snack in the middle of the day. Tom, like many of my clients, follows an eating schedule.

I’m Failing

While it’s true that there were some things that had started to really slip (he all but stopped giving himself credit, started eating standing up again, started taking much bigger portions at meals, especially dinner, and stopped counting calories), it wasn’t true that everything was going poorly. In fact, when Mike looked at this list, he realized that a lot of things were still going well – he just wasn’t acknowledging or giving himself credit for them.

I Need Something

My client, Megan, has been getting off track in the evening hours. She told me in session this week that she’s generally doing really well during the day, but ends up snacking too much in the hours between dinner and bed. I asked Megan what thought she might be having around that time, and she said, “It’s probably, ‘I need something.’ ”  Megan admitted that it wasn’t necessarily that she was hungry in that moment (she knew that if she had already eaten all her calories then her body has had enough food), but it was her mind that was feeling unsatisfied.