Not Every Day Can Be Thanksgiving

I recently had a session with my client, Mark, who has lost twenty pounds and would like to lose more. Mark has set himself a reasonable calorie cap that he tries to stay under each day, although occasionally there are times when it’s reasonable for him to plan to eat extra. In session this week, Mark noted that his weight had plateaued for the past several weeks. The first thing we did was look at his calorie counts over the last month. Mark realized that there were many days when he ate over his cap. Most of them were things he had planned in advance (his birthday, a vacation with his wife, his son’s graduation, a wedding, celebrating a friend’s retirement, etc.), but they clearly added up to too many calories overall.Turkey Dinner

Unfortunately, Mark fell into the trap that many dieters fall into – treating too many days like Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving it’s absolutely reasonable for most dieters to plan to eat extra calories, simply because sticking to their normal amount isn’t realistic. And if planning extra calories happens only occasionally, it doesn’t sabotage weight loss or maintenance. However, we all have to draw the line somewhere because not every day can be Thanksgiving – i.e., an extra calorie day. While all of Mark’s extra calorie days seemed reasonable in the moment, when taken in total they were too much if he wanted to continue to lose weight.

I pointed out to Mark that he was lucky! It’s great that he has so many special occasions to celebrate, both his and those of his family and friends. But since they occur so frequently (something he hadn’t realized before), he can’t treat every one of them as an opportunity to plan to eat extra. Mark made the following Response Card to help remind him of this idea:

Not every day can be Thanksgiving! When I plan extra calories for every special event, it means I stop losing weight. Thanksgiving calories have to be the exception, not the norm for special events.

It’s likely to be hard initially for Mark to pull back his calories on days when he has a special event. But rereading his Advantages List has motivated him to commit to doing so because losing more weight is his top priority. We decided that for the next month, he wouldn’t make any exceptions to his normal calorie plan (because there are no actual Thanksgivings in the next month!) to give himself a reset and prove to himself he can stick to a calorie cap even when it feels hard. To help him do this, we decided that he’ll make very careful plans before challenging events, read Response Cards right before he goes, and really focus on his Advantages List and the enormously important reasons he has to keep the scale moving down.

Thanksgiving Night: How Do You Want to Feel?

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, dieters should begin to think about how they’ll handle their eating on that day. While Thanksgiving is considered by many to be a day in which it’s just too difficult to control their eating, it doesn’t have to be that way. When we help dieters formulate their Thanksgiving plan, we always ask them to think about one important thing: How do you want to feel going to bed once Thanksgiving is over?

Asking dieters this question reminds them that the experience of Thanksgiving is not limited to the time when they’re eating with family and friends. The experience also extends to how they feel afterwards. Dieters often have sabotaging thoughts such as, “If I have to limit how much I eat, I just won’t be able to enjoy myself.” If they then overeat, they may wind up feeling sick both People eating Thanksgiving dinnerphysically and psychologically: physically because they consumed way too much food, and psychologically because they feel out of control and guilty for overeating.

When we ask dieters how they want to feel once Thanksgiving is over, they usually say something along the lines of, “I want to feel full and satisfied and I also want to feel good about myself.”  We then ask, ”Will getting off track and overeating on Thanksgiving lead you to feeling that way?” Because the answer is no, we suggest coming up with a plan that will make them feel good. It makes sense to dieters that they simply can’t have it both ways: They can’t overeat during Thanksgiving and still wind up feeling proud and in control – these are incompatible goals.

We remind dieters that it’s not all-or-nothing – it’s not as if they can eat every bite of food that they want or they can’t eat any food that they want. In fact, there is a huge middle ground between these two extremes. While it’s true that they may not be able to eat as much of everything they want and still go to bed feeling good that night, it’s also true that they can eat reasonable portions, enjoy every bite that they take, and feel really good.

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.

Unexpected Food

Especially during stressful times, unexpected food is an inevitable obstacle. These guidelines will provide structure and advice for making smart eating decisions for any unexpected food in your house.

Making a Plan

Creating a plan allows you to eat a reasonable amount, enjoyed the food you eat, and feel proud of yourself for making healthy decisions. Learn what Kate could have done before attending a potluck dinner to make a helpful plan for her eating.

In Session with Debbie: Two Events

In session last week, my client, Jeremy, told me that he was feeling worried because he had two events to attend on Saturday night.  He explained to me that there would be a lot of food at each one and he was nervous about his ability to stay on track.  I reminded Jeremy that it’s never the situation in and of itself that would cause him to get off track –it wouldn’t be the fact that he was at an event surrounded by a lot of appetizing food that everyone else was eating that would cause him to overeat, it would be his thinking about the situation. So we needed to do two things: first, come up with a plan for how he would handle his eating, and second, figure out in advance what sabotaging thoughts he might have that would lead him to stray from this plan and come up with responses to them. 

Jeremy and I discussed the two events and decided that a reasonable course of action would be for him to have dinner at the first event and a reasonable portion of one dessert, or smaller portions of two desserts, at the second event.  Jeremy also decided to stick to water or club soda, knowing that he would rather spend his calories on food, and also because he would be driving. 

Next I asked Jeremy to think about what sabotaging thoughts he might have at either even that would lead him to get off track.  Here are the sabotaging thoughts that Jeremy came up with and our responses:

Sabotaging Thought: It’s okay to eat extra because I’m celebrating.

Response: My body doesn’t know or care that I’m celebrating; it processes all calories in the same way regardless.

 

Sabotaging Thought: I’ll make it for it later by eating less during the week.

Response:  “Making up for it later” just doesn’t work because there’s no guarantee that I’ll actually be able to get myself to eat less later on.  It also doesn’t work because if I overeat, I reinforce my giving-in muscle and make it more likely I’ll overeat the next time, and the time after that.  It’s important to continually reinforce the habit of eating consistently. It’s not about the calories, it’s about the habit.

 

Sabotaging Thought: I really want it.

Response:  It’s true, I do really want that food. But I EVEN MORE want all the benefits of losing weight (better health, fewer aches and pains, improved self-confidence, getting to feel like myself again).  Either way I’m missing out on something I want. If I overeat, I miss out on the advantages of losing weight. But if I miss out on extra food, then I GET all the advantages of losing weight. 

 

Sabotaging Thought: Everyone else is eating a lot, why can’t I?

Response:  My body doesn’t know or care what anybody around me is eating, it only knows what I eat. So just because everyone else is eating (and drinking) a lot, doesn’t mean that I can. My body doesn’t care what they’re doing.

 

Sabotaging Thought: My wife won’t know about it, so it’s okay.

Response: My wife won’t know about it, but I’ll know about it, and my body will know about it. If I overeat, I’ll negatively impact myself psychologically and physically. Psychologically because I’ll reinforce old, maladaptive habits and I’ll also feel badly and guilty about my eating.  Physically because I’ll likely feel overly full, take in too many calories, and possibly gain weight. 

Jeremy decided that he would review his eating plan, his Advantages List, and these Response Cards before each event (and during them if he felt vulnerable to overeating while he was there). 

When Jeremy came back to see me this week he reported that the events had been a success and that, with the strategies and tools we put in place, he was able to stay completely on track. This is a great example of how any situation can be handled, no matter how difficult it may seem initially, when dieters take time to formulate a plan, think about what sabotaging thoughts might get in the way of them sticking to their plans, and then coming up with responses so they don’t give in. 

Thanksgiving Night: How Do You Want To Feel?

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, it’s high time dieters begin to think about how they’ll handle their eating on that day.  While Thanksgiving is considered by many to be a day in which it’s just too difficult to control their eating, it doesn’t have to be that way.  When we help dieters formulate their Thanksgiving plan, we always ask them to think about one important thing: How do you want to feel going to bed once Thanksgiving is over?

Asking dieters this question reminds them that the experience of Thanksgiving is not limited to the time when  they’re eating with family and friends. The experience also extends to how they feel afterwards.  Dieters often have sabotaging thoughts such as,  “If I have to limit how much I eat,  I just won’t be able to enjoy myself.” If they then overeat, they may wind up feeling sick – physically and psychologically: physically, because they consumed way too much food and psychologically, because they feel out of control and guilty for overeating.

When we ask dieters how they want to feel once Thanksgiving is over, they usually say  something along the lines of, “I want to feel full and satisfied and I also want to feel good about myself.”   We then ask, ” Will getting off track and overeating on Thanksgiving lead you to feeling that way?”  Because the answer is no, we suggest  coming up with a plan that will make them feel good.   It makes sense to dieters that they simply  can’t have it both ways: They can’t way overeat during Thanksgiving and still wind up feeling proud and in control – these are incompatible goals.

We remind dieters, that it’s not all-or-nothing. It’s not as if they can eat every bite of food that they want or they can’t eat any food that they want; in fact, there is a huge middle ground between these two extremes. While it’s true that they may not be able to eat as much of everything they want and still go to bed feeling good that night, it’s also true that they can eat reasonable portions, enjoy every bite that they take, and feel really good.

In Session with Debbie: Weekend Strategies

This week I had a session with my client, Rachel.  Historically, Rachel was a dieter who was able to eat healthfully during the week but would tend to “lose it” during the weekends.  Over the last few weeks, Rachel and I have been working hard to come up with strategies, techniques, and responses to her weekend sabotaging thoughts so that she would be able to maintain her control throughout the weekend.  When Rachel came to see me this week, she told me that things have finally turned around for her and that she’s noticed a significant change in her ability to stay on track during the weekend.  How did Rachel do this?

Rachel ate the same way she did during week days.  Rachel says one of the most important shifts she has made is finally accepting that, if she wants to lose weight and keep it off, her weekend eating just can’t be all that different from her weekday eating. Rachel started reminding herself that her body doesn’t know or care that it’s the weekend and that it will process all calories the same no matter what day of the week it is.

Rachel stuck to a weekend eating schedule. One strategy that really helped Rachel gain control over her eating during the week was following a set schedule of eating. This enabled her to cut out the all-day grazing she used to do because she had defined times for when she would eat and when she wouldn’t. Initially, Rachel resisted following this schedule during the weekend, saying that she wanted her weekends to have more spontaneity.  Rachel found, however, that not having an eating schedule on the weekend led her back to constantly grazing in the kitchen and continually asking herself, “Should I have eat now?” This meant that she struggled with whether or not to eat so much more often than she did during the week – and it also meant that she took in many more calories.  Rachel realized that it was worth giving up her eating spontaneity (but not necessarily her activity spontaneity) if it meant she regained her sense of peace!

Rachel began exercising at least once during the weekend. Rachel was always good at getting herself to exercise during the week, but she used to think that weekends were an excuse to not move a muscle. Rachel knew that, on the days she exercised during the week, it made her feel better, more energized, and more easily able to stick to healthy eating.  Rachel realized that not exercising on the weekend played into her “unhealthy weekend” mindset, and that getting herself to do at least 30 minutes of walking outside, either Saturday or Sunday, made her feel just as good as it did during the week.  Rachel changed her thought from, “Exercising on the weekend will make my weekend worse,” to, “Exercising on the weekend will make me feel great, just as it does during the week. It makes my weekend better, not worse.”

Rachel got out of the kitchen when it wasn’t a time to eat.  During the week, Rachel works in an office and can’t spend the whole day hanging out in her work kitchen.  During the weekend, however, Rachel was in the habit of spending a lot of time in her kitchen because it’s one of her favorite rooms in her house. Rachel realized that this was really working against her because the more time she spent in her kitchen, the harder it was for her not to think about food and eating.  Rachel instead set up a nice area for herself in her living room, with a new chair she really liked, and decided that, at least for the time being, the kitchen would only be for eating, not for hanging out. This made a huge difference for Rachel because once she wasn’t constantly looking at food, it made it easier to focus on other things.

In session with Debbie: In Defense of Dessert

This week I had a session with my client, Mark. It was Mark’s birthday last week, and when I asked him how he handled birthday treats, he proudly told me that on his birthday he didn’t eat anything “bad” or “wrong,” and he hadn’t had any “transgressions” because he didn’t eat any of the cupcakes that someone had brought in to work that day.  He told me that he had been thinking about having a cupcake ever since, but so far he was able to hold out.

In hearing this, there were a few things that immediately concerned me.  First, when I asked Mark about eating dessert on his birthday, I called it a treat.  Mark, on the other hand, called treats “bad” and “wrong,” and noted that eating one would be a “transgression.”  It was clear to me that Mark had fallen into some all-or-nothing thinking about dessert and had started to view having any treat as a slip-up.  This type of thinking can be extremely problematic for dieters in the long run because at some point they’re going to give in and have dessert, and if they have the thought, “I shouldn’t ever be eating this,” then they’re going to go way overboard because they’ll also be thinking, “I don’t know when I’ll allow myself to eat dessert again, so I might as well load up on it now.”  And thus they enter into a pattern of deprivation and over-indulging. 

We work with our clients to teach them to be moderate about dessert and incorporate treats into their diets in a one portion, one time per day way.  When a dieter has finished eating his ice cream bar and wants another one, he’s able to say to himself, “I don’t need to have a second one now because I know I can have another one tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.”  Therefore, the dieter doesn’t have that sense of urgency to load up where and when he can.

Another advantage of eating one dessert per day is that it allows dieters to eat it without guilt because they know it’s part of their overall healthy eating plan. Dieters are able to sit down and enjoy the treat that they’re having, instead of trying to get it down quickly without really noticing it, as dieters tend to do when they’re eating something they consider to be a bad food.  In this way, even though dieters are having less dessert, they often end up feeling more satisfied because they have truly noticed and enjoyed every bite of what they eat.  The point is, if dieters like dessert, then they’re eventually going to eat dessert, and if they don’t know how to handle it, they’ll go overboard and gain weight.  Incorporating treats into their diets in a moderate way allows dieters to not be all-or-nothing about them, to really get enjoyment from them, and to still lose weight.

In session with Mark, I reminded him that eating dessert was an important part of rest-of-your-life eating, and that cutting out all desserts in the past (which he had tried to do many times) has never helped him to lose weight and keep it off.  Mark and I discussed the fact that the longer he waits to have a cupcake, the more and more it will feel like he was committing a transgression by having one, and therefore the more likely he’ll be to say to himself, “Since I’m finally allowing myself to have one, I might as well go all out and have as many as I want, since I won’t have them again any time soon.”  Mark decided that he would stop by a bakery on the way home and buy a cupcake and eat it that night – and he would eat it guilt-free and enjoy every bite of it. And if he was tempted to get more, Mark would remind himself:

I just ate one cupcake and I really enjoyed it. If I eat a second, I won’t enjoy it as much anyway because I’ll feel guilty about eating it.  Besides, I don’t need to eat another cupcake now because I can have another one tomorrow if I want.

Fact or Fiction

Fact or Fiction:  If my weight is up one day, it means what I’m doing isn’t working.

Fiction.  On any given day, your weight might be temporarily up for a myriad of different reasons: hormones, water retention, biological factors, etc.  It’s important to remember that even if you are following your diet perfectly, your weight won’t go down every day, or even every week. All dieters have days and weeks where their weight temporarily goes up or stays the same – it’s just part of the process. Because of this, it’s important to not put too much stock on any one weigh-in.  As long as you keep doing what you’re supposed to be doing, your weight will go down again. 

Fact or Fiction: Calories don’t count on holidays, like Labor Day.

Fiction. Unfortunately your body has no idea that it’s Labor Day, or that it’s Thanksgiving, your birthday, or Christmas. Your body processes all calories the same, 365 days a year.  However, it is perfectly reasonable to plan in advance to have an extra treat on certain days – but make sure you do so in a controlled manner so that you don’t end up taking in way too many calories. 

Fact or Fiction: If I can’t follow my diet right away, it means I just can’t do it.

Fiction. Learning to diet successfully is like learning to play the piano. Nobody would expect to sit down at a piano for the very first time and play a difficult piece of music flawlessly.  Of course not! They would know that they need to learn to read music, start out with scales, then move on to easy pieces of music, practice them until they get better, and eventually move on to more complicated pieces. They would also expect to hit wrong notes and make mistakes along the way, and wouldn’t think that one mistake means they should give up. Dieting is the same. You need to learn certain skills, practice them over and over again, move on to harder skills, practice them, and eventually you’ll get better and better. You’ll make mistakes along the way – but that just means you need more practice, not that you can’t do it. 

Fact or Fiction: “Just this one time” is a legitimate excuse to eat something.

Fiction.  Every single time counts because every time you eat something you’re not supposed to, you reinforce your tendency to give in, and make it more likely you’ll give in the next time, and the time after that.  Every single time you resist unplanned food, you reinforce your tendency to stand firm and you make it more likely you’ll be able to do it the next time, and the time after that.  There is never a time when you’re not reinforcing one of these two tendencies, which is why every time matters. 

Fact or Fiction: If I’ve made an eating mistake, I’ve blown it for the day and might as well just start again tomorrow.

Fiction. There’s no such thing as blowing it for the day.  It’s not as if you reach a certain point and your body will stop processing any additional calories. The more you continue to eat on any given day, the more weight you may gain.  It’s never too late to turn a day around and start having a good eating day, because guaranteed you’ll take in fewer calories than if you keep eating out of control.  And remember, being in control of your eating feels so much better than being out of control, so the moment you get yourself back on track is the moment you start feeling better.