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.
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.