Off-Track Mode

This week, I had a session with my client, Nancy. Nancy has been going through a lot in the past year: health problems in her family, her college-aged child going through a very rough transition, and a new and demanding work situation. Nancy got off track with her eating in a pretty major way and struggled to fully regain control, but after about four months of a disheartening on track/off track cycle, Nancy had a really great month. She finally felt like she was fully back on track and was feeling really proud of her eating decisions.

When we met this week, it was a different Nancy than the one I’d been seeing the last month. Nancy very dejectedly told me that on Sunday it was her husband’s birthday, and they hosted a day-long celebration. Midway through the day, Nancy ended up consuming more alcohol and food than she had planned for, got off track, and stayed off track the rest of the day. She wasn’t able to get herself back on track the next day and by the time we met on Thursday, she was feeling completely out of control again. “I thought I could do it, but I can’t,” she told me. “This is the same as every other time. I fall off the wagon and that’s it, I just can’t keep it up.” I was so surprised to hear this because even though Nancy had a really hard four days, this was directly after an entire month of doing incredibly well. The night before the party, she had even emailed me telling me how well the day went!

I realized then that Nancy had fallen into what we call the “off-track mode.” This is a mode dieters get into when they get off track, the scale has gone up, and they begin to believe that they are helpless in the face of their weight problem and hopeless that they can ever get and stay back on track. Other People eating and drinking outsidecharacteristics of the off-track mode include: significant decreases in motivation and resolve; dysphoric mood; ceasing to even attempt to create and follow an eating plan; feeling heavier in the body (more so than is warranted with small weight gains); increased cravings and giving in to cravings; and decreased pride, self-confidence, and sense of control.

Another interesting aspect of the off-track mode is that dieters have poor recall, if any, of their past and recent successes (or they discount them). I said to Nancy, “But what about the day before the party? Remember how great you felt when you stayed in control at the baby shower? And what about the entire month before that? Do you remember emailing me every night and listing all the great credits from the day?” And the answer was no, Nancy didn’t remember all of that. She didn’t even remember her major success the day before the party. The off-track mode took hold, her hopelessness kicked in, and she really believed she was helpless. But she wasn’t! I knew Nancy was fully capable of regaining control and doing well even in the face of challenging situations, because she had been doing it so well just days before.

I reminded Nancy of all of her recent successes and explained the off-track mode to her and what had happened in the last four days. I also presented her with a challenge: it took four months the last time to fully regain control. She’s only been off track for four days this time. This is a perfect opportunity for her to prove to herself how much she’s changed, how much stronger she’s become, and how she can cut the off-track period down from four months to four days. Nancy and I talked through in detail what the rest of her day, eating-wise, would look like and what she would say to herself if she was tempted to stray from the plan. We made some new Response Cards, and Nancy left my office fully committed to kicking the off-track mode to the curb and to proving to herself that she can recover much more quickly now.

4 replies
  1. Shirley
    Shirley says:

    Thank you for sharing your stories. This story helps me feel not so alone and fearful of my dieting future. It reminds me to stay hopeful and continue working towards my goal to be at a happy body weight. Thanks again

  2. Claudell County
    Claudell County says:

    How many times have I fallen off track and took years to get back on. I can’t seem to settle on the right foods for me now and I’ve lost my Response Cards from the book! I was on your waiting list from 10 years ago? I’m not sure what to do next.


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