Most of the clients I work with have “slippery slope” habits – old habits that they’ve managed to leave behind but continue to be vulnerable to reactivating. For some, it’s once again starting to leave the serving dishes on the dinner table and taking seconds. For others, it’s forgetting to prioritize making a healthy lunch and falling back into just snacking in the afternoons. My client Erin’s habit is drinking wine during the week.
When we first started working together, Erin was drinking wine most nights. We added up the calories from her two-glass-per-day habit, and she realized she was consuming more than 2,000 calories each week in alcohol. No wonder she was having trouble losing weight! Erin worked hard to deliberately cut out wine on weekdays, instead enjoying it just on weekends. Doing so had a lot of benefits – she always woke up with a clear head and her sleep improved during the week, she felt better about the amount of alcohol she was drinking, and, of course, she started losing weight.
When I met with Erin this week, she was feeling frustrated because not only had her weight loss stalled, but she had actually gained a few pounds. We discussed what might be contributing to this. I asked her, “Is there anything you’re doing now that you weren’t doing when you were losing weight? Or anything you aren’t doing now that you were doing before?” It didn’t take Erin long to realize that wine had crept back in, and she was now drinking it close to every night again, not just on weekends. For Erin, the creep was pretty slow, so she didn’t really notice it as it was happening. Before long, she had reactivated her old habit of daily wine consumption.
We discussed that in order to start losing weight again, she would likely have to cut back on the amount of wine calories she consumed each week. Erin acknowledged that this was true, but the thought of it felt really hard. Wine had once again entered her “entitlement” category – something she felt entitled to have every night. If she couldn’t have it, she felt deprived. The opposite of the entitlement category is the “treat” category – something someone doesn’t expect to have every night and, instead, views it as a treat or a bonus when she does.
I reminded Erin that once she gets used to having wine only on weekends again, it would shift from the entitlement category to the treat category, and not having it every night wouldn’t feel so hard. Erin thought back and realized that after about a week of only having wine during the weekends, she typically didn’t even think about it during the week. Most nights, it didn’t feel hard at all.
To take wine out of the entitlement category and into the treat one, Erin and I decided that she would create a new nightly ritual. Instead of pouring herself a glass of wine, she would brew some special tea that she really loves and do a five-minute meditation. That way, she would still get to drink something she enjoyed and that felt special, feel relaxation and stress relief from the meditation, and not sabotage any other goals. A win/win!