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Entitlement vs. Treat

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.Woman holding a glass of wine

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!

Let It Slide?

My client Tara helps run conferences (which are currently all virtual), and she is in the thick of a busy time at work. In session this week, she told me that she’s been having trouble prioritizing healthy eating and exercise because she has so much work to do. She keeps having though sabotaging thought, “It’s okay, just let it slide until the conference is over next week.”

I asked Tara to think about the pros and cons of “letting it slide” until the conference is over. Here is her list:Woman working on a laptop

Pros:

  • I won’t have to take time away from work to exercise.
  • I’ll be able to justify eating whatever I want.
  • I won’t have the added burden of trying to make healthy choices.

Cons:

  • Exercise is a huge stress reliever. When I don’t exercise during busy work times, I end up overeating every evening to help me calm down.
  • “Eating whatever I want” doesn’t actually make me feel good. It makes me feel overly stuffed and bloated, which impacts my sleep and concentration.
  • While trying to make healthy choices IS a burden, feeling out of control of my eating is a much greater burden.
  • Going into full “work mode” and not taking time for myself isn’t good for my mental health.
  • There is always another conference coming. If I reinforce that it’s okay to “let it slide” during this one, I’ll continue to do it for the next one. This will completely sabotage my ability to achieve the things on my Advantages List, which are really, really important to me!

When Tara took a more objective view of what “letting it slide” actually meant, she realized that it was not something she was willing to do! Her health and mental health were at stake here, and she couldn’t sacrifice them. Plus, when Tara really thought about it, she realized that she always got her work done, regardless of whether she took time to exercise and be mindful of her eating choices.

If you are tempted to “let it slide” during a stressful work or life phase, think objectively about what that means. Does feeling out of control of your eating make you feel less chaotic? Does not exercising help you feel better, or does it make things worse? Would gaining weight every time things got busy help you achieve your goals or sabotage them? Even though working on healthy eating and exercise can be harder during stressful periods, it’s ALWAYS worth it!

Evening Treats

In session this week, my client Lisa told me she was struggling in the evenings. While she found it fairly easy to stick to her plan of healthy meals and snacks during the day, in the late evening (usually around 9pm) she was going into the kitchen and eating treats, telling herself, “It doesn’t matter.”

The first thing I asked Lisa was, “What’s in your kitchen? Do you have a lot of treats in the house right now?” Lisa said that she did. She had a lot of leftover holiday desserts, plus she loads up on groceries (including junk food) when she grocery shops, since she now goes less than usual. I told Lisa that having a house full of a variety of desserts would be hard for anyone, no matter how long they’ve been working on these things. The greater variety of treats there are, the more it tricks people into thinking they should eat.

Lisa said, “That’s true. When I think about having the ginger snaps I have planned, that doesn’t sound as appealing as all that other stuff.” I responded, “Exactly! But if ginger snaps were the only dessert you had in the house, chances are they would sound more appealing. You would eat them and feel satisfied.”People eating and drinking outside

Another reason having so many treats in the house was sabotaging Lisa was because whether or not she was fully aware of it, she was probably actively resisting eating them all day. The more times in a day she tells herself, “No, you can’t have that,” the more decision fatigue starts to set in, in addition to real fatigue in the evening! Saying “yes” starts to feel more reasonable.

I told Lisa, “It’s not as if your body tells you, ‘You said no ten times, so the eleventh time you can say yes and I won’t process the calories.’ Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Saying ‘no’ ten times doesn’t necessarily mean it’s okay to say ‘yes’ the eleventh time, especially if it’s not on your plan.”

Lisa and I discussed her thought, “It doesn’t matter.” I said to her, “Actually, I’m wondering if it’s just the opposite. I’m wondering if those late night decisions actually matter the most because by giving in in the evening and taking in too many calories, it’s stopping you from being able to lose weight. So, it does matter; it matters the most.” Lisa and I discussed that by staying on track all day but giving in late in the evening, it’s like she’s run 24 miles of a 26.2 marathon. It’s still a huge achievement, but she won’t get the finisher’s medal without the last 2.2 miles.

Lisa and I made some Response Cards for her to read in the evening, and we agreed on a three-part plan: First, she’ll get rid of most the treats in her house. Second, she’ll make a strong plan for what she’ll eat in the evening, and third, she’ll read Response Cards to remind herself exactly why it does matter.

Start Now!

Most of us seem to be in the no-man’s land between the winter holidays and the New Year. If your eating has been off track, it may seem appealing to let yourself off the hook until January and decide to “worry about it then.” We don’t agree! We think there are actually lots of reasons to start working on healthy eating right this moment!Ice cream servings

  1. Deciding to wait until January to start working on healthy eating doesn’t start your year off on a strong foot. Wouldn’t it be so great if, instead of needing to make major chances in January, you’ve already started making them? You won’t start the new year with a list of things you need to change. Instead, you can start it with a list of things you want to keep doing.
  2. Why wait to start feeling better? While it’s easy to buy into the notion that you “won’t worry about it” until January, is that really the case? Are you really not worrying about your eating at all? Or, more likely, are you spending time and mental energy not feeling good about your choices? Are you ever regretting eating something or regretting overeating and feeling too full? Worried about how much more weight you may gain and what you’ll see when you next step on the scale? Are you worried about your clothes fitting or your winter jacket zipping? Chances are, you’re spending some negative mental energy thinking about your eating. Instead, channel that energy into working on making healthy choices, and you’ll get nothing but benefits! You’re going to expend the mental energy no matter what, but only one way comes with positive consequences.
  3. Prove to yourself that you don’t need to wait for some artificial deadline (e.g., I’ll start on Monday, I’ll start next month, I’ll start next year) to start working on healthy eating and feeling good about your choices. Prove to yourself that you can start today, whatever day it is. Chances are that by the time you go to bed tonight, you’ll be feeling at least a little bit better than you may be feeling right now. We’ve found that having just one, two, or three good eating days under one’s belt makes them feel immensely better than feeling off track and out of control of their eating. Feeling good is only a few days away – you can do it, and it’s worth it!

The Holidays

While some aspects of the holiday season are easier to manage this year (no office kitchens stocked to the brim with holiday goodies, no parties or get-togethers, no out-of-town trips), there are still very difficult challenges. I’ve been discussing some of them with my clients over the past few weeks.

My client Rachel found that she was overbuying holiday treats for her kids in an effort to make the holidays feel special. Even though she didn’t have to contend with an office breakroom full of temptations, however, she just moved that hot zone into her own house and sabotaged herself. When we looked at the situation objectively, Rachel was able to realize that loading up on sugary treats wasn’t good for anyone in her household – not her kids, not her husband, and certainly not herself. Rachel and I made a list of new holiday traditions she and her family could institute this year that had nothing to do with eating and would enable them to celebrate safely.Vacation Plan 2

My client Lisa got off track during the beginning of the pandemic and ended up gaining about 20 pounds back from the 60 she had lost. Lisa doesn’t live close to her parents or her sister, and she said that not seeing them this holiday season made it harder for her to get back on track and lose the weight she had gained. In the past, knowing they were going to see that she had gained weight back would have been a huge incentive for her to get refocused. Lisa and I discussed that, at some point, she will be able to safely travel again. Lisa made the following Response Card to help her get back on track:

Even though I’m not seeing my family this year, at some point I will see them again. If I keep going down this off-track path, I’ll gain even more weight than I have now. Getting back on track right now is worth it because not only will it help me lose the weight I’ve regained, but I’ll feel better about myself and more in control. I need to do this for myself, not for them.

My client Jason was feeling disappointed that the holidays weren’t going to look “normal” this year, and he was overeating to help him cope. With many feeling deprived of many of their usual pleasures (dinners out, movies, museums, trips, coffee dates, etc.), it makes sense that these feelings would be more acute during the holidays. Jason and I discussed that since he wasn’t going to get joy from many typical holiday sources – most notably time with family and friends – he had to be very deliberate about finding joy in other ways to avoid turning to food to fill that need. Jason made a Response Card to help remind him of that:

Even though the holidays will look different this year, there are still things that bring me joy. I have to be intentional about filling that need, or it will come out through overeating. Overeating to bring myself joy is a trick, not a treat, because it makes me feel out of control and jeopardizes my hugely important weight loss goals.

Eating Pizza

I’ve been working with my client Emily for a few months now. In session last week, she told me about an experience she had eating pizza with her family in which she got off track, ended up eating too much, and felt overly stuffed (and mad at herself). She said, “I can’t seem to control myself around pizza, so I don’t think I should have it anymore.” I reminded Emily that just because she doesn’t yet know how to eat pizza in an on-track way, doesn’t mean she can’t learn.woman writing notes

In fact, it is critical for Emily to prove to herself that she can do it. She loves pizza, has no medical reason not to eat it, and at some point in the future she will want to eat it again. If she doesn’t know how to eat it in a controlled way, she will likely get off track.

This is a notion we try to build with all our clients – that there’s nothing they can eat when they’re off track that they can’t also eat when they’re on track. And it’s important for long-term success for them to prove to themselves they can enjoy their favorite foods while also enjoying staying on track and feeling in control. Otherwise, they’ll always be at risk for getting off track while around foods they think they “shouldn’t” eat (but likely love!).

In session last week, Emily and I made a plan for pizza. We decided that she would have it the next night and since the slices weren’t very big, we decided two pieces was a reasonable amount. Emily and I discussed what would help her stick to her amount and she made this card to read before and after her pizza:

Pizza Action Plan

  1. Eat two pieces
  2. Eat them slowly and mindfully and give myself LOTS of credit for stopping.
  3. When I finish my two pieces, remember: I just go to enjoy pizza! And I didn’t have to feel guilty about eating it! But don’t fool myself into thinking that if I eat more it will taste nearly as good as the two I just had. Whenever I eat beyond a reasonable amount, I feel guilty even as I’m eating it, and I wind up physically feeling stuffed. It’s 100 percent worth it to stop here and prove to myself I can eat pizza in an on-track way.
  4. Set a timer for 10 minutes. During those 10 minutes, I will: call my sister, organize a drawer, pick out the kids’ clothes for the week, do a five-minute stretching routine or a five-minute meditation, or go for a walk.
  5. When the timer goes off, assess my level of pizza cravings. Most likely, it will have gone away!

When I met with Emily this week, she was so proud of herself! Tor the first time in a very long time, she was able to stick to her pizza plan and felt great about it. She felt empowered and realized that she now had tools in her arsenal to help her enjoy her favorite foods and still stay on track. She even made a similar card for herself and experimented with having chocolate for the first time in a while (she had been avoiding it due to fear of getting off track). This was successful, too!

Emily was starting to prove something critical to herself: with the right plan and the right tools, eating any food and staying on track is not only possible, it’s important.

The Scale

This morning, I had a session with my client Rob, who has been having a hard time with the scale. Rob has been weighing himself every day (which we recommend most of our clients do). One day this week, his weigh-in was much higher than he expected, which made him feel demoralized. He got off track, and it took about three days for him to get back on track. Rob said that now that he’s back on track, he can see how irrational it was for him to be off track for several days. In the moment, he felt powerless to stop it.Weight Scale

I discussed with Rob that what happened made total sense. He got on the scale, saw a higher number, and it immediately triggered a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. And because he felt helpless and hopeless, of course he got off track. I told him that my goal for next time would be for him to regain access sooner and continue whittling away at the amount of time he gets off track. I asked Rob, “Now that you’re past it, back on track, and the scale is once again trending down, what do you want to remember next time the scale goes up? Because it will go up again! It’s part of the process.”

Rob and I made the following Response Cards:

The scale going up is part of the process. Nothing bad or wrong is happening. Keep doing what I’m doing, and the scale will go down again.

Just because the scale is up, doesn’t mean it will stay up. I’m not helpless, and this situation is not hopeless. The last time the scale went up, I was off track for three days. Once I got back on track, I was so glad I did. The scale going up didn’t matter in the long run because it went down again. Don’t get off track this time. Prove to yourself that you can overcome the discouragement, stay on track, and the number will be down again in no time.

Rob and I also discussed that part of the reason he felt so discouraged by the number on the scale going up was because he was relying on the scale as a reward for his hard work. I reminded Rob that the scale is a very unreliable reward! Sometimes it goes up when we think it should be down, and sometimes it goes down when we’re shocked it’s not up. Even though the scale isn’t a reliable reward, his sense of control when he’s on track is a reliable reward. His not feeling overly stuffed after meals and feeling good about the choices he’s making is very reliable.

Rob made one last Response Card:

I can’t rely on the scale to be a reward for my hard work because it’s unreliable. That’s just the way it is. But what I can rely on is how great it feels to be in control. How great it feels to leave a meal not feeling sick and stuffed. How great it feels to go to bed at night knowing I made good choices. Those things are reliable.

Friday Weekend Warm-up – November 6, 2020

Friday Weekend Warm-up: How is eating sitting down, slowly, and mindfully going? If you’ve lost sight of those healthy habits, take this weekend to refocus and put them back into place. 

Halloween 2020 Do’s and Don’ts

While this year’s Halloween will undoubtedly be different from years past, one thing remains the same: Halloween treats everywhere you look. If you have weight loss or weight maintenance goals, don’t let Halloween derail you! Even though it may be difficult, it can be done. Here are some strategies to help you stay on track during this year’s Halloween:Halloween

  1. DON’T buy candy early. Just don’t do it! Having it in the house ahead of time will do nothing but tax your resistance muscle. Keep your home a craving-free environment. It will make staying on track so much easier
  2. DON’T buy your favorite candy. Why would you buy the thing that’s hardest for you to resist? Just because it’s your favorite, doesn’t mean it’s everyone’s favorite. Buy candy that you don’t like as much, and you’ll have an easier time resisting it.
  3. DO plan to have some candy. But the key word is plan. Maybe you get a big bag of candy you don’t like as much to give out to trick-or-treaters (if there even are any this year!) and then get one of your very favorite. That way, you get to enjoy candy you love and won’t mind not eating the candy you don’t love.
  4. DO make a plan for the leftovers. There’s nothing harder than having a house full of candy and no idea of where it’s all going to go. If you think, “I can’t deprive my kids by getting rid of their Halloween candy,” remember that kids don’t need to be loaded up on sugar, either. It’s doing them no favors in the same way it’s doing you no favors. And no one is saying you have to get rid of all of their candy. There’s a big difference between getting rid of all Halloween candy and saving every piece. Maybe you save enough for them to have a few pieces every day for two weeks. And then donate/throw out/give away the rest. And maybe you save some for yourself, too, and keep it in a different spot. That way, it’s clear that their candy is their candy, and yours is yours.

Think about how you want to feel when you go to bed on Halloween night. Do you want to feel overly full, in a sugar haze, and regretful of overdoing it? Do you want to feel proud of your ability to enjoy some candy and still stay on track and make progress towards your goals? We’re guessing it’s probably the latter! If so, consider making a Response Card to read on Halloween. It could say something like:

Remember, enjoying Halloween and staying on track/making progress on weight loss are not mutually exclusive goals! I can enjoy some candy and still enjoy feeling on track, feeling good physically, and feeling proud of myself. It’s true I won’t be eating every bit of candy that I would like, but doing so doesn’t make me feel good, anyway. It will be such a triumph to go to bed tonight feeling good in my head and my body.

What I Want

In session this week, my client Michael told me that in the evenings he keeps having the nagging thought, “Maybe I should just go into the kitchen and eat whatever I want.” While he has not been giving in, he told me he’s had this thinking pattern in the past, and it’s making him nervous about his ability to continue to stay on track.piece of cake

I first asked Michael, “In the past when you’ve given in to that thought, how long did the good feelings from eating last? Ten minutes? An hour? All evening?” Michael said he probably felt good while he was eating, and then for an additional five minutes after. I asked him, “How did you feel after those five minutes? Were you happy about what you had eaten and thinking it was a good decision?” Michael told me that of course he wasn’t happy once the food pleasure had worn off. He was always mad at himself, regretful, and worried about what it would do to his weight. I asked him how long those feelings lasted, and he said usually the rest of the night. With this in mind, Michael first wrote this Response Card:

Eating “whatever I want” feels good for about five minutes and then makes me regretful for five hours. It’s not worth it.

I asked Michael if he was hungry while engaging in eating whatever he wants, and he said he usually wasn’t. We discussed that in the evening his body was telling him he wanted something, but since hunger wasn’t the source of the problem, food wasn’t the only possible solution. Michael thought about it and realized that this thought usually arose when he was feeling a bit bored and lonely. Although he thought he wanted to go eat whatever he wanted, he was actually craving entertainment, human connection, and some form of pleasure. Michael and I made a list of other things he could try in the evening to get what he really wanted, and Michael made the following Response Card:

Food is not actually what I need in this moment, so by not eating I am not depriving myself of what I really want. What I need is entertainment, pleasure, and/or connection. Instead of eating, try: calling, texting, or sending an email to someone; drinking hot tea; playing a game on my phone; reading an article; going for walk; or connecting with someone on a dating app.

Last, Michael and I discussed that though he would like to be able to go eat whatever he wanted, there are other things he wants more. He wants to lose weight. He wants to feel in control. He wants to not worry about his health. He wants to have a steady wardrobe and not worry about his clothes fitting. He wants to have more self-confidence and higher self-esteem. Michael made one last Response Card:

Even though I want to eat right now, there are so many things I want more than that. Focus on what I am getting – progress towards my goals, feeling in control, going to bed feeling proud of myself – and not on what I’m not getting – extra unplanned food I don’t need.

We agreed that for the next week Michael would read these three cards every evening after dinner to help bolster his ability to stay on track.