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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.

Flareups

I’ve been working with my client Jeremy for about six months. While it took him a few weeks to learn how to tune into his thinking and get better at identifying his sabotaging thoughts, Jeremy has been doing well recently. He’s feeling very in control, he’s eating and exercising in a reasonable and healthy way, and he’s seeing the scale come down.

In session this week, Jeremy described an experience in which he was tempted to order a big takeout meal after a hard day, but he reminded himself that it ultimately wouldn’t get him to where he wants to be. He said something I’ve heard other clients say in the past: “I’ve really got this figured out. Now, I know I can do this.” While this is not a sabotaging thought in theory, I knew it was important to discuss it with Jeremy because, surprisingly, it could get him into trouble in the future.

The growing understanding of obesity is that it’s a chronic problem that requires lifetime care. And, like most other chronic problems, it’s not under control 100 percent of the time for most people. Other clients I’ve worked with have been in Jeremy’s shoes: they learn the necessary skills to gain control over their eating, and they lose weight. They feel great, and they realize that, finally, they’ve got this problem that has plagued them for years – sometimes decades – figured out.

Then, they get off track. Maybe it’s a stressor at home or work, maybe it’s a vacation, maybe it’s a global pandemic. Regardless of the cause, they find themselves reverting to old, unhealthy habits, which causes panic. They think, “I thought I could do this, but I guess I can’t. I thought I had it figured out, but I actually don’t.” Having these thoughts makes them feel demoralized. They lose hope, get very off track, and often gain back some or all of the weight they had lost.

The heartbreaking thing is that they did have it figured out. They can do it. But what they don’t realize is that just because they finally have it figured out, it doesn’t mean they’re going to be able to stay on track 24 hours a day, every day. Like most chronic problems, it doesn’t work that way. There will always be flareups from time to time. The mistake that people make is thinking that once they know what to do, they’ll be able to do it flawlessly, forever. When they inevitably stumble, they take it as a sign that they can’t do it.

I explained this to Jeremy and reinforced that he does have it figured out. He knows what to do and how to do it. Even so, he’s going to make mistakes in the future, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s unavoidable because he’s dealing with a chronic problem. As long as he has realistic expectations and knows that flareups are a part of the process, he’ll be much better equipped to deal with them. Instead of thinking, “This is terrible. I thought I could do it, but I guess I can’t,” he’ll be able to think, “I knew this would happen. Flareups are a part of the process, but I need to get refocused, recommitted, and I’ll be just fine.”

Trick, Not Treat

This week, my client Julie told me that she had gotten a little off track the previous night and had eaten too many cookies. Julie had been working on one planned dessert every night, which wasn’t always easy for her to stick to. She had previously been eating dessert throughout the day, but she had made big progress. We talked through what happened the night before, and she realized she had the sabotaging thought, “I’ve been so good at just having one dessert recently, so it’s okay to have a little extra tonight.” This type of thinking is very common: often, my clients feel justified in having extra, unplanned food as a reward for having done so well.cookies in a bowl

I reminded Julie that by having extra dessert, what she was doing in that moment was rewarding her hard work by undoing her hard work. She was rewarding great, on-track behavior by exercising her giving-in muscle, strengthening unhealthy habits (using food as a reward, eating beyond fullness, not sticking to her plan), and jeopardizing her weight loss. We discussed how, in virtually no other area of life, we would think it made sense to reward progress by undoing it. For example, when Julie was learning to drive and had months of accident-free driving, would she “reward” herself by purposely getting in an accident? Of course not!

Julie and I discussed that when she’s doing well and consistently making on-track food decisions, she absolutely does deserve a reward. She doesn’t, however, deserve a reward that ultimately sabotages her, like extra, unplanned food. Julie made the following Response Card to help her remember these ideas:

When I’m doing really well, I do deserve a treat. I don’t deserve to use extra, unplanned food as a treat because that’s really a trick, not a treat. I can’t reward hard work by undoing it!

Julie and I made a list of some other things she could try that would really be a treat, and not a trick: getting a new candle, buying a new book, scheduling a massage, or picking out a fun, new recipe to try that week. All of these things will help reward Julie for her hard work without undoing any of her progress!

Huge Hunger

Right from our first session, my client Ellie told me she always has an incredibly difficult time stopping at a reasonable amount of food. She always wants to eat more, even if she’s just eaten a lot. Ellie described herself as having a “huge hunger” and initially felt powerless to make changes in her eating.

I asked Ellie if we could first look at the phrase “huge hunger” and examine whether or not that was entirely accurate. The problem with telling herself that she had a huge hunger was that it legitimized eating. If you’re hungry, you should eat, right? I said to her, “This week, pay attention. When you’ve eaten dinner and then you want seconds, where is that urge coming from? Is it an empty rumbling in your stomach, or is it coming from somewhere else?”person at restaurant table

Ellie came back the following week and said that once she’s eaten a meal and wants to continue eating, it’s her mouth and her mind that want more. Her stomach didn’t feel empty, but she still felt like eating. Because it wasn’t an empty rumbling in her stomach that was demanding more food, and instead a psychological urge, I proposed to Ellie that we reconceptualize her “huge hunger” as actually her having a “huge appetite.” Telling herself she was hungry for more dinner after she’d eaten a reasonable amount legitimized her continuing to eat. Recognizing that her appetite – her desire to eat – was motivating her to want more, not a lack of sufficient food or physical fullness, is crucial in helping her stop at a reasonable point.

Ellie made the following Response Cards to help her start working on this idea:

I have a huge appetite, not a huge hunger. I don’t physically need a lot of food to feel full, but it’s true that I do like to eat a lot. Working on slowing down and eating mindfully will help maximize my psychological satisfaction and get my appetite more aligned with my hunger. I need to remember that I’ll never give up eating, but I will have to give up overeating in order to lose weight. But, in doing so, I won’t be depriving my body of food that it needs.

While Ellie and I have more work to do in uncovering and addressing other beliefs that get in her way, helping Ellie realize that it was her appetite, not her actual hunger, that was leading to a lot of her overeating is an important first step in Ellie ultimately learning how to eat but not overeat.

Friday Weekend Warm-up – September 4, 2020

Friday Weekend Warm-up: Remember that staying on track and having a fun time are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they often go hand in hand! When dieters are off track and eating whatever/whenever, they often don’t feel great. Either they’re feeling bad about it even as they’re eating, or they know in the back of their minds they’re going to feel bad when they face the consequences. Feeling good about the choices you’re making (and fueling your body with good food) feels great and leads to a VERY fun time.

TV Plus

One of the most frequent conversations I have with my clients centers around helping them gain control of their eating in the evenings. This week, my client David he told me that he was struggling to not snack all evening as he watched TV with his wife. He said, “I sit down in front of the TV in the evening after the kids are finally in bed, and I immediately feel hungry.” I reminded him that if he had a reasonable dinner, it probably wasn’t physical hunger he was feeling in that moment; rather, it was a psychological need.

It’s what David was saying to himself that matters. If he tells himself, “I’m hungry,” then it legitimizes going to the kitchen and getting a snack. The first step is to accurately label what’s going on. Instead of saying, “I’m hungry,” it’s more accurate for him to say, “I’m tired, I had a long day, and I need to unwind right now.”Snacking while watching TV

The problem with watching TV in the evening is that it is often an entertaining but not fully immersive experience. When people are watching TV in the evenings, they may still feel a little bit bored and want to do something else while they watch to fully engage their brain. TV plus snacking does that for people – it fully engages them, and they’re able to watch TV without feeling that tinge of boredom. But, the important thing to recognize is that eating is only one option of something to do while watching TV, and there are countless other activities that don’t sabotage weight loss or weight maintenance goals.

I talked to David about building up his “TV Plus” roster – things he could do in the evenings while he watched TV that don’t include eating, to help him keep his snacking at bay. Here is the initial list David came up with:

  1. Play game on my phone
  2. Sticker by number book or adult coloring book
  3. Sudoku or crossword puzzle
  4. Delete photos I don’t need
  5. Scroll through social media

If you have trouble with the urge to snack all evening long, especially if it occurs while you’re watching TV, then it’s important for you, too, to build a list of things you can do besides eating. TV plus eating is very distracting and entertaining, but TV plus knitting, TV plus coloring, TV plus doing a crossword puzzle, TV plus brushing your dog, etc. can provide the same help.