Other Sources of Pleasure

This week I had a session with my client, Sarah. Like many dieters, Sarah has been having a lot of trouble limiting her dessert portion in the evenings. This isn’t happening all the time. Some days it doesn’t feel very hard – but most of the time it does. I asked Sarah if there were any commonalities among the days she has an easier time (or among the days it feels harder), and one thing she realized is that on days when she’s taken the time to have coffee with a friend, or do fun errands, or in some way build in some pleasure, it feels easier to contain dessert. On days when she hasn’t given herself a break (which happens much of theWoman looking away from a dessert. time), she struggles in the evening. On those days, right before dinner, Sarah often has the thought, “Finally it’s time for dinner and then dessert! I’ve been depriving myself all day, and now it’s finally time.”

When Sarah has the thought, “I’ve been depriving myself all day,” it feels extra hard to limit dessert because she feels entitled to make up for a perceived deprivation. Sarah and I discussed the fact that by limiting herself to one reasonable portion of dessert in the evening, she’s not depriving her body of either calories or nutrients that it needs. Instead, she may be depriving her brain of pleasure it needs – if dessert is her only source of pleasure.

I discussed with Sarah that when in the evening her brain is saying, “Finally, it’s time for dessert; I’ve been depriving myself all day,” what it’s really saying is, “Finally it’s time for some pleasure. I’ve been depriving myself of pleasure all day.” Sarah and I decided that one of her goals this week was to build more pleasure into her daily life, even if it’s in very small doses. In doing so, she won’t need to rely on dessert to fulfill her pleasure need and staying at one reasonable portion won’t feel as depriving. If she gets to the evening and has the same thought, “Finally it’s time for dessert; I’ve been depriving myself all day,” she’ll remind herself that what she really needs that night is extra pleasure (a walk, a call to her sister, buying a new magazine, watching her favorite show, doing a beauty routine, etc.) not extra dessert.

Not Every Day Can Be Thanksgiving

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.Turkey Dinner

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.

If You Want It, Plan It!

This week I met with my client, Lauren. Lauren has been doing well the last few months, feeling very focused and in control of her eating. Lauren told me about a breakfast she had with friends the day before in which she made healthy decisions, including forgoing a pancake even though she really wanted one. I asked Lauren the same question I often ask dieters in this type of situation: “Now that the situation/temptation is over, are you sorry you didn’t have the pancake?” Lauren thought about it for a moment and said, “Not exactly. I’m glad I made good decisions, but a pancake really would have been good.”

This was an interesting reply, because 19 out of 20 times I ask clients this (or maybe even more frequently than that!), the answer is a resounding, “No! I’m glad I didn’t give in.” Most times whenStack of pancakes on a plate dieters are faced with eating something that’s not on their plan, it’s a momentary craving. The food looks good. They wish they could eat it, but once they leave the restaurant, or the party, or the snack room at work, they forget about the food entirely. The fact that Lauren was still thinking about the pancake–and wanting one–was worth paying attention to.

I discussed with Lauren that if she really wanted a pancake but repeatedly denied herself one, what she would be doing (purposely or not) was sending herself the message, “You can’t have this food you really want.” In my experience, when dieters’ brains hear that message enough, eventually they will rebel against it. This doesn’t happen when they see a food that looks good and resist it once, moving on with their day, but it absolutely happens when dieters resist a food they want and continue to think about that specific food. If they don’t plan for when they can have it, it usually causes them to feel deprived and increases the likelihood that they will rebel against their plans.

Lauren understood this concept and agreed that having a pancake soon would be important, if only to prove that she’s not depriving herself of pancakes in general. Instead, she will tell herself that she’s simply not having them unless she plans to in advance. Lauren decided that she would have a pancake when she had brunch with her grandchildren over the weekend – and that she would make sure to eat it slowly and mindfully and really enjoy it!

Thanksgiving Night: How Do You Want to Feel?

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, dieters should begin to think about how they’ll handle their eating on that day. While Thanksgiving is considered by many to be a day in which it’s just too difficult to control their eating, it doesn’t have to be that way. When we help dieters formulate their Thanksgiving plan, we always ask them to think about one important thing: How do you want to feel going to bed once Thanksgiving is over?

Asking dieters this question reminds them that the experience of Thanksgiving is not limited to the time when they’re eating with family and friends. The experience also extends to how they feel afterwards. Dieters often have sabotaging thoughts such as, “If I have to limit how much I eat, I just won’t be able to enjoy myself.” If they then overeat, they may wind up feeling sick both People eating Thanksgiving dinnerphysically and psychologically: physically because they consumed way too much food, and psychologically because they feel out of control and guilty for overeating.

When we ask dieters how they want to feel once Thanksgiving is over, they usually say something along the lines of, “I want to feel full and satisfied and I also want to feel good about myself.”  We then ask, ”Will getting off track and overeating on Thanksgiving lead you to feeling that way?” Because the answer is no, we suggest coming up with a plan that will make them feel good. It makes sense to dieters that they simply can’t have it both ways: They can’t overeat during Thanksgiving and still wind up feeling proud and in control – these are incompatible goals.

We remind dieters that it’s not all-or-nothing – it’s not as if they can eat every bite of food that they want or they can’t eat any food that they want. In fact, there is a huge middle ground between these two extremes. While it’s true that they may not be able to eat as much of everything they want and still go to bed feeling good that night, it’s also true that they can eat reasonable portions, enjoy every bite that they take, and feel really good.

Halloween Survival Guide

Halloween is just around the corner! It’s important to start thinking about what plans and Response Cards you need to navigate it successfully!

Regaining Dessert Control

Today I had a session with my client, Melissa. For the past few months, Melissa has been working on not having dessert before dinner. This is a necessary skill for Melissa to implement because, like a lot of dieters, Melissa encounters dessert all day long.

Off-Track Mode

Dieters get into “off-track mode” when they get off track, the scale has gone up, and they believe they are helpless in the face of their weight problem.

Two Minutes Versus Sixteen Hours

Jen realized that she was sacrificing around 16 hours of feeling good for a maximum of two minutes of enjoying a taste – not a trade she wanted to make!


Lori told me that two nights ago she had a big work dinner and she was still feeling proud of how well she stuck to her plan. It was at a Mediterranean restaurant, and like all her work dinners, it included a lot of food.