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Busy Work Period Blueprint

When I first started working with my client Jeff, he was in a period of struggle. He had fallen into many unhelpful habits, like getting fast food for breakfast every morning and not exercising. Only about nine months prior to this, he was in a great place. He had been working out with a trainer twice a week, eating well, and had lost more than 20 pounds. As he entered into a busy work period, things fell apart. He stopped exercising and taking the time to meal plan and meal prep. Before he knew it, the 20 pounds came right back.Man at dusk

Initially, Jeff and I worked on getting things back on track. He started exercising again and easing away from unhealthy, convenient food options. He slowly resumed meal planning and cooking. After a few months, Jeff was once again feeling great, although we knew busy work times would continue to be a vulnerable area for him.

A few weeks ago, Jeff told me that he knew he was about to have a busy few weeks at work. He was slightly nervous that it would be a repeat of the past. Jeff and I came up with a plan in session of exactly what he would do, how he would get himself to do it, and why it was worth it to him to do so.

When we met this week, Jeff was just coming out of his busy period. We agreed: it was a huge success. He did so much better this time than he ever had in the past. Jeff and I made a list of the things he did this time, so that the next time he got busy at work, he would have a blueprint already established for how to proceed.

Jeff’s Strategies for a Busy Work Period

  1. Continue to prioritize healthy eating and exercise. Don’t fool myself into thinking that it’s okay to slip on either one of these. They matter, they’re important, and they’re worth it. No cutting corners on my healthy habits because that will lead me somewhere I don’t want to be.
  2. No matter what, schedule in at least 30 minutes for lunch and go get a salad from the restaurant down the block. Don’t take the “easy” way out of going to the bakery in my building to grab a quick pastry because that won’t make me feel good.
  3. Continue to take time for breakfast, even if this means getting up 10 minutes early.
  4. Even if I have to cut back number of exercise sessions or the length of a session, anything is better than nothing. Don’t buy into the all-or-nothing thinking that if I can do my whole workout, it’s not worth doing anything.
  5. Remember: Doing these things will make my busy work period BETTER, not WORSE. They will keep my mind and my body sharp. I’ll actually have more mental bandwidth to tackle my work when I continue to prioritize self-care, not less. Continuing to practice my healthy habits will not just be “one more thing I have to do,” it will make doing all the other things easier.

With one successful busy work period under his belt and this blueprint to refer to for the next one, Jeff feels much more confident that he can and will stay on track, no matter what’s going on with his work.

How Full Do I Want to Feel?

While my client April was out running errands last week, she realized that it was past lunch and she was really hungry. April was right near her favorite pizza shop, which had recently reopened, and the idea of getting pizza seemed hugely appealing. When April got to the restaurant, she knew that getting one slice of pizza and a salad would be the smart choice. She ended up ordering two pieces of pizza, a salad, and she threw in a black and white cookie for good measure. After eating both pieces of pizza and the cookie, she ended up feeling very overly stuffed.Pizza

We discussed this situation in session, and April realized a few things that she could have done to have a different outcome. First, we recognized the importance of prioritizing eating on a regular schedule and not allowing herself to get caught up in errands, even if she was being productive. It is unquestionably harder to make a decision that’s in line with your goals when you’re very hungry and have no clear plan in place.

I said to April, “At least you had the thought that getting one piece of pizza and a salad would be smart. What were the thoughts that led you to get a second piece and a cookie?” April thought about it and realized that she must have said something to herself along the lines of, “I’m starving. I just want to eat something that will really satisfy me.” I asked, “If you had gotten one piece and a salad, how do you think you would have felt when you finished eating? Would you be satiated? Would you still be hungry?” April told me that she definitely would have been full, because one piece of pizza and a salad is a satisfying meal.

In talking it through more, April realized that either way she would have ended up full. If she ordered one piece of pizza and a salad, she would be pleasantly full and would have the satisfaction of knowing she made a good choice that was in line with her goals. If she veered from that and ordered two pieces and a cookie (plus a salad that she never ended up eating), she would wind up overly full and regretful.

To help her remember this idea the next time she was faced with an eating decision and was having the sabotaging thought, “I’m starving. I need something extra and really satisfying,” she’ll ask herself this question: Do I want to feel one piece of pizza and salad full, or do I want to feel two pieces of pizza and a cookie full? This will help remind her that either way she’ll be satiated, but if she sticks with the first choice, she’ll be full and proud of herself.

All-Or-Nothing Exercise

One of the biggest mistakes I see many of my clients make about exercise is that they display all-or-nothing thinking about what exercise entails. Last fall, my client Mark was going on long walks for exercise. Most days he would go for at least an hour, sometimes upwards of two hours. Over the long and snowy winter, Mark fell out of the habit of walking outside. As the temperatures started rising and the snow melted the past few months, I asked Mark if he had gotten back to walking. He admitted that he hadn’t. His schedule had shifted, and he was much busier at work. Mark told me that he hadn’t been able to carve out an hour, let alone two hours, any day.

This was classic all-or-nothing thinking! Mark had it in his head that a walk was at least an hour long. If he didn’t have an hour, then he couldn’t do anything. I reminded Mark that there were 59 other options between a 60-minute walk and a 0-minute walk, and that anything was better nothing. A five-minute walk was better than a zero-minute walk! Mark and I agreed that it was actually important for him to schedule in some smaller walks throughout the week, even if he had time for a longer one. This would teach him that a walk could be any length of time.

When I started working with my client Rachel, she told me that she signed up for a marathon for the past three years to motivate herself to train and start exercising. Because the idea of doing a marathon was so overwhelming, she ended up doing nothing each time. Much like Mark, Rachel needed to start small and prove to herself that exercise could be anything; it didn’t have to be a marathon. She decided to sign up for a 5K instead. For the first time in several years, she was able to start training and get back to exercise.Woman hiking and thinking

I also saw all-or-nothing exercise thinking in my client Jen. Like Rachel, Jen used to be a big runner, but she slowly stopped running and gained a lot of weight. Jen wanted to get back to exercise, but every time she tried, she got demoralized from how hard it felt. Wanting to immediately be as fit as she used to be stopped Jen from doing anything, so we worked hard on not comparing where she was today to where she had been years ago. Jen was able to let go of her expectations on where she thought she “should” be and start small. She was able to return to a much stronger level of fitness over time.

If you tend have all-or-nothing thinking about exercise, start small! Even if you have the time to do more, prove to yourself that exercise can be any amount of time and break the thinking pattern that says exercise must be long, hard, or very rigorous. Anything is better than nothing!

Fantasy vs. Reality

My client Jeff was in the habit of eating a whole pizza several nights per week. While he knew this was sabotaging his health and weight loss goals, he found that he kept giving in to the lure of the pizza. In session, I asked, “What’s so great about eating a whole pizza?” Jeff thought about it and said, “I don’t know. It’s just so great. There’s so much sauce and cheese, and it’s so filling and satisfying.” I said, “Let’s look at this objectively. How do you feel psychologically when you finish eating a whole pizza? Are you thinking, ‘That was a great decision?’” Jeff answered that he often felt pretty regretful. I responded, “How do you feel physically when you finish a whole pizza? Do you feel pleasantly full?” Jeff responded that he often felt stuffed and somewhat uncomfortable.Pizza

This was very interesting to me: when asked what eating a whole pizza was like, Jeff said it was great and satisfying. When asked how he specifically felt psychologically and physically after eating a whole pizza, the answer was very different. No wonder Jeff kept eating a whole pizza! He kept buying into the fantasy of what eating a whole pizza would be like: satisfying and great. He would either not recognize or not pay attention to what the reality of eating a whole pizza was like: full of feelings of regret and being overly stuffed. Jeff made the following Response Card:

It’s true the idea of eating a whole pizza is great, but the reality is not great at all. I end up uncomfortably stuffed and mad at myself. In giving up eating a whole pizza, I’m really not giving up anything that actually feels good. It’s worth it to stop at a reasonable amount.

I’ve seen this fantasy vs. reality concept play out in many other ways in my clients throughout the years. When we first started working together, my client Jen would overeat ice cream every time she got very upset. We worked hard on building up alternate coping mechanisms for Jen to employ when she got upset that helped her feel better and continue to feel in control of her eating. In time, she saw that eating to soothe her upset feelings ultimately caused more upset: she ended up mad at the situation and mad at herself.

There was one instance a few weeks ago when Jen had a really bad day at work and fell back into her old pattern. She stopped at a convenience store on the way home from work, bought a pint of ice cream, and ate the whole thing. In session, I asked, “What were the thoughts at play?” Jen said she was thinking, “I don’t care. I had such a bad day, and I just want to feel better.” I asked, “And did you feel better? How did you feel when you finished the ice cream?” Jen answered that she actually didn’t feel better. She felt mad at herself for reengaging in old, sabotaging habits. But the reason she lapsed back into it was because she was thinking about how overeating ice cream used to make her feel, and not how it makes her feel now. Jen made the following Response Card:

It’s true that overeating ice cream used to make me feel better when I was upset, but it no longer does. Now that I know how great being in control of my eating feels, letting go of that control makes everything feel worse. Overeating ice cream no longer provides me the relief it once did.

Think about your own thoughts. Might there be times when you think something will be better than it actually is? If so, make a Response Card and start reminding yourself of the reality, not the fantasy!

A Different Type of Food Pusher

My client Megan had several hard days this past week. She told me that, on three separate occasions, she ended up eating things that she knew she shouldn’t – food she hadn’t planned that made her feel overly full and exceeded her limits for the day. In session, we discussed how all three situations involved her partner saying he was going to order a specific food. She said she didn’t want any, and he ended up getting food for her anyway. Once the tempting food was in front of her, Megan found it too difficult to resist.

I reminded Megan that this would be an incredibly difficult situation for anyone to be in and was not a personal weakness on her part. It’s hard to resist food that you enjoy – even if it’s not on your plan – when it’s staring you directly in the face. While it would be easy to blame her partner for sabotaging her and think, “He just needs to stop ordering food when I tell him I don’t want any,” it’s important to remember that it’s not the food pusher’s job to stop pushing food on you. They’re food pushers; that’s what they do! It is, however, your job to start saying no or to start not eating the food that you said you didn’t want.Food on table

Megan thought about this and realized that by always giving in and eating the food that her partner ordered for her, she was teaching him to continue doing it! She was training to him know that if he ordered food, regardless of whether she said she wanted it, she would eat it. Because of this, we knew that the crucial step in changing this would be for Megan to start standing firm and not eating food she said she didn’t want. This will probably mean wasting food, but if it’s in the service of reaching health and happiness goals that are incredibly important to her, it’s worth it.

Megan decided that the next time this happened, she would take the food he ordered for her and put directly in the trash – both to make a point and to decrease the chances she would end up eating it. We don’t know for certain, but it’s likely that after she does this multiple times, he’ll get the message and eventually stop ordering her unwanted food. The good news is that he doesn’t have to stop ordering Megan unplanned food for her to stay on track. She’s not in control over what he orders, but she is in control over what she eats.