In Session with Debbie: Overeating Dinne

In session this week, my client, Emily, told me that while she has gotten much better at moderating her eating during the day, she is still having trouble sticking to reasonable portions in the evening.  Emily said that after a long day, and knowing she still had housework and papers to grade ahead of her, all she wants to do is relax and eat a lot.  Emily and I discussed what goes through her mind once she eats what she knows is a reasonable amount and is then tempted to go back for more, and Emily identified that it was something along the lines of, “This food tastes really good and I don’t want this period of eating and relaxing to end.”  In discussing this further, Emily realized that part of the reason it was so difficult for her to limit her eating in the evening is because once she’s done dinner, she then tells herself that it’s time to get started on her evening tasks and her time to relax is finished.  Once we figured this out, it was no surprise that it was so hard for Emily to stop eating because ending dinner not only signaled the end of eating but it also signaled the end of her allowing herself to relax.

Because of this, we knew it would be important for Emily to build more relaxation time right after dinner, so that stopping eating wouldn’t feel like such a big shift into the next part of her evening.  Emily decided that she would give herself an additional half an hour or so after dinner to continue relaxing and she would save one of her favorite shows to watch during this time.  In this way, she would have something to look forward to once she finished eating.

Emily also made the following Response Cards to read after dinner to help her stay on track:

I’m done eating but I’m not done relaxing.  I still have time to myself to watch my favorite show before I get started on other things.

If I continued to eat more now, it would be because I wanted to relax more, not because I’m still hungry.  But if I overeat, the only thing it will do is make me feel guilty and mad at myself, which is the opposite of relaxation. 

If you’re tempted to overeat in the evenings, ask yourself: What am I really looking for here? If you’ve eaten enough, it’s not about hunger, it’s about something else. For Emily, it was more relaxation, so we built that into her evening by having her watch a favorite show after dinner.  Once you figure out what it is you’re using food to achieve, look for other, non-food ways to fulfill it.

September 22nd, 2014 Monday Motivation

One of the greatest aspects of losing weight is how many good things come as a result. It’s not as if you have to work hard, be disciplined, make healthy choices, and get nothing in return. Just the opposite is true – by doing all of these things you get THE MOST IMPORTANT things in return (health, self-confidence, control, pride, reduced physical and emotional pain, etc.)

In Session with Debbie: Losing Weight While Traveling

My client, Deanna, just came back from a week-long trip and something great happened upon her return: She found out she lost a pound and a half.  In almost every previous trip Deanna had taken, she had gained weight, and sometimes a significant amount of weight, so this was an entirely new experience for her.  In session this week, Deanna and I talked about everything she had done that made the trip so successful so that she could remember it for next time.

  1. Deanna told me that the first thing she did was take time before she left (which she partly did in session with me) to really think through the trip and make a plan for how she would handle her eating. Never before had Deanna had a deliberate plan for what she would eat while traveling; she always just had the idea that she would “wing it” and try to make good decisions. Having a written plan of how she would handle her eating, and reviewing that plan each and every morning, really enabled Deanna to stay in control of her eating while traveling. Deanna’s written plan had the following components:
  • Bring healthy food for the airplane
  • One glass of wine every other night
  • ½ a piece of bread and half my starch at dinner
  • Ask for fruit instead of potatoes at breakfast
  • Try to have some type of salad for lunch
  • No dessert before dinner and ½ dessert after dinner, or dessert every other night
  1. Deanna told me that, since she was eating more caloric meals than she normally did (because she ate almost every meal at a restaurant), she didn’t snack during the trip.
  2. Deanna also made it a top priority to be active on this trip. She made it a goal to go to the fitness center in her hotel at least three times during her seven day trip, and made sure to take opportunities for spontaneous exercise whenever possible, like taking the stairs instead of elevators, walking around the airport instead of sitting at her gate, walking places instead of taking cabs (when possible), etc.
  3. Deanna gave herself lots of credit during the trip whenever she made a healthy decision. Instead of focusing on everything she wasn’t eating, she made sure to tell herself how great it was that she way staying on track, and how resisting food would help her reach her important goals.  In doing so, Deanna was actually able to feel good about staying on track because the focus was on what she was getting, not what she was giving up.
  4. When Deanna got home and saw that she hadn’t gained weight, hadn’t even maintained her weight, but had actually lost weight, she captured how great she felt on a Response Card to read before every trip in the future.

For the first time that I can remember, I actually lost weight while traveling. This feels SO AMAZING. Although there were times on the trip it felt difficult to make healthy decisions, now that I’m back I don’t regret a single thing that I didn’t eat or drink. I just feel so proud of myself and have such an huge sense of accomplishment. It was 1,000% worth it.

In Session with Debbie: Cravings Script

My client, Rachel, was having trouble resisting cravings.  While she was able to resist them much of the time, she told me in session last week that it was really hard for her and the whole experience was causing her distress. In order to figure out what was going on, I asked her to tell me in detail about a craving that she had over the past week – what she thought while she was having the craving, what she said to herself that enabled her to resist, and how she felt about it afterwards.  Rachel described the following scenario to me:

Rachel’s daughter, Samantha, had a birthday that weekend and Rachel had planned a big celebratory dinner for her, including Samantha’s favorite chocolate cake.  Rachel had decided in advance that she would stick to one piece of cake and she would forgo the ice cream, knowing that she was already taking in more calories at dinner than she usually would have.  Once dessert rolled around, Rachel ate her piece of cake and then had a strong craving for another piece, plus some ice cream.  Rachel thought to herself, “I really want more cake. It tasted so good. It stinks that I can’t have more, and I didn’t even get to experience it with the ice cream.” Rachel was able to resist the extra cake, though, telling herself, “No, you’re just not having any more. You said one piece and that’s it. You can have more another time.”

I asked Rachel how she felt after she resisted the cake and she told me, “I felt terrible! I was so resentful that I couldn’t have more.”  This, I realized, is why Rachel was finding it such a painful experience to resist cravings.  When she was able to resist extra food, instead of giving herself so much credit for doing so, and reminding herself of all the wonderful things she would get as a result of resisting, she was instead focusing on how deprived she felt, how much she wanted to eat the food, and how terrible it was that she couldn’t have it. Because Rachel was saying such negative things to herself, it’s no wonder she didn’t feel good about resisting.

To help reverse this, Rachel and I wrote out a script of exactly what she would say to herself when she resisted a craving. I asked Rachel to read this script every day, at least three times a day, plus every time she overcame a craving. Here is what Rachel’s script said:

Good for me for resisting this craving.  I deserve so much credit for this! This will help me reach my weight loss goals which are so important to me.

When Rachel came back to see me this week, she told me that she had a much better week in terms of resisting cravings.  Instead of feeling badly and deprived when she didn’t eat something, she began to feel proud of herself because she gave herself lots and lots of credit.  By reading this script every time she resisted a craving, it helped Rachel begin to refocus her attention; instead of thinking about all the negatives of not eating something, she began to pay more attention to why it was worth it to her to resist.  Rachel realized that resisting, and giving herself credit for doing so, felt great, and it was a good feeling that lasted (as opposed to giving in and eating something, which is a pleasure that is much, much more fleeting).

If you’re finding resisting cravings to be a painful experience, think about what you say to yourself when you resist. What are focusing on? Are you thinking about how deprived you feel for not eating it, or are you paying attention to all the great benefits you’ll get as a result of resisting? If you need to, consider writing out your own script, as Rachel did, and read it multiple times a day. Eventually these new ideas will take root in your mind and make a difference. Resisting cravings can feel great –as long as you give yourself lots of credit for when you do.

In Session with Debbie: Breaking up With Food

This week I had a session with Leslie, a veterinarian in her 40’s.  Leslie and I have been working together for a little over a month and the topic we discussed this week was overcoming emotional eating.  I discussed with Leslie the fact that negative emotions are a part of life and that they aren’t harmful.  We then brainstormed some things besides eating that Leslie could try to help soothe herself when she was feeling upset, like drinking hot tea, online window shopping, and playing solitaire on her phone.  I could tell, though, that Leslie wasn’t convinced so I asked her what she was thinking.  She told me, “Food is my friend,” and that she just couldn’t imagine that, if she was upset, looking at housewares online would be helpful when she had the comfort of her old friend, food, right in her kitchen.

Leslie and I then examined this notion that food was her friend.  Leslie realized that when she got upset and wanted to eat to soothe herself, she was only looking at part of the picture: She was thinking about how soothing and comforting food was while she was actually eating it.  But she wasn’t thinking about everything that happened after – when she felt guilty and mad at herself, when she took in a lot of extra calories, and when she was forced to stay overweight.  When Leslie thought of food as her comforting friend, she was only remembering the positives and completely pushing aside the negatives.

To help her hold on to a more balanced view of what it really means to have food function as her friend and as her primary coping mechanism for negative emotions, we composed a “Disadvantages of Food as my Friend” list. Here is the list she came up with:

Disadvantages of Using Food as my Friend

1. After I’ve finished eating, it brings out my self-dislike

2. It makes me stay overweight (and potentially continues to increase my weight more)

3. It makes me not fit into my clothes, into airplane seats, into booths in restaurants, etc.

4. It means I can’t move around easily or gracefully

5. It makes it so painful on my knees when I have to bend down to get animals out of the lower cages

6. It makes me want to avoid seeing my real friends and family

7. It makes me not recognize the person I see in the mirror

8. It wreaks havoc with my sense of confidence and makes me feel hopeless about being able to lose weight

9. I know food doesn’t really love me back. It can’t – it’s just food.

I asked Leslie to read this list every single day over the next week so that she can get these ideas more firmly in her head.  Leslie and I then discussed that while doing the things we mentioned previously – playing games on her phone, drinking hot tea, calling a (real) friend, giving herself a facial – might not be as soothing as eating when she was upset, they would come with no negative consequences, as opposed to eating, which comes, ultimately, with 100% negative consequences.  With a more balanced view in mind of what using food as a friend really did to her, Leslie was able to willing this week to start working on breaking up with food and trying to soothe herself in other ways.

In Session with Debbie: Sleep

In session this week, my dieter, Jason, and I discussed an issue that he was having trouble with: Getting to sleep on time. This is a fairly common problem many of my clients face and it’s an important one to figure out.  Studies show that people eat more on days they are sleep deprived than on days that they aren’t, and when people stay up too late, they often want to turn to food to help them stay awake.  Both of these things were happening with Jason – he was eating too much at night to help him stay awake to watch “just one more” television show (which never turned into just one more), and he found it much harder to resist cravings and moderate his appetite following a night of missed sleep.

To help him combat his late-night ways, the first thing Jason and I did was institute a bedtime of 11:00pm. Although Jason didn’t initially love the idea of having a “bedtime,” we discussed the pros and cons of having one versus not having one, and Jason was able to see that not having some type of guideline in place for when he would get in bed was leading him to consistently stay up too late, eat too much, and sabotage his weight-loss efforts.  It wasn’t worth it.  Jason decided that he would also set an alarm on his phone to go off every night at 10:30.  That way, it would give him a half hour to wrap things up and remind him that it would soon be time to get in bed.  He also decided that he would read his Advantages List when his alarm went off to remind him of all the reasons why it worth it to him to lose weight (and, consequently, why he needed to get in bed).

Jason and I then discussed what sabotaging thoughts might get in the way of him sticking to this bedtime.  Here are his thoughts and the response that we came up with:

Sabotaging  Thought: I’ll watch just one more show.

Response: One more show is never just one more show. One more show doesn’t work! If it did, I would never stay up too late but I always stay up too late.  No more shows.

Sabotaging Thought: It’s okay just this one time to stay up later than I said I would.

Response: “Just this one time” is like “just one more show” – it doesn’t work and I need to prove to myself that I do what I say I’ll do.

Sabotaging Thought: I don’t feel like going to bed right now.

Response: I may not feel like going to bed right now, but I even more don’t feel like sabotaging my weight loss efforts and having to stay overweight. It’s worth it to get in bed.

Sabotaging Thought: It’s not really that important to go to bed on time.

Response: It really is that important.  Staying up too late makes me overeat both at night and the next day.  Besides, on the days I do go to bed, I feel so much better the next day – rested and alert.  I’ll be so happy tomorrow morning I made myself get in bed.

With these strategies in place (a set bedtime, an alarm reminding him of the impending bedtime, and reading his Advantages List and Response Cards if he was tempted to not adhere to it), Jason felt confident that he would finally be able to get himself to bed at a reasonable hour.

In Session with Debbie: Two Events

In session last week, my client, Jeremy, told me that he was feeling worried because he had two events to attend on Saturday night.  He explained to me that there would be a lot of food at each one and he was nervous about his ability to stay on track.  I reminded Jeremy that it’s never the situation in and of itself that would cause him to get off track –it wouldn’t be the fact that he was at an event surrounded by a lot of appetizing food that everyone else was eating that would cause him to overeat, it would be his thinking about the situation. So we needed to do two things: first, come up with a plan for how he would handle his eating, and second, figure out in advance what sabotaging thoughts he might have that would lead him to stray from this plan and come up with responses to them. 

Jeremy and I discussed the two events and decided that a reasonable course of action would be for him to have dinner at the first event and a reasonable portion of one dessert, or smaller portions of two desserts, at the second event.  Jeremy also decided to stick to water or club soda, knowing that he would rather spend his calories on food, and also because he would be driving. 

Next I asked Jeremy to think about what sabotaging thoughts he might have at either even that would lead him to get off track.  Here are the sabotaging thoughts that Jeremy came up with and our responses:

Sabotaging Thought: It’s okay to eat extra because I’m celebrating.

Response: My body doesn’t know or care that I’m celebrating; it processes all calories in the same way regardless.

 

Sabotaging Thought: I’ll make it for it later by eating less during the week.

Response:  “Making up for it later” just doesn’t work because there’s no guarantee that I’ll actually be able to get myself to eat less later on.  It also doesn’t work because if I overeat, I reinforce my giving-in muscle and make it more likely I’ll overeat the next time, and the time after that.  It’s important to continually reinforce the habit of eating consistently. It’s not about the calories, it’s about the habit.

 

Sabotaging Thought: I really want it.

Response:  It’s true, I do really want that food. But I EVEN MORE want all the benefits of losing weight (better health, fewer aches and pains, improved self-confidence, getting to feel like myself again).  Either way I’m missing out on something I want. If I overeat, I miss out on the advantages of losing weight. But if I miss out on extra food, then I GET all the advantages of losing weight. 

 

Sabotaging Thought: Everyone else is eating a lot, why can’t I?

Response:  My body doesn’t know or care what anybody around me is eating, it only knows what I eat. So just because everyone else is eating (and drinking) a lot, doesn’t mean that I can. My body doesn’t care what they’re doing.

 

Sabotaging Thought: My wife won’t know about it, so it’s okay.

Response: My wife won’t know about it, but I’ll know about it, and my body will know about it. If I overeat, I’ll negatively impact myself psychologically and physically. Psychologically because I’ll reinforce old, maladaptive habits and I’ll also feel badly and guilty about my eating.  Physically because I’ll likely feel overly full, take in too many calories, and possibly gain weight. 

Jeremy decided that he would review his eating plan, his Advantages List, and these Response Cards before each event (and during them if he felt vulnerable to overeating while he was there). 

When Jeremy came back to see me this week he reported that the events had been a success and that, with the strategies and tools we put in place, he was able to stay completely on track. This is a great example of how any situation can be handled, no matter how difficult it may seem initially, when dieters take time to formulate a plan, think about what sabotaging thoughts might get in the way of them sticking to their plans, and then coming up with responses so they don’t give in. 

In Session with Debbie: Food Gifts

My dieter, Karen, is a well-loved teacher, whose students frequently bring in treats and baked goods for her.  Karen is always very appreciative of these gestures and often brings the treats home for her husband to enjoy, too.  In session last week, Karen told me that she recently realized that her husband rarely ate the treats she brought home and that, in moments of weakness, she often ended up eating a lot of them, even when she didn’t really want them.  Karen had never had much of a sweet tooth, and it wasn’t often that sweets or baked goods would call her name.  However, since she often had a steady stream of them, supplied by her students and their appreciative parents, Karen found herself eating more and more of them both because she didn’t want to seem ungrateful and because they were “there.”  Karen told me that it seemed very rude to not eat what her students and their parents had so generously given her. 

Karen and I discussed this situation in session and we realized one thing: Karen could not continue to eat all of the treats her students gave her and lose and maintain a healthy weight.  Karen once again stressed that it wasn’t even that she particularly wanted to eat the treats, but it seemed very ungrateful to her not to.  I asked Karen how she felt whenever a student brought in a treat, and she said that it always made her feel very good and appreciated.  I then asked Karen why she thought her students’ parents sent in treats for her, and Karen replied that they probably did so to show their appreciation to Karen and to let her know that they valued the work she was doing with their children. 

I pointed out to Karen the simple logic of what she had just stated: her students brought in baked goods and treats for her to show their appreciation and gratitude for her work, and Karen felt very appreciated and happy when she received these things – without ever putting a bite of food in her mouth.  Karen and I discussed the fact that even if she didn’t eat what her students brought in, this doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel grateful for the gesture and what it symbolizes. She experiences the purpose of the gesture whether or not she eats anything. 

Karen was able to take to heart the logic of this idea and realized that if she continued to eat all of the treats that her students brought in (even when she didn’t want to), it would actually negate the point of them in the first place because it would cause her to feel badly about herself and her eating. 

The moral of the story: if someone gives you a gift of food, you never need to actually eat the gift to accept the person’s gratitude and for the gesture to have meaning.  What happens after you accept the gift in no way takes away from the meaning behind it.

In Session with Debbie: The Drive-Through

My client, Jason, works long hours and isn’t much of a cook. When he gets off work and wants dinner, his options are usually pretty limited.  Jason often winds up going to a drive-through restaurant, and he doesn’t usually make the healthiest choices.  Jason told me that while there are healthy (or, at least, healthier) options available, he has a hard time sticking to them when the time comes to place his order.

In previous sessions, Jason and I had spent a lot of time talking about how he can stay in control when he eats out with friends.  Although Jason used to have very big and very caloric meals every time he went to a restaurant, in the past few months he has made a lot of progress in making healthier choices and not finishing everything on his plate.

In session, Jason and I discussed what strategies he has been using to stay on track at restaurants to see if any of them would translate to the drive-through.  Jason told me that the most effective strategy for him has been to look at the menu ahead of time and decide what he’ll have, and then not even look at the menu once he gets to the restaurant.  He also has a Response Card that he reads before he goes out to eat:

Every time I stick to my healthy choice I feel great after eating. Every time I veer off track and order something else, I feel guilty after eating.  Sticking to my healthy choice not only enables me to lose weight, but it makes me feel so much better.

Jason and I discussed this further and realized that this same exact strategy would be very helpful for him when going through drive-thoughs, too.  Jason decided that he would make it a policy to look at the drive-through menu online before he left work at night and decide in advance what to have.  When he got to the drive-through window, he would then place his order without looking at the posted menu, just as he does in restaurants.

Jason also came up with an additional strategy: Since he tends to frequent the same drive-throughs, he decided that for each one he would come up with a few different meal combinations and record them in his phone. That way, if he was in a rush to leave work, he wouldn’t have to spend time looking up the menu, he could just pick something from his phone.  Jason also made the following Response Card to keep in his car and read when he was waiting in line to place his order:

I’ve already decided what to order so I don’t even need to look at the menu or consider what else I might want.  The decision has been made, and sticking to this decision will make me feel so much better. It’s worth it.

With these strategies in place, Jason was finally able to stay in control both when eating out in restaurants and when going through the drive-through.

In Session with Debbie: Treats in the Office

Last week I had a session with my dieter, Joe.  Joe works in a large office and told me that this time of year, holiday treats are everywhere.  Over the past few weeks, Joe had been having a very hard time maintaining control over his sweet tooth and his sugar cravings. 

In session last week, I told Joe that one of the strategies that works well for many dieters is to make the decision to have one treat per day. It could be at any time of his choosing, but most of our clients decide to have one treat per day after dinner. That way, they get to look forward to having dessert all day long and it is easier for them to turn down treats during the day because they are able to say to themselves, “I don’t need to have this now, I know I get to have something after dinner.”  Joe thought about this and decided that that would work well for him because he really likes to have dessert after dinner with his wife, and so he knew that if he had his one treat during the day, he would really miss it in the evening. Joe and I discussed the fact that if there was something that looked really good at work, he could always take a portion of it home and have it after dinner.

Joe told me that while he realized that having one treat per day, after dinner, was a good plan which would help him get through the holidays without gaining weight, he knew it wouldn’t be easy to stick to.  Joe and I discussed what thoughts he might have that would get in the way of him sticking to his plan and came up with Responses to them.  Here are the sabotaging thoughts and response:

Sabotaging Thought: It’s okay just this one time to have a treat at the office.

Response: It’s not okay just this one time! Every time matters because every time I’m either strengthening my giving-in muscle or my resistance muscle.  If I give in and eat this treat now, I’ll make it so much harder to stick to my plan the next time.  This time matters because every time matters so I have to stand firm and strengthen my resistance habit.

 

Sabotaging Thought: This treat looks really good. I just want to eat it.

Response: While I want to eat this treat right now, I so much more want all the benefits of losing weight. Even though I want it, it’s worth it to me not to eat it right now. Besides, if it’s something I really like, I can always take it home and have it later. It’s not that I can’t eat it, it’s just that I’m not going to eat it right now.

 

Sabotaging Thought: I can’t resist those cookies – they look too good.

Response: It’s true that it’s hard to resist but it’s not true that I can’t.  There is a difference between things that are impossible and things that are hard. Telling myself I ‘can’t’ resist is really just an excuse to give in. I’ve resisted plently of cravings before, and I know I can now, too. Besides, when I give in I feel crappy and when I resist I feel great!

 

Sabotaging Thought: I don’t want to have to think about healthy eating right now so I’m just going to give in and have this treat.

Response: There’s no such thing as ‘not thinking about it.’ If I decide to ‘not think about it’ and eat the treat now, I’ll definitely think about it a lot later when I’m feeling guilty and badly about my eating.  On the other hand, if I do put in the effort to think about it now and resist, I’ll feel so great and proud later that I did.

 

Sabotaging Thought: Maybe I should have just one cookie right now.  I can’t decide

Response: I’ve already made the decision not to have any! There is no decision to be made in this moment.  Move on and get distracted with something else.

When Joe came in to see me this week he told that things had been going really well and he was feeling much more in control both during work and after.  Joe told me that there were many days that he was tempted to eat treats at the office but by reading his Response Cards each day, he was able to respond to his sabotaging thoughts and resist – and that he always felt so great about it once the craving had passed.  What Joe experienced is what many dieters eventually come to experience –  he found that not eating the treats (as a result of giving in to a momentary craving) felt even better than eating them because he was able to maintain his sense of control and he didn’t have any guilt or regret about his eating. Joe told me that sticking to his holiday treat plan was often not easy, but it was always 100% worth it.

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