My client, Helen, has been struggling recently. When she came in to see me this week she told me that the previous week hadn’t gone very well and she had a number of off-track days. She said that she was still making food plans the night before, but was increasingly finding it difficult to stick to it. Some of the time, she would make substitutions that seemed legitimate (subbing one fruit for another, or one snack for a different one of equal caloric value) and some of the time she just threw out the plan completely.
To help Helen reset and refocus, I suggested that for the next three days, she makes a plan and sticks to it with no exceptions and no substitutions. Because of her struggles, Helen’s sense of discipline and self-efficacy had taken a hit over the past week, and so in order to help her build it back up, it was critical that she prove to herself once again that she can make a plan and follow it 100%. Once Helen is back on track with sticking to her plan, then she can resume being somewhat flexible and making reasonable substitutions. I reminded Helen that it should only take a couple of days to get her back in the “sticking to my plan” mindset, and she agreed that it would be helpful to do so. Helen and I also discussed the fact that there would probably be some element of relief in knowing she was going to stick to her plan because it means, at least for the next three days, she is relieving herself of the burden of making spontaneous food decisions and therefore alleviating the struggle about whether or not to eat something.
I then asked Helen a very important question: What thoughts might get in the way of you sticking to your plan 100% over the next three days? Helen responded that the one thought she might have would be, “I’m not going to stick to my plan because I don’t feel like eating what’s on it.” To help Helen overcome this thought, she made the following Response Cards to read at least once a day, every day, for the next three days, and more frequently if she was tempted to stray from her plan:
I need to eat in response to my bigger goals (losing weight, being healthier, feeling better about myself, feeling comfortable in my body, etc.), not my smaller goals (eat what I most feel like eating at any given moment).
I’ve planned this food because I like it. Even if I don’t especially feel like eating it, it will still taste good because it’s something I enjoy.
It’s okay if I don’t get to eat exactly what I want at all times. If it’s something I really want, I can plan to have it tomorrow. It will taste good then, too.
Once I start eating, I’ll be caught up in the enjoyment of what I am eating and won’t remember the other thing I felt like eating.
It’s critical for me to prove to myself that I can stick to a plan 100%. Once I do, I can start making substitutions again if I feel like it. This is not forever. It’s only for three days. I can do it!
With these helpful Response Cards, Helen felt confident that she could stick to her plan for the next three days. She reminded herself that she did it before and she can do it again – and when she does, she’ll stop struggling and start feeling great again.