In Session with Debbie: Off-Track Mentality

This week, I had a session with my client, Jane, who last week returned home from a vacation. Before she left on vacation, Jane was feeling very good about her eating, and while she was on vacation, she felt she did really well (and, in fact, didn’t gain any weight). However, in the six days between her return and our session, Jane hasn’t been feeling on track.  Jane and I discussed what has been going on since she got back, and Jane told me that once she arrived home, lots of things seemed to hit her all at once – she had a big work project to get done, her elderly mother was having problems with her nursing home, and there was a leak in Jane’s bathroom.  Jane said all of these things combined made her feel like she just couldn’t deal with anything else, and that being on track with her eating felt too difficult.

Jane was clearly having many thoughts typical of someone who is off-track, such as, “I can’t do this,” “This is too hard,” and “I can’t handle it.”  I discussed with Jane that these thoughts were not a true reflection of reality; this was her off-track mentality talking.  Even though she was thinking it was too hard, it didn’t mean it actually was too hard. I pointed out to Jane (who is herself a therapist) that this is similar to someone who is experiencing depression. We often say that depression lies. Depression tries to convince someone that she has always been depressed, that she’ll always be depressed, that she’s weak and that she’s not worth anything. But that, too, is not a true reflection of reality. That’s the depression talking.

Jane felt enlivened by the idea that her thinking about not being able to handle her eating was not necessarily accurate and was just her off-track mentality lying to her.  When she was able to take a step back from these thoughts and really evaluate them, Jane, too, was able to see that they weren’t true. She was able to remember other times when her life felt really stressful but she maintained control. She was also able to remember that, when she’s on track, on a day-to-day basis it really doesn’t feel overly hard because she has positive momentum built up.  Jane and I discussed that while it is true that getting back on track can be hard, it’s not true that staying on track is too hard to manage.  By the time she left session, Jane told me that she felt much stronger and willing to do what she needed to do to get back on track. She knew she could do it, and she knew that once she did, it would feel so much easier again.

In Session with Debbie: Kitchen Cleanup

In session this week, my client, Brian, told me he was having trouble getting himself to refrain from eating while he was cleaning the kitchen after dinner.  Brian explained to me that he and his wife split household duties, and while she was in charge of most of the cooking, he was in charge of the kitchen clean up.  Unfortunately, Brian really disliked kitchen cleanup duty, and he used food (eaten standing up) to procrastinate getting started.  Brian realized that he would eat more (also standing up) while he was cleaning as a means to make the task more pleasant.

To help Brian with this, I first asked him, “What goes through your mind when you think about cleaning the kitchen?” Brian told me it was something like, “I hate that I have to do this. This stinks. This is so annoying.”  Upon hearing this, it was no surprise to me that Brian had such trouble getting himself to start cleaning the kitchen; it was clear that he was making it so much harder for himself by telling himself such negative things. I asked Brian if there was a way in which he could reconceptualize kitchen duty and make it more pleasant.  Brian and I talked about this further, and Brian told me that one of his values was being a good family member and taking care of his family.  His wife does many things to take care of the family, and his cleaning the kitchen was one way in which he could do the same. We agreed that instead of viewing kitchen duty as a hated and inconvenient task, he would instead view it as an important way in which he was being a good family member.  Instead of telling himself, “I hate cleaning the kitchen, this stinks,” we decided that Brian would tell himself, “I’m being a good family member by cleaning the kitchen. It’s great that I get to take care of my family in this way.”  Brian made a Response Card with this idea and agreed to read it every night after dinner.

We then discussed what other strategies Brian could put in place to make the cleaning more pleasant.  I asked Brian how long it actually took to clean the kitchen, and Brian guessed it was about 20 minutes. “Although,” he told me, “It would probably be even less if I didn’t waste time eating while I was doing it.”  We agreed that as a first strategy, he would time how long it actually took. Brian guessed it might be only about 10 minutes.  We then decided that he would do something like put on music, or listen to a podcast on his phone, while he was cleaning.  That way, he’d have something interesting to focus on and would be less likely to turn to food to make the task more pleasant.

With these strategies in place – changing his thoughts about cleaning the kitchen and reading a Response Card before he got started, timing how long it takes, and listening to something pleasurable while he cleaned – Brian felt confident that he could get himself through kitchen cleanup without eating.

Holiday Party

Over the weekend I want to a holiday party.  And I got off track.  Yes, even professional diet coaches make mistakes.  The party started at 2:00pm and I ate (a healthy and satisfying) lunch before I left. My plan for the party was: no alcohol (in part because I was driving) and just raw vegetables (which I was pretty sure they would have), and then once I got home, eat a good dinner and have dessert.  The first hour or so of the party went smoothly.  I was able to stick easily to my no alcohol rule and I didn’t even go look at the food.  Then, a while later, I found myself sitting around the food table talking to people.  It seemed like everyone around me was eating from the delicious looking spread.  They did have raw vegetables, and for a while I was able to limit myself to just that by placing the bowl of carrots and cauliflower directly in front of me.

But after a while, my resistance seemed to go down and I started eating the junk food. What were my sabotaging  thoughts?  It wasn’t, “Everyone else is eating it so I can, too,” because I know that my body doesn’t know or care what anybody around me is eating, it only knows what I eat. It wasn’t even, “It’s the holidays and I should be able to indulge,” because I knew that I had many more holiday-related events coming up where I was planning to eat more food than just vegetables.  I think it started with, “Just a little bit is okay,” and as frequently happens, a little bit turned into more, and then even more.  Before I knew it, I found myself taking chip after chip and even eating the candy that I had already decided I would take home and have after dinner.  I was most definitely off track.

And then I remembered a situation one of my dieters was in a few years ago.  She was at a party at a bar and got off track by eating too many of the bar snacks being passed around.  Instead of just thinking, “I’ve blown it for the party, I might as well keep eating and get back on track when I get home/at the end of the day/tomorrow/the day after tomorrow,” she went to the bathroom, read her Advantages List and Response Cards, refocused, and didn’t eat anything else for the rest of the party. I have recounted this story countless times to my clients as a reminder that it’s possible to gain control in the middle of a party and that they never need to wait even one more moment to get back on track.  With that in my mind, I realized that if my client could do it, I could, too.  I made the decision that I would get back on track right that moment, and just like my client, not eat anything else for the rest of the party.  And that’s exactly what I did.

I ended up staying at the party for several more hours and didn’t leave until after 8:00pm.  By the time I left the party, I was hungry again and looking forward to dinner – but I knew I wouldn’t eat it until I got home.  As I was leaving the party, I took a moment to reflect back on my experience and give myself a whole lot of credit.  I acknowledged how great it was that I was able to get back on track and what a triumph it was that I managed, after getting off track, to stop eating completely and actually leave hungry.  What could have turned out to be a bad experience in which I continued to eat off track for the rest of the party (and potentially the rest of the day), and felt really badly about it, turned into a major success. Although I had overeaten earlier in the party, because I recovered and got right back on track, it became an experience I was proud of, not one I regretted.

The moral of the story is that even diet coaches get off track from time to time.  We’re not perfect, no one is perfect.  But a mistake doesn’t have to be a painful thing. In fact, a mistake that you recover from right away can turn out to be something that makes you feel even stronger and more confident, instead of less, because it gives you the opportunity to prove to yourself that you can bounce back right away.  If you get off track during the holiday season, get right back on.  Just like my dieter did at her party, and just like I did at mine, you never need to wait even one more moment to get back on track. And remember – the moment you get back on track is the moment you start feeling good again.

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. 

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