Two weeks ago I had a session with my dieter, Jennifer, who has devised for herself a rating system to catalog her eating days. Good eating days are green, okay eating days are yellow, and days when she gets off track are red. At the moment Jennifer is going through a difficult dieting time and is struggling to get herself consistently back on track, and she has been having a number of yellow and yellow/red eating days. Just a few weeks ago, and for many weeks before that, Jennifer had been doing very well and had been consistently having green days (which were still interspersed with the occasional yellow day). Jennifer told me that she really wanted to get back to where she was before and again have consistent and consecutive green eating days, but she feels like it’s too hard and right now she can’t imagine being able to have so many perfect eating days in a row.
The first thing I did was remind Jennifer of something very important: Just because she previously had green day after green day, doesn’t mean that all of her eating days were perfect. I reminded Jennifer of mistakes that she had made on some of those days, like giving in to a craving at her son’s school, eating a second helping at dinner, and eating standing up while she was putting away leftovers. However, none of these mistakes meant she didn’t end up having a great day because she was able to immediately recover from them. Jennifer and I then discussed the fact that green days don’t equal flawless days; instead, they are days in which when Jennifer made mistakes, she immediately got back on track and didn’t lose her sense of control, so the mistakes turned out to be very minor (and didn’t lead to more and more mistakes).
Since Jennifer has been going through a harder time recently and kept finding that one mistake would snowball into more, she had started to castrophize mistakes and view them as something she would need to avoid altogether in order to return to having consistently green days. Jennifer lost sight of the fact that just a few weeks ago, mistakes were a part of her daily life and her daily green days. It was critical for Jennifer to remember this because it helped make the prospect of having green days again not seem so daunting. In response to this conversation, Jennifer made the following Response Card:
Jennifer and I then discussed some specific strategies she could use to get through this hard time and make it pass more quickly. Here are some of the things we did:
1. We took a look at Jennifer’s Advantages List and revitalized it so it felt fresh and resonant to her. Since she’s going through a hard time, it’s especially important for Jennifer to read her list so that she can remember exactly why it’s worth it to her to keep going.
2. We did a visualization exercise in which Jennifer visualized exactly what a day was like a few weeks ago when she was doing really well. We discussed how good she felt about being in control, the fact that, on the whole, it wasn’t that hard for her to stay on track, and what she was doing differently that she could start implementing again (like making her kids’ lunches the night before so that she had easier mornings, doing a weekly shopping on Sunday, planning meals for the whole week, not just day-by-day, etc.).
3. We decided that for the next week, Jennifer would spend most of her energy working on the basics of dieting, like reading her Advantages List, reading her Response Cards, eating everything sitting down, slowly, and mindfully, and giving herself credit. In addition to the basics, Jennifer decided that the one other thing that would be extremely helpful for her to continue working on is making meal plans for her family and sticking to them. We decided that Jennifer would focus on just these things for a week (or until she felt more in control), and after that we would discuss adding back in other skills. This way Jennifer had very specific things to concentrate on, knew exactly what was expected of her, and also had evidence from past weeks that she is capable of doing all these things.
When I saw Jennifer during our next session, she reported that she had just had three green days in a row, and was starting to build back up her momentum. Jennifer told me that what was most helpful for her was remembering that green days don’t have to be perfect days and that she can be totally on track while still making mistakes. Jennifer said that once she took the pressure of being perfect off of herself, she was once again able to ger herself to do what she needed to do because she didn’t live in fear of making a mistake.