This week, I had a session with my dieter, Rachel. Although she very much enjoys her job as a manager in a big medical office, Rachel also finds that her days are hectic and stressful. In session this week, Rachel and I discussed a situation in which she got off track on Friday night.
On Friday evening, Rachel had planned on going out to meet friends after work, but then felt too tired from an especially busy week. Although she initially thought to make herself a healthy meal at home, she ended up going home and ordering “way too much” Chinese takeout – and then eating almost all of it over the course of the night. I asked Rachel what thoughts she was having when she decided to order Chinese takeout instead of her planned healthy dinner, and what thoughts she was having that then led her overeat. Rachel said that the main thought she was having was, “I deserve to treat myself.” “I had such a stressful week,” she told me, “and I was already feeling somewhat sad about missing my night out. I kept thinking that I deserved to treat myself after my hard week, and because I was staying in, the thought of big cartons full of Chinese food seemed the way to do it.”
I then asked Rachel how she felt when she was going to bed that night, and she told me she felt, “sick from eating too much, guilty, and really mad at myself.” Rachel and I discussed the fact that, although she ordered Chinese food to “treat herself,” in the end it actually did the exact opposite because she was left feeling badly, both physically and psychologically. I pointed out to Rachel that one of the dangers of treating herself with food was that, at least in this case, it was a form of emotional eating because what Rachel was really looking for was a way to unwind and de-stress from her busy week, as well as feel better about staying in. Emotional eating is something that Rachel has struggled with a lot in the past, and at the time Rachel hadn’t realized that this, too, was emotional eating. And just like every other time Rachel used food to treat emotions, she ended up feeling all the worse for doing so.
Rachel and I then discussed the notion of treating herself and how she might go about it in a way that actually did make her feel like she was treating herself. Rachel told me that when she did things like get a manicure or a massage, or take a long bike ride with her friends, or indulge in an afternoon sitting in a book store with a cup of tea, she felt great, and not at all like how she felt after a night overeating Chinese food. Rachel made the following Response Card to remind herself of this idea: