My dieter, Diane, is going through a hard time. In session she told me that, over the past week, it has been much harder for her to get herself to do what she needs to do, and she hasn’t been as focused on skills like eating everything sitting down, slowly, and mindfully. I told Diane what I tell every dieter going through a hard time: hard times are normal, they happen to everyone, but they always pass and things will get easier again.
In order to help this hard time go away more quickly, Diane and I first discussed how she could get herself to be more focused on her skills. Diane said that part of the reason she was having trouble getting herself to eat sitting down is because she was having sabotaging thoughts like, “It’s just some grapes, so it’s really okay to eat them while I’m walking to my car.” I reminded Diane what she used to remember very clearly – that it’s not about the calories, it’s about the habit.
“Every time you eat something standing up,” I told her, “whether it has 20 calories or 2,000 calories, you’re still reinforcing the habit of giving in and making it more likely you’ll give in the next time, too.” Diane and I discussed that not only was eating sitting down every single time important to reinforce the habit of sitting down, but it was also important because every time she ate standing up, she reinforced the more general habit of giving in and sent herself the message, “It’s okay to not do what I say I’m going to do.” Because Diane was going through a hard time, it was particularly important for her to focus on small, as well as big habits, because once she allowed leniency in one area, it would quickly extend to other areas, making it much harder for her to do what she needs to do.
Diane told me that she had also been having sabotaging thoughts about not wanting to follow the “rules” and feeling rebellious. “I don’t know,” she said, “I just don’t feel like following the rules lately. I guess I want more freedom.” To help with this, I said to Diane, “If you think about it, we’ve never used the word ‘rules’ in session, and part of why you’re struggling with this right now may be because you’re using that word with yourself. I wonder if, when you say that you don’t feel like following the rules, it brings back memories of being a kid and having rules imposed on you by sources of authority – and usually those rules were things you didn’t want to do and weren’t happy about. Right now, it’s completely different. No one is imposing these diet rules on you. Instead, these are thing you’re doing for yourself in the service of reaching really, really important goals.” Diane agreed that it would be helpful for her to remind herself that these are not like the rules she had to follow as a child, and that if she didn’t practice good eating habits, the only person she’d be rebelling against is herself.
Next, Diane and I discussed her wanting ‘freedom.’ “Let’s talk about you feeling a lack of freedom,” I said to her. “You’ve already lost 30 pounds. Let’s think back to what your life was like 30 pounds heavier. How much freedom did lack when you had to carry around 30 extra pounds? How much freedom did you have when you had to stop midway up a flight of stairs to catch your breath, or when you couldn’t easily take the laundry down to the basement? How much freedom did you have when you felt at the mercy of your hunger and cravings, and when you spent so much time thinking about needing to make changes but felt helpless to do so? How much freedom did you feel when you went to your closet to find something to wear and worried about whether or not something would fit?”
Diane and I discussed the fact that, while she now doesn’t have the freedom of eating everything she wants whenever she wants it, she does have the even greater freedom that comes from not being at the mercy of her hunger and cravings, from knowing that she can wear anything in her closet, from not worrying that people will judge her based on what she eats, and from going into a party or event and not being concerned about how she’ll be able to stay on track.
Diane told me that this was all very helpful, but the last thing that was still on her mind was the persistent question she had lately about whether or not it was really worth it to her keep working on healthy eating. I asked Diane if she wanted to return to her old weight and gain back 30 pounds (or more) and she told me that she definitively did not. “Therefore,” I said to her, “we know that it’s worth it, if for no other reason than you not wanting to go back to the way things were.” I also discussed with Diane that when she is not going through a hard time and when she is consistently doing well and on track, she doesn’t struggle with this question of whether or not it’s worth it, because she just knows that it is. “Because of this,” I said to her, “It’s not even worth engaging in the mental struggle of questioning whether or not it’s worth it. We know that it is, and we know that once the hard time passes, you won’t doubt this anymore. So whenever you have the thought, ‘is it worth it?’ just strongly remind yourself that it is and move on.”