This week I had a session with my client, Jennifer, with whom I only meet every few months for booster sessions. When Jennifer came in to see me this week she told me that on the whole things have been going well but she’s been having more trouble controlling her sweets intake in the afternoons. Jennifer, who works from home, is a big baker, and through our work together had gotten to the point where she can make any type of tempting baked good and limit herself to just one per day, because she knows she would thoroughly savor and enjoy one and that eating more would make her feel off track. Jennifer told me that there had been a few instances in the past few weeks where she baked and ate two or more of what she made – something she hadn’t done at all for months and months.
To figure out why this was happening, Jennifer and I discussed what else was going on in her life and she told me that her work life had gotten much more stressful lately and she and her husband were also contemplating a big move. I asked Jennifer if she had incorporated stress relievers into her life to help her cope with her increased level of stress. She thought about it and said that no, she hadn’t, in part because she felt guilty about taking time during her day to listen to music or just sit with a mug of hot tea. At this point I realized that Jennifer was falling into a common Diet Trap – the Lack of Alternatives Trap. She was feeling extra stressed and wasn’t allowing herself any means of calming down except eating and so it was no wonder she was having trouble controlling her afternoon eating.
I gave Jennifer the following analogy: If she had diabetes, would she feel guilty about taking time during the day to check her blood sugar and monitor her insulin? Jennifer answered that no, of course she wouldn’t. We discussed all the ways in which stress takes a negative toll and I pointed out to her that doing self-care activities to reduce her stress is just another way of taking care of her health – both physical and psychological. We also discussed the consequences of not allowing herself other means of stress relief, namely that she would keep turning to food and would likely gain weight.
Jennifer and I created a list of things she could do in the afternoons when she felt stressed, along with the reminder that doing any of them would mean taking care of her health, and not something she should feel guilty about. We also discussed that if she was tempted to take more than one baked good she would identify what was happening and label it: She was feeling stressed and her body was telling her she needed to calm down. Jennifer would then remind herself that in that moment she wasn’t depriving herself by not having more to eat because what she didn’t need was more food, what she did need was stress relief, and that’s exactly what she would be giving herself.