This week I had a session with my client, Jon. I’ve been working with Jon for about three weeks and the whole time he’s been struggling; it’s been really hard for him to get himself to work on the skills we talk about in session. This week Jon told me that for some reason he just doesn’t feel committed to this process and was wondering whether or not he could actually do it. Or, more accurately, whether he could commit himself enough to actually do it. Upon hearing this, it was clear to me that the first thing we needed to do was figure out exactly why it might be worth Jon putting in the effort to lose weight.
Jon and I went over the Advantages List we had made during our first session and he realized that there were several things on there that in theory would be nice, but weren’t especially compelling or motivating to him at the moment. I had him take off all of the items that didn’t feel extremely important to him and we discussed what was left. Jon realized that he had three main things that felt very important to him: 1. Reducing his risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes (he has family history of all three); 2. Increasing his stamina, especially for the bike trip he and his wife are planning in a couple of months; 3. Getting rid of his beer belly.
Jon and I then did something I usually only do with clients when they’re feeling unmotivated or reluctant: I asked him about the disadvantages of working on losing weight. We knew why he wanted to do it, now we needed to see exactly why he didn’t want to. Jon identified three major disadvantages of working on losing weight: 1. He wouldn’t get to eat what he wants, when he wants it; 2. He would have to limit his food intake, both in terms of quantity and, to some degree, variety; 3. He would have to think about food/losing weight all the time.
To help him get some clarity on his disadvantages, I asked Jon, “Before we started working together, did you think about food and losing weight? Did you spend time feeling badly about what you were eating and did you have thoughts about needing to lose weight and knowing you needed to do something about your eating?” Jon said yes, he had thoughts like that all the time. To this end, I reminded Jon that although he identified having to think about food and losing weight as a disadvantage, the truth was that either way he was going to think about it. Either he was going to have to think about it ahead of time to help him make healthy choices, or he was going to think about it after the fact, when he had overeaten and was feeling terrible about it.
I then reminded Jon that although it was definitely true that he would likely have to eat less food if he was working on losing weight, it actually didn’t mean that he had to get that much less satisfaction from his food if he was really tuned into all the bites he was taking. Jon and I discussed the benefits of really working on eating everything slowly and mindfully, and how much more satisfaction he can get from eating in that way.
Jon and I also discussed the fact that when he was feeling unmotivated, part of what might be happening is that he was focusing too much on what he wasn’t getting – spontaneous food decisions, more food, greater variety – and not enough on what he was getting – feeling in control, smaller beer belly, better health, increased stamina. Jon agreed that trying to change his focus from the negative to the positive would be helpful.
Jon and I then assessed everything we had talked about up to this point. We went over again the real and important advantages of working on losing weight, and the real and undeniable disadvantages of doing so. I asked him, “Which is more important to you? Which do you want more?” Jon thought about it for only a few seconds and answered that, no question, the advantages of losing weight felt much more important to him; that’s what he wanted more. He told me that with these things in mind, he felt more committed to the process than he ever had before.