Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Today my boss yelled at me and tonight I ate a quart of ice cream

The message to self soothe with high fat, high carb comfort foods is everywhere. On our way home from a weekend getaway today, my husband and I stopped in a lovely cafe in Boonville, CA. We saw a card in their gift store that said, “I was sad ‘til I had Lauren’s fries!”
Experts believe 75% of overeating is caused by emotions. People often eat in response to feelings of stress, depression, loneliness, boredom, anxiety, and anger. Even happiness results in excess food celebrations. Emotional overeating leads to weight gain which results in lowered self esteem. Negative self image increases anxiety and depression leading to even more weight gain. The downward spiral becomes a firmly entrenched habit that prevents you from learning effective skills to resolve your emotional distress. In the words of a report from the American Psychological Association, “Weight loss is never successful if you remain burdened by stress and other negative feelings.”
The triggers for emotional eating range from a fight with your boss, spouse, or child; a long commute; an overly scheduled lifestyle to a bout of depression that leaves one feeling hopeless and unmotivated.
The bottom line is you can’t use food to soothe your emotions AND lose weight. Here are some simple, yet effective stress management tools to crawl out of the vicious cycle.
1) Diaphragmatic or belly breathing. Breathe in peace and calm; breathe out tensions and worries.
2) Listen to music and/or dance.
3) Tai chi
4) Yoga
5) Progressive muscle relaxation- Learn the difference between tense and relaxed muscles.
6) Meditation-Try a Jon Kabat Zinn or Pema Chodron CD.
7) Get involved in an art project.
8) Ride your bike. (Take advantage of the remaining weeks of summer.)
9) Walk or jog.
10) Keep perspective. Write down 3 things you’re grateful for daily.
11) Learn to identify, listen to, and change your negative self talk.

When in doubt about what to do, slow down your impulse to soothe with food by walking away from tbe kitchen and use the “pause technique”. Gently grab the hand you eat with; take 3 calming breaths; and ask yourself the following questions: “What am I thinking? What am I feeling, and what is it I REALLY need right now?”

If all else fails, try an anxiety reducing primal scream instead of reaching for the ice cream.

What tools do you use?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My wife’s latest diet is my next rollercoaster ride

Living with a chronic dieter means facing feelings of helplessness with regards to their sabotaging and harmful behaviors. Spouses must face their fears of the consequences that are likely to occur if their soul mate isn’t able to reach and maintain a healthy weight. “Will I be a widow at 55″?” “Will he have a stroke and be unable to work?” “Will we be able to enjoy the rest of our lives together as we planned when we married?”
Even the flip side is rough. One husband commented, “I get nervous when my wife does lose weight because I don’t know if it’s going to stay off. I feel helpless. It’s a roller coaster ride- I get excited when she starts a new plan (eating or exercise); I’m hopeful that she’s finally found what will work for her, and then I’m frustrated when it doesn’t work.”
It’s easy to become frustrated when we see our partners making poor food choices. One spouse said, “I have to constantly remind myself she’s working as hard as she can.” He’s learned that it’s not about the diet per se…in part it’s about what his wife learned growing up. “Her mother made a lot of food, and in those days it wasn’t healthy, but it was comforting.” Today, Scott knows it has a lot to do with their stress levels. “We live in a stressful world–we take care of the house, our jobs, two kids in college. We always have to squeeze everything in, including the gym for stress management.”
Many partners of chronic dieters don’t really understand. They want to help and there’s only so much they can do– and then it backfires. Too much “help” feels like nagging. Too little help feels unsupportive.

Here are some things you can share with your partner:


1) Partners can model good eating habits. Scott said, “I never ate salad before. Now we eat it all the time with chicken or fish.” Instead of getting a burger and fries, he orders nutritious meals at a restaurant, and his wife Carol is more likely to do the same. “If the fries are not on my plate, she’s not feeling badly that she doesn’t have them either, and she isn’t looking for them. We no longer buy a half gallon of ice cream-we buy 100 calorie options. When the package is empty, dessert is over.”
2) Plan ahead to be sure the house is always stocked with healthy choices. You can serve delicious watermelon instead of cake at summer bar-b-ques.
3) Split meals. Carol said, “I like when Scott suggests splitting a meal. I’m so programmed to order my own plate that I often forget that it’s enjoyable to share something and walk away from the table feeling satisfied and not stuffed.”
4) Get intentional and incidental exercise together. Scott and Carol go the gym together most days, in addition to walking more, taking the stairs in a hotel, and having a rule of not using the moving escalator at the airport. Exercising together helps the non-dieter see that the dieter is working hard. Although Scott gets resentful at times of all the money they spend on the latest program, the bottom line is he sees paying for the gym and a trainer as helping to keep Carol motivated. He keeps the end goal front and center–he loves Carol and wants her to live a long and healthy life–with him.
5) Suggest healthy activities casually–”Do you want to go for a walk together?” (instead of “You need your exercise so let’s go for a hike,”)
6) Plant a vegetable garden together.
7) Express appreciation when your partner prepares healthy meals.

8) Offer to do more of the grocery shopping and meal preparation – Keep it healthy
9) Choose a restaurant that has salads and seafood instead of calorie laden Italian or Mexican food.
10) Compliment your partner when he or she has been working hard at the program.
 11) Notice smaller clothing sizes.
12) Don’t pester the dieter. Carol says, “When Scott leaves me be, it helps. If he pesters me, I feel more self conscious. We hate ourselves as it is.”
13) Remind your spouse to put themselves first. Carol says, “It is helpful when Scott reminds me to put myself first….when I want to take care of what I think is another pressing issue. I appreciate when Scott reminds me not to put my food planning or workout on the back burner. I feel as though I’m being given the permission that I can’t seem to always give myself.”
14) Order room service for breakfast on a cruise instead of going to the buffet.
15) Let your partner decide when it’s time to go on a program (even though he might be worried about your health).
16) Offer to go dancing or purchase a video game like “Dance Dance Revolution” as a fun alternative to traditional exercise.
1) Don’t eat tempting foods in front of your partner.
2) Avoid saying things like, “Should you be eating that?” “Is that on your diet?” “Aren’t you supposed to exercise today?”
 3) Don’t bring unhealthy foods into the house.
 4) Don’t suggest stopping for ice cream on the way home in the evening or ask “Why don’t we ever have chips in the house?
5) Don’t complain if your partner sets the alarm an hour earlier in the A.M. to exercise.
6) Don’t make your partner feel guilty if they fall off the wagon.
7) Don’t overload your social calendar. Have balance. Carol said:
“It’s hard when Scott forgets that it’s a 24 hour struggle for me…when we make our week overly social, I struggle with planning and making good choices.”
8) Don’t dine out frequently. It’s harder because you often don’t really know how many calories are in the food.
9) Don’t make disparaging comments about overweight people.
10) Don’t track what your partner is eating or if they should be exercising–keep any thoughts or judgments you may have to yourself.
11) Don’t express resentment at the free time your partner is devoting to exercise.
12) Don’t ask, “Are you going on a diet again?” with a sarcastic or disbelieving tone.

What’s helpful for you?

A special thank you to my family, friends and weight loss clients and their spouses who provided their heartfelt input about this challenging topic.

Ellen is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco and
Redwood City, California. She specializes in Cognitive Behavioral
Therapy and incorporates the use of mindfulness into the treatment of
depression, anxiety, and emotional overeating. She runs a holistic
weight loss program called Center for Thoughtful Weight Loss,
www.thoughtfulweightloss.com. You can email Ellen at ellen@thoughtfulweightloss.com

Monday, August 9, 2010

The cheesecake keeps calling me

And this time I have a different answer. 

Last October Carol went to her family doctor with symptoms of heartburn. She was appalled and devastated when the nurse asked her to step on the scale and she saw just how overweight she had become. She had to face the facts — admit she was consuming hundreds of extra calories, snacking on automatic pilot all night long and waking up feeling ill. She’d been in denial of how heavy she had become.
Carol decided to sign up for the weight management program at her gym, hoping the nutritionist was going to give her a magic pill to lose weight. She wanted the dietician to do the work, not her. Her program was to write down and count all her calories. Sadly she thought, ”It can’t be that simple; this can’t be the magic I was looking for.” She thought, ‘It’s not going to work.”
Carol joined calorieking.com and her husband bought her a pocket calorie counting book to carry with her. She realized the types and amounts of food she had been eating were making her obese. Soon she was asking herself, ”Is it worth all those calories?” The old thoughts of “I won’t write down the cupcakes” are gone. Carol knows not writing it down is only lying to herself, and “what’s the point of that?”
When she watched cooking shows in the past and saw the chef putting in a half pound of butter, she used to think, ”Ooh I can’t wait to test that recipe.” Now she watches with different thoughts. Now she says, “Too many calories,” and chooses not to eat it. She got to the point where she’s able to say, ”I’d rather be fit than eat what’s calling me.” Counting her calories proved to be the magic bullet. ”Being mindful of all of your calories really does work,”’ she said.
Carrying something in her purse, like a fiber bar, allows Carol to be out shopping and not hear the pretzel shop or the cinnamon bun store screaming out her name. Now when she has a craving, she reminds herself that she has a finite number of calories left for the day. ”The nice thing about counting calories is I can have it (i.e. a cookie) as long as I’m mindful of how many calories it is and what I have left for the day. Planning ahead is essential.” She tells herself that she still has choices, and doesn’t need to feel deprived as long as she is mindful of portion sizes. She can savor half of a cupcake and feel very satisfied.
At her school picnic last week they served hotdogs, chips, and juice boxes. Even though she doesn’t even like hotdogs, she would have eaten it in the past because she ate on auto pilot. Now, being both mindful and accountable, she chooses her calories wisely. “Would I want those specific calories or would I rather have something I really wanted, in this case going out to lunch with a friend for a Greek salad (dressing on the side of course)?”

What’s calling Carol now is the thought, ”I need to make good choices.” Although she still wants pancakes and waffles for breakfast, she’s choosing the raisin bran cereal with skim milk.
Now she is being called to maintain a program that will allow her to be healthy and to feel good about herself.

What’s calling you?
Ellen is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco and Redwood City, California. She specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and incorporates the use of mindfulness into the treatment of depression, anxiety, and emotional overeating. She runs a holistic weight loss program called Center for Thoughtful Weight Loss, www.thoughtfulweightloss.com. You can email Ellen at ellen@thoughtfulweightloss.com