Friday, March 4, 2011

The Secret Ingredient for Weight Loss



You have a big presentation to give for work. You have prepared well but are a little anxious about how it will go. You picked out an outfit to wear and feel pretty good after all you’ve been working out and eating well, you’re trying. The morning of your presentation you get to the conference room early. There’s the usual unhealthy work meeting fare: the bagel platter, the Danishes and of course the plate of cookies (your favorite).  You remind yourself you’re “being good” and take a cup of already burnt tasting coffee and review your notes. The presentation is well received and you’re relieved. As you leave the room you grab 2 chocolate chip cookies, you deserve a treat, right? You eat the cookies on your way back to the office. Once in your office mental scolding begins “how could I have just had those? I really blew it.  Why can’t I avoid the sweets?” Pretty soon someone sticks their head in and tells you there’s pizza that was ordered. You’re in a bad mood; the day is ruined and you polish off 3 pieces of pizza.

The above scenario isn’t about anyone in particular but I hear a version of this from clients almost daily.  What went on here? The person just described associated getting through something difficult with a reward. In itself that isn't the problem. However, she wasn’t able to eat the cookies guilt free. She berated herself which didn’t make her snap out of it; instead it perpetuated the poor eating.

The New York Times Well Blog recently ran a piece describing a burgeoning area of research called self-compassion. The woman above would probably have a poor self-compassion score, as many of us do.  Yet there is reason to improve self-compassion as “preliminary data suggest that self-compassion can influence how much we eat and may help some people lose weight.” I know exactly how the nutrition session would go following my imaginary client’s cookie, pizza and god-knows-what-else eating.  She would come into the office and the first thing out of her mouth would be something to the effect of “I really screwed up, I’m so annoyed because I was doing so well and then I just lost it. I just can’t manage to put a week together without something coming up.”  I would then say “OK, now tell me what you would say if a friend was complaining to you about their eating.” Most of us know how to comfort another person, we have compassion just not for ourselves.

One of the tools I use with Foodtrainers clients is Treat Training. Clients practice treating themselves using four criteria 1) treats should be planed 2) treats should be portioned (two cookies not 10). 3) Treats should consumed guilt free and 4) next meal or snack on track. These steps help turn something guilt-ridden into something enjoyable. The Times article described a study conducted on female college students. Students thought they were doing taste tests. Two groups were given doughnuts. One group was told not to be hard on themselves that everyone in the study eats this stuff. Later women were asked to taste candies. The women not given the self-compassion message ate more.

So when you hear yourself using your critical voice try to frame things more positively. I have clients list their victories or behaviors they feel good about each day. Perhaps you ate a good breakfast or made it to the gym or avoided the cookies but dwell on these things versus the others…and if you don’t I’ll kill you!
Do you have self-compassion? What strategies to you use to be more kind to yourself? What are your victories today?


23 comments:

  1. Love the idea of treat training. It prevents that all or nothing thinking that leads to binging and guilt. When I have a treat, I want all the joy that comes from it! Thanks for the tips!

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  2. Treat training is a great idea! I think I need wine training too.

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  3. Claire I would suggest being a "1" girl with wine. The first glass is the best. Plan to have 1 and savor it. Try this for 2 weeks and check back. Another approach is to work with a budget and plan your week (including "skip" nights).

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  4. I saw that piece in the Times - so enlightening! I like to use Michael Pollan's "food rule": you only get to eat "junk food" that you make yourself. It takes work so you don't do it as often, you control the quality of the ingredients and can make a healthier version, and then you can actually enjoy it (and not beat yourself up about eating crap that you didn't even really want/enjoy).

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  5. The spiral of poor eating that you described is a common issue. Many people feel that if they've already "blown it," they may as well continue to. I have been in that boat before, and have learned to find it most "rewarding" to accept that the past cannot be changed, but the future can. Whether it is about eating or not, its important to move forward cognisant of "mistakes" in order to avoid repeating or worsening them. Treat Training is a great idea, because it allows you to compartmentalize treats, separate from mistakes.

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  6. So important, Lauren. As someone who had ZERO self-compassion for herself, and everytime I ate something I deemed "bad," I felt like I was bad too. It's an awful, vicious cycle that takes a wonderful RD like yourself to help people like me see that treats can be worked into a diet--guilt free! Thanks, Lauren!

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  7. ooo treat training :) sounds great to me! thanks so much for this post hun! xo

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  8. Umm...did you write this post specifically for me, Lauren? Or have you been reading my journal? ;-) Just kidding, but it certainly resonates with what I do and how I feel!

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  9. I am so guilty of your opening scenario. In fact I had a bagel today as a Friday treat and was sitting here beating myself up until I read this post. It is a rainy overcast day here in Chicago, and I can see myself opting for some cheesy soup, but if I stick to your plan, and stop the guilt, I think I can feel so much better about that bagel today and get a salad for lunch instead.

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  10. Carrie, Devin the truth is this is about all of us. We second guess, we find fault. Maybe the woman ate the cookies because she never allows herself to eat cookies. Maybe she used the cookies as a release because she doesn't have other ways to release in her head at the time. Carrie- did you like the bagel, was it worth it? If it was, then you're fine. If it wasn't maybe try to opt for delicious bagels or warm bagels or certain types of bagels you find worth it (if you were in NYC I would say sourdough H and H).

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  11. Great post! I am definitely someone who does the downward spiral thing. I have such a hard time planning a treat now because I don't trust myself...I figure, better to constantly "be good" than risk a spiral effect. I think if I could incorporate your "planned treat trick" I might find myself better able to "indulge" and then stop. I think I will use the 1 glass of wine idea in Germany. SAVOR. And, yes, we can all benefit from having more compassion for ourselves. Why is it so much easier to be compassionate toward others?

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  12. I think that the guilt free part is the one that's the biggest challenge because we strive to fit this ideal or lifestyle and then eat something that's not part of it and feel guilty about it. Then it starts an emotional downward spiral.

    With that being said, it should be embraced and ok'd all the time, but doing it, realizing why you are doing it and enjoying it is the task.

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  13. thank you for this post! i have a hard time with treats and getting right back on track, although i'm getting better.

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  14. I am also familiar with this scenario. It is so easy to turn that one flop into a whole day of bad eating.
    I think you provided some great insight. It is remember to not feel guilty which I think so many people do.

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  15. It's too easy to punish yourself and then throw in the towel. I'll use your tools next time I see a treat knocking me too far off track.

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  16. I love the idea of treat training. I've been working on some of these ideas with my nutritionist lately, and I'm really looking forward to applying these methods day to day. Reading this blog has really been like getting tips from my nutritionist every day! And I love that! Thanks!

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  17. another awesome good points, I used to tell clients the same thing, oh and heres a scone!

    Rebecca

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  18. This was an interesting post and I really appreciated your thoughts on self-compassion. I'll be back for more insights. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

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  19. michele kofman phdMarch 5, 2011 at 7:58 AM

    Yes, Yes and Yes! For me and so many of my clients this is really one of the magic bullets. For weight loss and so many other areas of life. When we are kind and fair to ourselves we can so often achieve what we hope to get to. Great piece Lauren!

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  20. Thanks Michelle, I love "fair to yourself".

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  21. I used to feel this way - that I deserved something. Especially after dinner when I would collapse on the couch with a chocolate or two. But your dessert detox idea totally helped me overcome that. I've gone nearly 2 weeks without anything after dinner! I am thrilled. :)

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  22. Great post! Really enjoyed this one.

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  23. Ameena, love that you are doing the dessert detox, after a couple of weeks it gets easier, doesn't it?

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