Over the past two weeks, we have asked you to keep a food journal. We did this for two reasons: the first being to create some awareness for yourself on your current eating habits and behaviors and secondly to make you aware of how clients can feel with this exercise. Did you notice any apprehensiveness from yourself with this task? This difficulty could be in the form of not wanting to write down a particular food (sometimes convincing yourself that one Reese’s cup doesn’t matter) or not eating a specific food because you will have to write it down. Or did you start to have obsessive and destructive behaviors manifest itself with the food journal? We asked you to delve deep into your feelings with this exercise because your experiences will give you insight into your client’s struggles. The more we get real with ourselves and our issues the more we can help our clients overcome their problems.
One of the stickiest things that happen with a food journal is the raw emotions that come to the surface. Have you ever asked a client to fill out a food journal and you think it’s going well and then it blows up in your face? For example, you have a client, let’s call her Sharon, and you ask her to fill out a food journal. She complies and fills one out with what she is eating.
You, being her coach, make a series of suggestions because you care and want to see Sharon succeed in losing that 25 pounds. She tells you “yea, I know. I need to stop that snacking in the afternoon in the work lounge and cut back on the carbs.” You guys leave your session thinking you have solved Sharon’s problem of why she’s not losing the weight. She’s going to start eating 20-30g of lean protein at every meal with two cups of plain steamed veggies, and a 1/2 cup of quinoa. She is going to stop having her afternoon Coke and instead have a cup of plain green tea, and she’s going to quit her Ben and Jerry’s habit. Ben and Jerry can’t sabotage her anymore!
She returns next week, and you ask about her nutrition habits and food journal, and all of a sudden you have Sharon in a puddle of tears telling you she’s a failure and everything is just too hard. Or worse, Sharon stops coming and is ignoring your calls and emails.
Unfortunately, the food journal is one of the first things a coach will hand a client to do without thoroughly preparing the client for the emotional turmoil or the coach not being ready for this turmoil. If the client does fill out the food journal, a common mistake a coach does is then analyze the food journal for where the client “messed up” and then make a series corrections often ignoring the human in front of us. We first need to understand a couple of crucial things about behavior and eating. A lot of times a client’s eating is a way of trying to solve a problem. A human’s behavior around food is often in response to what is perceived as a threat. We eat to make ourselves feel better, and we fight back against rules and restrictions with our food choices. Diets often fail because there is a natural human tendency to rebel against external forms of control.
There are four critical responses to threat, and they show up often in our eating behaviors.
Focus – This is when eaters are in a heightened awareness and often hyper-vigilant. Constantly evaluating every single thing that goes in their mouth.
“Can I eat that? What macronutrient is this? Is this “good” or “bad”? Is my stomach protruding out? What happens when I eat x? How many calories is that? Am I allowed to have that?”
Clients will often seem tense during this stage. They will be incredibly watchful and edgy possible a little breathless. Their neck muscles and jaw can look clenched, and their gaze is focused.
Fight – This is when the eater rebels against the set of rules or restrictions that have been imposed by themselves or someone. They have the “fuck it response.”
“Fuck it. I’ve already screwed up might as well keep going! Fuck diet culture! You can’t tell me what to do! I’m the boss of me!”
Clients usually have their upper body clenched at this time ready and looking for a fight.
Flee – This is our avoidance behavior. The eater will avoid discomfort, pain, stress, boredom, and loneliness by eating or in some cases not eating. This response is the “eat all the feelings!” area.
“Today sucks! I’m going to drown my sorrows with a bottle of wine!”
“I can’t deal with this [coach’s instruction]. It’s too hard! I’m freaking out! I’m a failure!”
Clients will often be fidgety during this time. These are the clients that can’t sit still during a conversation. They want to be ready to walk away.
Freeze – This is when the eater checks out. Sometimes you can see them glaze over when you are talking to them. They stop answering your phone calls and emails. Clients freeze as the last resort. They often feel trapped without any options.
“I don’t know what happened. I just fell off the wagon.”
Clients often seem not quite there. Their posture is hunched. They feel defeated and shamed.
How can we avoid what happened with Sharon? We can analyze a food journal a little differently, and we include a feelings/emotions part of a food journal assignment. This week you are going to examine your food journal.
Analyzing a Food Journal with Compassion:
When it comes to analyzing a food journal, we are going to take a different approach, and we are going to practice with ourselves first. Using your journal that includes your feelings and emotions, you are going to start evaluating it with the utmost compassion.
1. Remember that eating behaviors are a way to fix a problem. It is a way to survive a difficult time. Sometimes maladaptive eating behaviors are an extremely effective approach to handling a stressful situation. So re-frame your views on these less than ideal eating behaviors as a way to survive, problem solve, and resilience.
2. Start with and find the bright spots. In Krista Scott Dixon terms “turn up the awesome, turn down the suck.”
- Notice where you are doing well and start there.
- What foods, habits, or mindsets helped you stay on track?
- Does starting the day off with a shake help? Does packing your meals for the day the night before help you stay on track the next day? Does a meal prep on Sunday work for you? What about meal prepping on a different day (because grocery shopping on Sunday is a nightmare)?
- What foods, habits, or mindsets helped you stay on track?
Is there a way to expand on what you are already doing well? Focus on re-producing wanted behaviors and mindsets rather than eliminating unwanted behaviors and mindsets.
3) Start with “good enough” or “1% better.”
You’ve picked where you would like to expand your awesomeness. How can you move one more notch towards better with that? You probably, from reviewing your journal, have many things you want to change. Pick ONE. Something that is small and you easily have a 100% confidence rate at achieving it. Pick something that takes no more than 5 minutes of your time to think about it or do.
a. Fill up a water bottle before you leave for work
b. Add one serving of vegetables to your day
c. Take a supplement, you have meant to take
d. Make a shake instead of heading out to fast food
e. Make a slightly better choice at a restaurant
f. Sit with and explore your feelings about a craving before eating that Ben and Jerry’s
g. Eat slowly and add 5 minutes to a meal
4) Congratulate yourself on taking action towards better!
Why are we just picking one simple daily action to change right now? Because making change is a skill. We need to prepare to change. We want to become better at change so for the next week you are going to practice change by picking your own “good enough” practice. Approach your clients the same way. Sometimes let your clients choose their 1% better.
1. Food journaling can be a great tool if we are prepared for some of the behaviors associated with this tool. We need to be aware of key responses to threats because they can show up when instructed to complete a food journal. These responses are:
2. Behaviors with food are a way to deal with a problem (stress, boredom, loneliness, or anxiety). EVERYONE experiences this at some point or another. Try to understand where this is coming from for yourself and try to understand where your clients are coming from in their behaviors.
1. Look for the bright spots. What are you or your client doing well?
2. Expand on what you or your clients are already doing well. What are your strengths? Use those.
3. Pick ONE thing to do 1% better. For right now focus on a 5-minute action that is good enough. Practice change.
4. Keep moving towards awesome!