I’ve been working with my client, Joe, for a few months and he has been doing exceptionally well at getting his eating under control. When I saw him last week, he told me about a number of events he had been to over the past week and described how well he had done at them. As I was listening, I noticed that he said one phrase multiple times: “And I didn’t have any dessert.” I asked him about this, and Joe told me that the few times he tried to have dessert he ate way too much, so now he just doesn’t have it at all.

I discussed with Joe that while this may work as a short-term strategy, avoiding dessert would very likely not enable him to lose weight and keep it off long-term. The reason for this is because Joe is being all-or-nothing about dessert – either he doesn’t have any or he has too much. While it has (temporarily) been working for Joe to have no dessert, I knew he wouldn’t be able to stick to that forever. Joe really likes dessert, and so it’s practically a guarantee that at some point he’s going to get very tempted and end up having some. And if he doesn’t know how to stay in control, he’s going to eat way too much, reinforce bad habits, get off track, and jeopardize his weight loss and his sense of control. I also didn’t want Joe to be fearful going into dessert situations, wondering whether or not this would be the time he wouldn’t be able to resist. I knew that if Joe didn’t learn to eat a reasonable amount of dessert, he would continually boomerang between having none and having too much, which would likely eventually lead to weight gain.

I told Joe that I thought it was really important for us to start working on him having reasonable portions of dessert, and although he was wary, Joe agreed to try. I asked him if there was a dessert opportunity coming up this week, and he told me that he was going to a barbeque over the weekend that would almost certainly have a table full of desserts.

Joe and I then spent the rest of the session preparing him to go to the barbeque and have one dessert. We first discussed some strategies: Joe would look at all the desserts before deciding what to have, he would put whatever he was going to eat on a plate, and he would sit down and eat it very slowly and mindfully, savoring every bite. Joe and I then discussed what he wanted to say to himself before and after he had his one dessert, to ensure that he was able to maintain his control.

Before he ate dessert, Joe decided that he would read his Advantages List and remind himself why it was worth it to limit himself to just one. After he ate dessert, Joe decided that he would read the following Response Card:

Joe emailed me Saturday night and told me that the barbeque was a success! For one of the first times in recent memory, Joe was able to face an entire spread of dessert and not be all-or-nothing about it. Joe said that reading his Advantages List and Response Card greatly helped him keep his head in the right place and he left the party feeling so proud of himself. Joe agreed to keep working on the skill of having one dessert and knows that this will help him ultimately keep weight off for good.