An integral part of our work with dieters is having them make and read Response Cards.  Response Cards are simply helpful ideas, messages, and responses that dieters practice reading every day and which help them respond to and overcome sabotaging thoughts.  Last week I had a session with my dieter, Marissa.  During session, Marissa told me that her stack of Response Cards was starting to become unwieldy and that it was taking a long time to read them all in the morning, so by the time she got to the last ones, she was just rushing through to accomplish the task.  Knowing that Response Cards are only truly helpful if dieters really take the time to read and process each one, I asked Marissa to bring in her stash of cards to our next session so that we could go through them and figure out if there were some she no longer needed to be reading. 

This week Marissa brought in all of her cards and we spent part of session reading and really thinking about each one.  Including cards that Marissa and I had made together in session, as well as ones that she had made on her own at home, Marissa had over 40 Response Cards; she was right – that probably is too many for someone to read through and process individually every morning.   The first thing Marissa and I did was go through each card and categorize them into one of three categories: there was a “Yes” pile for cards that Marissa still found very helpful and knew she would benefit from reading daily, a “Maybe” pile for cards that Marissa wasn’t sure would be entirely helpful, or cards that weren’t necessarily helpful every day, and a “No” pile for cards that no longer applied to what she was working on or having trouble with. 

Most of the cards that ended up in Marissa’s “No” pile had to do with skills that she was easily able to get herself to do every day:

Reading my Advantages List will take less than 1 minute.  Isn’t it worth 1 minute in the morning if it might help me reach my goals?

It’s not about the calories, it’s about the habit. It doesn’t matter if the bite of food has 20 calories or 200 calories, I need to eat everything sitting down.

It’s 100% worth it to me to take the time to pack and bring lunch every day because it will save me calories AND money.  When I don’t bring lunch and end up buying something unhealthy, I feel guilty about both what I ate and unnecessarily spending money. 

Marissa and I agreed that just because she would be putting some cards away for the moment, she wouldn’t throw any of them away.  Although these cards didn’t seem relevant to her now, they very well may be at some point again in the future.   

When Melissa and I were going through her “Maybe” pile, we realized that some of the cards in this category should be put away for now, some should be brought out only when they were applicable, and some she should keep in other places, like her car or her desk, and read them as-needed. 

Marissa decided to put away (for now) cards about special occasions and traveling:

My body doesn’t know or care that it’s my birthday, it processes calories the same 365 days a year.  However, it’s reasonable to plan in advance to eat some extra on my birthday.  Doing so will help me to enjoy what I’m eating without guilt and therefore enjoy my birthday more.

There is no such thing as “blowing it for the whole trip,” because if I make a mistake and continue to eat off track for the rest of the vacation, I will continue to gain more weight.  Get right back on track! 

Cards that have to do with things like eating out or dealing with treats in her office, Marissa decided to keep in her desk and/or in her car:

If I walk into the office kitchen and see something tempting, walk right back out! Remember – if I hadn’t seen it in the first place, I wouldn’t want it anyway, so I’m not missing out on anything.

When I eat out, remember: Just because everyone around me is eating something, doesn’t mean that I can. My body has no idea what anybody else is eating, it only knows what I eat. 

By the time Marissa and I had finished going through her “No” and “Maybe” piles, she only had about 20 cards in her “Yes” pile.  Some of them included:

If I’m feeling stressed, remember that staying in control of my eating will help me to feel more in control in general. Staying in control of my eating makes me feel less stressed, not more.

I’m entitled to do what I need to do to reach my goals, as long as I’m not purposely hurting anyone else. I’m entitled to turn down food, request that food be prepared the way that I want it, and put my own needs first.  Remember, if I’m not good to myself, I can’t be good to anyone else.

It’s not as if I can only eat everything I want or I can’t eat anything I want. I can eat reasonable portions of foods that I enjoy and still lose weight. It’s not all-or-nothing!

Even after decreasing her “Yes” pile, Marissa told me that she still felt a little burned out and didn’t necessarily want to read 20 cards each morning.  Marissa and I discussed this more, and we decided that, at least for the next week, every morning she would read the first five cards in her pile, and then put them at the bottom of the stack.  Marissa and I also decided that since she would only be reading five cards, she would take time to really process each one, and think about how it might be helpful to her that day.  By doing it this way, Marissa will still be reading all of her most important cards each week, but by limiting the number (at least temporarily) that she reads each day, she’ll have the opportunity to really evaluate each card and think about its meaning, which is much more helpful than reading a large stack of cards without really paying attention to them.