Eating Behaviour Counselling: Helping Clients To Tackle Their Eating Habits
As a weight management consultant I offer a combination of dietary advice and eating behaviour counselling. Each individual has their own specific needs, so what I work on with clients depends very much on what they bring to the session. I do find, however, that common issues come up. This blog outlines just a few of the key things I might tackle with clients.
Planning Ahead: Meals And Snacks
Some clients feel that they need to build more structure into their daily eating. Perhaps eating properly hasn’t been at the top of their priority list until now- they lead very busy lives and find it hard to fit in regular meals. Being organised is a key part of weight loss and long-term weight management, so making sure the client has a well-stocked fridge, cupboard and freezer and encouraging them to do a regular food shop is essential, not only to help them prepare healthy meals and snacks but also from a motivational point of view and to ensure they’re eating enough variety. If clients are having a hard time eating right, then it can help to plan the night before what they will eat the next day, with the aim that they stick to that plan for that one day. Weekly planning can be too much for some people, so I encourage them to take things one day at a time. Furthermore, being clear in your mind about what you’re going to eat the next day can help some clients to feel less anxious.
Portions are a common talking point, and practical strategies like eating from a smaller plate or buying smaller packets of food can help. Many clients relate to the power of an open packet, and so portioning out food such as nuts into small tubs can help. Clients are normally aware if they’re eating too much at mealtimes, though if a person is a ‘grazer’ it can be easy for them to underestimate how much food they’re actually consuming over the course of a day. I encourage clients to do calorie ‘shaving’- for example, sharing a dessert, leaving a couple of potatoes on the plate or having a smaller glass of wine. These are simple strategies to help clients cut calories without feeling deprived-the calories not eaten soon accumulate over time, which can be really motivating.
A key aspect of eating behaviour counselling is looking at emotional eating. Many clients report that they are comfort eaters- they might have a tendency to reach for food when they feel stressed, sad, lonely or bored. As children, we may have received food as a reward if we were upset, and these patterns can continue into adulthood. People’s motivations to eat are many and varied and for some, food might be used to fill a void, especially if they have needs that are not being met, for example, relationship issues. For others, the process of eating may have a calming effect, enabling them to temporarily take their mind off how they’re feeling- eating can help to relieve the intensity of unpleasant emotions. Some people may have a harsh inner critic that tells them they’re no good- such messages might feel uncomfortable, and the eating process may help to banish, or at least delay, the feelings associated with those messages. For some, binge-eating can be a way to temporarily relinquish control, especially if they have a compulsion to control all other aspects of their lives; for others, binge-eating, or food restriction, may be a way in which to take control for a moment- they might feel powerless in other aspects of their lives, and being able to control the type and amount of food they eat is one way in which they can take back some of the power. Comfort eating might temporarily interrupt unpleasant feelings but doesn’t necessarily deal with them, hence people get trapped in a vicious cycle of emotional eating. I help clients to initially take the focus off weight loss and instead identify the underlying reasons for their overeating and find strategies to tackle them.
Many of my clients find it helpful to talk through some basic nutrition- it’s a fundamental part of eating behaviour counselling and helps to motivate people to make some positive dietary changes, as they come to realise how they’ve eaten in the past and why they might have struggled to lose weight, or lost weight but regained it. Some clients are ‘fat-phobic’- they’ve always avoided high-fat foods and opted for low-fat. Whilst eating some low-fat foods can be beneficial for health reasons and to help cut calorie consumption, fat also gives things flavour and it can really satisfy the appetite- it’s so important to enjoy our food and to feel satisfied, rather than eating ‘diet foods’ and always trying to endure hunger. Our diet also needs to provide us with ‘essential’ fats, which have numerous important health benefits. For example, oily fish, nuts and seeds contains omega 3, an essential fat which our bodies can’t make, so we must get it from food. Clients find it helpful to learn that counting calories is too simplistic and that it’s the quality of the food we eat that determines whether our bodies go into fat-storage or fat-burning mode. Have adequate nutritional knowledge is very empowering, and puts the client in a position to make better progress than if they’re just told what to eat without knowing the reasons why.
Black And White Mindset
Many people get trapped in a cycle of yo-yo dieting, making it hard to lose weight, or if they lose weight, they regain it. ‘Black and white’ thinking and behaviours can lead to unhealthy patterns of eating, keeping us overweight. It’s a very common mindset, so it’s an essential part of eating behaviour counselling to address. For example, “I mustn’t eat any of them- if I eat one I’ll have to finish the packet” or “I ate a piece of cake earlier, I’ve totally blown it so I’ll start again tomorrow”, or they might carry out weekday restraint but overindulge at weekends. I help clients to adopt a less rigid, black and white approach and replace it with a more flexible, ‘middle-way’ mindset to help them escape yo-yo dieting and set up more realistic, enjoyable and sustainable eating habits. I also invite clients to think about how often they use various excuses to eat, other than hunger.
Intuitive eating is about using your ‘inner wisdom’ to help you to make good decisions about what and how much to eat. Rather than following someone else’s rules about what and how much to eat such as following a specific diet, if you can get more in tune with which foods suit your own body, which foods keep you going for longer than others and base your eating more on your hunger and satiety levels rather than following external rules and calorie counting, you can learn to eat in a way that’s more personalised and beneficial to you.
The starting point for weight loss isn’t going on a diet. It has to be self-care. Many people neglect their own needs (both physical and psychological) as they’re too busy seeing to other people’s needs. If you can start fulfilling your own needs and you can start moving forward. This might be just getting more sleep, taking more exercise, not taking on too much work- learning to say no. If we’re exhausted and stressed from doing too much and not having adequate ‘me-time’, eating properly can fall right to the bottom of the priority list. My eating behaviour counselling always addresses whether a client is taking care of themselves as that can really influence progress.
Being Patient With Weight Loss
Many clients I meet have done rapid weight-loss programmes and lost a lot of weight very quickly, having followed a very low calorie diet- this can cause rapid fat loss over several weeks. Unfortunately they might lose weight, but then regain it. If they’re used to rapid weight loss they can be impatient to lose weight, and if they don’t anticipate such rapid weight loss again this can affect their motivation. I always emphasise the importance of gradual weight loss, to help them keep the weight off long-term. Fortunately, however, many people who seek my help for eating behaviour counselling have got to the point where they realise that the rapid weight loss programmes haven’t provided the long-term solution they need.
Eating On Autopilot
Many people eat mindlessly and with little thought, as eating is such a routine and automatic behaviour. Awareness is power, so I get clients thinking about what, how, how much and why they’re eating. It’s easy to serve yourself a big portion without thinking whether you need that much food, to overeat in front of the TV or at a restaurant or to bolt down food without noticing it, but eating mindlessly doesn’t always equate to enjoyment. If we eat quickly and don’t notice what we’re eating it’s easy to go looking for more food soon afterwards, leading to overeating. Having an inner dialogue with yourself can be helpful, such as asking yourself whether you’re hungry when tempted with a food outside of meal times, or thinking about how full you are when you’re tempted to eat more food. If you feel hungry but it’s not far from mealtime, then asking yourself what time the next meal is may help you to decide whether to eat and how much to eat. And is it real hunger or psychological hunger? My eating behaviour counselling also looks at the many different types of hunger we can experience and how to deal with them.
These are just some of the themes I cover with clients, and by developing a collaborative and trusting relationship I’m able to provide a highly personalised and supportive eating behaviour counselling service.
If you feel you could benefit from my Mindful Eating service, give me a call (Emma Randall) on 07961 423120, or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m based in Lightwater, Surrey, but I can also come to your home. Skype sessions are also available.
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