Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Useful Consequence

[PSA: "like" my blog's Facebook page to get tips and updates on my blog posts in your news feed.] 

Helloooo out there! Yes, I'm still here, training and prepping for the Santa Cruz Triathlon. It's now a mere 8 days away. I'm as ready as I'll ever be. Nothing much to be done now except for a bike and run this weekend and a taper next week.

This past week I hit the gym twice early in the week, including strength training sessions. The weight lifting has taken a serious hit these past few weeks, which I don't like. I love my hard earned muscles and I want to keep them. But with increased tri mileage something had to give. The end of the week was a dud. I was in all-day clinical trainings in San Francisco on Thursday and Friday and that, coupled with the commute home in f-ed up traffic left no exercise time. I tried to be creative and maybe workout in the hotel fitness center (my training was held in a hotel conference room) but that didn't work out. I hope to make up for that a bit this weekend.

Some notes from the training
So what I'm going to write about stems from the clinical training I attended. The training taught a model of treatment for working with a specific population. Some of the training was on conditioning, as in behavior conditioning. Things like unconditioned stimulus, conditioned stimulus, etc. Many of the techniques are directly applicable to me (and my work) and I repeatedly found myself asking, how can I apply this to weight loss/maintenance?

The most frustrating behavior for me lately has been the evening snacking. You know all about it - the dinner rolls, the cereal, etc - and it's still driving me batty. The age old question persists, why can't I seem to stop? I don't want to be doing it, or at least it seems I don't want to be, obviously there's a moment where I do want to be doing it because I do it. But I regret it later. And telling myself I'm going to regret it later doesn't stop it. Reminding myself that I will feel badly about it later isn't stopping me. Nor is the risk of weight gain.

So during the training we had to role-play a problem behavior we wanted to change and mine was evening snacking. I teamed up with another therapist, Vanessa, for the role-play. For the purposes of this assignment, my criteria of "problem behavior" are:
  1. It's after dinner.
  2. I'm not hungry OR
  3. I'm hungry but I choose "bad" foods not on my normal eating plan and/or overeat in response to that hunger.
  4. My food choices leave me with regret and disappointment.
Thursday evening is a perfect example. Long story short I had a burger and fries for dinner. Not the best choice but in-and-of-itself, manageable. What happened later, however, was not. I had two dinner rolls with butter, one of the kids' chicken tenders, and multiple handfuls of almonds. I was not hungry at all and in fact, kept telling myself that I'll regret this later. And I did. I woke in the morning with a familiar feeling of regret. And the same question, why do I keep doing this?!

I long ago figured out that the Why part is not very important, and often doesn't help us to change. Who the heck knows Why, and while answering Why can be interesting and entertaining, it's not necessary for behavior change to occur. So let's set Why aside and look at the more important question, HOW. The question becomes, How do I keep doing this? The answer to that question can help me to change.

So Vanessa and I role-played my issue, creating a chain of behavior to better understand the problem. We also considered vulnerability factors, things that might have weakened my resolve and made me vulnerable to the unwanted behavior (snacking). We took the last time I engaged in this behavior, Thursday evening, and broke down the chain...

The setting: I was home, it was after dinner, I was not hungry. Vulnerability factors: I was tired, the kids were being super-whiny. The behavior chain:
  1. I went into the kitchen
  2. I had the urge to snack
  3. I told myself, "It will be different this time, I won't regret this later"or "This time it's worth it, it's worth the bad feeling." (Lies, all lies).
  4. I got a dinner roll, put butter on it, and ate it.
Repeat that twice, add in several handfuls of almonds, and there's the chain. And yes, of course I had regret come morning. Behavior theory would say that the negative consequence - the bad feeling later and the potential for weight gain - are either not negative enough OR are too far in the future to affect my behavior. I think in my case both are true.

So we did the role-play and...
  • We learned something: that what I've been assuming is a negative consequence - the bad feeling later - is not bad enough. Why not? It's too far in the future and I've gotten really good at managing that bad feeling. I wake up, feel bad, and then immediately move into, "What's done is done, move on, start a new day making better choices and you'll feel better soon," which is true and a VERY important skill on this journey. But that skill is also doing some harm here. I'm managing the consequence so well that it's no longer an effective consequence. Interesting! The other negative consequence - potential weight gain - is too far in the future and also not guaranteed. In fact, I can often get away with this behavior and not gain weight (or at least not much) by cracking down on myself later. Again, I've gotten good at managing away the consequences.
  • We implemented a new rule: I'm no longer allowed to believe that I won't feel bad later. I'm no longer allowed to believe that this snack is worth the bad feeling. Both of those thoughts are not true and listening to them has been part of the problem.
  • I need a larger consequence...
That final point was the big idea. I searched my brain for a consequence that would be sufficiently aversive that it would drive me to change my behavior. I considered the following:

If I snack after dinner (as defined above) I will...
  •  Not allow myself to get online afterward. Not negative enough. 
  •  Not allow myself to exercise the following day. Self-defeating and just plain crazy.
  • Not allow myself to have my favorite breakfast the next day. Not negative enough.
  • Write a behavioral chain analysis and post it on my blog's Facebook page. Bam!
So the next question becomes, Will you enforce the consequence on your own? Welllll, maybe not. So how can I get help with this? Vanessa asked if my husband could help. Nope, that's not a good plan. So I thought about my friends and who might be good at this kind of friend Michelle is perfect! She understands food struggles, she won't judge me, she's good at remembering stuff like this, and she's a natural enforcer (and I mean that in a good way).

So I came up with a plan where every morning Michelle will text and ask me if I snacked the night before. If I tell her "yes" then she will tell me to write my behavior chain analysis, which I will do and then post on Facebook. Ugh, I do not want to be writing/posting behavior chain analyses, which makes it a very good consequence. It also has the secondary consequence of having to tell Michelle. By itself that's not a bad consequence, but if I were to have to tell her again and again that I snacked, it would become a negative consequence because I'd be embarrassed.

And it's working! Last night I went out to dinner with some tri friends. I had a nice dinner and a couple glasses of wine and drove home feeling satisfied (ie - not hungry at all). At some point I decided something like a dessert would be nice and I drove to 7-eleven to buy a candy bar. I pulled into the parking lot and then thought, "Wait, is this an evening snack?" I really wanted to believe it was not but I took a look at the criteria. Is it after dinner? Yes. Was I hungry? No. Would I regret it later? Probably.

Dessert would normally be allowed but I had to admit to myself that this really wasn't dessert, that really, it was an evening snack disguised as dessert. So then I moved to, "Do I have to start now? I just made the plan today, maybe I should start it tomorrow." Phooey bullshit lies. Start now. Besides, I know Michelle is going to text me in the morning, am I going to make up a lame excuse like, "Oh, I meant to start today, last night doesn't count." So I put my car into reverse and drove my butt home. When I got home Marek told me they saved a cookie from their dinner for me. I decided a few bites of cookie was a more legitimate dessert and that I would feel good about that choice in the morning. So I had that, and I was right, I do feel good about it today.

When I received Michelle's text this morning, "Did you snack last night?" I was able to answer No. With a :) to express my good feeling. It's working! So if you follow my Facebook page, and you see a behavior chain analysis on evening snacking, you'll know why.

And, by the way, Vanessa's issue was wanting to exercise more. We role-played her issue and came up with an excellent plan. I think this technique will be VERY helpful in working with clients in my private practice. I love the synthesis of my own experience and my clinical work!!

I am a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice offering Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) for weight loss and maintenance. I have an office in Marin County, CA and I'm also available to see people via Skype. To learn more please visit my professional website at or email me at

Monday, September 16, 2013

Pace Lines, Parties and ... Cereal?

[PSA: "like" my blog's Facebook page to get tips and updates on my blog posts in your news feed.]

Get out of my way, this train is rolling down the tracks, full steam ahead! I had an action packed weekend and I'm not slowing down yet. Saturday I joined Neil/TriMore Fitness and a handful of women for a bike skills ride. We covered group rides skills such as drafting and riding in a pace line. Learning this stuff has been on my to-do list for a while now. What's a pace line, you ask?
Pacelines are either single or double. In a single paceline, everyone lines up behind the first rider, who maintains a constant speed. The rotation occurs when the front rider pulls off to the side and drifts to the back of the line. The next rider then sets the pace. Riders stay on the front from a few seconds to several minutes. This type of paceline has the advantage of requiring less road space. -

We met at a Park-n-Ride lot (aptly named for our plans) and Neil went over the skills we'd be covering, which also included climbing and descending. I was nervous about being too slow and holding everyone back. I generally don't have to worry about that because I never ride in groups (for just that reason). But I really wanted to learn about group riding so this was the only way. Neil assured me the group would stay together and that my pace will be fine. I should coin a new phrase - slow guilt.

Which reminds me, I have to stop talking about being slow. Amber (of last week's ride) reads my blog and reminded me that my slow is someone else's fast and that my saying I'm slow sort of diminishes their pace, which is not good. So, no more slow-talk. From now on I'll try to frame it as, "I'm not as fast as you guys," or something like that when I'm needing to discuss my pace vs theirs. Alright, that's settled, back to the skills ride.

We started down Lucas Valley Road, heading straight toward Big Rock (the hill I did for the very first time just a few weeks ago). Talk about keeping up. It's a good thing I rode it once before or I would have been really panicking. Still, I knew there was no way I could keep up with the group while climbing the steepest part - the last mile before the peak that just goes up, up, up - but I had to let that worry go so I could enjoy the ride.

Along the way toward the climb we worked on pace line, riding together as a group and shifting places in the group. I feel pretty stable on my bike so that was fine, mostly I was just pedaling my ass off to keep up. At the base of the climb Neil gave us a pep talk, tips, etc. And then he rode with me the entire mile up the hill, even as I slogged along at 4 - 6 miles per hour. He coached me the whole way, "relax your shoulders, chest up..." which was nice. In the past I would have felt so uncomfortable having him ride with me while I crawled up the hill but it felt fine, I was happy to be learning. And then, around the corner, there's big rock! Whew, I made it!!

Happy to be at the top!
We got some tips on descending and then zoomed down the other side. The descents going that way weren't bad, sort of like rollers (rolling hills), it's the ones that are just down, down, down (like going back down big rock) that scare me. Neil's tips on learning how to manage the long descents? Practice, stay safe, gain confidence, stay safe.

Along the way to Nicasio we practiced drafting. O.M.G. Drafting is so awesome! It reduces your effort by as much as 30%. Thirty percent! I felt a HUGE difference in effort level while drafting. I want to ride like that all the time. Riding at the front of the line is tough work but once you slip in behind someone else you wonder why the group suddenly slowed down. Except it didn't slow down, it just got easier now that you're drafting.  So cool.

When we reached Nicasio at about mile 11 I had to turn around and head home. They were going on to do 50+ miles but I didn't have time. The kids were with a babysitter and we had a pool party on our afternoon schedule. So I rode back to the car solo, cruising along and enjoying the peace. 22 miles in all. Here's the elevation profile from the ride.

Lucas Valley Rd (including Big Rock) elevation profile.

14.2 avg mph - probably my fastest ever!
After the ride I came home and did a super-quick wardrobe change into pool clothes and we all headed off to the party, an awesome Lorax themed event celebrating Ben's 3rd birthday. Despite my best intentions (and being in a bathing suit) I ate way too much at the party - pizza, snacks, cake (mine and Myra's because she's not a huge cake person and only ate two bites of hers and the cake was delicious!), etc. But it was all yummy and I vowed to eat better the rest of the day. Aaaannyway, here are my two precious littles at the party.

Marek and Myra looking all kinds of fabulous!
How crazy cute are they?! After the party we came home for some "quiet time", during which I almost fell asleep while putting laundry away. I sat down in Myra's chair for a moment and started to drift off. Eventually I put a movie on for the kids and took a half-awake/half-asleep nap for about an hour. First time I've been able to do that while alone with the kids. We went to my mom's for dinner and my vow was quickly broken with fried chicken, raviolis, and any other food I felt like eating. You know how sometimes you just want to feel really full? Yeah, I've been having that feeling lately.

I'd planned to rest on Sunday but my eating behavior, coupled with missing a lot of workouts last week, pushed me to make some plans. Marin Tri Club (a local, informal tri group) had a morning run on the agenda as part of training for the Nike half-marathon. I joined them at 8:30am for a timed run - 55 minutes out/55 minutes back. I did some fuzzy math and figured I'd run around 8-9 miles. Yeah, like I said, fuzzy. That's one 1 hour, 50 minutes of running. Even at 11 minute pace that would be 10 miles.

We started out together but most of us ran alone. In the end I did the Paradise Loop (the same route I cycled (twice) last weekend). The loop itself was about 9 miles and by the time I was done I still had time on the clock so I ran a bit more to bulk up the run. In the end I ran 11.75 miles with an average 10:31 pace. I still can't believe I ran a half-marathon (Kaiser, this past February) in a 9:23 pace!

Yes kids, I ran that.

Who did that? Oh yeah, that was me :)
After the run we all went to breakfast. Here's today's crew, 8 runner chicks and 1 runner dude.

Jessica, Amber, Me, Amy, Jack, Leigh, Gioia, Jessica and Leigh's Mom
I had an egg white cheese/veggie omelet with fruit salad and toast. So good. And then it was home for another quick wardrobe change and off to another party! It was at my neighbor's house and I headed over with the kids. The wheels fell of a bit with the beer and by the time I left I'd had somewhere between 5 and 6 beers. Granted the time spanned from 2pm - 9pm so there's that excuse. And I did plenty of snacking and eating throughout the day. The party was great fun. I was overdue on getting a bit tipsy.

Today I woke up with a desire to pull it together with the eating. I ended up having a yogurt/granola/fruit bowl as a morning snack, a little bigger than my normal snack. And then at lunchtime I was tempted by a donut shop but beelined for Subway instead. After eating half of my footlong I started thinking about candy. "No Michelle, don't buy candy, just eat the other half of your sandwich if you're still hungry." So that's what I did. And I felt a lot better about that choice than I would have about candy. Is a footlong (turkey breast, roughly 600 calories) too much for lunch? Who knows, but I know it's better than candy and didn't bring my mood down like a Snickers would have.

After work I hit the gym, despite a strong urge to skip it. I rode the upright bike for 25 minutes and then did chest/triceps/PT exercises. It's been too long since I've lifted weights. Let's hope I'm not sore tomorrow. And after dinner tonight I had a bit of cereal. With tri training I've been going easy on myself when it comes to the evening cereal. I put maybe a 1/2 - 2/3 of a cup into a coffee cup, top it off with almond milk and call it dessert. I know I'm eating a bit more than I need overall (because my scale is up a bit this morning) but I'm leaving the cereal/dessert alone for now. A girl can only handle so much :)

I am a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice offering Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) for weight loss and maintenance. I have an office in Marin County, CA and I'm also available to see people via Skype. To learn more please visit my professional website at