I see all sorts of clients. Some are dealing with nutrition lifestyle changes in light of new blood-pressure or diabetes diagnoses. Some are looking to lose a great deal of weight. And others are looking to lose those nagging ten or fifteen pounds, the ones that never seem to leave. One woman in the last category taught me a really helpful lesson that I often share with other clients.

When I met Ms. M____, she had been committed to losing ten or so pounds for months. Possibly longer. Probably longer. She was a professional woman, very successful, and had a straight forward, no-nonsense attitude. Late 30’s; always seemed well put together. Her job was pretty stressful, very time-intensive, and she generally worked out at the gym whenever she found a hole in her schedule. She was the kind of woman who could walk into any room and sparkle with the aura of “I can do anything I set my mind to.” She ate moderate portions of low-cal, low-fat, moderate-carb meals, made up of the sorts of things I usually recommend people eat to keep their weight down and their health and energy up. So why, then, was she not creating weight loss results when she had such a clear intention?

scaleAs we went over her eating habits, I noticed she often had a little snack while reading in bed at night, just before she went to sleep. Nothing outrageously junk-foodie, but this even slight snack had become a habit.

I suggested she stop eating at night, and tears almost formed in her eyes. A late evening snack was one thing she did to soothe herself after a very stressful day. I realized that she was demonstrating a very common dynamic. While she truly was committed to losing weight, she was also accustomed to soothing herself in the evening. She wanted two things that were actually in direct opposition to each other. And she was making soothing herself with food more important than losing those pesky last ten pounds.

“We all need to pamper ourselves after challenging days,” I observed to her. “Is there a way you can comfort yourself that doesn’t require food? That way you will not feel like you are depriving yourself in your commitment to losing weight.” We discussed what other things she might do to pamper herself, things she might adapt as part of a routine instead of using food for comfort.

She ended up buying a sonic foot massager, and pampered her feet while she read at night. She began losing weight, which motivated her to work out with greater vigor, and soon she lost more pounds and hit her target weight.

I took two things away from this story, two things you probably really already know:

1. If we truly want something, we need to make sure everything we do reflects and serves that intention.

2. Even the most unhelpful habit is likely fulfilling a need. If we choose to stop or change that habit, we must first find another way to address that need. Because if we ignore that need it will fulfill itself using old habits… and the change we are going for is doomed to failure.

Sometimes, all we need is someone to point it out to us.