Month: March 2013

Jean-Philippe Zermati: “How to ‘defuse from’ negative thoughts”


Recently, some of you have asked me where I stand now with regard to food, what I’ve kept from the principles I inherited during my therapy with Zermati, etc. It’s difficult for me to answer this question as, to tell the truth, I now feel all this has become rather natural. In terms of weight, I might have gained 2/3 kilos in two years. It didn’t surprise me because I had lost too much, my set-point clearly is my current weight and it suits me. It’s not a model’s one, neither a bombshell’s, but I can wear what I want and I’m not out of breath after the smallest set of stairs and I feel in tune with myself.
Most of all, it’s the weight I can keep while eating chocolate every day, partying once in a while (I’m a party girl, I won’t change, 29 years old, that’s who I am) and NEVER wondering if what I’ve prepared for the meal is healthy. It’s a weight that withstands hard blows – and there has been a sizeable one during the last year to say the least -, that gibes at boredom, main source of my eating compulsions, at writer’s block, at rows, at slumps and at appendicitis that picks you up with no warning, In short, all is rather fine and mainly, I don’t feel “suspended” anymore. After three years of near-stability, I allow myself to take a breather.
I’ve thus stopped my therapy with doctor Zermati, more or less two years ago. I still regularly discuss with him, at the whim of my interviewing him. I like these moments. I take advantage to bring myself up to speed but also, I confess, to get a small session on the side, discreetly (I think he is not duped). Last time, doctor Zermati suggested talking about a new approach he now uses during his consultations. Pursuing tirelessly his quest of a parry to emotional eating, he indeed looked into a technique named ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy), logical consequence of cognitive and behavioral therapies, more centered on emotions. The aim is to support patients with emotions acceptance and also help them to “defuse from” their negative thoughts which accompany them, even precede them. Like “I’m useless, anyway, I’m useless”, or else “I’ll never make it, I’ll never succeed in this job/ in taking this test / in writing this article (and if that’s how it is, I’ll have another Twix, or two).
Having indeed noticed that however hard he tried to demonstrate step by step to his patients that these recurrent thoughts are groundless, it didn’t work, Jean-Philippe Zermati has decided to attack them on another front, trying to make them question, not the truth of these thoughts but their utility. In other words, do these sentences, which disturb our mind despite ourselves, help us pursuing our dreams (whatever they are, romantic, professional, parenting, etc.)? If the answer is no (and it’s often the case, predicting a failure never helped anyone), the idea is to try to make them meaningless. How? Still using mindfulness techniques, but also with methods that could seem a bit naive, doctor Zermati admits, “but tremendously effective”. It can consist in repeating the sentence in question with different tones, in singing it at the top of your voice, for example. But also in writing it on a computer screen and changing the size and style of the font. Until these words are only strings of letters that have lost their meaning. You know, just like when you look at a word, detach its syllables, comprehend it without associating a meaning? All of a sudden it seems to be coming out of nowhere, doesn’t it?
In parallel, the work still consists in trying to accept your emotions, especially by observing them as well as their physical consequences. “You realize that the discomfort resulting from boredom, anxiety, sadness, is rather mild, at least less than a migraine, tooth ache or any other ache you can sometimes feel”, explains doctor Zermati. By resolving to accept the knot in your stomach before an exam, pins and needles in your hands when you’re angry, the slight nausea caused by sadness or you name it, you end up moving away from eating desires. Because, Jean-Philippe Zermati reminded me – he looked like he thought I had forgotten my lesson – “Annoyances don’t trigger compulsion but our attempt to get rid of them does”. Ok, ok, ok…
In short, as the good doctor Z admitted outspokenly, “we know the goal to reach but we haven’t found all the tools to get there yet”. But he added, while he was at it, “We progress every day and are starting to see more clearly”. Personally, even though I feel I’ve left on the side of the road a few cumbersome luggage, I continue thinking about all this and I’m not convince there’s an end to this journey. But, apparently, it’s not the destination that counts but the journey. Then what if we tried to travel lighter?
Edit: This discussion follows a bit the previous one, which you can find here. Doctor Zermati was mentioning the chocolate pump, a diagram of it is displayed on Linecoaching, the online therapy web site he created with doctor Apfledorfer.
Edit 2: It happens that this week, I tell my life story in Psychologies Magazine, thus the picture opening this column (it’s not the only picture of the article, there is one especially, full page, that I don’t love (euphemism). These pictures were taken two days after my daughter’s surgery, I couldn’t cancel and so I looked… like shit) (and it shows).
Edit3: It happens also that I’ve written an article for l’Express Style about diets and how highly I think of them. With the help of two experts, whom I met on this blog: Ariane Grumbach and Lysiane Panighini. Thank you to them.