Posts Tagged ‘healthy eating tips’
We all have done it. We decide to start eating better, exercising regularly or taking better care of ourselves, yet despite our good intentions we don’t have much success in sticking with these changes.
Our Food & Fitness Behaviors Are Driven Subconsciously
It doesn’t seem like it should be that hard to do what we say we want to do or to make healthier changes we know would make our lives better. As one woman said to me recently, “I am smart, I know this is important, and I’m in control in other areas of my life, so it doesn’t make sense that I can’t be more successful with eating well and exercising.” The truth is that our behaviors around food and fitness aren’t driven by rationale; they are driven by subconscious beliefs and emotions that are intertwined and multi-faceted.
Cocktail Party Sabotage
Imagine being at a business cocktail party that has plates of appetizers being offered around the room and a banquet of pastries, salads, meats, side dishes and desserts. You don’t know many people there and you aren’t very comfortable in these types of situations. You are also out of town and traveling on a tight budget. When you get to the event you buy a glass of wine and look for people you might know.
You don’t see anyone familiar, and while you stand there you are offered some appetizers. You take one, and then as you are approached by others with trays of more appetizers, you take another and another. You try talking to a few people, but don’t really connect to them. Next thing you do is head over to the buffet tables. You fill a plate, and when that’s done you go back for more. You still don’t see people you know, but you do see lots of people talking and having a good time. You go for another glass of wine and talk briefly with a gal who clearly is looking for someone else. You also find yourself eying the dessert table. Soon you are filling up your plate once more with lots of wonderful little cakes and chocolates. You could stand there all night enjoying those rich desserts, but you decide you’ve had enough and go back to your room. You feel sick from all the food and wish you hadn’t had so much. It’s a familiar feeling, and you don’t want to think about it, so you just go to bed.
Uncovering the Real Issues
For a client of mine, who had this experience and is willing to let me share this with you, she finally came to understand what was driving her to over indulge at events like this. As we talked through what happened, she realized that she was feeling a lot of anxiety because she doesn’t know how to approach people who are already talking and then isn’t sure what to say. She was also feeling vulnerable because she’s overweight and believes people automatically assume the worst about her. And she was feeling unwelcome, because she was never welcomed at school parties or events as a kid. And that led to her feeling ashamed of who she was because she was never thin enough to please her parents.
She was surprised by the depth of emotion she was experiencing and could see how using food was a way to push these feelings away at the business event. By talking about them, she was getting a way to validate the feelings and start to get them out, instead of keeping them repressed and turning to emotional eating. She also got insights about what she needed, such as tips for networking and approaching people. There are books and programs for this, which would give her more confidence. She also needed to change her belief that people assume the worst about her, and she had plenty of examples where this wasn’t true. And she could see that she had anger towards her parents for judging her body, when in fact she wasn’t that overweight as a child. They just compared her to her ultra-thin sister and considered her the fat one.
She also realized as we talked, that for her a banquet of free food shouldn’t go to waste, especially since money was tight. She often overate when food was readily available and she hated to see food go to waste, even if it was food she didn’t even like. As a result, she often overindulged, only to feel really sick afterwards and nearly pass out from getting so full. She said this really affected her productivity at work and some days she didn’t even go in because she felt like she was in a fog. I asked her how much that was costing her, and she had an ah-ha moment. Maybe it was costing her more to eat all that food than to simply let it go to waste. Not only did it cost her at work, but it cost her more in healthcare costs and having to buy larger and larger clothes. And it cost her in low energy and poor self esteem. Not only that, the heavier and worse she felt about herself, the harder it was to feel welcome walking up to people at business events.
Creating Easy Resolutions
As you can see, her behavior with food that night at the cocktail event was being driven by many different emotions and beliefs, some of which dated back to her childhood, that she couldn’t see for herself. Yet once she was aware of them and began to address the feelings, change her beliefs and get networking guidance, she found she could attend any event without turning to food as her crutch. She finally felt free and relaxed, and to her surprise she discovered she loved networking and now goes to events frequently.
When you can peel back the layers and understand what is driving your behaviors, you may be surprised yourself to find that what is really going on is more complex than you might expect and may have nothing to do with food. Fortunately, once you know the underlying drivers of self-sabotage, whether they are related to food, fitness or any other behavior, the real issues are usually fairly easily to resolve.
My clients often complain they are too busy to plan and prepare healthy meals, so they can’t keep it up consistently. When they can’t find the time, they end up going back to fast food, cereal, take-out pizza, or a hodge podge of things they find in their cabinets and refrigerator. Seldom are these substitutes healthy and often they are unsatisfying.
It does take some time to plan meals for the week, grocery shop, and then plan and make luncheons and dinners. And there are a number of options when you run out of time on a regular basis.
- Find a local place that has healthy meals to go. If you do a little investigating, you will mostly likely find a place near where you live or work that has a healthy line of prepared foods that you can take home. It could be a restaurant, supermarket or carry out gourmet cafe. In my area alone there are five places I can go for really good healthy choices.
- Cook extra food, when you do have time, and stock up the freezer for those weeks when you are busy. While you may not think you like leftovers, it may be worth giving it another try. Most food tastes just as good reheated, and some taste even better. Experiment with ways to double up favorite recipes.
- Find a personal chef to make the meals for you. This is a great option that too few people consider. The general assumption is a personal chef is too expensive. That is seldom the case. Very often, the cost is very reasonable, and personal chefs are highly flexible. You can have them prepare meals for every day of the week, just a couple of days a week, or on a schedule that meets your busiest times. They will also prepare foods the way you need and like it, and they are well versed in making meals without allergens, to a specific diet or with locally farmed ingredients.
To find a personal chef in your area, check the phone book, do a search on the Internet or go to http://www.personalchefsearch.com/, http://www.hireachef.com/, http://www.pchef.net/. Personal chefs don’t have to be in your town or cook in your own kitchen. They can prepare foods in another part of the state and get it to you without a problem.
Expand your options when you are too busy to cook, so you can maintain a healthy diet more easily. When you’ve got a home-cooked meal all ready to go, it is easier to sit down to enjoy it. Instead of excuses for not being able to eat healthier foods, create a stress-free positive way to eat healthy foods that are delicious, satisfying and hassle-free. You’ll discover how much you look forward to coming home to a good meal.
This is the time of year when every where you turn there are sweets, parties and holiday networking events. It is hard to stay in control and avoid indulging, particularly when you are stressed or trying to fit so much into your schedule you can hardly find time for a decent meal. Yet you probably don’t want to find yourself in January unable to zip up your pants and wishing you had found a way to control yourself.
The good news is being in control is much easier than you may have thought. Here are 3 steps to avoid weight gain during the holidays so you don’t find yourself a size larger in the new year.
1. Notice What Your Body is Telling You
You can’t change your behavior if you aren’t really paying attention to what you are doing at the time you are doing it, and few people are conscious when they put food in their mouths. Eating is something we do without being aware of whether we are even hungry, if something other than physical hunger is driving us, or even when we have already gotten full and are beginning to feel sick.
Most likely you are eating without even knowing why you are doing it, and the only way to be in control is to start noticing the difference between physical and non-physical hunger. It starts by noticing every single you time you start to get full, and to notice with interest – not judgment. Once you start doing that, you may find you don’t like the way it feels. You can also notice each time to reach for food if you are actually hungry and in need of that food. You may also find in many cases that you aren’t eating for physical hunger. So what are you eating for?
2. Get Curious About Why You Are Really Eating That Food
If you aren’t eating because you need the food, something else is driving you to eat. That doesn’t make you wrong or bad. It just means that your behavior is being driven subconsciously, which makes being in control very difficult when you aren’t aware of what is driving your actions.
The most common drivers during the holidays are Mindless Excess, Ravenous Response, Restricted Rebellion, Emotional Repression and Subconscious Beliefs. These are five of the eight common reasons people overeat that I address in my book Inspired to Feel Good.
Read more about these five common drivers
3. Choose to Eat What Feels Best
The most important thing you can do for yourself during the holidays is to avoid dieting, which is a trigger for rebellious overeating when you inevitably blow it.
Instead, eat because you are hungry and then choose foods that leave you feeling good physically without feeling deprived emotionally. If you pay attention to how your body feels, you will know when you need food, when you’ve had too much and when food doesn’t really agree with you. You may even discover foods you thought you enjoyed don’t actually taste all that good.
Give yourself permission to have foods you love without getting full, and ideally pair the sweets and holiday treats with a balanced meal or snack. That way you will avoid getting sugar rushes and feeling sick. You will also keep your blood sugars and metabolism better balanced, and you will be able to feel the difference. Focus on eating what leaves you feeling good physically and emotionally, and you will be surprised to see you may naturally gravitate to healthier choices and combinations.
Have a great holiday feeling free to enjoy yourself without the guilt or the weight gain!
There is always concern about how much candy kids are eating at Halloween, but what about parents who consume nearly half of what the kids are bringing home? Candy is a comfort food for many of us, and when lying around in bowls and bags, it becomes a temptress greater than most adults can resist. Do you find yourself unable to stop when it comes to Halloween candy?
Instead of gearing up for a binge fest and worrying about how you are going to handle having all that candy around the house, consider what is driving you to overeat and crave it and then put some strategies in place to help yourself eat much less of it.
Some of the most common reasons people can’t seem to stop at a few pieces of Halloween candy start with feelings of deprivation. Candy for most people is considered junk food or a food they should not have, and for them candy is on the forbidden food list. When they eat it, they believe they are being bad and falling off their diet, so they have to finish it and get it out of the house to be in control. Then they strive to stay away from it until the holidays get underway and they find themselves right back in the same place, struggling to avoid the next round of bingeing on sweets and striving (but failing) to be in control. It is a never ending cycle that continues right through Valentine’s Day. Does this happen to you?
What does this have to do with deprivation? Everything. When you believe that you shouldn’t have something, you want it all the more. And the more you try to control the urges and deprive yourself, the more you obsess and overdo it when given the chance. This is human nature, and it is easy to see in children. We tend to forget that as adults we aren’t any different. Like kids we rebel against harsh rules and restrictions that are depriving.
We want our candy – or what it represents, but we are determined to apply willpower to resist it. This creates an internal battle between our Enforcer voice and our Rebel voice. Very often the Rebel wins out. But because of the loud Enforcer in the background, harshly criticizing you for what you are doing, you begin to feel guilt and shame, which triggers emotional eating and an all out binge. Next thing you know you’ve eaten more pieces than you want to admit and you feel uncomfortably sick.
What if you created an agreement with your Enforcer and Rebel voices by allowing yourself a bit of candy every once in awhile, agreeing that it isn’t forbidden and that if you really want it you can have it in moderation. Now you have calmed down the Rebel voice that will have a tantrum by overeating if it doesn’t get its way. The trickier voice to negotiate with is the Enforcer. This is because the Enforcer is the one that enforces your beliefs.
When your beliefs are black and white and don’t allow for some grey, then the Enforcer will instigate the Rebel. If you allow for moderation and satisfaction along with some guidelines for restraint, then the Rebel and Enforcer will both quiet down. If you also allow for throwing out the candy when the family has enjoyed it and had enough, everyone wins.
To put this in practice, try the following guidelines (or strategies) to help both the Enforcer and Rebel trust that their needs (meaning your needs) will be met. The first guideline is to eat candy along with a meal so that you aren’t eating it alone and driving up your blood sugar levels, which in turn leads to cravings. The second guideline is to pay attention to when you are satisfied or the first signs of feeling a bit full and stop eating. If you know you want some candy with dinner then make room for it instead of eating it when you are full.
Third, pick just 2-3 pieces of candy that you know are your favorites and savor them, so that you achieve satisfaction. And fourth, tell yourself that you can have more at your next lunch or dinner, so you know that you won’t be deprived and can still enjoy this once-a-year candy fest. After a few days, you will all have enjoyed having a bit of candy and you’ll be left with candy that isn’t your most favorite or you will be tired of it. Now throw what is left out. You won’t miss it, because you’ve let yourself enjoy it. And if that Rebel acts up, tell it that there is always more at the grocery store if it really wants to have it again before next Halloween.
Or you may have other ideas of what kind of strategy will work best for you. One that a few of my clients are choosing to do this year is to buy candy to put out that they don’t like, so going into the evening they aren’t finding themselves dipping into the candy bowl and setting themselves up to continue bingeing when more candy comes into the house.
This week consider what strategies you can put in place so you can enjoy yourself this Halloween without anxiety or guilt.
Clair prides herself on being really good when she diets, until she isn’t. And then she is really really bad. She can’t seem to help herself. The moment she gets derailed and succumbs to food she knows she shouldn’t have, she is taken over by an insatiable desire for all the foods she’s been denied the past few weeks. The pattern is always the same.
Then there are people like Betsy, who are really good during the day, only to leave work and find themselves unable to stop their desire for fast food, ice cream, chips or cookies. Betsy would head to the closest convenience store after work, where she loaded up on cookies, an ice cream bar and candy, and then hurriedly ate it all on her commute home. Mike did the same, always stopping for some candy.
Nancy never stopped; she would go straight home, but then raid her cabinets for any junk food she could find, feeling as if possessed by a demon. Why she would ask me, as the others did, am I so bad at night after being so good during the day?
Read the rest of this article at Your Tango
Many people believe they are addicted to sugar, simple carbohydrates or other specific foods, because they crave them all the time and then seem to go crazy on a binge when they gain access to them. There is a good argument to support this belief in Dr. David Kessler’s latest book The End of Overeating, which puts the blame on the food industry for developing foods specifically to create this uncontrollable preoccupation and compulsive eating.
Yet, having worked with many people who struggle with cravings, binges and a belief they are addicted to certain foods, I know the issue is just as much driven by subconscious factors as bio-chemical ones. I also know you don’t have to give up these foods to be in control of them, as he strongly recommends.
Dr. Kessler’s research findings conclude the reason people crave specific foods is the combination of fat, sugar and salt often used in those foods to stimulate dopamine in the brain, which feels really good. Once you’ve had a food with this combination that stimulates arousal, you’ll want it again and again. This is certainly an important breakthrough in understanding why people are irresistibly drawn to food that isn’t healthy and struggle to stop eating even when they are full. No doubt, the food industry has taken full advantage of this potent combination, putting them in processed and fast foods where you’d least expect to find them, to keep people coming back for more and boosting their profits.
One approach to dealing with this is to simply stop eating all types of desserts, packaged and processed foods, fast foods, and most restaurant meals, and replace them with healthy whole foods with no sugar, fat, salt or emotional triggers. And that will indeed eliminate the cravings, for a while.
But like dieting, very few people can stick with eliminating foods they enjoy long term without feeling deprived. While Kessler acknowledges this problem by suggesting you rewire your circuitry by creating unappealing images of the food, this doesn’t address the real issue of deprivation backlash and the need for food satisfaction.
A better way to address foods that are designed to trigger cravings is to incorporate them into a healthy diet, so they are balanced with other foods to create satisfaction. Satisfaction is an important element of eating, and you are just as likely to overeat in an attempt to reach satisfaction as you are when you are over-stimulated by too much satisfaction.
6 ways to control cravings and binges without giving up favorite foods,
1. Pay attention to how hungry, satisfied and full you feel. If you don’t know when you are satisfied physically or when you are full, you won’t realize you are overeating or appreciate how unpleasant it feels to get full.
2. Identify the food for what it is instead of calling it a bad food. Most highly stimulating foods, like cookies, are primarily a simple carbohydrate with saturated fat. It is harder to tell if it has much salt.
3. Balance this food with other foods that have complex carbohydrates, unsaturated fats and lean protein. If you want a cookie, then the trade off is to not have simple carbs or saturated fat in the rest of your meal or snack. When most of what you are eating is really healthy, having a little less healthy food doesn’t throw off the balance or make it unhealthy.
4. Give yourself permission to have this food in moderation when ever you balance it with healthier foods. When you eat food you think you shouldn’t, it creates a feeling of guilt and reinforces the belief that you should be deprived of it. This fuels emotional and rebellious eating, giving the food power over you. To take back your power, you have to stop seeing the food as a guilty pleasure or a forbidden food.
5. Really taste this food to see how much you enjoy it. When you aren’t over-stimulated or concerned about being deprived, you can more easily focus on tasting the food you crave. Most people find it isn’t as good as they thought and that healthier foods actually taste better.
6. Focus on creating satisfying meals with healthier foods. The more you remove the charge of highly-stimulating foods by allowing them in balanced moderation, the more likely you’ll gravitate to choosing healthier ways of being satisfied without feeling forced or deprived.
This approach, which is the basis of Intuitive Eating, addresses the emotional and bio-chemical cravings for foods designed to get us hooked. The less we eat of these foods, the less the food industry profits from them.
You know you shouldn’t have that piece of cake, the Girl Scout cookies or the candy that is calling your name, but you just can’t help yourself. You just have to have some. The next thing you know, you’ve eaten more than you wanted and now you are feeling a bit full and guilty. Once again you just couldn’t seem to stay in control around food. Has this happened to you recently – like over the holidays?
Feeling out of control around food can happen to the best of us, and right now it is happening to a great many people who have tried so hard to stick to their New Year’s resolutions and are giving in to their forbidden foods. Succumbing to what isn’t on a diet is inevitable. The more you try to force yourself to resist something you want and believe you shouldn’t have, the more you rebel against that restriction. Have you ever noticed that when you are deprived of something, you want it all the more?
Rebelling is a valid emotional reaction to being deprived of your needs and wants. It isn’t just “what you resist, persists,” although that universal law certainly plays a role. It is the battle between your inner voices, where one part of you is determined to enforce the restrictions you believe are necessary, and another part of you rebels against that enforcement and doesn’t frankly care about your rules.
You can almost hear your inner child or rebel’s voice when you go for that cookie or candy saying, “I don’t care; I’m going to have it anyway. You can’t stop me”. That emotional part of you drowns out your parental enforcer voice that is strongly reminding you not to eat foods believed to be on the forbidden foods list. In fact, the louder and more controlling your enforcer gets, the more determined your “rebelling child” is to get what it wants. In the end, your rebelling child almost always gets the cake, cookies or candy, and usually in large quantities.
You may be thinking that the only way to control your behavior around food you shouldn’t have is to give your enforcer a bigger stick, but that only causes your rebelling child to act out even more and leads to bingeing. You’ve probably tried getting tougher on yourself to behave. Yet as hard as you may have tried, most likely your “good” behavior didn’t last and you succumbed and gave in. The more you beat yourself up for being “bad”, the more likely you continue that “bad” behavior.
The reason is emotional. If you harshly judge yourself and feel bad or guilty for eating what you shouldn’t, you will eat to push away the bad feelings, to prove yourself right that you are bad and to find a way of feeling good.
The way to be in control around food is to stop judging your behavior and foods. Instead of believing any food is bad, recognize that it is the quantity of a food that becomes problematic. If you love a certain type of cookie, give yourself permission to have it with a balanced meal and enjoy it. By giving yourself permission, you are taking care of your inner child’s needs and giving yourself satisfaction and pleasure. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, by giving yourself permission to have any food you want whenever you want it, you will find you don’t really want all that much of it. You’ve removed the power of the food and the enforcer’s role of trying to control you.
It is when you are depriving yourself that you are emotionally compelled to make up for being deprived. This is true whether you think you should be deprived of ever having the food again, will surely be deprived because of an upcoming diet, have just been deprived having stopped a diet, or were deprived in your past. Many people are overeating foods they were once unable to have, even as far back as fifty years ago. An older man in one of my audiences wanted to know what he could do about overeating desserts every night. It turns out he grew up in the depression when sugar was rationed and he seldom got desserts. He is still compelled to make up for having been deprived of the desserts he wanted as a kid.
This week, pay attention to the foods you are trying to restrict and notice how this affects your behavior. Then try giving yourself permission to have that food in moderation and see if you really want all that much of it.
You hear it all the time; “I am being good this year and not going to have xyz bad foods, so I don’t gain any weight.” This is the time of year when people join Weight Watchers and go on diets, so they can stay in control during the holidays. For some it works, and that holds out hope for everyone else. For the majority it not only does not keep them in control; the guilt, deprivation and old familiar patterns lead to giving up on the idea and then really over indulging since they blew it anyway. By the time New Year’s rolls around, they have put on nearly 10 pounds – twice the average holiday weight gain. Have you ever done this or know people who have? What happens in January when the holidays are over? Does this process get repeated?
For Julianne (not her real name), this is just what happens every year. She promises herself she will be good at Halloween, but isn’t. Then she becomes determined to do better at Thanksgiving and doesn’t. This leads her to take more drastic measures and go on a more rigid diet before Christmas, restricting herself as severely as she can so she won’t gain more weight. Yet for reasons she can’t explain, she still blows her diet and can’t seem to stick with it as she should, and by Christmas Eve she is gorging herself on candy canes and anything sweet she can get her hands on. For the next seven days, she is in full binge mode, knowing that she starts her diet again on January 1st. And then her annual cycles of dieting and bingeing begin again. She is in her late 50s and ashamed that at her age she is still doing this. She wonders why she never learns and can’t get herself to do as she should. She wonders what is wrong with her.
Nothing is wrong with her. She was never taught how to eat normally or how to recognize what really drives her to make the choices she does. She just assumes she is bad, and the harder she tries to be good the more often she feels like she fails. Sound familiar?
So here are the 3 things she has learned in our sessions so far this year as she successfully navigates the holidays and all the food she loves to eat. She let me share this with you if I didn’t use her name, which I fully understand. Her lessons are a bit painful to face, yet they are fairly common.
1. She does not like candy canes. She was so obsessed with eating what she couldn’t have before her next diet began, that she ate food she didn’t even like. She realized she didn’t even taste her food or know what she really enjoyed, because she was driven by a greater need to get what she could while she could. Now she focuses on what really gives her pleasure and satisfaction, and she finds she doesn’t want all that sugar or to overeat. This has been amazing to her.
2. She has been dieting and bingeing every holiday since she can remember, and her mother did the same thing. Her mom still struggles with food and her weight. Dieting doesn’t work. She just believed it did and was the thing to do because her mother did it. She can choose her own beliefs now, and she is learning first hand that eating with consciousness of what feels good to her body is a better way to go through the holidays.
3. She was very hard on herself and that judgment caused her to overeat and choose foods she knew were bad for her, reinforcing how bad she was. It was a vicious cycle of self-hatred, self-restriction, rebellion and guilt that spiraled into food binges she couldn’t stop. She is learning to see herself with compassion, non-judgment and greater understanding. The more she does this, the less often she finds herself drawn into the cycle or wanting to eat food she doesn’t need.
You may see yourself in Julianne’s lessons or you may be getting other insights. No two people have the same internal beliefs, emotional reactions, subconscious drivers or backgrounds. Yet what most of my clients share is a belief in dieting to lose weight and that when you eat foods you shouldn’t have on a diet you are being bad. Yet they can never be good enough to reach or sustain their goal, so they give up and dig in. This holiday, consider doing what feels good to your body and your head, rather than striving to be good. You may just enjoy the food more and end up weighing less.
“I just want to eat normally and feel like a normal person around food,” Joyce said, choking back her emotions. I hate eating in secret, feeling like I am the only one who can’t stop eating, and obsessing about food. I have tried everything, and I hate what I have become.
That was three months ago, and this past week she was thrilled to experience what it is like to eat normally and now sees that she can eat food without overindulging or losing control. Joyce learned the 3 secrets of intuitive eating.
Secret #1: Easy Portion Control
People who eat normally do not count calories to manage their portions. Instead they wait to get hungry to eat, and then they stop when they are satisfied without getting full. It is not something they have to think about; it is intuitive and something they just do. Infants do the same thing. We all have this ability, and it is amazingly simple to regain with a little awareness.
Joyce was shocked to learn she did not know what it felt like to get hungry or get full. She had never paid any attention to that. All she had ever focused on was what she should or shouldn’t have or how many calories she was avoiding or overeating. Yet within just a couple of weeks, she was finding it easy to recognize her hunger signal and eat when she got hungry. She was also amazed that she did really know when she had had enough and could stop before getting full. The best part was; she felt so much better and she no longer had to worry about portions. She was getting exactly the right amount of food to fuel her metabolism and her energy levels by trusting her hunger levels and intuition.
Secret #2: Controlling Cravings
Even if you are aware of getting full or grabbing food when you aren’t hungry, you may feel powerless to stop yourself. So why is that? What is really driving you to eat when you aren’t hungry? Do you know? Most people have absolutely no idea and assume it is because they have no willpower, are simply bad or just can’t help it. But that is not what is really going on. Something is driving you to eat, and you can figure it out with a few simple questions you can ask yourself out of curiosity rather than out of self-judgment.
Is something bothering me?
Do I feel like I need a reward?
Is this a food I know I shouldn’t have?
Am I eating this because I think I should or have to?
There could one or more of these subconscious drivers affecting the way you are eating, and once you spot them you can start to resolve them. Consider if there are other ways to resolve what is bothering you or another way to get rewarded. Determine if your beliefs about food or the need to eat for someone else at your expense really makes sense, and if not, change your internal rules. And notice if you are eating because you stopped paying attention or because what you are eating is something you automatically associate with something else you are doing. Once you are aware of these, you can be more conscious of your choices.
As Joyce began to ask herself these questions in an attempt to better understand herself, she discovered that she often felt deserving of a reward when she got home from work. Her favorite food reward was crackers and cheese before dinner. If she didn’t have an afternoon snack and was famished, she would eat these to the point of feeling sick, and then skip dinner. If she had a stressful day or deprived herself during the day, trying to be good, then she would keep on eating, usually bingeing for hours on cookies, ice cream, or anything she could find that would satisfy her need for sweets. Those nights she usually slept poorly and woke up feeling groggy and sick. Joyce could finally see what was going on and that bingeing didn’t satisfy her cravings; it just made her feel worse and unsatisfied.
The common reaction is to try to be better and avoid having bad foods in the house, but that doesn’t work for long. You have to address your needs, including your need to get rewarded, to be fully satisfied by the food you eat throughout the day, and to validate and address your emotional stress. Joyce discovered that giving herself permission to have a small treat at least once a day, getting in an afternoon snack and finding other ways to reward herself made all the difference. Almost overnight, she stopped craving sweets and bingeing. It was practically effortless.
Secret #3: Healthy Choices Naturally
When you listen to your body and what feels best, while identifying and resolving food triggers, an amazing thing happens. You start to want healthier foods, and it happens naturally. This was a huge surprise to Joyce. Within a few weeks of starting her coaching sessions, she found herself craving broccoli. The next week she wanted to try roasting some vegetables, and then she began asking for extra vegetables when she went out to eat. She couldn’t believe she was the same person. She told me she felt like her body had been taken over by a vegan and she was excited to start cooking healthier recipes.
I have seen this happen repeatedly. When you are aware of how you feel and resolve your subconscious eating issues, you naturally gravitate to healthier foods intuitively. You don’t have to force it; it comes easily by choice. You can eat normally like other people when you follow these 3 simple steps.
Katharyn knew she was eating because of stress, but she wasn’t able to stop herself from going through her cabinets and eating one thing after another until she was sick to her stomach. She is not alone. Most adults are overeating at night, and the primary reason is stress. Are you one of them?
Stress is now such a big part of everyone’s life, and the more we put up with, the less we notice how stressed we are. As a result, you might not even realize that what is driving you to overeat, crave sweets and carbohydrates, or turn to food when you aren’t even hungry is chronic stress. You may be under yet another tight deadline, feeling overwhelmed, dealing with negative people, making do with less, anxious or concerned about things outside your control, or trying to do too much each day. And that is for starters. Extreme levels of stress are no longer determined by whether there are major upheavals in your life, but by the cumulating daily stressors that add up without being defused.
Once Katharyn was able to review what was happening earlier in the day from a neutral perspective, she could see very clearly the causes of her stress and that she felt deserving of a reward when she got home. That need to be rewarded for putting up with the stress is often how the overeating starts. It is easy to justify pacifying yourself with food when you have been put upon or had to tolerate an unpleasant situation. And once the eating starts, the food becomes a way to avoid thinking about what happened and to further repress the emotions of the day. Very often stress eating becomes emotional eating, where food becomes the coping mechanism and a way to avoid dealing with how the stress makes you feel or your unmet needs.
There are 5 simple steps to stop stress eating, which Katharyn used to stop bingeing when she got home after a long and often challenging day.
1. Become Aware of When You Do Stress Eating
One of the things Katharyn realized is she wasn’t fully aware of what or how much she was eating on the nights she snacked until she couldn’t eat any more. She couldn’t even remember what she had eaten, if she had enjoyed any of it, or when she started to feel full. It was a blur and a way to zone out and forget her problems.
If you aren’t aware of what you are doing at the time you are doing it, you have no ability to stop or make a different choice. Instead you are on autopilot and out of control. So the first step is to actually notice you are eating unhealthy foods, too much food, and getting full. Once you can really see this, you can also start to look at what happened during the day, which is driving you to eat this way. And you can start to notice how you feel physically after a night of eating poorly.
2. Don’t Judge Yourself
The point of gaining more awareness is not to harshly judge yourself. When you feel judged, you will actually eat more to push down those feelings. There are good reasons for why you are stress eating, and the only way to really identify and understand those reasons is to be objective and have some compassion for yourself. By standing back and being a neutral observer, you are more willing to get curious and start to see what triggers you to eat.
3. Observe Your Eating Patterns
With that curiosity, you can begin to see your patterns. You will begin to notice when you eat because you feel stressed, and if you pick different types of foods or beverages for different types of stressful events. Maybe you turn to soda at work when you are irritated or frustrated, but you turn to sugary foods when you feel let down or unable to do as you planned. Maybe you automatically want a drink after work to deal with your anger or frustration, or maybe you get home and binge out of habit and exhaustion.
4. Get Specific about What Triggers Your Choices
The more you observe without judgment, the more you can see exactly what is triggering you to turn to food or a beverage. It may not always be because of stress. There are 8 possible reasons for being out of control with food and drinking, and stress can be a factor but not always the full cause. For example, one common reason for overeating or making unhealthy choices is being mindless, and stress can keep your mind so busy that you don’t pay any attention to what you are eating or drinking until you have overdone it. Another reason is having unconscious beliefs, like you deserve a reward for working hard or having to put up with things. When you feel stressed, you may also be eating or drinking something unhealthy to reward yourself. A third common reason is distracting yourself from how you feel by eating or drinking something, which is classic emotional eating.
When you stop to really see what you are thinking or feeling, you can start to see what is actually triggering your food or drink choices, and you can also begin to notice if those choices leave you feeling all that great after you have had them. Most likely, you feel worse not better. You also probably haven’t solved the real issues that are making you feel stressed.
5. Create Strategies to Deal with the Stress Differently
Now that you are more aware of all the different things that are driving your choices, you can start to think of strategies to reduce the stress and get your needs met without using food or beverages as the crutch.
Katharyn realized that she needed to take breaks during the day, so she could get some down time and make sure she got balanced snacks and meals to boost her energy levels. She also noticed that if she remained calm when things were hectic, instead of snapping at people when they snapped at her, that everything seemed easier to manage. And she could see that a better reward when she got home was a cup of tea and playtime with her dogs, followed by a nice dinner and the promise of some time to read. When she did these things, she reduced the stress at work and at home, and she got more sleep and felt better able to handle whatever she had to deal with in her day. As a result, she no longer binged when she got home.
My client Lori had stopped eating junk food after learning how easy it was to be consciously in control of her food. She was also finding, much to her surprise, how much she actually wanted to eat whole foods and vegetables. She was having fun cooking up healthy recipes, easily making healthy choices and loving how good she felt. Lori told me she couldn’t imagine ever going back to her daily Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds and late night snicker’s bar routine. She just couldn’t see why she would want to do that again.
Yet two weeks later, when she called in for her session, she had done just that. She felt awful about failing and what she’d been doing to her body, and she couldn’t believe she’d gone back to a routine she knew didn’t work for her. She felt even worse that up until the moment she picked up the phone to call me, she hadn’t even realized how far she had slipped. And then she told me that her daughter had been in a serious accident 10 days earlier and was still in critical condition.
All she’d been able to focus on was getting back and forth to the hospital, rearranging her schedule to be with her daughter as much as possible, dealing with the doctors and insurance company, and dealing with her emotions about her daughter surviving and what would happen in the months ahead. Yet she knew that letting her own health slide wasn’t going to help, and she felt terrible for not being able to keep up her new habits.
The truth is, getting derailed was to be expected and nothing to feel terrible about, especially so soon after making those healthy changes. And once she understood what had happened and why, she was able to get back on track and come up with a healthy routine during the next eight weeks her daughter was in critical care.
What happened was simple. While she was busy focusing on her daughter, she put her eating choices on autopilot and turned them over to her subconscious. Her subconscious then defaulted to her junk-food routine, which was more deeply established than her newer healthy choices. She hadn’t even noticed, because her conscious awareness was consumed by her daughter’s situation.
When you aren’t conscious, your subconscious runs your habitual and deeply ingrained patterns on autopilot. Just like getting in the car and turning the driving over to that part of you that knows how to drive, as you think about other things. Obviously, the more conscious you are of your driving, the more likely you are to make better decisions when a dangerous situation arises. Just as with food. The more conscious you are of what your body needs and how it feels, the more likely you will make healthier choices.
That is why being conscious of how you feel when you eat (whether it is how hungry you are, how you feel physically orhow satisfied you are) is key to being in control of your behavior around food, especially in the first year of making significant changes in your eating routines. In time, when you have fully reprogrammed your subconscious with healthier habits, then running on autopilot is less of a problem. But until then, having a way to stay conscious around food and putting strategies in place to make it easier to make healthy choices during the day is the best way to stay on course, even when you are facing challenging situations.
Lori was so grateful she didn’t have to feel guilty, and she realized that it didn’t take all that much effort to have a good breakfast, keep an eye on her hunger levels, have some healthy snacks with her during the day and get a decent dinner in the hospital cafeteria. It was simply a matter of conscious awareness.
“It was a bad week,” Sherry told me. “I didn’t do well with my food.” That was the first thing she said when we started our session, so I asked her what did go well before we talked more about what didn’t.
She told me about all the times when she was able to stop eating before getting full, how she had made a batch of brownies for her kids and realized she wasn’t interested in having any herself, and how she had gone out to dinner with her husband and made healthy choices without overeating. She had also had friends over for dinner and had prepared healthier foods which was a first, and she didn’t overeat or over drink.
As she shared all this with me, she was seeing how good a week she really did have. She was amazed by how many things she had done that felt really good; and she said “wow, I didn’t see all these things until now.”
That was because she was focused on the one thing that hadn’t gone so well; the one night when she overate and didn’t feel in control. That clouded her thinking about the other thirty-one times she had eaten a meal or snack the past week without overeating or making unhealthy choices. It also left her feeling like she’d failed, which had the potential to derail her efforts moving forward. After we talked, Sherry felt successful and motivated to have another good week.
You can do the same for yourself with these 4 steps:
1. Review your past week for all the times you made healthy choices.
Notice how often you ate just to the point of satisfaction and stopped before getting full, had breakfast, didn’t get too hungry, ate balanced meals and snacks, had treats in moderation, exercised or was active, got enough sleep, drank enough water, and took care of yourself in other ways.
Like Sherry, you will probably be amazed by how many healthy and positive things you actually did for yourself and how well the week really did go. Allow yourself to feel good about and to shift your perspective about your accomplishments.
2. Be curious about what didn’t go so well, instead of beating yourself up.
Also notice when you overate, ate lots of unhealthy foods, ate when you weren’t even hungry, skipped a workout or opportunity to be active, drank too much alcohol or soda, or didn’t get the sleep or water you needed. Do this with interest and curiosity. There was a good reason for this.
Think back to what was going on that day. What were you thinking when one of these behaviors occurred. That will give you clues as to what was driving that decision or choice. Maybe at the time, you were dealing with a lot of emotions or had totally run out of time. Maybe you were not paying attention and let things happen. Maybe you didn’t plan ahead and weren’t prepared, so you opted for a less healthy choice. None of these make you bad. These are opportunities to see what gets in the way of what would leave you feeling better physically and about yourself.
If you beat yourself up, you won’t see what really happened. You will only focus on how bad you are, and that won’t improve your behavior. Instead that will lower your confidence and kill your motivation.
3. Learn from that situation, so you are more confident and in control next time.
With curiosity, you can look back and see what you would have done differently, what you really needed or how you might have prepared in advance.
How could you have addressed your emotions instead of turning to food? How could you have been more conscious, so you were able to be in charge of your choices? How could you have planned ahead to have time or have food? Were your goals realistic for this week or had you really thought about it, would you have expected yourself to fit in so many days of exercise?
By asking yourself these types of questions, you can see that any time you aren’t as successful as you would like to be, these are opportunities to understand why and to consider what you might have done differently either at the time or leading up to the decision. Maybe you would have set more realistic exercise goals. Maybe if you had done your meal planning and shopping over the weekend, you would have had healthy food in the refrigerator instead of munching on pretzels and ice cream for dinner. Maybe, knowing it would be a difficult week, if you had gotten some healthy to-go food or stocked up the freezer with healthy frozen entrees, you would have had enough healthy food to eat during the week. Or maybe when you found yourself upset, if you had called a friend, gone for a walk or gotten your journal out, you wouldn’t have pigged out all night and ended up feeling sick.
With these insights, you can develop strategies for next time. And there is always a next time.
4. Let your successes and new insights motivate you to stay on track.
Feeling successful is the key to staying motivated. When you feel good about yourself and can see all that is going well to be healthier, more fit and reach your goals, you will want to do even more. No matter how small those successes are, they build your confidence and enthusiasm for staying on track.
Having strategies to support you in being successful is also motivating. It gives you direction and hope that you really can continually make healthy choices and stay on track. As you implement these strategies, you can learn more about what works best for you. These strategies aren’t new rules; they are new ideas to experiment with. The goal isn’t to be good. The goal is to discover what works to support your health and fitness, to stay motivated and on track, and to feel really good each day.
The holidays are coming. The holidays are coming! Soon you will be surrounded by lots of sweets, cookies and navigating holiday party foods and drinks. Are you prepared with a game plan to keep yourself on track without feeling deprived? Now is the time to put your strategies together.
You don’t have to wait until after you’ve overindulged on candy, eaten one too many cookies or gotten stuffed on appetizers. You already have hindsight from previous years, and you probably can guess when and what will happen again this year.
This is just what my client Jean realized when we started talking about Thanksgiving at her son’s. She was afraid of overeating as she usually does, and she could picture all the times and ways that was going to probably happen again. She and her husband always drove 4 hours south on Wednesday, stopping at the same great deli where they picked up sandwiches for lunch and lots of treats they would bring as their contribution before the big meal. Yet more often than not, they didn’t eat much of the sandwiches and would dig into the bags of treats before arriving. The next day they would arrive at their son’s around noon hungry and ready to nibble on the appetizers and have their first drinks of the day. By the time they headed out for the big meal at the club, served buffet style, she was usually starting to feel full. Then she’d eat a big meal and stuff down several desserts. The next day, they would have a really big breakfast to tie them over on the long ride home, and they would stop again at the deli for treats to enjoy on the way back.
Like Jean, you can probably describe what your Thanksgiving holiday traditions around food will be like, just as you can see what will happen this coming weekend on Halloween or what you usually do at a party or around a bowl of candy set out for anyone to eat. That gives you a great advantage, because this enables you to think about what you would do differently that would leave you feeling better and still feel like you got to enjoy the festivities. So pick a time that is coming up, and remember how you felt last time when you over did it. What would work better for you?
Here are some ideas to consider:
- Eat a healthy balanced breakfast the day of a big meal, so you don’t arrive ravenous and overeat because you are so hungry.
- Eat a healthy balanced snack before going to an event, so you aren’t showing up hungry.
- When faced with lots of appetizers, decide in advance how many you will have and be picky about which ones you really want. You may decide to just have 3-4.
- When you know you are susceptible to having a drink too many, have a glass of sparkling water after your first drink and then decide if you really want a second drink.
- At a buffet, first look at everything to see which things you know you really want and be picky. Use a smaller plate, and focus on getting a mix of protein, vegetables and some other complex carbohydrates.
- Have salad first if that is an option at a buffet.
- Save room for dessert, and then choose the desserts that are your favorite. Have very small pieces and really enjoy them.
- Allow yourself to have 1-2 pieces of candy a day if you really like it and it is calling your name from the candy dish someone put out near your office. This can replace dessert on those days.
- Buy Halloween candy to give out to kids you don’t like eating yourself.
- Pick out the best Halloween candy and eat a few pieces with your meals instead of having just candy by itself. That will minimize blood sugar highs and lows and reduce cravings. Give yourself a few days to have your favorite candy and then throw the rest out.
- Remember that Halloween candy can be gotten anytime. You don’t have to eat it all now just because it is Halloween.
Which of these sound like they will work well for you? Really think about the situation you will probably be in and what would feel best to you before, during and after. Then add in some other ideas and decide ahead of time which approach you want to take. As Jean discovered by creating her own strategies with me, she got to enjoy her Thanksgiving rituals in a way that left her feeling better physically and really good about herself. She was thrilled to discover she could stay in control and still eat the foods she wanted.
I learned something that really surprised me when I discovered what it really took to successfully stick with healthier eating and regular exercise. It is doing what feels good, rather than striving to be good. It has become one of my tried and true secrets to long-term success that I have seen work over and over again with my clients.
The Struggle to Be Good Enough
When you focus on being good on a diet or in doing your prescribed exercise, you are rarely able to be good enough often enough to feel successful. Instead you end up feeling badly about yourself when you fail to eat the right thing or fit in all your exercise, and then you probably question your ability to be successful. This mindset leads to the inevitable conclusion that you can’t do it right and can’t stick with your program. At that point you give up, and it may be months or years before you try a healthier diet, an exercise program or whatever it was you were trying to improve about yourself. How many times has this happened to you?
One of my clients, Clare, used to check in each week by saying, “I wasn’t good this week, I only exercised three times”, “I was really bad last week, I overate at least twice”, “I tried to be good, but I ended up being bad”, “I’m so bad, I don’t know if I can be good”, and “I failed at doing what I know I should, and I don’t think I can do this”.
Seeing Success Differently
And yet, when we talked further, in nearly every case there was a lot she had done that was successful. She had exercised those three times, she had stopped eating before getting full more than ten times, and she was making great progress. She was surprised to hear that she wasn’t doing as badly as she assumed. She discovered that each time she had been “bad”; they were the result of situations she couldn’t easily control without a better game plan. Instead of being bad, she had done well in light of what she was dealing with, and she could create strategies for the future by having the hindsight.
We as a society are conditioned to see what didn’t go well, instead of what did. We see our failings and ignore our successes, as if having a perfect score or grade is all that matters. But when it comes to eating, exercise and self-care, you don’t need a perfect score. Good is good enough. Since you don’t have to be perfect, you can instead focus on all your successes, and that is a great feeling and a powerful motivator to continue making progress.
What Clare and all my clients have learned is that being successful is actually about honoring yourself. It has nothing to do with the judgment of being good or bad. When you can’t exercise as you planned, you end up feeling less energized. When you overeat, you don’t feel as well afterwards. When you drink too much, you lose control of your choices and don’t feel well the next day. When you are out of control around food, you don’t feel good about yourself. The repercussions of not doing something healthy affects how you feel and your chance to take good care of yourself, and that is it. The only one to beat you up is you. You weren’t bad; you missed an opportunity to feel and look better.
Focusing on Feeling Good Rather Than Being Good
When you see it that way, you start to focus on ways to feel good. For example, it feels reallygood to eat healthy food that is satisfying and to move enough that you have more energy and want to do even more activity. It feels great to have more confidence in yourself, to be in control around food, and to see your body get stronger and leaner. And it feels absolutely wonderful to become healthy and fit.
To make this shift, you need to know how you actually feel. Most of my clients have no idea how they feel when they get full, eat unhealthy food or push their bodies too hard, because they have never paid attention. Many of my diabetic clients don’t really know how it feels when their blood sugars get low or high, and even fewer clients really know how they feel emotionally. Once they learn how to check in with how they feel, they have an easier time making healthier choices because it feels so much better than being unhealthy and inactive. And the better they feel, the more of that great feeling they want.
So the secret to long-term success is doing what feels good to you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually instead of striving to be good.
When I first met MaryLou, she said her biggest issue was emotional eating. She ate frequently when she wasn’t hungry and felt compelled to eat junk foods when things didn’t go well. That certainly suggests emotional eating, but it could also be the result of other eating issues or subconscious triggers.
Emotional eating is often used as a catchall for any eating that isn’t based on a physical need, such as overeating, eating when you aren’t hungry or eating lots of unhealthy foods. Yet there can be many reasons for these things, and until you have a clear understanding of the real issue you can’t solve it.
The most common reasons that tend to fall under the emotional eating category are
- emotional repression,
- emotional deprivation (or restricted rebellion),
- perceived pressure and
- unconscious beliefs.
MaryLou was taught at an early age that junk food was bad and that she could only have it for special occasions, like when she had a good report card or on her birthday. On those days, she could have anything she wanted and as much as she wanted. She remembers those events vividly, because she gotto indulge in lots of chips, candy, cake and ice cream, and then she often got sick. But it was always worth it to her. Unconsciously, she believed that going on a binge as a reward for doing something well or on special holidays was her right and that feeling terrible afterwards was to be expected. Of course, as an adult, she got to decide what was a special occasion or worthy of a reward, and instead of a few times a year she overindulged a few times a week.
This is a form of eating driven more by a belief than an emotion, although it can trigger emotions as I will describe with restricted rebellion. Other unconscious beliefs that drive food behaviors include: eating everything on your plate, not wasting food, getting your money’s worth, leftovers are bad, healthy food is too expensive, healthy food doesn’t taste good, and many more. You can probably add a few of your own to this list.
MaryLou’s belief about junk food created a dynamic that led to another type of eating, where she felt emotionally deprived on the days she wasn’t being rewarded or celebrating. As she enforced the rule that she couldn’t have the food she craved except under certain conditions, another part of her rebelled against this rule. That part of her wanted the cookies, chips and chocolate all the time, because it wasn’t sure when the next reward was going to be and felt deprived and restricted by her strict belief. So when she finally did give herself permission to have these foods, she went on a greater binge to make up for feeling deprived between binges.
This rebellion against being restricted of food or specific foods is one of the most common forms of emotional eating. Whether you feel should be restricted by the beliefs you carry, were recently restricted by a diet, was restricted as a child or anticipate being restricted by an upcoming diet; you have a high likelihood of having an emotional reaction and overeating that food or foods to make up for not getting your needs met – whether you really want or like the food or not. You won’t be able to help yourself.
MaryLou had thought her biggest issue was eating when things didn’t go well, so discovering that she was out of control with food when things went well as a reward had been a huge eye-opener for her. Yet her reward eating had a common relationship to the times she ate to cope with challenging or upsetting situations. In both cases she had a lot of emotions, but she wasn’t acknowledging them. Instead of feeling deserving and celebratory when things went well or feeling angry and frustrated when they didn’t, she turned to food and pushed those feelings down into her body unexpressed. This is classic emotional eating. And then because overeating and eating junk food made her feel badly about herself, she then ate more in an attempt to avoid feeling ashamed for what she was doing. Again, this is typical with emotional eating.
When you repress either positive or negative emotions by turning to food to feel good, you lose the ability to really feel and express your feelings or to get your needs met that are associated with those feelings. In MaryLou’s case, she wanted to feel rewarded for the things she was proud of, and that is a valid feeling and need. But overeating junk food didn’t fill that need. Instead it made her feel worse and unfulfilled. She also had valid emotions when things didn’t go well, but the more she repressed them the bigger those emotions became so she was easily triggered when the littlest of things went wrong. She also hadn’t resolved the situations that upset her, so she felt more and more out of control and more often turning to food.
To MaryLou’s surprise, as she got to observe her eating patterns working with me, was how often she ate to please other people. She had no idea that was happening. There were many times during the week when she met people for coffee, lunch, dinner or went to networking events. Often she ate when she wasn’t hungry or had already become full, because she felt she needed to. If the person she was with wanted to share a pastry or dessert, she felt she had to say yes. If others were still eating, and she was done, she felt she had to eat more so they wouldn’t be uncomfortable that she was not eating. If she was offered an appetizer, she felt she had to have one so the waiter felt appreciated. If she didn’t eat everything on her plate, she worried the chef might think she didn’t like the food. Or if she wanted to order a light salad and others asked whether she wasn’t going to get more, she felt she should get something more substantial. In the end, she almost always overate and ate something she didn’t want.
Yet the people around her probably didn’t even really care what she did or didn’t eat. She was creating her own story about what these people were thinking and then tried to meet what she perceived were everyone’s needs but her own.
Belief- & Emotion-Driven Eating
As you can see, emotional eating is a mix of beliefs and emotions that subconsciously drive eating patterns, and everyone has their own unique set of beliefs, emotions and needs. Because everyone is different, I have only touched the surface as to the many ways these can appear for someone.
The trick is to be able to see what is really driving your own eating choices and behaviors without judgment, and then to change the specific beliefs, feel the specific feelings and get your real needs met. If you simply call everything emotional eating, it will be much harder to detect what is really driving you and how to finally address the exact beliefs, feelings and needs.