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 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.
Do you binge, but don’t purge? Do you overeat at night on a regular basis? Do you eat when you are stressed or to cope? Do you eat in secret? Do you feel like a sugar or carbs addict? Do you eat lots of junk food?
Are you good during the day, but bad with food at night? Do you overeat forbidden foods before or after a diet? Have you been on multiple diets, yet still can’t seem to make healthy food choices or stay in control around certain foods? Or do you have restrictive eating and cheat days?
If you said yes to any of these, you have an eating problem. That does not mean you have an eating disorder, but you may be heading for one if you don’t change the way you eat and your relationship with food. Those with eating disorders are diagnosed with bulimia, anorexia or binge eating disorder, which are severe enough to put one’s health in danger.
Julia never worried about having an eating problem. She’d done about ten diets by the time she was 30, and she knew she could always diet to get into her favorite little dress when she needed to. But as her work got more stressful and her boyfriend began needling her about losing weight, she started skipping meals during the day and bingeing at night, often alone. She couldn’t seem to control what it said on the scale, and this scared her. She didn’t want to lose her boyfriend, so she starting purging after dinner and weighing herself constantly to ensure she was losing enough weight. Soon her routine became the norm, until she landed in the hospital weighing under a hundred pounds. She was stunned to realize she had taken things so far. She never intended to become bulimic.
It is likely that more than half of all adults in the US have an eating problem, but it goes undetected and unreported. No one talks about overeating, night eating, stress eating, emotional eating, sweets or junk food eating as a serious problem, but those who have these food patterns know it isn’t healthy and often carry feelings of shame about the way they eat. Many are also at risk, like Julia, of shifting into eating disorder behaviors.
Sadly, dieting contributes to the problem, yet dieting is the primary solution people are given to resolve eating issues by well-meaning physicians, nurses, coaches and nutritionists. In research conducted nearly twenty years ago, it was determined that 35% of those who dieted became pathological dieters, and a fourth of these people would progress into eating disorders. Very likely those percentages are much higher today, which explains why specialized eating disorder treatment centers are seeing such an increase in patients.
So what are the signs you may be heading for an eating disorder?
1) You are continually obsessed with counting calories, your weight, or what type of food you are (or are not) eating.
2) You get on the scale multiple times a day to check your weight.
3) You believe you are never perfect or thin enough, and you must control yourself with more restrictions and diligence to reach that state of perfection.
4) You exercise excessively to compensate for eating or to punish yourself for eating too much.
5) You hate your body, no matter how thin you get.
6) You are ashamed of the way you eat and often eat in hiding.
You don’t have to progress into an eating disorder to get help. More dieticians, coaches like myself, and a growing number of psychologists are now skilled in treating eating problems, particularly emotional eating, binge eating and body image issues. It is far easier to resolve these issues before they become life-threatening, but you have to be willing to reach out for our help.
The good news is, eating problems are fairly easy to resolve. So don’t wait to get help if you think you have a problem, no matter how small you think it might be. You can eat normally, and you can be free of the shame you carry about your body and yourself. I know, because I used to carry that shame and struggled with eating issues for most of my life. I wish I had gotten help sooner. So does Julia.
You wish your sweetheart took better care of themselves and weren’t so overweight, but whenever you try to help, it backfires. You’ve tried friendly suggestions, cooked up healthy meals, kept cookies and ice cream out of the house, and resisted saying too much. Yet it bothers you that your significant other is only getting heavier and doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it, and it is affecting how you feel about them. Now what?
Martin had the same problem with his girlfriend Ellen, and more than once she told him to back off when he tried to give advice or encourage her to make changes. He loves her, but he wasn’t sure he could stay with her if she didn’t start taking care of her health and losing some weight.
The truth is, you can’t force anyone to change, no matter how nice you try to be about it. But you can make it easier for them to make those changes for themselves. As we all know, when it is just as easy to get a delicious hearty salad as it is to grab a bag of cookies, it is more likely we will have the salad and maybe a cookie or two to go with it.
If our environment makes it simpler and easier to make healthier choices, than we are more inclined to do them. This is why more businesses and communities are working to provide easier access to walking areas, healthy foods and fitness support. You can do the same for your partner.
Have healthy foods in the house
To make it easier for both of you to eat well, you need to stock your refrigerator and freezer with healthy foods that are fast to make, easy to dress up and taste really good. These days it is easy to find good frozen foods, pre-cut vegetables and very simple fast recipes.
But do not remove unhealthy food from the house in an attempt to force healthier choices. Your mate will only go out and get more of that food out of anger and a genuine fear of deprivation.
Buy healthy meals or a meal service
If you don’t want to prepare meals yourself, get healthy to-go options at your favorite restaurant or grocery store, and look for a service that delivers meals. You may be surprised how affordable these options are.
Everyone prefers healthy foods if they taste good, including vegetables. You may be surprised how much your significant other looks forward to these balanced healthy meals.
Suggest healthier restaurants
Some restaurants are healthier than others, and more places are providing locally sourced foods, which often includes more vegetables and cleaner foods. Go exploring to see what new healthy restaurants have popped up in the area, and make it a date night. The goal isn’t to stay on a diet but to find delicious well balanced fare, so it’s easier to make a healthier choice.
Keep healthy snacks and water around
One of the main reasons people overeat and binge on junk food and sweets is because they get so hungry they go for the easiest food and then can’t stop eating out of a compulsion to make up for not getting enough food earlier. The way to avoid that is to have healthy snacks on hand in the house, in the car, in your bags or in the office – for yourself and your partner. Water is also important. When you don’t get enough water, you deplete your energy and your metabolism slows down.
Take a cooking class together
Cooking can be fun, and a cooking class is a great way to do something together, taste new interesting foods and get recipe ideas. The class doesn’t have to be just about healthy food. The idea is to learn some cooking techniques, discover new flavors and be open to cooking at home. It is easier to prepare healthy foods for sweetie, if you both know how to cook or have some recipes you like.
Suggest some easy activities
Try suggesting activities you can do together that sound fun and don’t take lots of time or exceeds your partner’s physical capabilities. You want to make being active inviting instead of intimidating, such as birding, walking a nature trail with great views, seeing a great view that takes some stairs, dancing, taking a ballroom dance class, or anything enjoyable that requires limited exertion. Baby steps are the key to getting them interested in doing even more active outings.
Offer to be a walking buddy
Your partner probably assumes you would not be interested in walking with them on a regular basis. Yet you might actually enjoy that. Martin did, and Ellen was totally amazed. She knew she couldn’t walk as fast or as far, and she thought Martin would hate walking with her. But that wasn’t true. He enjoyed getting time with her after work, and he loved that it was outdoors and doing something active. So if you think it is appropriate, offer to be a walking buddy, even if the pace is slower than you prefer at first.
Be loving and non-judgmental
It is so easy to judge others for being overweight, yet you don’t know what they are dealing with or why it is so hard for them to change. Honestly neither does your significant other, who also struggles to understand why they don’t do as they know they should. And the more they try, often the worse it gets, because the real problem is not lack of willpower or intelligence. The problem is buried deep in their subconscious beliefs and emotions, which drives choices and behavior unconsciously on autopilot.
Don’t sabotage their efforts
You may think you know best and can help your sweetheart by either denying specific foods or rewarding with treats. That doesn’t help at all. Nor does pushing someone to be better or make better choices. They aren’t you, and if you push, they will rebel and get angry. Let them discover that the more they do that feels good to their body, the more healthy things they will want to do, particularly if they aren’t trying to measure up to someone else’s expectations.
The worst thing you can do is make the one you love feel guilty, ashamed or bad about themselves. That will backfire. It is human nature to resist doing anything for yourself when you have low self-esteem, just as it is normal to turn to food to avoid painful feelings or shame.
As Martin learned, the best thing you can do is help your partner feel good about their choices and about themselves by supporting them in a non-threatening way. By doing little things that made healthier decisions easier, Ellen started to make small changes and feel good about her little successes. Martin didn’t try to take the credit or push her to do more; he was simply there to listen and be supportive. A year later, Ellen had slimmed down and became the one who wanted to take an active vacation and encouraging Martin to run with her in a 5k. The same could happen in your relationship.
This column was originally posted at YourTango.com.
If you’ve ever lost weight and rewarded yourself with a whole new wardrobe, you’ve wrestled with what to do with your fat clothes. Do you keep them just in case? Do you toss them, with hopes this will keep you from regaining the weight? Or is there a better way to deal with them?
I get asked this periodically from clients experiencing weight loss, and my answer often surprises them. I encourage them to keep at least one size (or even two sizes) larger than where they are now. So each time they lose a size, they can clear their closets of clothes two or three sizes too big or at least keep a few of the garments they really love at those sizes.
They wonder why I would suggest they keep any of them, since with me they lose weight slowly as an extension of their new healthy choices and don’t expect to be regaining it. I can understand why this might seem contradictory, but I have learned through personal experience that it helps to have a range of sizes in your closet even if you stay active and fit. This is particularly true for women. We retain water, have hormonal fluctuations, go through menopause, and don’t easily stay at one size month after month.
I’m a good example. After my second year of achieving regular exercising and eating well, I was wearing size 4s. Two years earlier I was in 16s and prior to that I had been wearing size 6s and 8s from my many years of dieting. Over the past thirteen years I’ve found myself mostly wearing size 6s and sometimes 8s. Had I gotten rid of all those 6s and 8s in my wardrobe, it would have been a big mistake. I seldom fit in those 4s, but I hold on to them for when I do.
This isn’t because I fail to keep active, go on binges or lose control. It is because it takes a lot of exercising for my body to be a size 4, and in maintenance mode (really just my healthy lifestyle mode), I don’t want to work that hard at it. I am also susceptible to gaining weight, as so many of us are, and when I get sick or injured and can’t be as active for weeks at a time I will go up to a size 8. Yet I always know that I’ll be more active soon enough, which gives me the freedom to wear the larger clothes in my closet without getting bent out of shape about what might be happening with my weight.
Similarly, when I decide to embark on really intense exercise challenges, like when I start working with a new trainer or doing a new fitness program, I know that I have those 4s ready for me if I need them. I’m not a natural size 4 and can’t sustain that size without a lot of exercising to shift my metabolic set point, yet periodically I will get motivated to become super fit and then I find myself back into those clothes.
It is not uncommon for those who lose weight, whether by dieting or a healthier lifestyle approach, to reach a weight or size they can’t fully sustain. The difference is, those who lost it by taking it slowing and creating a fit and active lifestyle will find they fluctuate a bit around that size (up or down) depending on their current levels of activity. Those who dieted for rapid weight loss will likely regain all they lost and add on even more.
When you stop getting attached to being a certain weight or a certain size as you embark on an active healthy lifestyle, you can relax and let yourself have periods when you are less active and not pushing yourself so much. This is incredibly freeing and gives you permission to feel just fine wearing your larger clothes. If you find those clothes getting a bit tight, as I did not too long ago, it gives you the motivation to amp up your activities and your metabolism. By then you will probably feel ready for the challenge. Most people who have been active for a number of years get restless to do more after periods of taking it easy.
The nice thing is, you can go with that flow in your closet if you have a range of sizes. My range is 4-8; others I know have a range of 12-16. We all have our own optimal healthy weight, and one is not better than another. It depends on our family genetics, our history with weight and diets, our hormones, our level of regular activity and how well we fuel our metabolism. My father was tall and slim, and I inherited his build and metabolism. Had I inherited my mom’s frame, I would likely be wearing 8-12s. That wouldn’t change how I felt about myself or my clothes; I’d still be glad I had a range of sizes in my closet.
It happens to all of us at one time or another: the inability to exercise for a few days or even weeks as a result of illness, injury, an emergency, extra work, vacation or any number of situations. It has happened to me twice in the past three months. In December I couldn’t do any aerobic exercise for almost three weeks due to bronchitis and holiday travel, and then I tore a muscle in my arm that has been slow to heal. Yet unlike the past when I would have felt I’d failed and it was too much to get restarted, I was able to easily get back on track. But for most people getting started again feels too hard and challenging, yet it is easier than you may think.
The biggest issue is the perception about a derailment, regardless of the cause. Too often it is seen as evidence of failure, even if it is totally outside of your control. You aren’t in control of getting sick or injured. You can’t avoid times when you have to step in to deal with a family emergency or address an issue at work. And you wouldn’t want to skip going on vacation or taking time out for other types of activities in your life. And none of these make you bad or a failure if you aren’t able or don’t choose to exercise during these times.
There was nothing I could do about getting sick or injured, and the best thing for me has been to rest, take it much slower or lower the intensity when I am active, and let myself fully heal. Under these types of circumstances, you can look at non-exercise as another way of taking care of yourself, equally as beneficial as exercising. Then when you are ready to be active again, you can start back into your routine gently at a slower pace.
This is the safest and most successful way to get back on track without overwhelming yourself or your body, and within a short period of time you will be in full swing as if you hadn’t missed a day. Looking back a few weeks or months later, you would have a hard time even remembering that you had a week or two off or had a week of doing a bit less – sort of like when you take a vacation.
Feeling like you have to start all over again is one of the most common reasons many people don’t resume exercise after a period of inactivity. It feels like too much effort to start over, and from that perspective it looms over you and zaps your energy. Yet you aren’t starting over at all; even if it feels that way. You are just resuming after a short break. And surprisingly, you will bounce back very quickly once you get going, and you don’t have to start back at the same frequency, pace or exertion level you had before the time off.
So why not give yourself a break and start back with lower expectations and a gentler pace? There is nothing wrong with that. This is the best way actually to regain your motivation, re-establish how good it makes you feel to get moving and get your body back up to speed. It doesn’t matter if it takes you a few days or a few weeks to regain your former fitness levels.
Instead of seeing a break in your fitness routine as a setback or derailment, see it as an expected part of your fitness lifestyle that will occur from time to time and one that you can easily accommodate and work with.
Does it make you uncomfortable to throw out food these days, compelling you to eat it instead? Did you grow up hearing that kids are starving in Africa, to always clean your plate or that throwing out food is no different than wasting money? Many of us did and it hits home during an economic recession, but that doesn’t mean those beliefs warrant eating food that you don’t need or don’t want. Instead, it may be time to reconsider the benefits of wasting food rather than eating it.
If you stop and think about it, whether you finish eating something or you don’t will not save you money, and having a clean plate as an adult is really a habit and doesn’t serve any real purpose. To address these beliefs requires a change in thinking and some techniques to change your habits.
It starts by looking at these beliefs and deciding if they still serve you or not. If not, what belief would make more sense for you now, such as “before I get full, no matter how much is on my plate, I will stop eating and determine the best thing to do with the remaining food.” Sometimes the best thing is to save them as leftovers, mix them with new ingredients for another dish, or ask for a doggy bag. Or you could throw the rest of it out, if none of these are possible.
Throwing food away is more challenging for most of us. It really does feel like money is being wasted, but this needs to be put in perspective. If you can’t see a way to save it, then you are faced with two options. Eat it or toss it. The cost of tossing it may be far cheaper than the cost of eating it – if you take a long term view rather than an immediate one.
Let’s look at the cost of wasting it versus putting it on your waist. Often this issue comes up at dinner time, which is the most expensive meal of the day. If the meal costs $16 and there is 25% more than you need, then the amount you don’t eat is worth $4. If this happens five times a week, and you can’t find a way to reuse the food three of those times, the total cost for the week is $12. Or perhaps you didn’t eat half of the food on some of those occasions, so the total cost is $20. How often do you spend $20 a week on things you don’t really need? Could you buy smaller portions of food, split portions with others or put less food out on your plate to begin with to avoid the extra expense?
Now consider eating all that food instead. If you eat a few hundred more calories than you need or than you burn off, you are putting on weight. As you gain weight, you need larger clothes and you will likely contemplate starting a new diet. Both can be costly. How much have you spent in the last year doing a diet or on buying new clothes – either from gaining weight or yo-yoing down and back up?
In addition, this weight gain often gets added around your mid-section, and this fat is the leading cause of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and the need for medications. What are you spending in co-pays for doctor visits and medications related to these conditions?
And there is one more thing to think about. Overeating affects your energy level, your mood and your self confidence. What is it costing you to feel lousy and dragged down? Probably more than you think.
While wasting food is not ideal, it is better to look at your options than to carry a black and white belief about waste. The next time you find yourself with more food than you need or want, consider what your beliefs are, if you think they make sense, and what would be better. You have the power to challenge and change your beliefs around food if you stop and look at them. This week, take the opportunity to see what your beliefs about wasting food are costing you.
If you are like most people, regular exercise and healthy eating is more of a chore than a welcome part of your day. It feels like work, and most likely you find reasons not to follow through on your intention to exercise or prepare a healthy meal, or you find yourself doing yo-yo dieting or yo-yo exercising.
Instead of becoming frustrated, feeling guilty or giving up on fitness when you fail to stay on track, you can change your mindset about what it really takes to have a healthy lifestyle. You can break the rules without any guilt and create a better way to get and stay healthy and fit that keeps you motivated. With a change in perspective, you’ll develop a positive attitude and discover it is actually quite easy to make healthier choices and stick with your fitness routines. Here’s how to do that.
3 steps to Change Your Mindset
The first step is to become conscious when you make choices that don’t honor your body or yourself. For example, be aware when you overeat or eat food that doesn’t feel good to you physically. Notice when you choose not to exercise or exercise to the point of overdoing it. A great way to get started with this is to observe for one week all the times you start to feel full. This is eye-opening for most people.
When you do this, do not judge yourself, just notice with interest that it is happening and become curious about why that might be. If you judge yourself, you will see things as good or bad, all or nothing, black or white, and you won’t be able to see what is really driving your behavior.
The second step is to consider what is driving your choices and what you can learn from them. Assume you have a good reason worth understanding. Then you can be open to what the issue is, what good reason you have for doing what you did, and what strategies you can put into place that will help you reach your goals.
Most of the time, we sabotage our good intentions because we think we have limited or very rigidly defined options. This comes from dieting and fitness programs that specify what is and is not allowed and expect full compliance. Few people can do these well or stick with them, and the good news is there are many ways to get fit and healthy that are more realistic and enjoyable.
If you find you didn’t go to the gym, take a moment to consider why that is. Perhaps you don’t like going to the gym. If so, what else would you enjoy that gets your heart rate up and moving? What sounds like fun, would be motivating to be a part of, or you’ve done in the past and enjoyed? Perhaps you weren’t prepared to go to your class. What would help you be more prepared? Maybe you need a partner. How can you find one?
If you overate, why might that be? Maybe you didn’t get enough to eat earlier and you were so ravenous that you overate. If that happens frequently, how can you get a snack between meals or eat enough during the day. Perhaps you felt out of control because it was a food you think you shouldn’t have, creating a feeling of deprivation. If so, allow yourself to have that food in moderation, so it doesn’t have power over you. Maybe you kept eating, hoping to be satisfied or feel better, only to feel worse. In that case, find a way to eat what you enjoy in a healthier way so you are satisfied. You will eat much less naturally.
The 3rd step is to choose foods or fitness activities that feel good to you physically. And start off easy so you can have success from week to week. If you set a goal you know you can reach because it is realistic, and then you reach it, you will be encouraged and self-motivated to do even more. One small step leads to more steps, and you won’t be fighting it but pushing yourself because it will feel so good. The goal isn’t perfection; it is to increase how good you feel physically and about yourself.
For healthy eating: Find ways to eat what you enjoy in a healthier way, and do this in stages. You don’t have to change everything in a day. You can start with breakfast or start with dinner, and begin using healthier ingredients when preparing foods you already enjoy. For example, make pizza with whole grain crust, low sodium tomato sauce, lower-saturated fat cheese, turkey sausage, and more vegetables. Choose healthier things that make the pizza taste yummy to you.
For regular exercise: Choose activities that get you active and be open to all the possible ways you can do that, from dancing to power yoga, Wii Sport to tennis, or kick boxing to aqua aerobics. There is so much to choose from when you open your mind to more than what you find in a gym.
When you change your mindset from Being Good and trying to measure up to doing what Feels Good to you and your body, you can finally succeed at having a fit and healthy lifestyle you can live with on your own terms. And you’ll be amazed to discover you will naturally choose healthier options because they feel better, and you’ll become motivated to do more than you ever thought possible when you set yourself up for success week to week.
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.
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!
Maria Menounos is one of many celebrities with a weight loss success story, and I happen to see yet another story about how she has learned the secret to staying slim and taking care of herself. So I am re-posting an article I wrote a few years ago when she first put out her book about it.
Her story is intriguing – not by all that she did to lose weight, which was creating a healthy lifestyle, but by the way she changed how she saw and treated herself.
I first came across her story on the Huffington Post, called Maria Menounos’ Secret Weight Loss Trick. A great title but not representational of what she did for herself. She is like a lot of young people who have been athletic growing up and then stopped being so active when they started working as teenagers, while preparing for college and trying to excel and please everyone around them. In her case, working nearly 20 hours a day 7 days a week, fueled by junk food and pastries.
As she indulged in her new diet, she knew she was having foods she shouldn’t have and felt guilty. As she began to get heavier and criticized for her weight gain, she turned to more food. When others were indulging, she would indulge with them. And the worse she felt about herself and her choices, the more she ate the forbidden foods she knew she shouldn’t have. Sound familiar?
She refers to her struggle with food as emotional eating, after she finally realized that she turned to food to avoid her feelings, how she felt about her body and her need to please others at her own expense. As she began to find ways to care about herself, she began to love herself. And the more she loved herself, the more she took care of herself. And that is just how it works.
The less you like yourself or the more ashamed you feel about your body or your choices, the less you feel deserving of taking care of yourself. On the flip side, the more you care about yourself, the more self-esteem you gain, and the more you want to do things to take even better care of your body. This is only possible when you stop the judgment of your choices and have empathy and compassion for yourself.
Judgment leads to self-criticism, self-loathing and self-destruction. And that becomes a spiral that spins out of control, pulling you deeper into a place of denial and excessive eating. When you judge yourself, you can only see your failure, your inability to be perfect and your shame. You can’t see anything else, and you remain stuck in the belief that you are unlovable, unworthy and undeserving – even if you don’t know you belief this. In that place, food is comforting and a means to minimizing the pain and loathing. It also proves that you are as bad as you believe you are, and it feeds on itself.
Maria talks about how being a people pleaser and working insane hours led to malnutrition, a forty-pound weight gain, and poor health. She struggled to care enough about herself to do anything about it. Fortunately a loving, compassionate friend helped her to start making positive food and life choices. And the more she began to be good to herself and feel better, the more she appreciated herself and her struggle. And the more compassion and love she had for herself, the more she began to take better care of her body, make healthier choices and remove herself from negative relationships. The better you feel emotionally, the less you turn to food for emotional comfort. And that is what helped Maria break free of her struggle with food.
Maria learned through her journey that the key to being in control with food is to be in touch with your own physical and emotional needs without judgment. And that is indeed the key to success. It is the first step to having compassion for yourself without apology, listening to what your body needs and wants, and honoring yourself. In the process, you begin to shift into a healthy lifestyle and from that a healthy and sustainable weight loss follows. You also shift your emotions about your weight and your body, which reduces your stress and the hormonal production of fat that occurs when stress is present. It isn’t really a trick, yet it is the secret.
“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.”
Three months later, after learning how to be an intuitive eater, 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.
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.
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.
Why is it so hard to do as you know you should with healthy eating choices , regular exercise and taking better care of yourself? No doubt, you’ve wondered about this countless times. It doesn’t seem to make sense that if you know what you should do, that you don’t do it or at least not often enough. Yet whenever you don’t do something you intended, there is a good – and valid – reason.
Think for a moment of one thing you know you should do, but don’t. Does the idea of doing it feel inspiring or enjoyable? Or does it feel more like drudgery or a chore? If it doesn’t elicit desire or at the minimum some enticement, than it makes complete sense why you would avoid it. Who wants to do something they don’t enjoy or find distasteful? In fact, to follow through on doing what you aren’t inspired to do takes enormous amounts of energy to overcome the reluctance or resistance. Few people have enough extra energy in their busy and stressful lifestyle to do that. And the guilt of not measuring up to the “should” they carry around on a pedestal further depletes what energy they do have.
- Think of something you should do that you don’t.
- What is it about doing it you struggle with?
- In what way is that struggle valid, and what can you learn from your reaction?
- What might work better for you that is a positive and healthy alternative or solution?
- What would you enjoy more or be inspired to do that supports your real objective?
When people call me, one of the things they say they struggle with the most is staying motivated. They liked how good it felt to eat better, exercise and get enough rest and water, but they couldn’t get themselves to stick with these healthier behaviors. Jennifer was one of them. She couldn’t understand why she would quit her walks and Zumba classes, since she enjoyed them when she went. And she actually liked vegetables and whole foods more than junk food, yet she never stuck with them. It drove her crazy, and she wondered what was wrong with her that she would keep going back to choices that left her feeling lousy.
I asked her what got her to pick up the phone to call me, and she said, “I have just been told I have pre-diabetes, and I have got to change my lifestyle to avoid getting the disease.” She had found her motivation to take action, yet as I explained to her, this motivating catalyst was based on something she didn’t want, and it probably wouldn’t be enough to stick with healthier changes long term. Here’s why.
There are five steps to getting and staying motivated.
1) The Catalyst Motivator It starts with being motivated by what it is you don’t want to have happen, feel ashamed about or don’t like about yourself. These are catalysts that propel you into action, and the most common ones are a diagnosis or clear risk for chronic illness, seeing a photo and realizing how big or out of shape you are, being shamed by what someone has said or what a doctor has written, or not being able to do things anymore. For some people, it takes repeated experiences like this before one specific event becomes the wake up call and catalyst to do something about it. And even then, if you don’t act on it fast enough, you can lose the motivation very easily.
2) The Endurance Motivator Once you are determined to make a change, you need something positive to look forward to and fight for when sticking with your new changes feel like too much effort to bother. Change is not easy, and you need to know why it really matters to you to overcome your inner chatter that tries to derail you.
So why do you really care if you are overweight, can’t do all the things you used to do or are at risk for disease? What is your vision of what your life can be (or can still be) if you have your health and fitness? How do you see yourself at your best, and why is that worth sticking with new changes no matter how hard that will feel? What are you trying to achieve or be physically capable of doing that matters to you? Maybe you want to participate in a fundraiser walkathon or be able to get around when you travel abroad. Once you know this, have ways to remind yourself everyday, and keep your eye on the prize.
3) The Success Motivator Within a few days or weeks of starting your new routine, it becomes harder to reach all the goals you set for yourself or to feel confident you can really succeed at keeping up with your expectations. This is much tougher if you set high expectations, embarked on too many changes at once or picked too extreme a change to sustain each week. As you struggle to stay on track, find yourself not fully following the program or missing a day here or there, it is easy to see yourself as bad, a failure or incapable of success. Any of these thoughts will de-motivate you, and it won’t be long before you give up.
Whereas, if you set very small goals, make only one or a couple of changes at a time, and start off with baby steps, you have a greater chance of success. When you have a success, no matter how small, you become motivated to see how much more you can do. And when you focus on what successes you do have each week, rather than on the failures, you will feel more confident in your ability to succeed and even more motivated to continue.
4) The Accountability Motivator It really helps, particularly in the first six to twelve months of starting to exercise or eat better, to have someone who you are accountable to and who champions you. This could be a buddy who joins you, or a friend who is doing something similar and you acknowledge each other successes and brainstorm what might work better when you were challenged. It could be a class instructor, a lifestyle coach, personal trainer, classmates, team or anyone else who is involved in your new changes.
5) The Day-to-Day Motivators
From day to day, most people have to figure out additional ways to stay motivated, and there are lots of tools or techniques to make this motivating. You may be motivated by reaching certain numbers, and if so, pedometers, accelerometers (calories burned) or distance tracking work really well. You can have daily or weekly goals for this. Tracking calories and your weight on the scale can also work for some people, but for the majority, tracking these kinds of numbers often backfires, and I don’t recommend them. Instead I encourage clients who like numbers to track their hunger levels and how they feel on a scale of 0-10.
Other types of motivators are having a weekly fitness log where you record what you did, or having a calendar where you check off your goals. These work great for list people. Some people like to put gold stars on their calendars when they completed their goals. Others like to reward themselves with small celebratory non-food gifts periodically, such as a massage, special bath, manicure, inexpensive accessory or something else meaningful. And many people find all they need is a fixed-date goal when they need to be physically fit and healthy enough to participate in an event.
The key to motivation is to find ways to celebrate your successes, build your confidence, focus on what you want to be able to do, and how good you feel. You may find that your day-to-day and accountability motivators work for only so long, and that you need a new type of motivator. If that happens, consider it an opportunity to experiment with different types of motivators.
You CAN stay motivated. By addressing all five types of motivators as specific steps, you have much greater success of sticking with your new healthier behaviors and loving how you feel.
If you are like most people, you don’t think you are dealing with all that much stress, but think again. Nearly all of us are under a tremendous amount of stress, but we take it in stride because we are so used to the daily pressures, rapid pace, and packed schedules that make up our lives.
How you mentally and emotionally respond to stress directly affects your actual level of stress. Those that let things roll off their backs, don’t try to be all things to all people, and know that you win some and you lose some have less stress than those that aim for perfection, take things personally or have to win at all costs. Consider how you perceive and then respond to stressful events in your life, such as when your day isn’t going the way you planned it, things aren’t going your way, or you are running late for an appointment.
What takes the greatest toll on our health, attitudes and emotions is chronic stress – as opposed to acute stress that only occurs in emergency situations. The day in and day out chronic stress that eats away at us leads to chronic pain, emotional eating, fatigue, insomnia, ulcers, weight gain and a host of other physical symptoms. Worse, it leads to feeling helpless, overwhelmed, agitated, out of control and moody. You just aren’t the person you want to be, which potentially leads to depression, anger and overreaction.
Stress is a red flag that you aren’t taking care of yourself. So the important thing is to recognize the extent to which you are under stress. On a scale of 0-10, with 0 being no stress, the average person will say they are at a 3, but in fact many of them are really at a 6, 7 or 8. Chronic stress isn’t just caused by the obvious medical conditions, loss of a loved one, change of job, or financial worries. It is also caused by unhealthy lifestyle choices and psychological factors, such as repressed feelings, conflicting priorities, and the way we choose to interpret our situations. Where do you think you really are on the scale? Are you taking good enough care of yourself?
You can start by evaluating your daily routine and lifestyle choices that can create or minimize your stress levels. In the morning are you racing out the door, skipping breakfast, getting caught up in emails, or dealing with anxiety about your upcoming day? Or do you wake up refreshed with enough time to enjoy a balanced breakfast and take some time to relax, exercise and prepare for the day? The way you start your day will impact your level of stress.
During the day, consider if you are taking on too much, getting enough time to eat, easily irritated or feeling out of control. These factors will also add to stress. Is there a way to get grounded, be more relaxed about delays or changes in your schedule, say no to things you really can’t take on or aren’t your responsibility, and make sure your needs are getting met?
In the evening, are you overeating or bingeing, frustrated or upset with what happened during the day, having a few drinks and going to bed late? These, too, add to your stress level. Is there a way to make some time for exercise, visiting with friends, enjoying time with your family, eating a balanced meal and taking some time for yourself?
If you don’t see anyway to make changes in your daily routine that will minimize your stress, then start with a few simple things that will help your body cope with stress better. Stress depletes our bodies of key vitamins, so add a multivitamin each day. Eat breakfast and try to eat whenever you get hungry, so the lack of food isn’t a cause of stress. Choose to relax and take time for yourself if you are delayed in traffic, in a long line or at an appointment. You can daydream, enjoy the scenery, read, listen to music or meditate when you find yourself waiting and feeling irritated. You have choices, even when it doesn’t seem that way.
This month look at what is causing you stress and consider ways to reduce it. Then notice how good that feels.