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.
On Mother’s Day, mothers receive collective permission to take care of themselves with a day off from taking care of everyone else and certificates to wellbeing spa treatments. It is also a day to be appreciated, pampered and indulged. Why not feel this way every day? Who wouldn’t want a little of this everyday or at least once a week to take the edge off of daily stressors?
We as women, even those who aren’t mothers, however are more accustomed to neglecting our needs for the higher good of others. When did this start happening? Is this our role or have we chosen this path? While it would appear that no one would forsake themselves willingly, in fact that is exactly what women are choosing to do. And in that decision there is some sort of emotional pay off. It proves us to be heroic and saintly, deserving of martyrdom. A martyr is someone who dies for their convictions or faith, and women who sacrifice themselves for their families or even for their careers discover that they end up losing themselves and control of their lives. They look like they are functioning fairly well, but many are operating without self esteem, self love or self preservation. I work with many of these women, and I can’t help but wonder just how many mothers are dead women walking?
A mother said to me once, “If I’m not suffering, I’m not doing it right. I’m not a good mother.” And for her, this means giving up all that matters to her wellbeing, health and fitness. Another mother told me “I feel guilty if I take any time for myself, so I can’t take time for exercise and making meals that would really be healthy for me. I just can’t do what would make me feel better or find any time for me.” But that is just what mothers need: a little me time and self-care sprinkled throughout the week.
Me time doesn’t have to take up all that much time, but it does require changing some beliefs and creating a home environment that supports it. A common belief that mothers hold onto is that they have to do everything, and they have to do it all right. Mothers don’t want to burden their kids with responsibilities nor have their husbands attempt to do things they aren’t going to do well enough. So they take it all on themselves, and it never ends. In fact it keeps adding up, and that is when mothers begin to feel like they’ve lost themselves. Not just a piece, but all of themselves. Are you one of these mothers who wonder what happened and question why you don’t feel alive anymore?
You might consider some steps you can take to feel better, such as taking a class, getting a facial, going to a yoga or dance class or taking a time out for a nice long bath, but will you ever do it? My guess is no or not often, and the reason is from a fear of feeling guilty. But when you neglect yourself long enough, you aren’t the only one that suffers. Your kids and husband are also likely suffering from your lack of self-care.
In part this is because when you lose yourself, you also lose your passion, humanity and good nature. And without these it is difficult to hold your tongue, give unconditionally or set healthy boundaries. Isn’t it better to give the kids a bit more responsibility they can be proud of, your husband more room to contribute, and the family an opportunity to support your needs? They want you to be happier, stronger and healthier. They want to pamper, appreciate and indulge you throughout the year, if you’d only encourage them.
Self care is not a luxury. It is the basis of a healthy lifestyle and wards off chronic stress, poor eating habits, weight gain and self-hatred. Lack of self care is evident in the escalating weight gain during the past decade and the high levels of stress that women live with on a daily basis. Both of these put women at risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, cancer and poor reproductive health. This is a high cost for putting oneself last on the list of priorities.
Mother’s Day is an opportunity to reflect on the need mothers, and all women, have to lead healthier lives that include regular self care time. Self care starts with listening to your body and honoring it, determining whose beliefs are running you, rewriting the rules about being a perfectionist and discovering what really makes you feel good. These are just some of the things you can do to start living again and feeling great about yourself and your body. Consider what you can do for yourself. You may be surprised to discover your family won’t fall apart. It might even come a bit closer together.
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.
Exercise. For most people, that word conjures up unpleasant thoughts and feelings because of past experiences when they struggled with exercise or got hurt, or what they believe it takes to meet the minimum requirement of exercise to lose weight that doesn’t seem realistic for their current lifestyle. For others, it reminds them of a time when they loved being active and having the benefits associated with being fit and healthy. What does the word exercise bring up for you?
It is easy to assume that when you don’t exercise regularly, you are somehow lazy, bad, undisciplined or a couch potato. These are judgments that don’t reflect the real reasons for not exercising. The real reasons are likely tied to one of eight different obstacles, that once understood can be addressed with strategies.
A common obstacle to exercising is not feeling motivated enough to do it. You won’t be motivated day-in and day-out to exercise if you haven’t identified what it is you want to be able to do or feel as a result of regular aerobic and strengthening activities. It often isn’t enough to want to lose weight or avoid a disease. It takes wanting something that really matters to you enough to exercise, even if you aren’t in the mood, such as being able to keep up with your kids, having the stamina to follow your dreams, participating in a team charity walk, wanting to feel self-confident in your relationship or wanting to feel good about yourself. Sometimes it is simply wanting to avoid the regret of not doing it. It also helps to choose activities you find so energizing and fun that you can’t wait to go.
Low Priority Planning
Not having enough time is really a result of not putting exercise higher in your priorities. Anyone can find time to exercise if it matters enough to them, and if they can find the motivation to stick with it. A way to make this easier, is to find an exercise or a group class you love so much, you will find ways to fit it into your schedule. Another is to look at your calendar for the week and see where you can fit in time for exercise and schedule it. This will also help you set goals based on what is realistic, and if you can find someone to be accountable to, you will be more motivated to reach those goals.
Too Much, Too Soon
In the excitement of starting a program, when you feel highly motivated to get started, it is easy to overdo it and find yourself giving up because you can’t sustain the pace or because you’ve gotten injured. Try starting off with smaller goals and less intensity, so that you don’t feel so overwhelmed and can experience your ability to succeed in reaching your goals. With each weekly success, you can stretch your time, distance and effort a bit more and continue to have successes. In time, you will be doing more than you once thought possible, and you may surprise yourself by discovering you have a passion for being fit and participating in fitness events. It happens to many people, including me.
Feeling you have to measure up to someone else’s expectations or attain perfection in reaching your goals is the fastest way to failing and giving up. No one is perfect, and no one knows better than you as to what you can do each week, what is motivating or how your body is feeling. Instead of trying to comply to unrealistic expectations or someone else’s rules and goals, focus on what you want for yourself, what your body is telling you, and what works to keep you moving and on track.
Another way people sabotage exercise is with the belief that doing anything less than x days a week or x number of minutes isn’t worth doing. For example, you may believe that if you can’t do 4 days of exercise a week there isn’t much point, or if you can’t work out for at least 30 or 45 minutes, that you won’t get enough benefit to make it worth your while. Any exercise counts, even if it’s for 15 minutes, and the more active you are, no matter what it is, it all adds up. You may have other beliefs about what you need to be wearing, what your significant other will or won’t do to support you, what constitutes as exercise, or countless other requirements that are keeping you from being active and fit. Stop and identify what your “excuses” are and see if you can change your beliefs so you can achieve success.
Most people think emotions are just tied to food, but they also impact exercising. Think about it; you do have feelings about exercising, and if you’ve had bad experiences or anxiety about exercise than this can impact your behavior. If are resistant or ambivalent towards exercise, become curious (without any judgment) about how you feel about exercise and why that is. Most likely, you will find there are good reasons for your feelings, and once you acknowledge and validate them, you can start to look into ways of exercising that can address these feelings. For example, maybe you were called a klutz in grade school and have an aversion to gym-based exercise. Maybe you were forced to exercise and hated it. Maybe you had a bad experience with a trainer or fitness program. Are there other ways of being active that you feel confident about, or can you find a class that interests you that offers a safe environment for becoming proficient?
There is nothing worse than finding yourself derailed from your fitness routine and struggling to get restarted after an illness, injury, vacation or period of just not wanting to do it. Once you get derailed, it can seem too hard to get re-motivated again to exercise, and often this short period of non-exercise can turn into months or years of inactivity. An easy way to get restarted is by taking it slow and setting very low goals the first week or so. Let yourself gently re-engage into exercising by doing what feels easier and doing it at a slower pace. Then you’ll find your motivation as you get back into a groove, and you can increase your goals and effort within a couple of weeks. You’ll probably be surprised how quickly you bounce right back to where you left off.
If you’ve participated in extreme fitness programs and boot camps that you didn’t enjoy or that left you with an injury or bad taste in your mouth, you may be dealing with conflicting beliefs and emotions around exercise. On the one hand, you may believe that anything less than extreme fitness isn’t worth doing because of the quick results, and on the other hand you may cringe at the thought of signing up for another program. While these programs energize some people, most don’t do well with them. It is better to choose exercise options that you find motivating, enjoyable enough to sustain, and fit your personality. The majority do best starting off with baby steps and doing just one small thing at first, which easily leads to doing more because it feels good, it boosts your confidence, and it motivates you to stretch yourself further.
To create a regular exercise routine in your life, pay attention to what feels best to you, what motivates you, and what is really getting in the way of being consistent. We are all different, and our reasons for not exercising are all valid. Respect that you have a good reason and try to understand what you really need to do to get moving and to develop a consistent exercise lifestyle.
As the saying goes “you can only love someone as much as you love yourself”, and I’ve learned the hard way how true this really is. Sadly there are too many people that don’t love themselves much, and often it is because of their internal self-criticism and belief they should be something other than who they are.
Sadly we live in a society where the emphasis is on an ultra thin body image, perfectionism and trying to measure up to an idea of what we think others want us to be. What about what we want for ourselves? What about appreciating our unique gifts, abilities and bodies? I know that sounds all very well and good, and I also know how hard it is to put into practice. I’ve been there, and lived a life of self hatred and shame up until thirteen years ago.
What is different is my choice not to judge myself and to revisit my beliefs that were causing me to be so self-critical. I discovered I really can love myself, and then to my surprise I found I no longer judged others and could have compassion and love more fully from my heart once that happened.
To make the transition, I started listening to my internal voice, which I found was saying “look what you just did you idiot”, “how could you be so stupid”, “I am unlovable”, “I will never be good enough”, “I can’t do this so what is the use”. As you can see, these are extreme and harsh things to be saying to oneself, and they are hardly true. This was my own distorted view of things based on my beliefs, and it was affecting how I felt about myself, how I viewed daily events, and how much I let others into my life.
Do you know if you are saying similar kinds of things to yourself? The only way to find out is to decide to pay attention and listen. You may be as shocked as I was when I first started to really hear what this inner voice was saying to me. I realized just how outrageous, unfair and debilitating this voice was, and that it was exaggerating what was really happening. It was also reinforcing beliefs that I had grown up with that were not ones I would have chosen had I been making the decisions.
Beliefs are the things you believe true about yourself and the world around you. They are your understanding of how things are or supposed to be, which get formed from repeatedly hearing and getting the same messages. Most beliefs come from our parents, friends and family, childhood experiences and the media. Once we become an adult, we take these beliefs on as sacred and unchangeable, and they become the driver of our thoughts, decisions and behaviors. But you can change your beliefs.
Beliefs are just that, beliefs. You can choose to believe you are unlovable, or you can choose to believe the opposite. You can believe that only thin women are beautiful, or you can believe women of any size can be just as lovely. You can believe that your favorite foods are bad and therefore you are guilty and bad whenever you eat them, or you can believe that it is fine to have your favorite food in moderation. Then if you happen to overeat that food, you can observe it without judgment and understand with compassion what triggered it – knowing there isn’t something wrong with you.
Judgment of yourself affects your self esteem and can lead to feelings that are just too hard to face, and that can lead to emotional eating, stress and depression. Judgment of others leads to the same thing. Think about it. If you don’t care what others think and they choose to judge you, who is affected? Them, not you. So the moral is to be aware of your own judgment and notice where it is coming from and if the associated beliefs are negative or limiting you.
The easiest way to change your belief is to be aware of your self talk, notice the extent it is critical or untrue, and then to create new beliefs and affirmations, which affirm your new belief. Affirmations are statements you say or read repeatedly over a period of days or weeks. “I am adorable and lovable” or “I can eat my favorite foods in moderation” are examples of affirmations. You may not initially believe them to be true, but the more you say them the more you reprogram your belief system and the more they will become your truth.
This Valentine’s Day, pay attention to what you are telling yourself and reprogram the messages.
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.
Every year just after Christmas and before New Years I would make my list of all the things I was going to improve on or do once January started. I still have some of those crazy lists, and few of the things on them ever got done. It wasn’t for lack of putting in the effort those first few weeks, but the list was too big, the expectations too unrealistic, and the reality of real life too demanding to ever succeed.
I could have been like most people and totally given up on the idea, but I didn’t. What about you? Have you given up on resolutions? Or do you still hold out hope you can make some changes this year?
Thankfully I discovered there are two ways New Year’s “resolutions” can work to inspire you and help you take action, so you can become more of the person you want to be.
- The first takes advantage of your frustration and desire to fix something in your life, and that angst fuels your resolve (as in resolution) to make a change and takes advantage of a new year, with its clean slate, to get you into action. But the action is open-ended. You don’t have to reach a specific goal. You simply need to get started by taking the first small step and then learn what feels best and is inspiring to you to keep the action going. No long lists, just one step in the right direction.
- The second way focuses on what you intend (as in intention) to have more of in your life or what you want to experience in the new year, but it doesn’t have to happen immediately and it doesn’t come loaded down with fixed goals. With an intention, there is no burning drive or catalyst to take action on January 1st, instead there is a strong desire to experience it at some point during the year in whatever way that happens.
Resolutions and intentions are important distinctions, and they give you flexibility and openness about how you will achieve positive changes in your life. Most importantly, they need to be driven by inspiration, moderation and what truly feels good to you, or you won’t stick with them.
Here’s how these two approaches have worked for me. Thirteen years ago when I was 43 and struggling with my health and my weight, I had a wake up call. I knew if I didn’t make some changes and start taking care of myself, I was going to have even more health problems and might not be able to lose the weight. I was resolved to start using my unused Stairmaster down in my basement beginning on January 1st 2001. I didn’t set a weight loss goal. I didn’t set any specific goals, such as how long I had to use the Stairmaster each day or each week. I just resolved to get on it and not stop until I got back into my wardrobe of size 6 clothes, however long that took.
At the time I was a size 16 and extremely out of shape, with cellulite down to my knees. It took me nearly two years. Because my only objective was to get on the stairs, I allowed myself to start where I was (at a few minutes) and to gradually increase my time, my frequency and then my intensity. I then started to set weekly goals, and if I came close I celebrated. If I missed a day, I moved on and didn’t let that bother me. I discovered that by giving myself permission to simply do what I could and to stretch myself a bit each week or so, that I had continual success and felt inspired to do more and more and more.
That one New Year’s resolution was all about taking my first step on the Stairmaster, and now 13 years later I am celebrating what that one step has done for my life. Had I resolved to use that equipment 4 days a week for 30 minutes right up front, or set a goal of losing 30 pounds by June, I would have seen myself as a failure and given up. But I only had one goal – get started and don’t stop. It worked.
Then on subsequent New Year’s, I would pick one new fitness activity that I would like to pursue at some point during the year. It didn’t have to be on January 1st, it was simply an intention. One year my New Year’s intention was to add in Pilates. In April I ran into a neighbor who was studying for her Pilate’s exam, and soon afterwards she started coming to my house to instruct me in Pilates. She instructed me for nearly four years. Another year I set an intention to learn kickboxing. I wanted to have the right type of trainer for this, and it wasn’t until the following fall that I met the perfect gal to teach me how to kick box. I worked with her for nearly a year, and I still do kickboxing.
A few years ago, I intended to shake up my routine to get my body out of its metabolic plateau, and in August that year I had coffee with a girlfriend who was doing P90X. I hadn’t seriously considered doing such an extreme program. But with her reassurance I could do it, I began the 13 week program on my 53rd birthday and amazed myself that I completed the 90 days. I would never have guessed at the beginning of the year that my idea of shaking up my routine would have included P90X, but I did know I was looking for something new and demanding. I got it.
This past year I was dealing with the menopause belly so many women get going through this biological change, and it has been getting worse over the past few years despite all the exercising I do. I realized I needed to kick up my metabolism more often during the day to amp up my fat burning, so I took some courses on metabolism last winter, and in the spring added 2 minutes of high intensity exertion 3 times a day, and within months the belly fat was gone.
What about you? Is this the year for one simple resolution or an intention that fulfills one of your desires?
Ahhhh another school year. Whether you have kids or not, the change in temperature and shorter days reminds us all that is time to get refocused and back to work – or back to the gym and regular workout routines. But just like kids, you don’t want to go back and you put it off for a day and than one more day. And the next thing you know it is the holidays and you never did start exercising or eating better. And of course you can’t get started once the holidays begin, so you wait until New Years when you feel more uncomfortable, overweight and disappointed in yourself. Is this a familiar story? It doesn’t have to be.
Why not create healthy routines that you look forward to instead of dread. To succeed long term in getting back into shape, maintaining your health and achieving a great feeling in your body means creating a lifestyle that fits your life, not the other way around. Forcing something to work that you really resent or is more than you can really take on isn’t likely to last. The first time your schedule gets disrupted it will be the first thing to go and the last thing to add back in. Think of what usually happens for you and if this is generally true. Do you really want to get back on that treadmill or start that diet? I didn’t think so.
Determine instead what is realistic for you and your body. Start by creating small realistic daily or weekly practices that slowly change your lifestyle so that eating better and regular exercise get easily incorporated in your planning and schedule. It is better to start with just a few changes and a small commitment – maybe exercising a few days a week doing as much time as you can and working up to five days for 30-40 minutes. What is most important is incrementally increasing the days, time and intensity in a way that is best for your fitness level and schedule. This isn’t a race or a comparison game. It is a process of incorporating fitness for a lifetime.
The same goes for food. When we feel fat, we start a diet. But diets have less than a 4% success rate. Almost no one can keep the weight off a year or more after the diet, but that doesn’t stop us from trying what everyone is doing. This is particularly alluring for us as women. We are compelled to do the next diet. It is far better to select healthy options from among foods you enjoy, and to eat when you get hungry and stop before you get full. You will be more successful long term if you enjoy what you eat, feel free to eat what you love without being deprived or judged, and creating a routine that isn’t driven by the latest diet. This is easier than starting something new every six months.
And know what is right for you. Decide what is realistic and sustainable in your daily life. Everyone’s goals, abilities and schedules are different, so it is best to focus on your situation and not someone else’s. If you push too hard, you can get burned out, frustrated, injured or impatient for results. If you cut too far back on food, you will lose your muscle mass, reduce your metabolism and end up overeating when the diet is done. It is better to start with moderation and healthy choices with enough variety to keep you interested and your body supported, so you have successes and feel motivated to stay on track.
Focus on choosing things you think you will enjoy most of the options you have available to you. Sometimes that means trying new things, such as new foods or new types of activities. You may find that you really like some of them. This is how I came to love Pilates, kick boxing and even P90X. Listen to your body and what feels best to you. You might find that a new way of eating or activity grows on you because of how good it feels to your body.
So now that fall is in the air, what simple steps can you take that are appealing and realistic to boost your aerobic levels, balance your meals and take care of your health, so you can avoid that holiday 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.