You hear it all the time; “I am being good this year and not going to have xyz bad foods, so I don’t gain any weight.” This is the time of year when people join Weight Watchers and go on diets, so they can stay in control during the holidays. For some it works, and that holds out hope for everyone else. For the majority it not only does not keep them in control; the guilt, deprivation and old familiar patterns lead to giving up on the idea and then really over indulging since they blew it anyway. By the time New Year’s rolls around, they have put on nearly 10 pounds – twice the average holiday weight gain. Have you ever done this or know people who have? What happens in January when the holidays are over? Does this process get repeated?
For Julianne (not her real name), this is just what happens every year. She promises herself she will be good at Halloween, but isn’t. Then she becomes determined to do better at Thanksgiving and doesn’t. This leads her to take more drastic measures and go on a more rigid diet before Christmas, restricting herself as severely as she can so she won’t gain more weight. Yet for reasons she can’t explain, she still blows her diet and can’t seem to stick with it as she should, and by Christmas Eve she is gorging herself on candy canes and anything sweet she can get her hands on. For the next seven days, she is in full binge mode, knowing that she starts her diet again on January 1st. And then her annual cycles of dieting and bingeing begin again. She is in her late 50s and ashamed that at her age she is still doing this. She wonders why she never learns and can’t get herself to do as she should. She wonders what is wrong with her.
Nothing is wrong with her. She was never taught how to eat normally or how to recognize what really drives her to make the choices she does. She just assumes she is bad, and the harder she tries to be good the more often she feels like she fails. Sound familiar?
So here are the 3 things she has learned in our sessions so far this year as she successfully navigates the holidays and all the food she loves to eat. She let me share this with you if I didn’t use her name, which I fully understand. Her lessons are a bit painful to face, yet they are fairly common.
1. She does not like candy canes. She was so obsessed with eating what she couldn’t have before her next diet began, that she ate food she didn’t even like. She realized she didn’t even taste her food or know what she really enjoyed, because she was driven by a greater need to get what she could while she could. Now she focuses on what really gives her pleasure and satisfaction, and she finds she doesn’t want all that sugar or to overeat. This has been amazing to her.
2. She has been dieting and bingeing every holiday since she can remember, and her mother did the same thing. Her mom still struggles with food and her weight. Dieting doesn’t work. She just believed it did and was the thing to do because her mother did it. She can choose her own beliefs now, and she is learning first hand that eating with consciousness of what feels good to her body is a better way to go through the holidays.
3. She was very hard on herself and that judgment caused her to overeat and choose foods she knew were bad for her, reinforcing how bad she was. It was a vicious cycle of self-hatred, self-restriction, rebellion and guilt that spiraled into food binges she couldn’t stop. She is learning to see herself with compassion, non-judgment and greater understanding. The more she does this, the less often she finds herself drawn into the cycle or wanting to eat food she doesn’t need.
You may see yourself in Julianne’s lessons or you may be getting other insights. No two people have the same internal beliefs, emotional reactions, subconscious drivers or backgrounds. Yet what most of my clients share is a belief in dieting to lose weight and that when you eat foods you shouldn’t have on a diet you are being bad. Yet they can never be good enough to reach or sustain their goal, so they give up and dig in. This holiday, consider doing what feels good to your body and your head, rather than striving to be good. You may just enjoy the food more and end up weighing less.
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.
My clients often complain they are too busy to plan and prepare healthy meals, so they can’t keep it up consistently. When they can’t find the time, they end up going back to fast food, cereal, take-out pizza, or a hodge podge of things they find in their cabinets and refrigerator. Seldom are these substitutes healthy and often they are unsatisfying.
It does take some time to plan meals for the week, grocery shop, and then plan and make luncheons and dinners. And there are a number of options when you run out of time on a regular basis.
- Find a local place that has healthy meals to go. If you do a little investigating, you will mostly likely find a place near where you live or work that has a healthy line of prepared foods that you can take home. It could be a restaurant, supermarket or carry out gourmet cafe. In my area alone there are five places I can go for really good healthy choices.
- Cook extra food, when you do have time, and stock up the freezer for those weeks when you are busy. While you may not think you like leftovers, it may be worth giving it another try. Most food tastes just as good reheated, and some taste even better. Experiment with ways to double up favorite recipes.
- Find a personal chef to make the meals for you. This is a great option that too few people consider. The general assumption is a personal chef is too expensive. That is seldom the case. Very often, the cost is very reasonable, and personal chefs are highly flexible. You can have them prepare meals for every day of the week, just a couple of days a week, or on a schedule that meets your busiest times. They will also prepare foods the way you need and like it, and they are well versed in making meals without allergens, to a specific diet or with locally farmed ingredients.
To find a personal chef in your area, do a local Internet search, check out Yelp.com or go to either http://www.personalchefsearch.com/ or http://www.hireachef.com/. Personal chefs don’t have to be in your town or cook in your own kitchen. They can prepare foods in another part of the state and ship it to you without a problem.
Expand your options when you are too busy to cook, so you can maintain a healthy diet more easily. When you’ve got a home-cooked meal all ready to go, it is easier to sit down to enjoy it. Instead of excuses for not being able to eat healthier foods, create a stress-free positive way to eat healthy foods that are delicious, satisfying and hassle-free. You’ll discover how much you look forward to coming home to a good meal.
So many people find fall a time for getting back down to business, just as kids are doing by returning to school. They are motivated by the start of a “new year” to ramp up their fitness routine, lose weight and create a healthy diet, and they want to get a jump on the holiday season.
This is a perfect time to respond to that little voice urging you to get moving, eat healthier and take better care of yourself. If you don’t do it now, will the moment pass you by? If you put off the urge to start until October, by letting just one more week turn into just one more month? Will you wait until you find yourself overindulging on Halloween candy, but then think “what’s the point” since the holidays are just around the corner? Many people do, and the next thing they know, it’s New Years and they are feeling fat, uncomfortable and badly about themselves. You don’t have to let that be you!
Decide to take advantage of this time of year, when you feel some motivation to get back into a healthier routine. All you need to do is something small, and let your success at taking one action motivate you to take more small steps. Soon you’ll find you feel so good about yourself and how you feel, that you will stick with your new changes throughout the holidays and New Year’s will just pump you up to see what more you can do.
“It was a bad week,” Sherry told me. “I didn’t do well with my food.” That was the first thing she said when we started our session, so I asked her what did go well before we talked more about what didn’t.
She told me about all the times when she was able to stop eating before getting full, how she had made a batch of brownies for her kids and realized she wasn’t interested in having any herself, and how she had gone out to dinner with her husband and made healthy choices without overeating. She had also had friends over for dinner and had prepared healthier foods which was a first, and she didn’t overeat or over drink.
As she shared all this with me, she was seeing how good a week she really did have. She was amazed by how many things she had done that felt really good; and she said “wow, I didn’t see all these things until now.”
That was because she was focused on the one thing that hadn’t gone so well; the one night when she overate and didn’t feel in control. That clouded her thinking about the other thirty-one times she had eaten a meal or snack the past week without overeating or making unhealthy choices. It also left her feeling like she’d failed, which had the potential to derail her efforts moving forward. After we talked, Sherry felt successful and motivated to have another good week.
You can do the same for yourself with these 4 steps:
1. Review your past week for all the times you made healthy choices.
Notice how often you ate just to the point of satisfaction and stopped before getting full, had breakfast, didn’t get too hungry, ate balanced meals and snacks, had treats in moderation, exercised or was active, got enough sleep, drank enough water, and took care of yourself in other ways.
Like Sherry, you will probably be amazed by how many healthy and positive things you actually did for yourself and how well the week really did go. Allow yourself to feel good about and to shift your perspective about your accomplishments.
2. Be curious about what didn’t go so well, instead of beating yourself up.
Also notice when you overate, ate lots of unhealthy foods, ate when you weren’t even hungry, skipped a workout or opportunity to be active, drank too much alcohol or soda, or didn’t get the sleep or water you needed. Do this with interest and curiosity. There was a good reason for this.
Think back to what was going on that day. What were you thinking when one of these behaviors occurred. That will give you clues as to what was driving that decision or choice. Maybe at the time, you were dealing with a lot of emotions or had totally run out of time. Maybe you were not paying attention and let things happen. Maybe you didn’t plan ahead and weren’t prepared, so you opted for a less healthy choice. None of these make you bad. These are opportunities to see what gets in the way of what would leave you feeling better physically and about yourself.
If you beat yourself up, you won’t see what really happened. You will only focus on how bad you are, and that won’t improve your behavior. Instead that will lower your confidence and kill your motivation.
3. Learn from that situation, so you are more confident and in control next time.
With curiosity, you can look back and see what you would have done differently, what you really needed or how you might have prepared in advance.
How could you have addressed your emotions instead of turning to food? How could you have been more conscious, so you were able to be in charge of your choices? How could you have planned ahead to have time or have food? Were your goals realistic for this week or had you really thought about it, would you have expected yourself to fit in so many days of exercise?
By asking yourself these types of questions, you can see that any time you aren’t as successful as you would like to be, these are opportunities to understand why and to consider what you might have done differently either at the time or leading up to the decision. Maybe you would have set more realistic exercise goals. Maybe if you had done your meal planning and shopping over the weekend, you would have had healthy food in the refrigerator instead of munching on pretzels and ice cream for dinner. Maybe, knowing it would be a difficult week, if you had gotten some healthy to-go food or stocked up the freezer with healthy frozen entrees, you would have had enough healthy food to eat during the week. Or maybe when you found yourself upset, if you had called a friend, gone for a walk or gotten your journal out, you wouldn’t have pigged out all night and ended up feeling sick.
With these insights, you can develop strategies for next time. And there is always a next time.
4. Let your successes and new insights motivate you to stay on track.
Feeling successful is the key to staying motivated. When you feel good about yourself and can see all that is going well to be healthier, more fit and reach your goals, you will want to do even more. No matter how small those successes are, they build your confidence and enthusiasm for staying on track.
Having strategies to support you in being successful is also motivating. It gives you direction and hope that you really can continually make healthy choices and stay on track. As you implement these strategies, you can learn more about what works best for you. These strategies aren’t new rules; they are new ideas to experiment with. The goal isn’t to be good. The goal is to discover what works to support your health and fitness, to stay motivated and on track, and to feel really good each day.
We all have done it. We decide to start eating better, exercising regularly or taking better care of ourselves, yet despite our good intentions we don’t have much success in sticking with these changes.
Our Food & Fitness Behaviors Are Driven Subconsciously
It doesn’t seem like it should be that hard to do what we say we want to do or to make healthier changes we know would make our lives better. As one woman said to me recently, “I am smart, I know this is important, and I’m in control in other areas of my life, so it doesn’t make sense that I can’t be more successful with eating well and exercising.” The truth is that our behaviors around food and fitness aren’t driven by rationale; they are driven by subconscious beliefs and emotions that are intertwined and multi-faceted.
Cocktail Party Sabotage
Imagine being at a business cocktail party that has plates of appetizers being offered around the room and a banquet of pastries, salads, meats, side dishes and desserts. You don’t know many people there and you aren’t very comfortable in these types of situations. You are also out of town and traveling on a tight budget. When you get to the event you buy a glass of wine and look for people you might know.
You don’t see anyone familiar, and while you stand there you are offered some appetizers. You take one, and then as you are approached by others with trays of more appetizers, you take another and another. You try talking to a few people, but don’t really connect to them. Next thing you do is head over to the buffet tables. You fill a plate, and when that’s done you go back for more. You still don’t see people you know, but you do see lots of people talking and having a good time. You go for another glass of wine and talk briefly with a gal who clearly is looking for someone else. You also find yourself eying the dessert table. Soon you are filling up your plate once more with lots of wonderful little cakes and chocolates. You could stand there all night enjoying those rich desserts, but you decide you’ve had enough and go back to your room. You feel sick from all the food and wish you hadn’t had so much. It’s a familiar feeling, and you don’t want to think about it, so you just go to bed.
Uncovering the Real Issues
For a client of mine, who had this experience and is willing to let me share this with you, she finally came to understand what was driving her to over indulge at events like this. As we talked through what happened, she realized that she was feeling a lot of anxiety because she doesn’t know how to approach people who are already talking and then isn’t sure what to say. She was also feeling vulnerable because she’s overweight and believes people automatically assume the worst about her. And she was feeling unwelcome, because she was never welcomed at school parties or events as a kid. And that led to her feeling ashamed of who she was because she was never thin enough to please her parents.
She was surprised by the depth of emotion she was experiencing and could see how using food was a way to push these feelings away at the business event. By talking about them, she was getting a way to validate the feelings and start to get them out, instead of keeping them repressed and turning to emotional eating. She also got insights about what she needed, such as tips for networking and approaching people. There are books and programs for this, which would give her more confidence. She also needed to change her belief that people assume the worst about her, and she had plenty of examples where this wasn’t true. And she could see that she had anger towards her parents for judging her body, when in fact she wasn’t that overweight as a child. They just compared her to her ultra-thin sister and considered her the fat one.
She also realized as we talked, that for her a banquet of free food shouldn’t go to waste, especially since money was tight. She often overate when food was readily available and she hated to see food go to waste, even if it was food she didn’t even like. As a result, she often overindulged, only to feel really sick afterwards and nearly pass out from getting so full. She said this really affected her productivity at work and some days she didn’t even go in because she felt like she was in a fog. I asked her how much that was costing her, and she had an ah-ha moment. Maybe it was costing her more to eat all that food than to simply let it go to waste. Not only did it cost her at work, but it cost her more in healthcare costs and having to buy larger and larger clothes. And it cost her in low energy and poor self esteem. Not only that, the heavier and worse she felt about herself, the harder it was to feel welcome walking up to people at business events.
Creating Easy Resolutions
As you can see, her behavior with food that night at the cocktail event was being driven by many different emotions and beliefs, some of which dated back to her childhood, that she couldn’t see for herself. Yet once she was aware of them and began to address the feelings, change her beliefs and get networking guidance, she found she could attend any event without turning to food as her crutch. She finally felt free and relaxed, and to her surprise she discovered she loved networking and now goes to events frequently.
When you can peel back the layers and understand what is driving your behaviors, you may be surprised yourself to find that what is really going on is more complex than you might expect and may have nothing to do with food. Fortunately, once you know the underlying drivers of self-sabotage, whether they are related to food, fitness or any other behavior, the real issues are usually fairly easily to resolve.
Ellen was finding she felt more excited and enthused when she was trying something new or mixing up her exercise activities. She realized she had always known that variety was important to her, but she had discounted it as being a flaw in her personality. Ellen felt she needed to be more serious and dedicated to specific exercise workouts and had to stick with them for years to come to reach her goals. Yet inevitably she would get de-motivated and quit just weeks after starting a new program. She came to me to find out how to increase her motivation, so she could stay on track long-term.
The answer was in the very thing she was fighting: variety. If variety made her excited and enthused, then this was the perfect thing to leverage as a motivator. Instead of seeing it as a flaw, she could instead see it as an advantage. To accept this, she also had to change her belief that the only worthwhile exercising was structured, specific and needed to be done at least 3 times a week. That was easy; she was delighted to give up this belief. The idea of doing the same routine over and over was unappealing and de-motivating.
Ellen is one of many clients who have this misconception that worthwhile exercise is a specific and rigid work-out routine, which comes from the fitness industry. Even though a personal trainer will mix things up when they meet with a client, the recommendations from trainers for those working out on their own is usually a fixed cardio and strength training routine they can do at home or outdoors several times a week. The reason is you need a trainer’s knowledge to know how to substitute strengthening exercises appropriately and organize them in the most effective order. When they can’t be there to guide you, all they can do is provide a structured set of exercises. This is why in magazines, the routines are very specific and you are given the recommended number of days a week you do them.
Yet, it is ideal to mix up your aerobic and strengthening activities. Our bodies adapt fairly quickly to doing the same exercise in the same way routinely, which means you get less return for your effort the longer you do the same thing. So, to the amazement of Ellen and many of my clients, variety works to their advantage.
The same is true with food. Most people who like variety in their fitness activities, also like variety in their meals and snacks. Again, this can be used to your advantage. Plan for more variety and let the desire to try new things help you to expand your healthy choices.
3 ways to tell if you need variety to stay motivated:
- Do you get bored doing the same activities, whether it is exercise-related or elsewhere in your life?
- Do you feel energized when you aren’t stuck in a routine and get to have lots of variety?
- Do you have more fun when you are mixing up your activities and foods or trying new things?
3 ways to mix up exercising to be motivated and more effective:
- Give yourself permission to get aerobic exercise by being active for x minutes or x days a week. Allow yourself the freedom to decide which activity you will choose based on your mood or what works best on a given day. For example, Karen likes to bike, walk, kayak, swim and do Zumba, and she can pick from any of these to reach her weekly minutes goal. She doesn’t have to commit to doing any one of them regularly. Instead she will go with what feels good that day, without the burden of worrying about what she should do in the future.
- Pick a few types of aerobic activities you want to be good at and do each of them at least once a week. One of my clients is doing Taekwondo, racquetball and walking her dog. She is working toward new belts in Taekwondo, and she is learning how to play racquetball so she can do this with friends. Each week she learns new things and pushes her body in new ways that feels really good.
- Train for a triathlon, which requires mixing up swimming, running and biking throughout the week and adds in greater intensity levels as the training progresses.
Take advantage of whatever it is you prefer to do to reach your goals. If something doesn’t work for you, don’t assume that makes you a failure. Instead see what does work and how to turn it into a motivator that will keep you jazzed for the long term.
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.
Clair prides herself on being really good when she diets, until she isn’t. And then she is really really bad. She can’t seem to help herself. The moment she gets derailed and succumbs to food she knows she shouldn’t have, she is taken over by an insatiable desire for all the foods she’s been denied the past few weeks. The pattern is always the same.
Then there are people like Betsy, who are really good during the day, only to leave work and find themselves unable to stop their desire for fast food, ice cream, chips or cookies. Betsy would head to the closest convenience store after work, where she loaded up on cookies, an ice cream bar and candy, and then hurriedly ate it all on her commute home. Mike did the same, always stopping for some candy.
Nancy never stopped; she would go straight home, but then raid her cabinets for any junk food she could find, feeling as if possessed by a demon. Why she would ask me, as the others did, am I so bad at night after being so good during the day?
For the same reason dieters go on a binge the night before their diet starts or right when it ends.
I call it restricted rebellion. You can also call it the deprivation-binge rollercoaster. When you have been restricted or deprived of foods you want, you want them all the more. And then when you get your hands on that food, you feel compelled to eat as much as you can while you can, knowing you are bad and it has to be the last time. That self-imposed belief that you should and will be restricted again creates an emotional need and child-like rebellion against that very restriction.
In addition, eating food you believe you shouldn’t have creates guilt, anxiety and a self-loathing that is soothed by eating comfort food, temporarily relieving the feelings with a dose of happy denial. Another name for this is emotional eating.
The answer is to give yourself permission to have all the foods you love as part of your diet. You can call it cheating, but that only recreates feelings of being bad and guilty, which drive emotional overeating and bingeing. Instead, cheating only works when you don’t believe it is cheating.
Cheating suggests there are bad foods you shouldn’t have, and that if you have them you are bad and will either gain weight or not be able to lose weight. That is simply not true. You can eat any food in moderation, particularly if it is part of a healthy balanced diet. This is what Clair, Mike, Tiffany, Nancy and Betsy learned. By eating more of the foods they wanted during the day in a healthy way, they no longer felt deprived or in need of rewarding themselves for being so good in the evening or when their diets stopped.
They also discovered something they would never have believed. They no longer wanted to overindulge in their “bad” foods once they had permission to eat them. They were finding they were easily satisfied by less and that overeating and bingeing wasn’t enjoyable. Nancy couldn’t believe it when she actually threw away half her big cookie, because she really didn’t want any more of it. “Was that the real me?, she asked.”
It was. She was no longer being driven by her inner child rebelling for more or by her need to stifle her guilt. Now she could actually focus on tasting her food and being fully satisfied with less of it.
When you don’t let yourself have what you want, you will eat excessively in an attempt to gain that elusive satisfaction. Better to go ahead and cheat, and let yourself have the food you love. You will have less of it and have greater success with achieving and maintaining weight loss.
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.
How often have you made New Year’s resolutions that you struggle to keep because they were just too much work? I remember making my lists each year of all the things I should change about myself and the things I should start or stop doing. By the end of the first week in January, I was always failing to keep up with my expectations, and by the end of January, I had given up on my resolutions all together. How often have you had the same experience?
I now do resolutions differently. Instead of focusing on what I should do differently, I focus on picking a few things I would like to experience or do more of in the coming year, and I don’t set a specific date for getting started. I set an intention that I would like specific things to happen and then wait to be inspired to take action. For example, I decided five years ago that I wanted to try Pilates. A few months later, I was running errands in town when I ran into my neighbor, Adrienne, who taught Pilates. I didn’t know she was teaching Pilates, and I was excited to find out she was working with clients in their homes and didn’t need equipment to do it. This was perfect, and I was inspired to work with her. I loved it, and I’ve been doing Pilates ever since. It wasn’t a struggle; it wasn’t a chore. It was so easy and effortless to get started and stick with it.
A few years ago, my New Year’s intention was to add kick boxing to my fitness activities, and I wanted a certain type of instructor who could either work with me in my home or who had their own facility. Nearly eight months later I was introduced to Heidi, who was exactly the person I was looking for, and I trained with her for nearly two years. I loved working with her, and again it wasn’t a chore to me. It fit my lifestyle and my personality. It is possible that a whole year could have gone by without meeting her, and if that had happened, I would have re-evaluated if that was still a resolution I wanted that next January.
Very often, just the act of setting resolutions and feeling excited about a new year can be the inspiration you need to make a change in your life. When I started exercising eight years ago, it was the desire to take advantage of New Year’s that inspired me to make January 1st the date I began my commitment to fitness. There is something inspiring about a new school year or the beginning of the calendar year, and if you feel this way, it is the perfect time to take action.
The challenge is often narrowing the list of improvements down to just a couple of things, or just one thing, so you don’t lose your inspiration. A change to your routine or way of thinking isn’t easy to maintain at first, particularly if you’ve decided to make several changes at once. Very often, people who want to get healthy and fit attempt to add exercise and a change to their diet all at once. While some people do fine by combining these changes, many others find making several changes at once too overwhelming and difficult to keep up with. For them, it is better to pick one change at a time and to pick the one they are most inspired to do first. Then as they assimilate that change, they are encouraged by their success and have greater desire to add another change to their lifestyle.
There is nothing wrong with taking small steps and doing them in the order that feels most enticing to you. In fact, you have greater chance of success if you set small resolutions. You can always add to your resolutions at any time during the year. When you resolve to do something for yourself to improve how you feel or how you live, you are the one in control of your expectations. Give yourself permission to set more realistic and enjoyable expectations. A great way to do this is ask yourself on a scale of 0-10, how confident are you that you will achieve the resolution you’ve created. If your confidence is anything less than a 10, reduce the goals to the point you can say you are fully confident at a 10 on the confidence scale.
Resolutions and their start dates don’t have to be carved in stone. They can be fluid and adjustable. They can also be chosen to accommodate what you want to experience so they feel good, instead of being a “should” that is measured against a rigid expectation. This year, set yourself up for success instead of disappointment.
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?
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.
Have you ever noticed that when you aren’t satisfied by the food you are eating, you eat even more in an attempt to get satisfaction?
Maybe you are settling for food you think you should have, instead of what you really want. Or maybe you think you want a food because it is supposed to be good or once was, so you eat it expecting a certain experience. I see this happen a lot with my clients who overeat out of a desire to feel good only to end up feeling disappointed, full and wishing they hadn’t eaten so much. They don’t even recognize this pattern because it is subconscious and they aren’t paying enough attention to how they feel physically or emotionally.
In our culture where dieting rules, we aren’t taught to value the importance of eating for satisfaction. In fact we are taught the opposite. We take on the belief it is virtuous to avoid the food we love, feel badly if we succumb to foods that are really good and assume that any food we really want is a bad food. We proudly deny the need in ourselves to enjoy food and feel satisfied, believing we are being good and will be rewarded on the scale. Sometimes that works, but very often it doesn’t.
Satisfaction is a genuine need that a part of you (often your inner child) craves and will do anything to get. Instead of resisting this desire to enjoy certain foods, give yourself permission to have the food and fully appreciate it without any guilt. If you are afraid of overdoing it, which is a valid concern at first, be strategic as to how much of your favorite food you can access at one time. If what you really want is Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, see if you can get just one Ben & Jerry’s ice cream bar in your favorite flavor. If you love a certain type of cookie or candy, find a way to get or create packages of just a couple at a time.
What so many of my clients have discovered to their amazement is that once they have permission to have their favorite foods and to experience the pleasure of satisfaction, they don’t want to eat all that much of it. When they pay attention to how good it tastes, they don’t overeat. Instead they may have just one of the two cookies they put on a plate, just one slice of pizza with a salad or just a few bites of a rich yummy dessert. That is all they really wanted, and they are amazed that by giving themselves what they really want they are intuitively and naturally in control. There isn’t any struggle or resistance.
It is when you deprive yourself, you give the food control over you. You obsess about it, eat it when no one is looking, eat too much of it or eat everything else in sight. It’s as if you are helpless to control yourself, and you are when you are unaware of the subconscious need to be satisfied that is driving your behaviors.
The same thing happens when you think you are allowing yourself a favorite food but still carry the diet mentality, believing you really shouldn’t have it and feeling guilty about it. When this happens, you can’t fully experience satisfaction. Instead the guilt feeds emotional eating, which causes you to overeat and create more fear about being out of control around this food.
When you stop judging foods as good or bad and allow yourself the pleasure of eating what you really enjoy, you discover it doesn’t take all that much to be satisfied. Even three bites can be enough, which is why some people go by the three-bite rule for yummy foods that aren’t highly nutritious, such as desserts and appetizers. I personally love dark chocolate and have two bites (1/2 square of bittersweet Bakers) with my lunch and dinner most days of the week. It does the trick and I can have chocolate in the house without overindulging. You can too.
This month, pick a food you’ve denied yourself that would be satisfying. Find a way to start off with just a bit of it in a controlled way, so you don’t scare yourself or experience overdoing it while you are still susceptible to the good/bad mentality and subsequent guilt.
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.