If you’re anything like me, you probably have a tendency to be very dedicated to your health and fitness goals for a period of time, but once life gets busy, overwhelming, and stressful, you start to turn to food to help you cope, and before you know it, you’ve completely fallen off the wagon and erased all of your hard work, leaving you filled with feelings of self-loathing and guilt.
You’re not alone.
I think we’ve all gotten ourselves caught up in this vicious cycle at least once in our lives, but for some of us (myself included), emotional eating is a much harder habit to kick, and we often feel helpless over our inability to put the Ho Hos down when we’re feeling anxious or unhappy.
The good news is that life doesn’t have to be this way.
We don’t have to perpetually vacillate between feeling perfect and feeling like a complete and utter failure.
There are tools we can use to find a happy balance between the two for ongoing, long-term success, and today I’m sharing my best tips to help you remain in control of your eating habits…and how to cope when you slip up.
First, let’s focus on ensuring you have a healthy relationship with food…
Adopt the 80/20 rule
One of the things I hate most about the concept of dieting is that it creates this intense need for perfection. When we remove certain food groups from our diet and deny ourselves the things we love, we eventually slip up and get sucked into the ‘why bother trying if I’m just going to fail?’ mentality. It becomes a vicious cycle we can’t seem to lift ourselves out of, and I think it’s a recipe for disaster. A much better approach is to adopt the 80/20 rule in favor wholesome, one-ingredient foods as much as possible, with the occasional treat here and there.
Ditch cheat days
While the idea of having a cheat day to reward yourself for making good food and exercise choices sounds like a fabulous idea, what few people realize is that this mindset can completely derail all of the progress you’ve made. A much better approach, in my opinion anyway, is to allow yourself to indulge in a small serving of your favorite foods whenever you want so that you never feel like you’re depriving yourself. You’ll be much less likely to go on a bender and eat everything in site when life gets stressful, and your waistline will thank you.
Practice mindful eating
I once read that eating while simultaneously doing something else (like watching TV or working on your computer) often leads us to overeat, and have found that Mindful Eating can be effective in keeping food consumption in check. I personally draw the line at eating salads with chopsticks and chewing each bite 25 times, but if you try to eat all of your meals and snacks without distraction so you can enjoy the taste and pay attention to your hunger cues, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much more control you have when the munchies hit.
Next, let’s focus on understanding what causes you to overeat…
In my experience, emotional eating tends to be situational, so before you grab a bag of chips, jar of Nutella, or box of cookies from your kitchen pantry, take the time to write down the events that precipitated your need to feast on unhealthy foods. Perhaps your emotional eating is a result of a stressful day at work, drinking too much alcohol (which has been shown to lower our inhibitions), or fighting with your significant other, or maybe you have a tendency to reward yourself with food for a job well done.
Spend a week or 2 writing down as much as you can about the situations surrounding your food intake and then look for a trend.
And finally, let’s redirect your feelings and find ways to feed your emotions without food…
Once you’ve identified what causes your emotional eating, the next step is to find ways to cope with those feelings that don’t involve food. I once read that instead of rewarding ourselves with food after a bad day (or a big victory), we should change our mindset and treat ourselves to a workout instead. Of course, this isn’t always feasible (or desirable), but there are other ways you can feed your feelings. Go for a walk around the block, call a friend on the phone, make yourself a cup of tea, watch a funny movie, or go to bed early with a good book.
And if you MUST have a taste of your favorite foods, limit yourself to a few bites and then replace the taste with something else so you don’t overdo it. For example, if you decide to indulge in a couple of forkfuls of chocolate cake, follow it up with a bite of cheese, cup of coffee, or a piece of gum so your craving has been satisfied and the taste of chocolate has been removed from your mouth, making you less likely to eat the rest of the cake.
We all experience some form of emotional eating in our lives, but some of us are more prone to it than others. The trick is to understand our triggers and ensure we have a proper plan in place to help us cope when the desire to overeat strikes. And when we do make unhealthy choices, we need to take ownership over our actions and stop berating ourselves.
It’s only food, after all…
Deepak Chopra once said, ‘Almost everyone I’ve ever met who overeats is doing so on behalf of an old self (a discouraged child, an unpopular teenager, a self conscious young adult) who no longer exists.’ Similarly, Kate Wicker once said, ‘We have it in our head that if we fill our stomachs, we’ll fill our hearts.’
In other words, we have a tendency to use food to fill a void in ourselves – discontentment with who we are or who we once were, or the desire for something that’s missing in our lives – and while a couple of chocolate bars or bags of sour cream and onion potato chips may make us feel good in the short-term, they take away from our long-term happiness.
With that, I will leave you with one last inspiring quote from Buddha:
‘You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.’
Makes you stop and think, doesn’t it?
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