When clients start working with me, they except to be told what to eat, how much, how often, what to avoid, etc, but while we discuss a great deal about proper nutrition strategies that work for your unique metabolism, exercise schedule and specific needs, the real change happens in the weekly follow-up sessions in which we not only discuss nutrition, but the underlying issues that make or break your success: the emotional connection you have to food and your body. When these are discovered and we begin to question these underlying beliefs and thoughts, then the real change can happen.
We all know that any diet can work for a while, but what makes or breaks whether you stay on a certain way of eating or not, has everything to do with your mindset, your emotional connection to food and your body and to your subconscious beliefs.
Here's an email from a client who discovered in our first week of work together that she would sabotage her best efforts every time she started a new diet.
I realize I need to mentally push past this food-emotional-control issues.
On Monday I decided I would start very strictly with the clean eating program we've discussed because I’m worried about running this long race and I wanted to drop some weight quickly. Tuesday and today I’ve sabotaged myself by grabbing cookies at the office and loading up with potatoes at dinner for no good reason.
Have you seen clients work through this before? I probably need to be focused on journaling, meditation, positive thinking, kind thoughts, and developing a curiosity and awareness about my emotions & how I respond with food. However, I am just not in a good place with this right now.
I signed up for your Slim & Strong workout classes as part of my plan to use exercise as a medicine. I think that is working well, but I’m still feeling powerless with the food thing. It’s my achilles heel, and I know that it’s something I do to feel in control and comforted. But…being “tough” on myself seems to make my eating worse. Being positive and speaking kindly to myself, works better… but I can’t seem to get there right now.
Thanks, Emotional Eater
Hi, Emotional Eater,
If you re-read your email, you’ll be quite aware of what is going on. You decide to diet and that instantly switches on the sabotage button.
I can’t say that you’re abnormal because a lot of women and men struggle with this.
The sheer focus on the weight loss, a number, a short time frame in which you want to create a noticeable change is what messes with your head when you start a rigid protocol of restriction. Your brain doesn't like restriction and it fears missing out on fun, it fears being in diet prison, it worries about having to live that way and before you know it, the rebel inside you comes out and wants to show you that you can eat anything you want.
Then, that's followed by guilt and the vicious cycle that repeats itself. You know you've been in this exhausting cycle for a few years now and it's time to help you get out of it to feel that you hold the reigns over your choices in a relaxed and easy-going way.
Take a look at your mindset. When we met you stated the following goals:
I want to lose 10 lbs within 2 weeks.
I will work out 7 days a week and run 8 miles every day.
I will eat only 1,000 calories every day to lose weight.
I will weigh myself every day to make sure I lost one pound.
Where does that put your focus?
On numbers, on weight, on calories, on restriction, on deprivation, on over-exercising, on anything but balance or well-being. In essence, you are saying to yourself that if you work out like crazy and eat next to nothing, you’ll lose the weight and keep it off. BUT, in the process you are defining your body with numbers only and that in itself sets that alarm bell in your head to ring like a fire alarm. Your brain does not respond to negatives, such as "I can't, I won't, I will never ever do x again..." Your metabolism hates this approach of eating less and exercising more greatly and it slows down thyroxine to slow your metabolism. It also slows the hormone leptin, which should signal your brain that you had enough to eat. Not only does the Eat Less and Exercise More approach make you hungrier and can create massive carb cravings, but it can also create muscle loss, promote the "skinny fat" look or pear shape body even more so, and worst of all, it only works so long until your metabolism fights you back and you hit that dreaded plateau. From that plateau you will only be able to push further my restricting even more and exercising even more. No fun...
Let's look again at your mindset. What would happen if you had these intentions:
I want to feel satiated and balance my blood sugar.
I will work on getting rid of my sweet cravings because sugar makes me feel bloated, inflamed and ages me.
I want to nourish my body by eating a lean protein with tons of veggies 5x a day. That’s when I feel and look my best and create a fat loss effect.
I’m going to sleep 7 hours every night because it makes me feel energized and allows me to recover from stress and my workouts. It will also make me less hungry.
I’m going to run 3x a week for 4 miles each and I will lift weights 2x a week. One day a week I will swim for 30 minutes because it has a calming effect and no impact on my joints.I can sustain this workout plan because it motivates me and energizes me.
I will foam roll and get massages 2x a week because it reduces my stress and calms my mind.
I take epsom salt baths twice a week to help my muscles recover.
I drink 2 veggie smoothie shakes every day because they fill me up and make my skin glow.
Do you SEE the difference? Do you FEEL the difference when reading these two sets of intentions?
The second set of intentions focus on you taking care of your body. They revolve around establishing balance, wellness and a happy mind. That creates weight loss as a side effect, not because you’re restricting and gave up every single fun thing about life.
The 1st set of intentions focus on dieting, restriction, going hardcore to the point where you can’t maintain what you aim for. That pushes your body into a corner and it will wear you out. It will make you focus on numbers on the scale, on the body fat measurement, on calories…. and will keep you in that hellish cycle of restriction. And, when you feel you’re deprived you will want to binge or go overboard because your brain is protecting you from overdoing it. It wants you to be healthy and well, not restricted and in starvation mode. The fact that you’re sabotaging yourself the moment you focus on losing weight is totally normal. How do you stop that from happening? You have to shift your mindset: You need to move from being great at dieting to being awesome at taking care of your body. You are in control of yourself just as long as you take charge of your health and mindset, not taking charge of the calories on your plate.
Another issue here is that you are trying to control your food to change your body. Sure, that’s what diet books, trainers, nutritionists and popular media tell you to do, but for the many emotional eaters in this world, that attempt will backfire if it’s approached purely with a diet mindset. Cut calories, exercise more.. yada yada yada… Not until they’re ready to take charge of the emotions that cause the overeating or sabotage will the overeating stop.
Here’s an example from my own life:
When I worked a job I really disliked, I used to be amazing at getting up from my desk (where I had so many things to tackle that I just couldn’t get started with one) and take a look in the fridge to see what I could eat. I wasn’t hungry. I was just going to see if anything had changed inside that fridge door because I was overwhelmed by how much work I had to do. So, if I didn’t want the food, what did I really need? I needed a break. I needed organization. I needed something to calm me to get focused. I needed distraction. I didn’t find that in the food, really, because after eating something, the issues were still there, plus I felt too full and tired. Not until I learned to be very organized, focused, and task oriented, and learned how to structure my work to get some time off, did the desire to head to the fridge disappear. No diet, no 15-hour workout program, no detox would have helped me lose weight. Perhaps temporarily, but the issues would have always been there, time and time again, making me want to overeat.
Many people who exert control over food and exercise to such a degree feel a lack of control in other areas in their life. What area in your life are you most struggling with? Once you address what you TRULY need, you may notice a shift in your desire to control your diet. For example, if you feel that you are powerless in your current job situation or feeling trapped in a relationship, unable to decide on a way out of the situation, chances are you try to exert control in another area subconsciously. In eating disorder treatment, one approach to treatment is to discover the true talents, ambitions, desires of the person that have yet to be fully expressed. If emotions are suppressed, they can rear their ugly head in eating disorders or other unhealthy compulsive behaviors. Here’s a great graphic that drives it home and perhaps you recognize yourself in it.
Your current mindset is one I'm very familiar with as it was my own for many years. I struggled against my body, went from one diet to the next, binged, dieted, went nuts with exercise and then totally lost it by doing nothing. What was it that finally created lasting changes with a healthy and balanced approach? It was the change in my mindset that created lasting changes many years ago and a hard and honest look inside to realize that there were a lot of things not working and they showed up in food and exercise control issues.
So, think about all the good things you can do for yourself that make you feel and look like the person you want to be. The first step is to focus on the things you CAN do to feel better: what foods nourish and energize you, what beliefs, thoughts and mindset is constructive and supportive? What can you do to set up a balanced approach to including small indulgences that won't set you back physically or mentally? We will discuss the many ways in which you will find balance in the coming weeks. For now, start by sticking to the basics of what you can do right now to feel good.