“I try so hard, but where are the results?”
I’ll never forget my first experience working with a personal trainer. I was on a toning mission and desperate to lose the last 10 pounds I had gained in my first year in university. I was really committed to my exercise routine and I did my best to follow his nutrition advice but measurement days were invariably the same: abysmal change. I was as baffled as my PT since I trained hard at the gym, ate healthy and only indulged in the odd vanilla latte or chocolate bar, or so I thought. So what was the problem?
My genes weren’t to blame
It took me a few years to realise that my metabolism, genes or bone structure were not the reason I gained weight and struggled to lose it. The reason I constantly struggled with my weight was because I had developed an emotional eating habit. It didn’t happen overnight but like so many people today, food was something I turned to whenever faced with negative emotions. Food was a very effective distraction.
The making of a powerful habit
What I didn’t know at the time is that the more often you eat emotionally, as opposed to eating when you’re hungry, the more automated the behaviour becomes. Eating emotionally becomes a habit. Interestingly, scientists have found that very strong habits have the same effects as addictions in that the desire for something, like food, can turn into obsessive thoughts leading us to act on the craving on autopilot. This impulse behaviour will occur regardless of the resulting negative consequences, such as weight gain. We learn that eating chocolate, or another type of food, soothes us. Like most of my clients today, I tried to justify my eating behaviour with “But I’ve been so good this week, I deserve to treat myself, I’ll be good on Monday, for good!”. But something would go wrong that week and I would make my way home feeling low and my thoughts would turn to food, the way we turn to a good friend for comfort. Bye bye Monday resolutions!
So how do you break the emotional eating habit
Identify your triggers
Many of us eat emotionally as a reaction to stress, boredom or even frustration from putting other people’s needs before our own. Take some time to recognise the different scenarios and emotions that make you reach for food.
Cater to your emotions
Emotions are part of our intelligence. They let us know when things are ‘off’, when an issue needs to be addressed, or when we are not in alignment with our values. Listen and find alternative ways to make yourself feel good that don’t involve eating.
For instance, if you know in that Mondays tend to be hectic at work with virtually no lunch break, eat a substantial breakfast and take healthy snacks with you. This is a great way to circumvent the uncontrollable we can feel after a long taxing day.
Remember, emotional eating is just like any other habit that needs breaking. It will take time and consistency, but the result is so worth it!
For insights, strategies and tips to overcome emotional eating, check out my book STUFFED: how to feel so good about yourself you won’t have room for cake or sign up for my free e-course here.