You’ve tried all the fad diets: Atkins, Paleo, Keto, plant-based, intermittent fasting, no-sugar.
You’ve joined support groups, 24-hour gyms, attended boot camps and enrolled in employee wellness programs (not always by choice).
You’ve spent anywhere from one day to months counting points, calories, fat grams, carbs, and steps.
You’ve eaten more than your fair share of salads with dressing on the side, no dressing at all or even worse, with just vinegar or lemon juice.
By now, you’ve probably abandoned the diet and exercise program you began on January 1 and maybe even started a different one.
Your goal of losing weight before the family reunion at the beach this summer is shot.
You are constantly bombarded by images of friends, colleagues and random others revealing their “before” and “after”, their “winter weight” and slimmed down “summer bodies.”. They’re all saying the same thing, “If I can do it, anyone can do it!” But you can’t—you’ve crashed and burned with each new diet venture.
Here’s the thing–I know you had every intention of meeting your goal, every time.
Despite tremendous amounts of effort and a lot of time and money, you either can’t shed the weight or ultimately regain the weight you’ve lost.
You’re educated and successful in every other aspect of your life. Why is it so hard to just count calories and exercise more?
When the diets don’t work, and you’re only seeing minimal results, you turn to what should be your most trusted advisor for help—your doctor. But each time you go to an appointment it’s the same story.
You try to relax in a chair that you’ve had to squeeze into (since those chairs are made for a max size 12) and listen to your well-meaning healthcare provider tell you to lose weight while simultaneously handing you a universal diet and exercise plan.
When you return after a few months to weigh in (many of you don’t return due to shame), you think your doctor is judging you because you haven’t made any significant progress. The doctor scratches his/her head, reminds you of the dangers of obesity and hands you another dubious diet plan.
After you leave, you feel worse and head straight for the drive-thru for your “last supper” pre-diet meal.
As a therapist of 22 years, Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and creator of Riley Wellness Group’s cutting edge Emotional Eating Program, I’ve sat across from hundreds of brilliant, skilled, competent women and men as they’ve shared their weight struggles with me. It is incredibly heartbreaking to hear so much self-loathing and body hatred.
I often ask my clients if their doctor happened to question them about any other issues in their life that might be impacting their eating—across the board, a resounding “no”. And that’s part of the problem.
If your relationship with food involves eating to cope with negative emotions, a diet is basically a prison sentence. It wholly deprives you of your survival tools– all those high fat, sweet foods that temporarily relieve you of your troubles.
After a period of both physical and psychological deprivation (also known as dieting), those foods have more power over you. You end up returning to them with a vengeance, which of course leads to more shame. Shame leads to more negative feelings, which leads to more food, and round and round it goes.
To add insult to injury, since stress has become normalized in our society, most people don’t realize how it is impacting their mind and body, especially their eating behaviors. All that weighing, measuring, obsessing over every morsel that goes into your mouth and worrying about your weight increases your stress hormone (cortisol).
Research shows that elevated cortisol leads to cravings for high-fat foods. Dieting also leads to increased ghrelin (which means you feel hungrier) and reduced leptin (the hormone that signals fullness). Your doctor probably isn’t promoting the idea that dieting is stressful (likely because they don’t realize it themselves).
So, let’s sum up.
You have negative feelings and those feelings lead you to eat. You gain weight and feel ashamed, so you go to the doctor. The doctor puts you on a diet. Your diet leads to increased stress and cravings along with feeling hungrier and less full.
Great, isn’t it?
If you haven’t caught on by now, this is the opposite of what a diet promises you.
This is why most diets don’t work at helping you lose weight or maintain weight loss. Your mind and body are literally fighting you every step of the way and let me be clear; it has nothing to do with willpower.
It is not you that is the failure!
Without addressing the root causes of why you turn to food in the first place, it’s impossible to escape this vicious cycle.
Changing your self-defeating behaviors involves a multipronged approach that includes increasing awareness, creating space for your emotions (yes, those things you’ve been avoiding while you’ve been busy with a family/career) developing a sense of self-compassion and connecting to your values and what truly gives your life meaning.
Here are some tips for reducing your overeating behaviors:
1. Become an Objective Observer
Notice what you are doing and try to replace judgment with curiosity. Instead of shaming yourself for eating a double portion of chocolate cake, ask yourself, “Hmm, why did I do that? Was I stressed? Angry? Was I comparing myself to others in the room?” With time and practice, you will begin to notice patterns and understand in what situations you might expect yourself to cope using food.
2. Reduce your Stress level – (I know this is easier said than done) by trying these:
- Do a soul searching evaluation of the major stressors in your life
- Consider either eliminating or reducing your exposure to these people, places or situations
Example: Your boss enters your office fairly frequently to ask for your help on a project just as you are about to leave work. Practice talking to your boss about your need to leave work at a certain time (write a script and sit in front of an empty chair to rehearse), schedule a time to meet with your boss, enlist a friend for support (you might call them before and after the meeting with your boss) then have the meeting. If the boss is not receptive, then consider the next steps (i.e., applying for another position in the company or looking for another job.)
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3. Consider What you Value – What truly gives your life meaning.
- Think of what you used to enjoy as a child (your pets, the outdoors, riding a bike in the neighborhood)
- Re-introduce some of the things you enjoyed as a child into your current life (ask a friend to go bike riding in a park, spend time on the floor with your pets, plant your favorite flowers in your yard)
4. Create a Nurturing Space for Yourself – (either at home, the office or both)
- Fill it with things that make you happy or bring a sense of calm (i.e. essential oils, shells, something soft to touch or hold like a smooth stone, an inspirational quote, a candle, flowers or a plant)
- Spend at least a few minutes every day in your space
5. Seek out a Therapist or Coach Who Specializes in Overeating Problems
A therapist can help you address the underlying causes for turning to food. They can guide you to find other ways to cope when you’re feeling stressed or emotional. A professional well versed in mindfulness-based practices is a great place to start.
Note: If you suspect you may have binge eating disorder, it’s important to seek help from a therapist and dietitian who specialize in eating disorders.
Two significant markers of this illness are:
(1) eating large quantities of food in a short period of time at least once a week
(2) feeling significant distress and or extreme guilt after the episode.
Read Next: What Is Emotional Hunger & How Does It Differ From Physical Hunger?
Recovery from emotional eating, binge eating, and compulsive eating is not easy, but it is completely doable.
It’s definitely not a quick fix that diets falsely promise you, but the end result is inner peace and a deeper connection to what gives your life meaning.
If you are sick and tired of the yo-yo diet roller coaster, make the choice right now to try a different path.