When emotions take over.

One aspect of reaching your goals within the realms of weight loss, health and fitness has to do with changing your eating habits.  I’ve said it a million times and I’m guessing I’ll say it a million times again, but cleaning up your food, and doing it on a consistent basis is the key to changing your body and losing weight.

And there is a diet, a plan, a guru, a program, or an organization, on every street corner telling you how to do it.  If you ask someone who’s lost weight, they will tell you the name of their diet, plan, guru, program, or organization that got them there.  True?

Here’s what I have to say about that:

They are all RIGHT!  With the exception of a few diet programs that I think need to fall off the face of the planet (fasting med programs are the first that come to mind followed by the ingenious cookie diet), most will give generally sound advice:  Stop eating so much crap and start eating more vegetables.

While I think shifting your lifestyle and eating habits are a bit more complex than the above general statement, for the points that I’d like to make today…the above will suffice.

The one crucial step that every single “program” seems to skip over however, is the insanely complex an intricate webbing of emotions tied into how and why we eat.

Because if it was just as simple as “eat less”, and I could give you the exact list of what to eat and you followed it to the tee, there would be no problems and we would all live happily ever after wearing our bikinis and Speedos on the beach without a care in the world.

But it’s not that easy.

Emotions play a huge part in our successes and failures when it comes to choosing the right foods and to weight loss in general.  The best diet plans in the world will do you absolutely no good if you’re unwilling to stop eating Ben & Jerry’s after a long and stressful day at work.  No guru can help you if you can’t stop yourself from “trolling” the kitchen unconsciously before and/or after dinner (or in the middle of the night for that matter…)

The underlining issue here is getting your emotional state of being in check so that you will have a greater chance of success at this game.

Now, when we are talking about emotional or compulsive eating (same thing by the way), lets be real here:  Who doesn’t eat emotionally? Think about how we celebrate birthdays and holidays.  We do it surrounded by lots of food.  I’m not talking about labeling emotional eating as “good” or “bad”.  I’m talking about paying attention as to who is ruling your world:  “you” (your higher self) or “your emotions” (your not-so-higher-self).

I was listening to a great speaker today, Dr. David Bruner talk about this exact concept.  He was speaking about when people lose all control and blame it all on their emotions.  “I just couldn’t control myself”, he joked.  His tone was light and it was quite funny because when it’s all said and done, the truth of the matter is that we—our higher selves—are completely in charge of our emotions.  There is an internal choice to make.  We get to decide when we act out emotionally. If you are used to letting your emotions guide you through life, this may seem unrealistic.  But if you listen very closely inside of yourself, there is a moment before the emotion takes over where your ‘higher self’ has the opportunity to choose one path or the other.  It really is within your control.

What I offer my clients are resources and tools to help them overcome this battle.

  • 1.  When it comes to emotional eating, the first step is to realize and bring it to your conscious (aka: AWAKE!) mind that you are choosing your food for reasons other than health and life.
  • 2.  It’s not about judging the above decision, but it’s about noticing if it serves you.  It might serve you to eat cake at a celebration, or indulge in wine and chocolate on Valentines Day.  The question is:  ‘Does this food I’m about to devour serve me and the higher good of what I want for my life?’
  • 3.  If the answer the above questions is an unequivocal “no”, then it’s probably time to take a look at what’s going on deeper inside of you. Because if you are emotionally eating and it serves no helpful purpose, then what you are really doing is attempting to solve an emotional problem by putting food in your mouth.  And here’s a little hint that’s 100% accurate:  IT NEVER WORKS.  Ever.  There is no type or amount of food that can fix whatever it is.  Never.  Ever. Never.  (Did I get my point across?)

I’ve recently received many wonderful emails from some of our Challengers who have had some struggles in this area.

One in particular, whom my heart goes out to, has just recently lost her sister.  Just hearing her say those words brought tears to my eyes and even as I write this, my heart goes out to her and her family.  She was so set with her plans of showing up to her training sessions and eating clean because she’s already done the internal work and realized that this is her year to get her health and weight under control.  And as soon as she discovered her sister’s untimely death, it all went out the window.

I offer this example to you as a real-life and very valid reason as to why someone would “fall away” from their worthy goals.  But tell me, how does food fix anything?  It might comfort you in the moment, but then within seconds the pain is still there and now you’re pissed because not only is your sister still gone, you just ate too much crap and feel worse than when you started.  The food was an attempt to make the pain go away, but what it did was create more pain.  Food will never fix the problem.

What is really needed in this moment is to FEEL THE PAIN.  To be so present to the moment that instead of trying to push the feelings away or stuff the feelings deep down inside, you choose to go a different route….you CHOOSE to feel it.

Now, lets get clear here.  I’m no therapist.  I’ve taken my fair share of “life and wellness coaching certifications” and read enough self-help books to understand all of this cognitively, but actually DOING the work (i.e.…. putting the cookie down and choosing to “feel the pain”) is really freaking hard.

But really, it’s the only answer to a better, healthier, and more productive life.

And the truth is that you will never completely attain your weight loss and health goals until you can work through your pain and get to the bottom of it.

The good news is that there is a lot of help out there.

1.    Go get a good therapist. Get the bottom of why you do what you do.  Tackle this with all of your heart and desire because you are worth it and you deserve to live a healthy life in a healthy body that is filled with pure energy for every day.  Emotional/compulsive eating will zap you of the very life energy you are seeking.  It will occupy your thoughts every second of every day, as some of you already know.  When you are finally finished with this way of living (why not be done with it right now?), then having qualified help while you are working through this can save you a lot of time and get you to the bottom of this faster.

2.    Although controversial, (some people don’t like her concepts of God), I absolutely love the book from Geneen Roth:  Women, Food, and God. And it’s not just for gals. It is profound and gets to the heart of emotional/compulsive eating like no other book I’ve read.  Plus Oprah love it. : )  And considering Oprah is the most public figure I know of when it comes to emotional eating, I dug right in and grabbed this book by the horns!

3.    The Diet Cure by Julia Ross is mandatory reading for most of my nutrition-coaching clients.  She shows that often times emotional eating has more to do with unbalanced physiology/hormones within the body.  Once you can get everything back in balance, then you will naturally not crave foods that create the emotional spiral of over-eating.  I think it’s a great book to teach about proper nutrition and amino acid supplementation.  I don’t think it digs deep enough into the real reasons for emotional eating…. and I truly believe that until you can “dig deep”…it will always creep back in eventually.

4.    Working with a qualified Nutritionist.  I highly recommend finding out if you are gluten-sensitive, lactose intolerant, sugar/caffeine addicted, or just plain outta whack with your hormones.  Often times the emotional problems are totally connected to the fact that your hormones are all messed up because you can’t stop eating sugar.  Getting the right tests and working in the right environment might help.  But take my warning here:  if you haven’t dealt with the compulsive eating issues, and then you have a nutritionist tell you to STOP eating a certain food… well… all hell could break loose and you end up eating exactly what you aren’t supposed to!  Many people get all excited to “go get a test” or “get the latest diet”, when what they really need to do is deal with the underlying problems…which leads me to say:  go re-read number one.

5.    There are a TON of tools and tricks you can use to help you along with this process, and I’ll share one of my favorites that I use with my clients right now.  I teach my clients to keep an untraditional food journal.  One that not only keeps track of what you ate but also keeps tabs on your emotional state of being during and at the end of the day.

Whew!  That was big.

I like to think I have very sound nutrition programs that include re-education, habit-changing focus, and the right style coaching to get the job done.  But no great “program” or “plan” can be successful until you are in a place where you (the higher you) are in control of your emotional choices.

The most important takeaway here is that when it’s all said and done, YOU are the controller over your emotions, not the other way around.  While you may feel debilitated or defeated at times, the truth is you are POWERFUL BEYOND MEASURE and the sooner you connect your thoughts and beliefs with this truth, the sooner you will figure out how to manage your emotions, the sooner you will stop using emotional/compulsive eating as your crutch, and the sooner you will start to live the life of your dreams.

As anyone who has finally taken this step toward killing the emotional grip will tell you, it’s like you’ve finally gotten your life back.  Imagine spending your time focused on your family, your career, and your fitness goals (instead of your weight loss goals and your obsession with Ben&Jerry).  It becomes a paradigm shift that you for sure cannot live without.

How has emotional eating affected your life?  What are YOUR secrets to managing this?  Share with us all.