Just wanted to post another invitation to follow me at my new website, lmwellness.com. I notice that there are still a number of people who are visiting this site (kimthedietitian.com), yet I have not posted in many months. I fear they must think I am lazy! Not so. I have just been posting in a different place. Join me there!
Tag Archives: emotional eating
Everyone I counsel has one goal in common: health. Beyond that the details vary a little, but for the most part, almost everyone wants to lose weight.
The goal seems simple on the surface: be healthy, lose weight (the goal), and it’s all good, right? In other words just follow the plan, whatever plan that is, and your success can be measured on the scale.
Not so fast! There’s one not-so-little detail to consider. Temporarily following a diet without actually changing the long-time habits that have driven eating in the past is bound to be a short-term venture.
Behavioral habits that lead to extra pounds are controlled by habits of thinking. Thoughts like “Oh, just one more won’t matter. They are so tasty, and I won’t be eating these again anytime soon, if ever!” Or maybe “I’m up 2 pounds today and I was PERFECT yesterday! I give up.”
There are endless habitual thoughts that play out like a well-worn tape, and the results we see in our behavior are predictable. Outwardly it may seem like you just lost control and someone else – an alien perhaps? – is driving your choices.
Binges often follow negative or unsupportive thoughts – maybe after taking a bite of the cookie you told yourself you would never eat again? If automatic thoughts were more neutral or positive, the binge would be much less likely. Positive thoughts create more desirable actions. Allowing thoughts to run wild without any awareness of them is simply not a good plan!
Changing habits of thinking is hard – really hard – but also really important. Because so many thoughts are unconscious, and because thoughts affect feelings, it is easy to feel bad without knowing why. When we notice the thoughts, it is possible to see how the feelings developed. Then there is an opportunity to really change – from the root of the feeling – the thought.
As it turns out, we are better off when we just observe thoughts without judging the fact that we are thinking them. We can then use a very useful tool – the brain – to work with us toward finding solutions to problems. The brain is not very creative when it is judging. It is too busy sending uncomfortable emotional messages that affect feelings.
With practice, different kinds of thoughts become more automatic. New habits of thinking can develop – how exciting! That means that healthier habits will play out in actions too, and the body will become healthier overall.
So let’s return to how we measure success. Even when weight loss is the goal, the scale does not have to be the main focus. The number is not entirely within our control day to day – too many opportunities for false conclusions and feelings of failure. It is true that regular weighing is one of the habits associated with people who keep weight off, but I would bet they don’t take the daily variations too seriously.
Drawing attention, without judgment, to thought patterns that drive actions gets to the root of the problem. The scale will take care of itself without a need to fixate on it. This may sound like a subtle difference in focus, but it is really the key to maintaining weight loss.
A long-time dieter I know has been working on this. She is still getting used to viewing progress with her thinking. Her comments illustrate how shaky it feels to change over to a new way of evaluating progress, but the progress is obvious upon a closer look (my comments in bold).
The only thing I can think to say is, “struggling but not giving up.” . . . So I continue on. I am becoming much more aware of my hunger and of what I am eating. (Awareness of hunger – great! And not giving up – essential!)
Work has been stressful but just yesterday I convinced myself that I don’t need to get so hung up with it. It was making me sick . . . . (Yes, other areas of life affect eating – good to realize that.)
I find it hard to understand why I am having so much trouble with this. (At least she is trying to understand.)
I’m grateful . . . that I haven’t given up. (Hooray!!)
Being able to see these glimmers of positive change are so important to moving forward. It would be easy – frankly easier for someone used to thinking negatively – to throw in the towel. That’s the old way of life that lines up with the old habit of thinking. Here is what would have stood out:
The only thing I can think to say is, “struggling
but not giving up.” . . . So I continue on. I am becoming much more aware of my hunger and of what I am eating.
Work has been stressful
but just yesterday I convinced myself that I don’t need to get so hung up with it.It was making me sick . . . .
I find it hard to understand why I am having so much trouble with this.
I’m grateful . . . that I haven’t given up.
It is likely she would have at least temporarily given up.
Picture yourself with a new pair of glasses – perhaps rose-colored ones that notice more positive thoughts developing. Noticing them and giving yourself credit for that important progress is the first step toward long-lasting healthier eating habits.
I had coffee with a friend recently. Retreating from the cold Wisconsin weather, we settled in, warmed up, and savored the wonders of our steamy beverages: the taste and warmth of the drinks, to be sure, but also the experience of connection in a cozy setting.
Later she sent this:
Yes! We eat – and drink – for reasons that are complex and interconnected. Do we ever eat simply for physical hunger and nourishment? If so, it is rare, at least in developed countries. I understand the metaphor of a human body as a car, and we want to use good quality fuel, but it’s not that simple!
We are human beings, not machines, so eating decisions are always interesting blends of physical hunger, pleasure seeking, and emotional needs. We often weigh these factors unconsciously, so food decisions can seem to be controlled by factors beyond our control. “I don’t know why I ate those cookies. I couldn’t stop, and I didn’t even really like them that much.” (In reality, the cookies may have been a mindless attempt to meet an emotional need, one that might have been more truly soothed with a non-food solution.)
I believe that one reason we tune out and don’t hear our genuine needs is that our diet-focused culture seldom encourages that kind of non-judgmental observation. Why would we be curious about that if we believe that we should just follow a plan no matter what?! Why question that craving? Just resist it!
People who blindly try to follow a rigid eating plan do not always realize that ignoring real needs does not make them disappear. In fact, the opposite is usually true; ignoring them is more likely to cause uncontrolled eating that appears to have no logic other than “I have no willpower, and I’m a total failure.” There’s not much insight in that kind of thinking!
This is not to say that having a plan is a bad thing. It is actually a very good thing if a plan is defined as having an intention to do something, but any plan that will work long term must be chosen, not imposed. That means it should make sense for your body and be realistic for your life. Maybe most importantly, any good plan for human beings needs to be flexible.
We know what we need if we pay attention. If we listen, true needs (sometimes for physical nourishment, but sometimes for more complex things like warmth or comfort or pleasure or pain avoidance) become less mysterious and we can choose to honor them and care for them kindly, or we can decide to ignore what would be truly supportive and act outside of our best interests.
Either way, a choice is better than mindless default. Choice always leaves the door open for a kinder approach next time, and choice is less likely to cause regret and disappointment, guilt and shame.
I am happy to report that my 1-1/2 year journey to make my dream a reality has finally resulted in a phone app for iPhone that can be downloaded from the app store. If you like my general approach – very human and forgiving, and very REAL – I think you will enjoy giving the app a whirl. The name of the app is “In The Moment – Mindful Eating.”
The final product accomplishes what I had hoped it would, and now I am ready to ask the really important question . . . the question that matters most to me . . .
WILL IT HELP USERS WITH IN-THE-MOMENT FOOD CHOICES AND EMOTIONAL DILEMMAS?
I would be so grateful for your feedback. You can rate the app, but I also encourage you to comment here with suggestions to make it better. It will cost you $1.99 – worth every penny!
Lots of people dread Mondays. There have even been songs written about it. Some of you may remember the Mamas and the Papas: “Monday, Monday . . . it’s just that day . . . Monday, Monday . . . sometimes it just turns out that way. . . . ” Not exactly up-beat! Continue reading
Why would anyone want a half-assed plan for anything? Shouldn’t we be aiming for quality, be the best we can be?
Sounds good, and certainly would be the goal you would want a neurosurgeon to have if he were operating on your brain, but what about goals for healthy eating habits? I would argue that people who tend toward perfectionism actually eat better when they don’t take it so seriously. Continue reading
I saw this quote and thought it was insightful . . . and I thought “Hey, this definitely applies to emotional eating.”
Pain is not wrong. Reacting to pain as wrong initiates the trance of unworthiness. The moment we believe something is wrong, our world shrinks and we lose ourselves in the effort to combat the pain. – Tara Brach
I don’t like pain, emotional or physical. Do you? Does anyone? Still, although it’s not something I wish for, I am beginning to look it in the face more directly these days. (Yes – beginning to . . . !) Continue reading