Most people believe that the way to lose weight and get healthier is by taking a bootstrap approach and whipping themselves back into shape. But the only way to get control of what you eat is by putting an end to trying to control it in the first place.
If you’re frustrated because you’re carrying excess weight, the problem is not what you’re eating. It’s what’s eating you. Stress! Your rocky relationship with food and your body is a reflection of the stress in your life and how helpless that makes you feel.
By focusing on restricting your food, rather than confronting the emotions that are triggering the unconscious urge to overeat, is like trying to bandage a broken leg. Experts claim that emotional eating is the reason why up to 98% of all diets fail in less than 5 years.
To effectively manage overeating, you have to learn how to calm your body’s stress response so that you won’t always feel compelled to reach for food when you’re not hungry. You can do this learning how to nurture yourself and create your own personal feelings of safety. I’m talking about the importance of being more self-compassionate in order to minimize your emotional eating. Here’s why:
Imagine yourself alone facing a storm on the ocean. It’s dark and your boat has capsized. You don’t have the strength to swim against the raging currents. Just at the moment when you’re sure that you are going to drown, a huge log comes drifting toward you. You grab it and hold on tight. The log keeps you afloat and brings you into calmer waters towards a safe place. But because you’re afraid to let go, you are not able to swim to shore. People on the beach are shouting, “Let go of the log” but you can’t because you don’t believe that you can handle the storm without it. How ironic. Let’s look at your log as emotional eating.
You’ve most likely faced a lot of emotional storms in your life that have probably left you feeling a bit lost. Maybe you know what it’s like to feel helpless, depressed, angry and afraid. Losses, betrayals, disappointments, hurts and tough times have all left their mark on your body, leaving you with extra pounds of pain accumulated from years of overeating, using food for comfort. There’s no shame in that. In the same way that our stretch marks are evidence of our children’s birth, our excess weight is evidence of times in our lives when we needed to reach to food for comfort. Like the log, overeating has carried us through some dark and stormy times. Be grateful that it has gotten you this far.
But notice that there comes a point when you recognize that your crutch is hurting you more than it’s helping you. Maybe you’re facing diabetes, or dealing with the consequences of a food allergy or some other illness. Maybe your body is urging you to get healthier.
When women come to me wanting to coach them to lose weight, I tell them that they have to first change their goal from weight loss to self-acceptance. That means loving all of your lumps, bumps and bulges, wrinkles and warts and all the other physical and emotional aspects and parts of yourself that you’ve been trying to disown. By opening your heart to embrace all of your flaws, and seeing yourself from the eyes of love, you melt away all the resistance to fearing change. You become healthier as a consequence of taking better care of yourself and feeling deserving of that.
If you want to stop bingeing on food and have a more gentle and respectful relationship with your body, you have to recognize that your emotional eating is trying to help you survive. Self-compassion is actually the antidote to bust down your binges. As I tell my clients, “Forgive yourself for falling in, because that is what will give you the strength to climb out.” Your emotional eating is your body’s way of trying to protect you from getting hurt. Your tendency to reach for food when you’re under stress, is a well-oiled stress response that is automatic. It’s your body’s way of keeping you safe.
Food is associated with dopamine release which means that we eat to feel fulfilled and happy when we really feel angry, lonely, afraid or sad. It’s the shame and the feelings of guilt about that overeating that keeps the emotional eating cycle going.
Since I’ve stopped dieting my whole life has changed. I found peace with my body and stopped fighting with food. My relationships improved, my sex life with my husband exploded and my confidence soared and I’ve made peace with myself through every size and stage, facing all my ups and downs. All these things happened as a result of deciding to call a truce on the war with my body and food. Here are some of the lessons that I’ve learned in the process of making peace with food and friends with my body:
Stop depriving yourself of the foods you crave. You don’t deserve to be punished. You haven’t done anything wrong. If you believe that you can’t be trusted around certain foods, and you try to keep them out of your reach, your cravings for them will enslave you. When you reach a tipping point where you can no longer tolerate feeling deprived and being obsessed with thinking about the food and wanting to eat it, you will pursue that food and eat it until it is gone. That is known as the deprivation response. You can reclaim your power over those foods by giving yourself permission to eat the foods you fear.
Stop the negative self-talk: If you have a habit of talking down to yourself and being disrespectful and critical of your body and your eating it will only fuel your body’s need to eat for comfort. To break the cycle of shame, you have to tap into more self-compassion. Set an intention to speak to yourself with the same respect that you would offer a loved one whom you adore.
Be curious, not critical. Your binges are 9-1-1 Emergency Calls to look beyond the food and get honest with yourself. Acknowledge that your overeating is a signal to your body that you are looking to food as a relief because you can’t tolerate the stress anymore. Look for clues in your environment and around you to determine what may have triggered your upset. Each time you overeat this is not a failure on your part. Forgive yourself and move on. Your body is learning a new way to eat. It’s going to take some time for you to get an in- the-bones experience that you can truly trust yourself around the foods you love.
Reconnect with your body. Because fat is so demonized in our society, we tend to believe that we are ugly and unlovable as we are. Your bigger body responds to this rejection by seeking out food for comfort. For all the years that I hated my chunky thighs and flabby stomach, and sagging breasts, I would only look at my reflection from the neck up and I’d dress in baggy clothes that hid my body. When I began caressing my thighs and my breasts and cradling my stomach saying, “I love you”, I started to see those parts of me as deserving love. Satisfy your hungry heart’s craving for love by making a habit of holding and supporting your body and gently caressing yourself.
Tap into self-acceptance. There’s power in accepting where you are in the moment. In so many ways we hold ourselves in contempt and blame our bodies for being imperfect. That makes it impossible to move past our own resistance. Resistance is really just our fears popping up. Use Emotional Freedom Technique also known as EFT or tapping to transform your negative emotions to change your thinking so that you can feel better and melt away your resistance. Based on acupuncture, tapping is a way of reprogramming your unconscious beliefs and relieving your stress by stimulating or tapping gently on certain parts of your face or body as you verbalize or think about what is upsetting you. I teach my clients how to use tapping to transform their negative emotions to confidence. You can get relief from the feelings of shame and guilt that typically follow a binge by tapping lightly on the side of your hand as you repeat the thoughts that are running through your mind. You can also go deeper and use tapping to question any limiting beliefs you hold about yourself, your relationship to food, your sense of self and your worth. This will give you a great sense of relief and peace and it will release your body’s resistance that keeps you in patterns of feeling compelled to eat when you’re not physically hungry, making it possible for you to lose weight and get healthier with the aid of tapping.
As a woman who has endured a history of abuse, I use tapping all the time because I love the way that it gives me an instant ability to go from being fearful and filled with self-doubt to feeling powerful. Rather than giving into and accepting the old habits of hating myself for the overeating, I use tapping to take a no shame/no blame approach and be more self-compassionate with my body. But the last 2 years hit me like a ton of bricks. The stress of a move, combined with becoming an emptynester, worrying about my mother, and my cat dying of kidney disease was more than I could handle. I fell deep into a depression and decided to put a pause on my coaching. All I wanted to do was stay home and eat ice cream and cry. One day I got on a scale and saw that I re-gained 28 pounds that I had worked so hard to release two years earlier. I felt mortified and ashamed. Then one day I received an email from the editors of Chicken Soup for the Soul letting me know that “Beauty At Every Size” a personal story I had submitted months earlier was going to be published in their next book, “Curvy & Confident: 101 Stories About Loving Yourself and Your Body.”
In that moment, I knew that I was being called back to my first love coaching. Since then I have expanded my focus to work with women who struggle with depression and body image issues.
I made a conscious decision to work on releasing the emotional burdens in my life that kept me running to food for comfort. Compared to my decades of trying desperately to lose weight by restriction, self-hatred, and punishing workouts, it has been pretty easy and painless to release excess weight just by choosing to take excellent care of my body and making a concerted effort to love myself and demonstrate self-respect by setting boundaries for myself and others.
In closing, it really doesn’t matter which method you choose to forgive yourself for overeating and flip your negative thinking. Any of these tips will help you to get grounded in a greater sense of self-compassion and love. In general, the period following a binge is a raw time for many people. That’s when you may be most vulnerable. By taking steps to reinforce a positive message to yourself about your body and your self-worth, you will lower your unconscious mind’s resistance that keeps you in patterns of overeating. And remember, just like a baby learning to walk, changing your eating is a process. Use the tools I’ve shared with you to keep on reminding yourself that you are worth it and commit to being your own best friend every step of the way.