Have you ever tried and failed to lose weight? More than once? Lots of times? Me too. I am a serial dieter and I know that I am not alone in this.
I have been on just about every diet, starting with grapefruit and cottage cheese diet in 7th grade. Most of them worked, for a while. I lost 50 pounds on Adkins. Twice. At my thinnest, I worked out for an hour or two every single day and ate mostly celery, tuna, diet soda, and yogurt. If I ate more than 500 calories a day I felt like a pig. I couldn’t lose weight while working out like a fiend and eating practically nothing. Trust me, that will make you feel like a failure.
Obviously, that diet was not sustainable, but I did it for over a year. It never occurred to me that weight loss was linked with our brains.
I’ve lost thirty pounds and counting, and when I look back, this time it has been easier. I have changed my food. I eat real food, no chemicals, and balance protein and carbohydrates. I swim several times and week and walk when I can. What has really made the difference though, is understanding that weight loss is more about what is in your head than what is on your plate.
What is swirling around in your head are feelings, and they are not all positive ones. We are exhausted and stressed. We are bored. We are sad and looking for solace. We are overwhelmed. We want enjoyment and we crave relaxation.
When you are not fulfilling some need your life, you will compensate with something else. People compensate in different ways- with overworking, with alcohol, drugs, with sex-and with emotional eating.
Jean Fain, a Harvard affiliated psychotherapist, notes that most diet programs are, “a short-term fix and conditional support for long-standing eating issues.”
If you have a weight problem, eating is likely how you compensate. The trick is, to get what we need in a way that doesn’t involve eating.
When I am exhausted, which used to be a fairly normal state of being for me, I eat. Food gives you energy, so this makes sense. However, exhaustion is better controlled with slowing down, sleeping, and relaxing. Food does not compensate for failing to take good physical care of yourself.
When I started sleeping more, stopped working incessantly and allowed myself to relax and enjoy pleasurable activities with my family and friends I stopped craving food.
I feel a little embarrassed, like I am late to the game. Why did I not figure this out before? I have certainly heard the emotional eating message. However, the old adage about eating fewer calories than you burn was stuck in my brain. I thought the only way to lose weight was to deny myself everything I want and work out excessively. I thought a good workout involved sweating profusely in a class where I couldn’t keep up with the spandex clad instructor.
I feel like a failure just thinking about it. I told myself a hundred times, if I just had more willpower…
It was all wrong. I have plenty of willpower. I have managed to accomplish everything I ever set my mind to. If you have succeeded in many areas of your life, you too have plenty of willpower.
We need to look into our heads, but it isn’t willpower we aren’t controlling, its emotions.
Have you battled with your weight? Have you found ways to be successful in managing your emotions without eating? I would love to hear your ideas.