Erasing Emotional Eating

Emotion: what comes to mind? Maybe, moody teenagers, couples in love, or is it road rage! Emotions have the power to shift perspective and focus in a way that influences energy. Love colors everyone and everything in a generous light and moving through the world feels light and free. Joy makes the energy we all possess feel like a bouncy ball, and clouds out any negative cues. On any given day, how many emotions are there? I can’t even begin to guess.

It only makes sense that emotional eating is an especially hard habit to break. Once a habit has been encoded in the brain and a shortcut link has been formed from cue to habit it becomes a very powerful response. But the good news this response is really just a habit. It’s a habit that can be broken, one that doesn’t have to (as my mother would’ve said) rule the roost. Sound good? Is it easier said than done? Well, yes, probably… but what have you got to lose except for a habit that isn’t serving you well.

The “Research Says” category name for this phenomenon is, “cue-induced wanting.” Self-control doesn’t work in the long term, we tire and succumb to the habit. So learning how to lesson this habit is in our best interest. Let’s say stress is the trigger for emotional eating.

  • Name the habit so it can be known to you: I want to eat, not because I am hungry but because I am stressed out.”
  • First, try to replace overeating with something beneficial. What you decide is up to you. Some possible options might be: walking the dog, meditation, or something creative.
  • Then if that isn’t possible, if at the moment the emotion is too hot, limit the damage. Eat low-calorie options with a big CRUNCH eat an apple, carrots, or celery. Or drink water with a straw that “emptying sound” can be very satisfying when you get to the bottom. Chances are you won’t do much damage to your weight loss efforts.

So can we really erase emotional eating? I’ll tell you, but first a story. I love to draw. Sketching that perfect line is extremely rewarding. However, I don’t always get the line perfect on my first try. Many times I’m pulling apart my gummy eraser to blot out a section of the line to make an adjustment. Changing a line’s direction, depending on how sure I was in my initial attempt, can be difficult. Sometimes even with my best efforts, I can still see traces of my misguided lines. Cue-induced wanting (stress=food) also makes deep grooves in the brain. Remember, habits are powerful – but the human spirit is a mighty force. I say yes, we can “erase” emotional overeating and make it virtually invisible, just as a heavy line on the page is erased traces of it remain upon closer inspection. Sometimes the beauty of a thing is in its imperfections.

Is it Luck, Skill, or a little of both?

Tonight was a wonderful evening of fun, family, and food. Getting together with family almost always involves lots of great food. So it was a big test for me to try out some of the techniques I have been writing about. I made sure to have lots of conversations, and I stayed away from the appetizers. The plan was to sample a couple of things and stop. I was conscious of my dinner plate, but I did overindulge on the Irish Soda break. I ate a slice of chocolate pudding pie. I maintained control and tracked all my food choices in my journal. No matter the number on the scale tomorrow, tonight was a win.

Clicking and Sticking

There comes a point in most weight loss journeys when habits start to become automatic, they are “clicking” and start happening with little effort. It is very important to be self-aware of this phase. With that self-awareness comes room for better decision-making and confidence, and these are two essential qualities for long-term weight loss success. When we recognize these qualities in ourselves, we know the process of weight loss is (you already know where this is going) “sticking.”

Many people give up on their weight loss journeys because they failed to reach this poing. Finding your way to that pivotal phase when habits begin to click so weight loss starts to stick can be very difficult. Here are three helpful tips that have been helpful to me.

Habits Reveal your True Identity

Who are you? Chances are good, that if you’re reading this blog, improving health and weight loss are important to you. If you identify as a person invested in health and weight loss, consider whether or not if the habits you keep make it so. Our habits are the actions we take day in and day out. A habit tracker can keep you honest:

Every Habit Needs a Home

James Clear writes extensively about the role one’s environment plays on the successful acquistion of habits. He asks us to consider our relationships to the objects around us and to use these objects as a cue to engage a habit. That really captured my thinking. I like the idea of having relationships to objects. I have begun to associate objects with particular habits. Meeting my daily water goal – my water bottle is home to that habit. Take a look:

Reflect and Refine What’s Working

Keep an open mind, and monitor how well your habits are serving you. If your happy with your progress, and your habits are proving to live up to your preceived identity, then great don’t change a thing. However, if this is not the case, do not be afraid to change things

If you’re not sure about how to build some momentum start with these tips. Before you know it you’ll have a whole system of habits that will help you to grow into the person you want to be. Thanks for reading.

Of Willpower and Whirlpools

Do you ever blame yourself for not having enough self-control? You think, “If only I had enough willpower and resolve, I would be able to push through this and stay on track.” For those of us who are working to improve our health, it can be very confusing when it comes to willpower. Sometimes a challenging situation will arise, like bagels in the breakroom, and it is easy to navigate that situation. But then, there are other situations that completely deplete our reserves of willpower and bad habits take over. Driving us backward, and then comes the dreaded vortex of shame, “I can’t believe I did it again!”

Let’s start this post by saying, falling into the groove of a bad habit is normal, and should not be received as a source of shame. I hope that by the end of this post, you’ll have a better understanding of what is really going on when we (all) fall back into bad habits from time to time.

Sometimes habits become encoded in the brain, and they are activated by a situation. If I am attending a holiday with my extended family, I will eat and drink much more than I would at home. That response is an encoded habit for me. If I go to the movies, I’ll want popcorn – another encoded habit. Think about yourself, what situation would activate an encoded habit? You find yourself in a situation, and internal forces wake up to trigger a response. The situation and the habit work together and suck you in as if you were in a whirlpool on the ocean.

Imagine the rotating current is the encoded habit. The opposing arrows represent a situational cue that puts the habit into action. Willpower is no match for that amount of force.

Top 5 Strategies for Breaking Bad Habits

  1. Avoid the situation – if you don’t want to eat the bagels don’t go into the staff room.
  2. If a situation can’t be avoided, make a detailed mental story – if I’m going to a wedding I will wear an outfit I feel great in, I will eat 3 hors d’oeuvres and my entree, and spend the rest of the time socializing and dancing.
  3. Create a network of others to draw strength from, I am going to face a challenge next weekend like going to a winery, so I will talk about it with my weight watchers community to help me focus on what I really want.
  4. Disrupt a situation by inserting a new cue – I come from work and sack out on the couch but no – my workout clothes are there waiting for me to put them on. I work out instead.
  5. Find new rewards that will develop healthy habits – Instead of rewarding myself with a latte for a job well done, I put the money in a jar and let it collect there as a reminder of all I am accomplishing. Then spend it on something bigger and better.

Beware, bad habits. Steer your ship away from those insidious whirlpools. For they have no choice but to suck you back into the old lifestyle you are trying to escape. This journey is all about making the most of the situations you find yourself in, avoiding unhelpful situations, and building momentum for the good. You are the one who decides how this will go – never doubt that you are powerful! We got this.

Just for fun

Remember when we were all watching videos of sea chanties?

If you’d like to learn more about Whirlpools, this is a great video:

Make it Obvious

Pretend you were able to walk into the home of someone you didn’t know. Once inside, you decide to look around. You walk into the living room and there on a chair in the foyer were some workout clothes folded neatly. You looked down at the coffee table and you see a half-filled habit tracker and some colored pens. In the kitchen, you see a food scale, and a bowl of grapes cleaned and trimmed into little bunches. Down the hallway off the kitchen and to right there is a small alcove and scale. A 64-ounce (pink) water bottle sits on a table, and it is almost empty. All of these objects tell a story about the person who lives here – this person is living a healthy lifestyle.

Environment is the invisble hand that shapes human behaviour.

James Clear Atonmic Habits

Are you making it easier or harder to achieve your weight loss goals?

Leaning Into Weight Loss

Last night was a total “fail: for the implementation intention I set to work out. I wasn’t home by 8:15 pm and then it felt like permission not to do it by the time I did get home. Maybe that’s a dark side to the technique or maybe I was just too tired by then to do it. I have been thinking about it today, and it is possible that I might sneak in a workout tonight, but I’m not willing to commit to it because I want to keep my options open.

Now is the time when I need to fully dedicate myself to the weight loss goals I have set for myself. I say that because I need to hear the message. My weight is fluctuating and it feels like I’m spinning my wheels. When I look back at my data I see that there is a pattern: I have a loss followed by two days of slight gains. Right now is an important moment in my journey. It’s time to be consistent and maintain my resolve. Here is my mantra:

I am strong! I am smart! I have the skills I need to be successful! I can do this but only if, I don’t give up. I will not give up on me.

March 10, 2023

If you had to write a mantra for yourself, what would it be? Let’s inspire each other to keep going. We don’t even fully realize how amazing we truly are yet. That day is coming.

What’s Next?

Yesterday, I was admiring spring flowers during my walk with Sadie. Today, I woke up to a light coating of snow. Surprise! This has me thinking about surprises. A surprise disrupts a pattern, you expect one thing and something else happens – SURPRISE! For so long I’ve treated the scale like a literal platform for a surprise to unfold before me. Step onto it and… surprise! You’re down, “Yay!” Your up, “Agh!” In my mind, I would think, “I did this or that, and now I have an expectation for how things are supposed to go.” But hey, sometimes the pattern is broken and there is a surprise.

Whether it’s a good surprise or a bad surprise is not the point. A surprise is a momentary blip. No different than the snow that was there in the morning and gone by the afternoon. It’s what happens after the surprise that really matters. It matters because that’s the part where I get to decide what will or will not happen – next. This is a process, and if I stick with it, over time, I will achieve my weight loss goals. Believe it, and it will be so.