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Mother’s Day Throughout the Year

On Mother’s Day, mothers receive collective permission to take care of themselves with a day off from taking care of everyone else and certificates to wellbeing spa treatments. It is also a day to be appreciated, pampered and indulged. Why not feel this way every day? Who wouldn’t want a little of this everyday or at least once a week to take the edge off of daily stressors?

We as women, even those who aren’t mothers, however are more accustomed to neglecting our needs for the higher good of others. When did this start happening? Is this our role or have we chosen this path? While it would appear that no one would forsake themselves willingly, in fact that is exactly what women are choosing to do. And in that decision there is some sort of emotional pay off. It proves us to be heroic and saintly, deserving of martyrdom. A martyr is someone who dies for their convictions or faith, and women who sacrifice themselves for their families or even for their careers discover that they end up losing themselves and control of their lives. They look like they are functioning fairly well, but many are operating without self esteem, self love or self preservation. I work with many of these women, and I can’t help but wonder just how many mothers are dead women walking?

A mother said to me once, “If I’m not suffering, I’m not doing it right. I’m not a good mother.” And for her, this means giving up all that matters to her wellbeing, health and fitness. Another mother told me “I feel guilty if I take any time for myself, so I can’t take time for exercise and making meals that would really be healthy for me. I just can’t do what would make me feel better or find any time for me.” But that is just what mothers need: a little me time and self-care sprinkled throughout the week.

Me time doesn’t have to take up all that much time, but it does require changing some beliefs and creating a home environment that supports it. A common belief that mothers hold onto is that they have to do everything, and they have to do it all right. Mothers don’t want to burden their kids with responsibilities nor have their husbands attempt to do things they aren’t going to do well enough. So they take it all on themselves, and it never ends. In fact it keeps adding up, and that is when mothers begin to feel like they’ve lost themselves. Not just a piece, but all of themselves. Are you one of these mothers who wonder what happened and question why you don’t feel alive anymore?

You might consider some steps you can take to feel better, such as taking a class, getting a facial, going to a yoga or dance class or taking a time out for a nice long bath, but will you ever do it? My guess is no or not often, and the reason is from a fear of feeling guilty. But when you neglect yourself long enough, you aren’t the only one that suffers. Your kids and husband are also likely suffering from your lack of self-care.

In part this is because when you lose yourself, you also lose your passion, humanity and good nature. And without these it is difficult to hold your tongue, give unconditionally or set healthy boundaries. Isn’t it better to give the kids a bit more responsibility they can be proud of, your husband more room to contribute, and the family an opportunity to support your needs? They want you to be happier, stronger and healthier. They want to pamper, appreciate and indulge you throughout the year, if you’d only encourage them.

Self care is not a luxury. It is the basis of a healthy lifestyle and wards off chronic stress, poor eating habits, weight gain and self-hatred. Lack of self care is evident in the escalating weight gain during the past decade and the high levels of stress that women live with on a daily basis. Both of these put women at risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, cancer and poor reproductive health. This is a high cost for putting oneself last on the list of priorities.

Mother’s Day is an opportunity to reflect on the need mothers, and all women, have to lead healthier lives that include regular self care time. Self care starts with listening to your body and honoring it, determining whose beliefs are running you, rewriting the rules about being a perfectionist and discovering what really makes you feel good. These are just some of the things you can do to start living again and feeling great about yourself and your body. Consider what you can do for yourself. You may be surprised to discover your family won’t fall apart. It might even come a bit closer together.

The Many Layers to Self-Sabotage

We all have done it. We decide to start eating better, exercising regularly or taking better care of ourselves, yet despite our good intentions we don’t have much success in sticking with these changes.

Our Food & Fitness Behaviors Are Driven Subconsciously
It doesn’t seem like it should be that hard to do what we say we want to do or to make healthier changes we know would make our lives better. As one woman said to me recently, “I am smart, I know this is important, and I’m in control in other areas of my life, so it doesn’t make sense that I can’t be more successful with eating well and exercising.” The truth is that our behaviors around food and fitness aren’t driven by rationale; they are driven by subconscious beliefs and emotions that are intertwined and multi-faceted. 

Cocktail Party Sabotage
Imagine being at a business cocktail party that has plates of appetizers being offered around the room and a banquet of pastries, salads, meats, side dishes and desserts. You don’t know many people there and you aren’t very comfortable in these types of situations. You are also out of town and traveling on a tight budget. When you get to the event you buy a glass of wine and look for people you might know.

You don’t see anyone familiar, and while you stand there you are offered some appetizers. You take one, and then as you are approached by others with trays of more appetizers, you take another and another. You try talking to a few people, but don’t really connect to them. Next thing you do is head over to the buffet tables. You fill a plate, and when that’s done you go back for more. You still don’t see people you know, but you do see lots of people talking and having a good time. You go for another glass of wine and talk briefly with a gal who clearly is looking for someone else. You also find yourself eying the dessert table. Soon you are filling up your plate once more with lots of wonderful little cakes and chocolates. You could stand there all night enjoying those rich desserts, but you decide you’ve had enough and go back to your room. You feel sick from all the food and wish you hadn’t had so much. It’s a familiar feeling, and you don’t want to think about it, so you just go to bed.

Uncovering the Real Issues
For a client of mine, who had this experience and is willing to let me share this with you, she finally came to understand what was driving her to over indulge at events like this. As we talked through what happened, she realized that she was feeling a lot of anxiety because she doesn’t know how to approach people who are already talking and then isn’t sure what to say. She was also feeling vulnerable because she’s overweight and believes people automatically assume the worst about her. And she was feeling unwelcome, because she was never welcomed at school parties or events as a kid. And that led to her feeling ashamed of who she was because she was never thin enough to please her parents.

She was surprised by the depth of emotion she was experiencing and could see how using food was a way to push these feelings away at the business event. By talking about them, she was getting a way to validate the feelings and start to get them out, instead of keeping them repressed and turning to emotional eating. She also got insights about what she needed, such as tips for networking and approaching people. There are books and programs for this, which would give her more confidence. She also needed to change her belief that people assume the worst about her, and she had plenty of examples where this wasn’t true. And she could see that she had anger towards her parents for judging her body, when in fact she wasn’t that overweight as a child. They just compared her to her ultra-thin sister and considered her the fat one.

She also realized as we talked, that for her a banquet of free food shouldn’t go to waste, especially since money was tight. She often overate when food was readily available and she hated to see food go to waste, even if it was food she didn’t even like. As a result, she often overindulged, only to feel really sick afterwards and nearly pass out from getting so full. She said this really affected her productivity at work and some days she didn’t even go in because she felt like she was in a fog. I asked her how much that was costing her, and she had an ah-ha moment. Maybe it was costing her more to eat all that food than to simply let it go to waste. Not only did it cost her at work, but it cost her more in healthcare costs and having to buy larger and larger clothes. And it cost her in low energy and poor self esteem. Not only that, the heavier and worse she felt about herself, the harder it was to feel welcome walking up to people at business events.

Creating Easy Resolutions
As you can see, her behavior with food that night at the cocktail event was being driven by many different emotions and beliefs, some of which dated back to her childhood, that she couldn’t see for herself. Yet once she was aware of them and began to address the feelings, change her beliefs and get networking guidance, she found she could attend any event without turning to food as her crutch. She finally felt free and relaxed, and to her surprise she discovered she loved networking and now goes to events frequently.

When you can peel back the layers and understand what is driving your behaviors, you may be surprised yourself to find that what is really going on is more complex than you might expect and may have nothing to do with food. Fortunately, once you know the underlying drivers of self-sabotage, whether they are related to food, fitness or any other behavior, the real issues are usually fairly easily to resolve.

Kicking Food Cravings, Binges and Addictions with Intuitive Eating

Many people believe they are addicted to sugar, simple carbohydrates or other specific foods, because they crave them all the time and then seem to go crazy on a binge when they gain access to them. There is a good argument to support this belief in Dr. David Kessler’s book, The End of Overeating, which puts the blame on the food industry for developing foods specifically to create this uncontrollable preoccupation and compulsive eating.

Yet, having worked with many people who struggle with cravings, binges and a belief they are addicted to certain foods, I know the issue is just as much driven by subconscious factors as bio-chemical ones. I also know you don’t have to give up these foods to be in control of them, as he strongly recommends.

Dr. Kessler’s research findings conclude the reason people crave specific foods is the combination of fat, sugar and salt often used in those foods to stimulate dopamine in the brain, which feels really good. Once you’ve had a food with this combination that stimulates arousal, you’ll want it again and again. This is certainly an important breakthrough in understanding why people are irresistibly drawn to food that isn’t healthy and struggle to stop eating even when they are full. No doubt, the food industry has taken full advantage of this potent combination, putting them in processed and fast foods where you’d least expect to find them, to keep people coming back for more and boosting their profits.

One approach to dealing with this is to simply stop eating all types of desserts, packaged and processed foods, fast foods, and most restaurant meals, and replace them with healthy whole foods with no sugar, fat, salt or emotional triggers. And that will indeed eliminate the cravings, for a while.

But like dieting, very few people can stick with eliminating foods they enjoy long term without feeling deprived. While Kessler acknowledges this problem by suggesting you rewire your circuitry by creating unappealing images of the food, this doesn’t address the real issue of deprivation backlash and the need for food satisfaction.

A better way to address foods that are designed to trigger cravings is to incorporate them into a healthy diet, so they are balanced with other foods to create satisfaction. Satisfaction is an important element of eating, and you are just as likely to overeat in an attempt to reach satisfaction as you are when you are over-stimulated by too much satisfaction.

6 ways to control cravings and binges without giving up favorite foods,

1. Pay attention to how hungry, satisfied and full you feel. If you don’t know when you are satisfied physically or when you are full, you won’t realize you are overeating or appreciate how unpleasant it feels to get full.

2. Identify the food for what it is instead of calling it a bad food. Most highly stimulating foods, like cookies, are primarily a simple carbohydrate with saturated fat. It is harder to tell if it has much salt.

3. Balance this food with other foods that have complex carbohydrates, unsaturated fats and lean protein. If you want a cookie, then the trade off is to not have simple carbs or saturated fat in the rest of your meal or snack. When most of what you are eating is really healthy, having a little less healthy food doesn’t throw off the balance or make it unhealthy.

4. Give yourself permission to have this food in moderation when ever you balance it with healthier foods. When you eat food you think you shouldn’t, it creates a feeling of guilt and reinforces the belief that you should be deprived of it. This fuels emotional and rebellious eating, giving the food power over you. To take back your power, you have to stop seeing the food as a guilty pleasure or a forbidden food.

5. Really taste this food to see how much you enjoy it. When you aren’t over-stimulated or concerned about being deprived, you can more easily focus on tasting the food you crave. Most people find it isn’t as good as they thought and that healthier foods actually taste better.

6. Focus on creating satisfying meals with healthier foods. The more you remove the charge of highly-stimulating foods by allowing them in balanced moderation, the more likely you’ll gravitate to choosing healthier ways of being satisfied without feeling forced or deprived.

This approach, which is the basis of Intuitive Eating, addresses the emotional and bio-chemical cravings for foods designed to get us hooked. The less we eat of these foods, the less the food industry profits from them.

Love Yourself on Valentine’s Day

As the saying goes “you can only love someone as much as you love yourself”, and I’ve learned the hard way how true this really is. Sadly there are too many people that don’t love themselves much, and often it is because of their internal self-criticism and belief they should be something other than who they are.

Sadly we live in a society where the emphasis is on an ultra thin body image, perfectionism and trying to measure up to an idea of what we think others want us to be. What about what we want for ourselves? What about appreciating our unique gifts, abilities and bodies? I know that sounds all very well and good, and I also know how hard it is to put into practice. I’ve been there, and lived a life of self hatred and shame up until thirteen years ago.

What is different is my choice not to judge myself and to revisit my beliefs that were causing me to be so self-critical. I discovered I really can love myself, and then to my surprise I found I no longer judged others and could have compassion and love more fully from my heart once that happened.

To make the transition, I started listening to my internal voice, which I found was saying “look what you just did you idiot”, “how could you be so stupid”, “I am unlovable”, “I will never be good enough”, “I can’t do this so what is the use”. As you can see, these are extreme and harsh things to be saying to oneself, and they are hardly true. This was my own distorted view of things based on my beliefs, and it was affecting how I felt about myself, how I viewed daily events, and how much I let others into my life.

Do you know if you are saying similar kinds of things to yourself? The only way to find out is to decide to pay attention and listen. You may be as shocked as I was when I first started to really hear what this inner voice was saying to me. I realized just how outrageous, unfair and debilitating this voice was, and that it was exaggerating what was really happening. It was also reinforcing beliefs that I had grown up with that were not ones I would have chosen had I been making the decisions.

Beliefs are the things you believe true about yourself and the world around you. They are your understanding of how things are or supposed to be, which get formed from repeatedly hearing and getting the same messages. Most beliefs come from our parents, friends and family, childhood experiences and the media. Once we become an adult, we take these beliefs on as sacred and unchangeable, and they become the driver of our thoughts, decisions and behaviors. But you can change your beliefs.

Beliefs are just that, beliefs. You can choose to believe you are unlovable, or you can choose to believe the opposite. You can believe that only thin women are beautiful, or you can believe women of any size can be just as lovely. You can believe that your favorite foods are bad and therefore you are guilty and bad whenever you eat them, or you can believe that it is fine to have your favorite food in moderation. Then if you happen to overeat that food, you can observe it without judgment and understand with compassion what triggered it – knowing there isn’t something wrong with you.

Judgment of yourself affects your self esteem and can lead to feelings that are just too hard to face, and that can lead to emotional eating, stress and depression. Judgment of others leads to the same thing. Think about it. If you don’t care what others think and they choose to judge you, who is affected? Them, not you. So the moral is to be aware of your own judgment and notice where it is coming from and if the associated beliefs are negative or limiting you.

The easiest way to change your belief is to be aware of your self talk, notice the extent it is critical or untrue, and then to create new beliefs and affirmations, which affirm your new belief. Affirmations are statements you say or read repeatedly over a period of days or weeks. “I am adorable and lovable” or “I can eat my favorite foods in moderation” are examples of affirmations. You may not initially believe them to be true, but the more you say them the more you reprogram your belief system and the more they will become your truth.

This Valentine’s Day, pay attention to what you are telling yourself and reprogram the messages.

I am re-posting this blog, because people always benefit from it.

My Significant Other is Obese, What should I Do?

You wish your sweetheart took better care of themselves and weren’t so overweight, but whenever you try to help, it backfires. You’ve tried friendly suggestions, cooked up healthy meals, kept cookies and ice cream out of the house, and resisted saying too much. Yet it bothers you that your significant other is only getting heavier and doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it, and it is affecting how you feel about them. Now what?

Martin had the same problem with his girlfriend Ellen, and more than once she told him to back off when he tried to give advice or encourage her to make changes. He loves her, but he wasn’t sure he could stay with her if she didn’t start taking care of her health and losing some weight.

The truth is, you can’t force anyone to change, no matter how nice you try to be about it. But you can make it easier for them to make those changes for themselves. As we all know, when it is just as easy to get a delicious hearty salad as it is to grab a bag of cookies, it is more likely we will have the salad and maybe a cookie or two to go with it.

If our environment makes it simpler and easier to make healthier choices, than we are more inclined to do them. This is why more businesses and communities are working to provide easier access to walking areas, healthy foods and fitness support. You can do the same for your partner.

Have healthy foods in the house
To make it easier for both of you to eat well, you need to stock your refrigerator and freezer with healthy foods that are fast to make, easy to dress up and taste really good. These days it is easy to find good frozen foods, pre-cut vegetables and very simple fast recipes.

But do not remove unhealthy food from the house in an attempt to force healthier choices. Your mate will only go out and get more of that food out of anger and a genuine fear of deprivation.

Buy healthy meals or a meal service
If you don’t want to prepare meals yourself, get healthy to-go options at your favorite restaurant or grocery store, and look for a service that delivers meals. You may be surprised how affordable these options are.
Everyone prefers healthy foods if they taste good, including vegetables. You may be surprised how much your significant other looks forward to these balanced healthy meals.

Suggest healthier restaurants
Some restaurants are healthier than others, and more places are providing locally sourced foods, which often includes more vegetables and cleaner foods. Go exploring to see what new healthy restaurants have popped up in the area, and make it a date night. The goal isn’t to stay on a diet but to find delicious well balanced fare, so it’s easier to make a healthier choice.

Keep healthy snacks and water around
One of the main reasons people overeat and binge on junk food and sweets is because they get so hungry they go for the easiest food and then can’t stop eating out of a compulsion to make up for not getting enough food earlier. The way to avoid that is to have healthy snacks on hand in the house, in the car, in your bags or in the office – for yourself and your partner. Water is also important. When you don’t get enough water, you deplete your energy and your metabolism slows down.

Take a cooking class together
Cooking can be fun, and a cooking class is a great way to do something together, taste new interesting foods and get recipe ideas. The class doesn’t have to be just about healthy food. The idea is to learn some cooking techniques, discover new flavors and be open to cooking at home. It is easier to prepare healthy foods for sweetie, if you both know how to cook or have some recipes you like.

Suggest some easy activities
Try suggesting activities you can do together that sound fun and don’t take lots of time or exceeds your partner’s physical capabilities. You want to make being active inviting instead of intimidating, such as birding, walking a nature trail with great views, seeing a great view that takes some stairs, dancing, taking a ballroom dance class, or anything enjoyable that requires limited exertion. Baby steps are the key to getting them interested in doing even more active outings.

Offer to be a walking buddy
Your partner probably assumes you would not be interested in walking with them on a regular basis. Yet you might actually enjoy that. Martin did, and Ellen was totally amazed. She knew she couldn’t walk as fast or as far, and she thought Martin would hate walking with her. But that wasn’t true. He enjoyed getting time with her after work, and he loved that it was outdoors and doing something active. So if you think it is appropriate, offer to be a walking buddy, even if the pace is slower than you prefer at first.

Be loving and non-judgmental
It is so easy to judge others for being overweight, yet you don’t know what they are dealing with or why it is so hard for them to change. Honestly neither does your significant other, who also struggles to understand why they don’t do as they know they should. And the more they try, often the worse it gets, because the real problem is not lack of willpower or intelligence. The problem is buried deep in their subconscious beliefs and emotions, which drives choices and behavior unconsciously on autopilot.

Don’t sabotage their efforts
You may think you know best and can help your sweetheart by either denying specific foods or rewarding with treats. That doesn’t help at all. Nor does pushing someone to be better or make better choices. They aren’t you, and if you push, they will rebel and get angry. Let them discover that the more they do that feels good to their body, the more healthy things they will want to do, particularly if they aren’t trying to measure up to someone else’s expectations.

The worst thing you can do is make the one you love feel guilty, ashamed or bad about themselves. That will backfire. It is human nature to resist doing anything for yourself when you have low self-esteem, just as it is normal to turn to food to avoid painful feelings or shame.

As Martin learned, the best thing you can do is help your partner feel good about their choices and about themselves by supporting them in a non-threatening way. By doing little things that made healthier decisions easier, Ellen started to make small changes and feel good about her little successes. Martin didn’t try to take the credit or push her to do more; he was simply there to listen and be supportive. A year later, Ellen had slimmed down and became the one who wanted to take an active vacation and encouraging Martin to run with her in a 5k. The same could happen in your relationship.

This column was originally posted at YourTango.com.

Simple Strategies for Controlling Holiday Eating

The holidays are coming. The holidays are coming! Soon you will be surrounded by lots of sweets, cookies and navigating holiday party foods and drinks. Are you prepared with a game plan to keep yourself on track without feeling deprived? Now is the time to put your strategies together.

You don’t have to wait until after you’ve overindulged on candy, eaten one too many cookies or gotten stuffed on appetizers. You already have hindsight from previous years, and you probably can guess when and what will happen again this year.

This is just what my client Jean realized when we started talking about Thanksgiving at her son’s. She was afraid of overeating as she usually does, and she could picture all the times and ways that was going to probably happen again. She and her husband always drove 4 hours south on Wednesday, stopping at the same great deli where they picked up sandwiches for lunch and lots of treats they would bring as their contribution before the big meal. Yet more often than not, they didn’t eat much of the sandwiches and would dig into the bags of treats before arriving. The next day they would arrive at their son’s around noon hungry and ready to nibble on the appetizers and have their first drinks of the day. By the time they headed out for the big meal at the club, served buffet style, she was usually starting to feel full. Then she’d eat a big meal and stuff down several desserts. The next day, they would have a really big breakfast to tie them over on the long ride home, and they would stop again at the deli for treats to enjoy on the way back.

Like Jean, you can probably describe what your Thanksgiving holiday traditions around food will be like, just as you can see what will happen this coming weekend on Halloween or what you usually do at a party or around a bowl of candy set out for anyone to eat. That gives you a great advantage, because this enables you to think about what you would do differently that would leave you feeling better and still feel like you got to enjoy the festivities. So pick a time that is coming up, and remember how you felt last time when you over did it. What would work better for you?

Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Eat a healthy balanced breakfast the day of a big meal, so you don’t arrive ravenous and overeat because you are so hungry.
  • Eat a healthy balanced snack before going to an event, so you aren’t showing up hungry.
  • When faced with lots of appetizers, decide in advance how many you will have and be picky about which ones you really want. You may decide to just have 3-4.
  • When you know you are susceptible to having a drink too many, have a glass of sparkling water after your first drink and then decide if you really want a second drink.
  • At a buffet, first look at everything to see which things you know you really want and be picky. Use a smaller plate, and focus on getting a mix of protein, vegetables and some other complex carbohydrates.
  • Have salad first if that is an option at a buffet.
  • Save room for dessert, and then choose the desserts that are your favorite. Have very small pieces and really enjoy them.
  • Allow yourself to have 1-2 pieces of candy a day if you really like it and it is calling your name from the candy dish someone put out near your office. This can replace dessert on those days.
  • Buy Halloween candy to give out to kids you don’t like eating yourself.
  • Pick out the best Halloween candy and eat a few pieces with your meals instead of having just candy by itself. That will minimize blood sugar highs and lows and reduce cravings. Give yourself a few days to have your favorite candy and then throw the rest out.
  • Remember that Halloween candy can be gotten anytime. You don’t have to eat it all now just because it is Halloween.

Which of these sound like they will work well for you? Really think about the situation you will probably be in and what would feel best to you before, during and after. Then add in some other ideas and decide ahead of time which approach you want to take. As Jean discovered by creating her own strategies with me, she got to enjoy her Thanksgiving rituals in a way that left her feeling better physically and really good about herself. She was thrilled to discover she could stay in control and still eat the foods she wanted.

Identifying Subconscious Food Triggers

Your Behavior is the Tip of the Iceberg
It is so easy to judge your behaviors as good or bad, yet it is never that simple. When you over indulge, for example, the behavior may appear bad but that misrepresents what is going on. It is not a matter of being good or bad, but instead of understanding what drove you to have that behavior. Your behaviors stem from your subconscious thoughts, beliefs and feelings, most of which you aren’t even aware of. All you see is the behavior; not all that lies beneath it. To change your behavior, you need to expose what is driving it, and that is what I spent the session explaining how to do.

The Behavior Chain of Events:

Situation —Beliefs —Thoughts —Feelings —Behavior —Beliefs —Thoughts —Feelings —Behavior —

When something happens during your day, your thoughts about the situation are determined by your beliefs (most of which you absorbed from others you thought knew best as you grew up but may not necessarily be in your best interests) and these thoughts often create feelings about what is happening, whether you realize they are there or not. If you are like most people, the next thing you know after experiencing a trying situation is you are eating something you don’t really even want or losing control around foods you know you shouldn’t have. That then triggers beliefs about your eating behavior, which leads to negative thoughts and emotions, which drives you to eat even more.

For example; if you experience something that you believe is unfair, your thoughts reflect that and you begin to feel annoyed or upset. But seldom is there an opportunity to express those feelings, so you find yourself turning to food to avoid those feelings and to feel better. But you know that isn’t good and you shouldn’t do it, which leads to feeling even worse and continuing to eat out of greater frustration, shame and guilt. This is classic emotional eating, which I refer to as emotional repression since it works to keep you calm and your feelings under control – as in pushed out of consciousness. The problem is the emotions are still there, unresolved and ready to be triggered again.

As I shared with the groups, emotional eating is a term people use to cover many different aspects of subconsciously-driven eating behaviors, and it helps to separate eating driven by beliefs from those driven by emotions or to recognize when it is a combination of both.

Dealing with Beliefs Eating
If you overeat because you subconsciously believe you must finish everything on your plate, this would be a type of beliefs-driven eating behavior. There is no emotional component to it. Another example is eating food because you don’t want to throw it away or you want your money’s worth. Very often the beliefs you carry are those you got from other people or the media, and when you really stop to evaluate those beliefs will find they don’t serve you.

Does it really make sense to eat until you are sick to get your money’s worth or to skip meals to save your calories for dinner, which creates blood sugar lows and usually leads to night-time bingeing? Or does it make sense to overeat or eat food that makes you feel sick to take care of someone else’s feelings? Just because you perceive pressure to eat, doesn’t mean you have to eat or that the other person cares as much as you think.

You can change your beliefs once you identify the ones that don’t work for you. You can decide to create a new belief, like if you are done eating and can’t keep food as leftovers that throwing away food may be the best option.

Dealing with Emotional Eating
There are two primary types of eating that are driven by emotions. One is emotional repression, as I mentioned earlier. The other is when your emotions represent a reaction to having been or currently being deprived of food you want. This I call restrictive rebellion, where one part of you (the inner parent – holder of beliefs) enforces your dietary rules and the other part of you (the inner child – holder of emotions) rebels to get its unmet needs addressed. As most of us know, our emotions usually win one way or another, and often it is by going out of control with food.

The way to address these is to understand what it is you are feeling and what it is you need (to address those feelings) that don’t involve food. So if you are angry about something, determine what needs to be done to address what created that anger and allow yourself to acknowledge the anger, instead of repress it. And determine if there are additional emotions beneath the anger that need to also be addressed. The idea isn’t to dig up the past, but to identify what you feel and need now. In my book that goes along with this program, I go through the exact steps on how to do this.

You Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Get a Great Body

How many times have you given up on your diet or fitness routine because you weren’t good enough, didn’t do it all right or couldn’t exactly follow or complete what you had to do? My guess is more than once. The average person has given up close to a dozen times on their eating and exercise goals, and those experiences affect their self-confidence and an ability to succeed in the future.

The Truth about Perfection
Few people can perfectly follow a diet or a fitness program for weeks on end, unless they are professionalathletes or those who have the rare ability to be extremely self-disciplined. That leaves nearly everyone else who is trying to fit healthier habits into their busy and often unpredictable lifestyles.

What the contestants have been learning is that the goal isn’t to reach perfection or to be good; it is to gradually make healthier choices that leave them feeling good and setting their own new and realistic goals they honestly think they can reach each week. There is no diet or fitness agenda they must follow. Instead, they are learning to incorporate more and more healthier foods and activities into their day-to-day life as each week goes by. And despite all they are doing well, sometimes they overeat, choose unhealthy foods, over drink or can’t meet the fitness goal they had for themselves. Yet even when that happens, they can still say they had successes during the week. In fact, I make it a point to have them share their successes each week, and they all have them regardless of whether they fully met their goals or not.

Focus on What Went Well and Learn from the Challenges
When you acknowledge what went well, you get to see that the journey to a fit, healthy and great body is not about what you didn’t do well. Yet that is what most people focus on, which leads to feeling like a failure and feeling it is impossible to succeed. Instead, the journey is about celebrating all the little successes along the way as well as getting to see what didn’t go so well – and looking at those things without any judgment. Judgment is the quickest way to kill your motivation.

When things don’t go so well, that gives you an opportunity to look at the obstacles, challenges and inner issues with curiosity. There are always good reasons (vs bad reasons) for not following through or quite doing as you hoped. Looking at this way, you can see that in each case you can learn something and create a strategy or change in mindset to address it.

In the past couple of weeks, what didn’t go so well for a number of the group members were: limited exercising because of the heat and humidity, eating less well at summer parties, doing a bit more drinking, losing focus because of family distractions, and either being derailed by an injury or an illness.

Creating a Change in Mindset
To address these challenges, we talked about strategies and changes in mindset.

  • For heat and humidity, the opportunity is to figure out ways to be active indoors, in the water or at cooler times of the day. You don’t have to use the heat and humidity as an excuse.
  • For summer parties, bring healthy foods like a salad or vegetable side dish so you know you will have healthier foods to choose from. You don’t have to overeat because others are. You can throw out food if it isn’t that healthy and will be a temptation for days afterwards.
  • For drinking, consider ways to drink less alcohol and still enjoy yourself. Maybe have seltzer water or make spritzers. You don’t have to get drunk to have fun or drink because others want you to.
  • For an injury, consider getting physical therapy if it isn’t healing quickly or is an older injury. Most of the contestants have been seeing Bryan Labell PT & Associates in Rowley to address or prevent an injury. I will be writing more about PT in a future post. You may also be able to do activities that don’t impact the injured area, or you may just need a few days to recover from an overuse injury. You rarely have to stop being completely active when you get hurt for weeks at a time.
  • For an illness, focus on getting well and being gentle with yourself. If you feel you can do light activity that is great, but the main thing to focus on is taking care of yourself and giving yourself time to recover. You are not guilty for giving yourself a break or resting when that is best for your body.

It is so easy to beat yourself up when things get in the way of keeping you from doing as you planned, but real life ebbs and flows and throws you curve balls. Things always get in the way or interfere with our best laid plans. Get over the judgment and look at what you can learn from the situation so the next time you have a game plan that makes it easier to adjust, accept or address the situation.

Do You Need Variety to Stay Motivated?

Ellen was finding she felt more excited and enthused when she was trying something new or mixing up her exercise activities. She realized she had always known that variety was important to her, but she had discounted it as being a flaw in her personality. Ellen felt she needed to be more serious and dedicated to specific exercise workouts and had to stick with them for years to come to reach her goals. Yet inevitably she would get de-motivated and quit just weeks after starting a new program. She came to me to find out how to increase her motivation, so she could stay on track long-term.

The answer was in the very thing she was fighting: variety. If variety made her excited and enthused, then this was the perfect thing to leverage as a motivator. Instead of seeing it as a flaw, she could instead see it as an advantage. To accept this, she also had to change her belief that the only worthwhile exercising was structured, specific and needed to be done at least 3 times a week. That was easy; she was delighted to give up this belief. The idea of doing the same routine over and over was unappealing and de-motivating.

Ellen is one of many clients who have this misconception that worthwhile exercise is a specific and rigid work-out routine, which comes from the fitness industry. Even though a personal trainer will mix things up when they meet with a client, the recommendations from trainers for those working out on their own is usually a fixed cardio and strength training routine they can do at home or outdoors several times a week. The reason is you need a trainer’s knowledge to know how to substitute strengthening exercises appropriately and organize them in the most effective order. When they can’t be there to guide you, all they can do is provide a structured set of exercises. This is why in magazines, the routines are very specific and you are given the recommended number of days a week you do them.

Yet, it is ideal to mix up your aerobic and strengthening activities. Our bodies adapt fairly quickly to doing the same exercise in the same way routinely, which means you get less return for your effort the longer you do the same thing. So, to the amazement of Ellen and many of my clients, variety works to their advantage.

The same is true with food. Most people who like variety in their fitness activities, also like variety in their meals and snacks. Again, this can be used to your advantage. Plan for more variety and let the desire to try new things help you to expand your healthy choices.

 

3 ways to tell if you need variety to stay motivated:

  • Do you get bored doing the same activities, whether it is exercise-related or elsewhere in your life?
  • Do you feel energized when you aren’t stuck in a routine and get to have lots of variety?
  • Do you have more fun when you are mixing up your activities and foods or trying new things?

3 ways to mix up exercising to be motivated and more effective:

  • Give yourself permission to get aerobic exercise by being active for x minutes or x days a week. Allow yourself the freedom to decide which activity you will choose based on your mood or what works best on a given day. For example, Karen likes to bike, walk, kayak, swim and do Zumba, and she can pick from any of these to reach her weekly minutes goal. She doesn’t have to commit to doing any one of them regularly. Instead she will go with what feels good that day, without the burden of worrying about what she should do in the future.
  • Pick a few types of aerobic activities you want to be good at and do each of them at least once a week. One of my clients is doing Taekwondo, racquetball and walking her dog. She is working toward new belts in Taekwondo, and she is learning how to play racquetball so she can do this with friends. Each week she learns new things and pushes her body in new ways that feels really good.
  • Train for a triathlon, which requires mixing up swimming, running and biking throughout the week and adds in greater intensity levels as the training progresses.

Take advantage of whatever it is you prefer to do to reach your goals. If something doesn’t work for you, don’t assume that makes you a failure. Instead see what does work and how to turn it into a motivator that will keep you jazzed for the long term.

The 4 Tricks to Sticking with Healthy Choices

Healthy Lifestyle Changes Aren’t Easy
It is easier to make a change than it is to maintain it. That’s why so many people can do a diet or a fitness program for a while and then find themselves derailed and back to their old unhealthy and inactive habits.

Here are 4 Ways to Make Healthy Choices Easier:

1. Having Healthy Options Nearby
If you have healthy foods that are just as easy to grab as junk food and a beautiful place to exercise right outside your door… then it is much easier to make healthier choices as you go through your day. Most people gravitate to the healthier option if it is just as easy as an unhealthy one.

This has been the lesson many of the group participants have learned. They now make sure to shop ahead so they have enough healthy snacks and foods during the week. This makes it easier to pick healthier choices at work, at home, in their car or in a bag if they out and about, because they are making sure they are well stocked in all these places. They are also making sure they have water bottles or ways to get at water, rather than skipping it or having something else like soda.

And many of them are enjoying the new Coastal Trails in our town. They find it much easier to want to get out for a walk, bike ride or jog, because the trails are easily accessible, nicely maintained and inviting. I’m noticing how many people are using the trails, so clearly this readily available option for getting exercise is making a big difference in motivating our local residents to do much more walking.


2. Staying Conscious to Be in Control

The second way to stay on track while making a lifestyle change is to be conscious of what works to keep you motivated and making healthy choices and what sabotages your good intentions. If you aren’t fully conscious as you overeat, grab an unhealthy snack, skip your exercise plans or excessively drink, you can’t make a different choice. You only have options, if you are conscious enough to recognize what it is you are doing at the time you are doing it and what it is that is driving you to make an unhealthy decision.

Staying conscious enough to make a different choice is easier than you might imagine. Those in the New You 2010 programs stay aware by tracking their hunger levels during the day, which is simply marking on a scale from 0-10 where their hunger levels are whenever they eat – and any other observation they have.

They also use a fitness journal, which helps them see their goals (which they create for themselves) and the days they hope to achieve them. They then track how they feel afterwards and how they did in meeting that goal. And, they can see their progress week-to-week. As with the food journal, it isn’t about being good or perfect, it is about having a way to stay conscious of what you are doing and having some accountability.

3. Focusing on Feeling Good, Not Being Good
We aren’t taught to focus on how we feel physically and letting that be our motivation; instead we are encouraged to focus on meeting specific goals, doing as we are told and being good. Yet the secret to success is doing what feels good, not striving to be good.

When you first start a diet or an exercise program, you are motivated to comply and be really good. But it usually doesn’t take long before it isn’t so easy to be good and fully do everything you’ve been told you have to do. By the third or fourth week, most people struggle to follow the diet or do all the exercise they have been instructed to do, and that creates a feeling of being bad and failing. It isn’t long after, that people give up with the belief they can’t be successful.

When you focus on choices that feel good to do, like a satisfying healthy meal that is easy to prepare or going for a walk that leaves you feeling fantastic afterwards, you want to do more of these things. The emphasis isn’t on being good or perfect, but on doing what feels good to your body and your state of mind. The New You 2010 participants have discovered how true this is. The more they focus on what is in their best interests, what feels really good to them and what makes them feel good about themselves, the more they want healthier foods and to increase their activity levels. They have stopped trying to be good; instead they are discovering just how good feeling good can be.

4. Having Just Enough Accountability
Staying conscious, having access to healthier options and focusing on feeling good doesn’t happen over night. So it really helps to have someone or a group to account to, in order to stay on track until this does become second nature.

This can take different forms, and for some it really helps to fill in a journal and submit it each week to someone who can provide positive feedback (rather than what wasn’t good enough). For others, all they need is to share what they’ve accomplished on a regular basis to a group or person who is simply supportive. And for some, it helps to have a partner who does it with them.

The best type of accountability is done without any judgment. You don’t need judgment; you need support, positive encouragement and someone with whom you can celebrate your achievements. And that is just what we do at our meetings each week. Everyone shares their successes when they check in, and we look for what is working for them and why. This gives them just enough accountability and greater motivation.

Compassion – A Key Secret to Weight Loss Success

Maria Menounos is one of many celebrities with a weight loss success story, and I happen to see yet another story about how she has learned the secret to staying slim and taking care of herself. So I am re-posting an article I wrote a number of years ago when she first put out her book about it.

Her story is intriguing – not by all that she did to lose weight, which was creating a healthy lifestyle, but by the way she changed how she saw and treated herself.

I first came across her story on the Huffington Post, called Maria Menounos’ Secret Weight Loss Trick. A great title but not representational of what she did for herself. She is like a lot of young people who have been athletic growing up and then stopped being so active when they started working as teenagers, while preparing for college and trying to excel and please everyone around them. In her case, working nearly 20 hours a day 7 days a week, fueled by junk food and pastries.

As she indulged in her new diet, she knew she was having foods she shouldn’t have and felt guilty. As she began to get heavier and criticized for her weight gain, she turned to more food. When others were indulging, she would indulge with them. And the worse she felt about herself and her choices, the more she ate the forbidden foods she knew she shouldn’t have. Sound familiar?

She refers to her struggle with food as emotional eating, after she finally realized that she turned to food to avoid her feelings, how she felt about her body and her need to please others at her own expense. As she began to find ways to care about herself, she began to love herself. And the more she loved herself, the more she took care of herself. And that is just how it works.

The less you like yourself or the more ashamed you feel about your body or your choices, the less you feel deserving of taking care of yourself. On the flip side, the more you care about yourself, the more self-esteem you gain, and the more you want to do things to take even better care of your body. This is only possible when you stop the judgment of your choices and have empathy and compassion for yourself.

Judgment leads to self-criticism, self-loathing and self-destruction. And that becomes a spiral that spins out of control, pulling you deeper into a place of denial and excessive eating. When you judge yourself, you can only see your failure, your inability to be perfect and your shame. You can’t see anything else, and you remain stuck in the belief that you are unlovable, unworthy and undeserving – even if you don’t know you belief this. In that place, food is comforting and a means to minimizing the pain and loathing. It also proves that you are as bad as you believe you are, and it feeds on itself.

Maria talks about how being a people pleaser and working insane hours led to malnutrition, a forty-pound weight gain, and poor health. She struggled to care enough about herself to do anything about it. Fortunately a loving, compassionate friend helped her to start making positive food and life choices. And the more she began to be good to herself and feel better, the more she appreciated herself and her struggle. And the more compassion and love she had for herself, the more she began to take better care of her body, make healthier choices and remove herself from negative relationships. The better you feel emotionally, the less you turn to food for emotional comfort. And that is what helped Maria break free of her struggle with food.

Maria learned through her journey that the key to being in control with food is to be in touch with your own physical and emotional needs without judgment. And that is indeed the key to success. It is the first step to having compassion for yourself without apology, listening to what your body needs and wants, and honoring yourself. In the process, you begin to shift into a healthy lifestyle and from that a healthy and sustainable weight loss follows. You also shift your emotions about your weight and your body, which reduces your stress and the hormonal production of fat that occurs when stress is present. It isn’t really a trick, yet it is the secret.

8 Strategies for Regular Exercising

Exercise. For most people, that word conjures up unpleasant thoughts and feelings because of past experiences when they struggled with exercise or got hurt, or what they believe it takes to meet the minimum requirement of exercise to lose weight that doesn’t seem realistic for their current lifestyle. For others, it reminds them of a time when they loved being active and having the benefits associated with being fit and healthy. What does the word exercise bring up for you?

It is easy to assume that when you don’t exercise regularly, you are somehow lazy, bad, undisciplined or a couch potato. These are judgments that don’t reflect the real reasons for not exercising. The real reasons are likely tied to one of eight different obstacles, that once understood can be addressed with strategies.

Low Motivation
A common obstacle to exercising is not feeling motivated enough to do it. You won’t be motivated day-in and day-out to exercise if you haven’t identified what it is you want to be able to do or feel as a result of regular aerobic and strengthening activities. It often isn’t enough to want to lose weight or avoid a disease. It takes wanting something that really matters to you enough to exercise, even if you aren’t in the mood, such as being able to keep up with your kids, having the stamina to follow your dreams, participating in a team charity walk, wanting to feel self-confident in your relationship or wanting to feel good about yourself.  Sometimes it is simply wanting to avoid the regret of not doing it.  It also helps to choose activities you find so energizing and fun that you can’t wait to go.

Low Priority Planning
Not having enough time is really a result of not putting exercise higher in your priorities. Anyone can find time to exercise if it matters enough to them, and if they can find the motivation to stick with it. A way to make this easier, is to find an exercise or a group class you love so much, you will find ways to fit it into your schedule. Another is to look at your calendar for the week and see where you can fit in time for exercise and schedule it. This will also help you set goals based on what is realistic, and if you can find someone to be accountable to, you will be more motivated to reach those goals.

Too Much, Too Soon
In the excitement of starting a program, when you feel highly motivated to get started, it is easy to overdo it and find yourself giving up because you can’t sustain the pace or because you’ve gotten injured. Try starting off with smaller goals and less intensity, so that you don’t feel so overwhelmed and can experience your ability to succeed in reaching your goals. With each weekly success, you can stretch your time, distance and effort a bit more and continue to have successes. In time, you will be doing more than you once thought possible, and you may surprise yourself by discovering you have a passion for being fit and participating in fitness events. It happens to many people, including me.

Compliance Perfectionism
Feeling you have to measure up to someone else’s expectations or attain perfection in reaching your goals is the fastest way to failing and giving up. No one is perfect, and no one knows better than you as to what you can do each week, what is motivating or how your body is feeling. Instead of trying to comply to unrealistic expectations or someone else’s rules and goals, focus on what you want for yourself, what your body is telling you, and what works to keep you moving and on track.

Inflexible Beliefs
Another way people sabotage exercise is with the belief that doing anything less than x days a week or x number of minutes isn’t worth doing. For example, you may believe that if you can’t do 4 days of exercise a week there isn’t much point, or if you can’t work out for at least 30 or 45 minutes, that you won’t get enough benefit to make it worth your while. Any exercise counts, even if it’s for 15 minutes, and the more active you are, no matter what it is, it all adds up. You may have other beliefs about what you need to be wearing, what your significant other will or won’t do to support you, what constitutes as exercise, or countless other requirements that are keeping you from being active and fit. Stop and identify what your “excuses” are and see if you can change your beliefs so you can achieve success.

Emotional Rebellion
Most people think emotions are just tied to food, but they also impact exercising. Think about it; you do have feelings about exercising, and if you’ve had bad experiences or anxiety about exercise than this can impact your behavior. If are resistant or ambivalent towards exercise, become curious (without any judgment) about how you feel about exercise and why that is. Most likely, you will find there are good reasons for your feelings, and once you acknowledge and validate them, you can start to look into ways of exercising that can address these feelings. For example, maybe you were called a klutz in grade school and have an aversion to gym-based exercise. Maybe you were forced to exercise and hated it. Maybe you had a bad experience with a trainer or fitness program. Are there other ways of being active that you feel confident about, or can you find a class that interests you that offers a safe environment for becoming proficient?

Derailment Resistance
There is nothing worse than finding yourself derailed from your fitness routine and struggling to get restarted after an illness, injury, vacation or period of just not wanting to do it. Once you get derailed, it can seem too hard to get re-motivated again to exercise, and often this short period of non-exercise can turn into months or years of inactivity. An easy way to get restarted is by taking it slow and setting very low goals the first week or so. Let yourself gently re-engage into exercising by doing what feels easier and doing it at a slower pace. Then you’ll find your motivation as you get back into a groove, and you can increase your goals and effort within a couple of weeks. You’ll probably be surprised how quickly you bounce right back to where you left off.

Extreme Associations
If you’ve participated in extreme fitness programs and boot camps that you didn’t enjoy or that left you with an injury or bad taste in your mouth, you may be dealing with conflicting beliefs and emotions around exercise. On the one hand, you may believe that anything less than extreme fitness isn’t worth doing because of the quick results, and on the other hand you may cringe at the thought of signing up for another program. While these programs energize some people, most don’t do well with them. It is better to choose exercise options that you find motivating, enjoyable enough to sustain, and fit your personality. The majority do best starting off with baby steps and doing just one small thing at first, which easily leads to doing more because it feels good, it boosts your confidence, and it motivates you to stretch yourself further.

To create a regular exercise routine in your life, pay attention to what feels best to you, what motivates you, and what is really getting in the way of being consistent. We are all different, and our reasons for not exercising are all valid. Respect that you have a good reason and try to understand what you really need to do to get moving and to develop a consistent exercise lifestyle.

De-Stress Your Holiday Eating & Drinking

We are all stressed this holiday season, and you may not even know how stressed you are. We are all really good at hiding it, and one way we do that is by turning to food (particularly comfort and sugary foods), as well as alcohol, as a coping mechanism.

The more stressed you are, the more you will probably eat and drink. This isn’t conscious; its driven by subconscious reactions to what you are thinking, believing, feeling and reacting to. The obvious solution is to change what you are thinking and feeling, which is easier said than done, so I’d like to suggest another approach.
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GAINING AWARENESS
Instead of trying to change what you are experiencing, just become aware of it. Acknowledge what you are thinking and feeling, without beating yourself up for it or resisting it.

As you’ve probably discovered, it’s not that easy to recognize stress or your thoughts, when you are lost in then and caught in your day, conversations and stressful scenarios. Years ago, I had a doctor ask me if I was under a lot of stress when I had an autoimmune condition. I told him I didn’t think so, but in truth I was under tremendous stress that I had simply gotten used to. This is happening to all of us now in this Pandemic.

Some indicators to watch for are walking faster, clutching things tighter, talking louder or with a higher voice, and feeling more agitated. Other indications are eating lots of comfort or sugary foods, nibbling a lot, overeating, drinking more often, feeling exhausted, anxious or tense, or having sleep issues. Some people get back pain, high blood pressure or irritable bowel. And many of us put on weight. Chronic stress elevates hormonal cortisol levels in our body, and in that state activates fat-storing around our middles.

Try to notice what’s happening in your body, and if there is tension or any emotional anxiety, take some deep, slow breaths to bring in more oxygen and calm yourself down. When your outbreath is longer than your inhale, you also shift your nervous system out of a fight/flight mode and into a calmer state. Then you’ll feel more relaxed.
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APPLYING CURIOSITY
You have a golden opportunity, every time you get food or a drink, to check in with yourself. This is the chance to ask yourself, “How am I feeling?”, “Am I feeling stressed?”, “What do I really need right now?”, “Am I really hungry?”, “Do I really want this drink?”, “Will this really make me feel better?”, and “Will it feel better afterwards if I have it?”

No judgment. You simply curious and asking yourself what your body really needs and if this choice you are about to make is really serving you.

This practice works well, because when you start to associate getting food or a drink with checking in, you have an opportunity to become aware of yourself and what you are doing. And then you can make a healthier conscious choice, based on what will really feel better to you afterwards.
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CONSCIOUS CHOICES
When you are stressed, you aren’t making conscious choices. You are reacting and on autopilot, and seldom do these choices leave you feeling better in the end.

Our body handles stress by releasing a hormone called cortisol, which stimulates the appetite for carbohydrates to prepare for fight or flight. When cortisol remains elevated in the blood stream for extended periods of time, it also stimulates fat storing. This is a set up for the holidays and leads to that proverbial average holiday weight gain of five pounds, which doesn’t account for what’s already happened prior to the holidays.

You probably don’t want that extra weight. And every time you put something in your mouth, you get to choose if you really want it or not.
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STRESS-FREE APPROACH
The most common strategy for dealing with overeating during the holidays is to put some type of dieting practices into place now or after Christmas. This might mean deciding no desserts, no white foods, no fat or no carbohydrates. Or it could mean deciding to be good during the day or during the week and cheating at night or on the weekends. But this creates a deprivation backlash, further bingeing and a feeling of failure and guilt. And it creates more stress!

A stress-free approach to holiday eating and drinking is to be mindful of stress and hunger levels, avoid criticizing yourself, check in with yourself when you go to eat or drink, breathe with a longer out-breath, eat balanced meals and limited snacks throughout the day, stop eating before you get full, allow a little room for some of your favorite comfort foods to avoid deprivation backlash, enjoy up to one drink a day, and take time out to care for yourself.

Try a few of these ideas during the next few weeks to see what works best for you.

How Being Good Leads to Holiday Weight Gain

You hear it all the time; “I am being good this year and not going to have xyz bad foods, so I don’t gain any weight.” This is the time of year when people join Weight Watchers and go on diets, so they can stay in control during the holidays. For some it works, and that holds out hope for everyone else. For the majority it not only does not keep them in control; the guilt, deprivation and old familiar patterns lead to giving up on the idea and then really over indulging since they blew it anyway. By the time New Year’s rolls around, they have put on nearly 10 pounds – twice the average holiday weight gain. Have you ever done this or know people who have? What happens in January when the holidays are over? Does this process get repeated?

For Julianne (not her real name), this is just what happens every year. She promises herself she will be good at Halloween, but isn’t. Then she becomes determined to do better at Thanksgiving and doesn’t. This leads her to take more drastic measures and go on a more rigid diet before Christmas, restricting herself as severely as she can so she won’t gain more weight. Yet for reasons she can’t explain, she still blows her diet and can’t seem to stick with it as she should, and by Christmas Eve she is gorging herself on candy canes and anything sweet she can get her hands on. For the next seven days, she is in full binge mode, knowing that she starts her diet again on January 1st. And then her annual cycles of dieting and bingeing begin again. She is in her late 50s and ashamed that at her age she is still doing this. She wonders why she never learns and can’t get herself to do as she should. She wonders what is wrong with her.

Nothing is wrong with her. She was never taught how to eat normally or how to recognize what really drives her to make the choices she does. She just assumes she is bad, and the harder she tries to be good the more often she feels like she fails. Sound familiar?

So here are the 3 things she has learned in our sessions so far this year as she successfully navigates the holidays and all the food she loves to eat. She let me share this with you if I didn’t use her name, which I fully understand. Her lessons are a bit painful to face, yet they are fairly common.

1. She does not like candy canes. She was so obsessed with eating what she couldn’t have before her next diet began, that she ate food she didn’t even like. She realized she didn’t even taste her food or know what she really enjoyed, because she was driven by a greater need to get what she could while she could. Now she focuses on what really gives her pleasure and satisfaction, and she finds she doesn’t want all that sugar or to overeat. This has been amazing to her.

2. She has been dieting and bingeing every holiday since she can remember, and her mother did the same thing. Her mom still struggles with food and her weight. Dieting doesn’t work. She just believed it did and was the thing to do because her mother did it. She can choose her own beliefs now, and she is learning first hand that eating with consciousness of what feels good to her body is a better way to go through the holidays.

3. She was very hard on herself and that judgment caused her to overeat and choose foods she knew were bad for her, reinforcing how bad she was. It was a vicious cycle of self-hatred, self-restriction, rebellion and guilt that spiraled into food binges she couldn’t stop. She is learning to see herself with compassion, non-judgment and greater understanding. The more she does this, the less often she finds herself drawn into the cycle or wanting to eat food she doesn’t need.

You may see yourself in Julianne’s lessons or you may be getting other insights. No two people have the same internal beliefs, emotional reactions, subconscious drivers or backgrounds. Yet what most of my clients share is a belief in dieting to lose weight and that when you eat foods you shouldn’t have on a diet you are being bad. Yet they can never be good enough to reach or sustain their goal, so they give up and dig in. This holiday, consider doing what feels good to your body and your head, rather than striving to be good. You may just enjoy the food more and end up weighing less.

A Guilt-Free Way to Eat Halloween Candy

Halloween marks the beginning of holiday eating for many, and once the candy indulgence begins it can be difficult to regain a sense of control around food throughout the holiday season. It helps to have some strategies in place at Halloween, so you can enjoy the candy without succumbing to binging on it or letting it lead to excessive eating during the holidays coming up.

Candy is a comfort food for many of us, and when lying around in bowls and bags, it becomes a temptress greater than most people can resist. Do you find yourself unable to stop when it comes to Halloween candy?

Instead of gearing up for a binge fest and worrying about how you are going to handle having all that candy around the house, consider what is driving you to overeat and crave it and then put some strategies in place, like some of the ones I suggest below, to help yourself eat much less of it.

Some of the most common reasons people can’t seem to stop at a few pieces of Halloween candy start with feelings of deprivation. Candy for most people is considered junk food or a food they should not have, and for them candy is on the forbidden food list. When they eat it, they believe they are being bad and falling off their diet, so they have to finish it and get it out of the house to be in control. Then they strive to stay away from it until the holidays get underway and they find themselves right back in the same place, struggling to avoid the next round of bingeing on sweets and striving (but failing) to be in control. It is a never ending cycle that continues right through Valentine’s Day. Does this happen to you?

What does this have to do with deprivation? Everything. When you believe that you shouldn’t have something, you want it all the more. And the more you try to control the urges and deprive yourself, the more you obsess and overdo it when given the chance. This is human nature, and it is easy to see in children. We tend to forget that as adults we aren’t any different. Like kids we rebel against harsh rules and restrictions that are depriving.

We want our candy – or what it represents, but we are determined to apply willpower to resist it. This creates an internal battle between our Enforcer voice and our Rebel voice. Very often the Rebel wins out. But because of the loud Enforcer in the background, harshly criticizing you for what you are doing, you begin to feel guilt and shame, which triggers emotional eating and an all out binge. Next thing you know you’ve eaten more pieces than you want to admit and you feel uncomfortably sick.

What if you created an agreement with your Enforcer and Rebel voices by allowing yourself a bit of candy every once in awhile, agreeing that it isn’t forbidden and that if you really want it you can have it in moderation. Now you have calmed down the Rebel voice that will have a tantrum by overeating if it doesn’t get its way. The trickier voice to negotiate with is the Enforcer. This is because the Enforcer is the one that enforces your beliefs.

When your beliefs are black and white and don’t allow for some grey, then the Enforcer will trigger the Rebel. If you allow for moderation and satisfaction along with some guidelines for restraint, then the Rebel and Enforcer will both quiet down. If you also allow for throwing out the candy when the family has enjoyed it and had enough, everyone wins.

To put this in practice, try the following guidelines (or strategies) to help both the Enforcer and Rebel trust that their needs (meaning your needs) will be met. The first guideline is to eat candy along with a meal so that you aren’t eating it alone and driving up your blood sugar levels, which in turn leads to cravings. The second guideline is to pay attention to when you are satisfied or the first signs of feeling a bit full and stop eating. If you know you want some candy with dinner then make room for it instead of eating it when you are full.

Third, pick just 2-3 pieces of candy that you know are your favorites and savor them, so that you achieve satisfaction. And fourth, tell yourself that you can have more at your next lunch or dinner, so you know that you won’t be deprived and can still enjoy this once-a-year candy fest. After a few days, you will all have enjoyed having a bit of candy and you’ll be left with candy that isn’t your most favorite or you will be tired of it. Now throw what is left out. You won’t miss it, because you’ve let yourself enjoy it. And if that Rebel acts up, tell it that there is always more at the grocery store if it really wants to have it again before next Halloween.

Or you may have other ideas of what kind of strategy will work best for you. One that a few of my clients are choosing to do this year is to buy candy to put out that they don’t like, so going into the evening they aren’t finding themselves dipping into the candy bowl and setting themselves up to continue bingeing when more candy comes into the house.

This week consider what strategies you can put in place so you can enjoy yourself this Halloween without anxiety or guilt.


Alice Greene
Healthy Lifestyle Success Coach

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