Sometimes a client would confess to me, “I know what I’m supposed to do, but I just can’t do it!” and I would feel like screaming “ME TOO!”
As a registered dietitian and personal trainer, I had the education and skills to provide my clients with the best nutrition and exercise advice on the planet for health and weight loss. I gave them personalized menus, helped them organize and plan their days, and even got them motivated to exercise.
But time after time I would see the same pattern emerge. These beautiful souls would be “good” (their words) for a few days, or even a few weeks, but inevitably, they would fall back into their old habits. The weight loss would stop, or the weight they had lost would find its way back.
Sadly, this wasn’t just happening with my clients. Nearly everyone I knew, no matter what program they signed up for or who was their trainer, was seriously struggling with keeping the weight off. They had tried every pill, potion and gimmick under the sun – even weight loss surgery – to no avail.
They spent thousands of dollars and invested countless hours and days, even years, looking for the answers. It was frustrating and heart breaking, and it was creating a sense of hopelessness for everyone involved.
What they were doing wasn’t working for them, and it wasn’t working for me either. Truth be told, I was struggling with my own eating and weight issues.
I still remember teaching seminars on weight loss, then coming home and “unwinding” with a big bowl of buttered popcorn, followed by some chocolate. And that was after dinner! My nightly binges had nothing to do with physical hunger.
Finally, it dawned on me that I was eating emotionally, just like my clients were. As the owner of a weight loss clinic, this was not an easy thing for me to admit, even to myself. My weight was “fine,” and I thought I carried it well. Sure, I could stand to lose a couple of pounds, but who couldn’t, I rationalized.
Besides, popcorn is healthy because it has fiber, right? And chocolate has antioxidants, especially the dark variety. And what’s a little raw cookie dough going to hurt now and again – especially if you make it with pasteurized eggs so you don’t get food poisoning?
For years I preached the standard advice to my clients and to my self – keep healthy snacks around, get rid of the junk foods, call a friend, take a bath, go on a walk – but none of that helped.
If you’re eating for emotional reasons, it doesn’t matter how many veggies are in the fridge. If you’re having a craving for chocolate, you’ll find the stash – hidden behind the chia seeds, on the highest shelf in the pantry.
I needed a tool that would really help deal with the issues that were causing the overeating in the first place. But what could that tool be? Nutrition and exercise play a vital role in weight loss, but what I kept hearing from my clients were statements like the ones below. Do any of them sound familiar to you?
“I know I’m an emotional eater.”
“I just want this war with food to be over.”
“The stress is killing me.”
“I’m good at taking care of everyone except myself.”
“It’s a constant battle. I’m ‘good’ for a few days, and then I’m ‘bad’ again.”
“I eat when I’m happy, sad, bored, mad, ________ (fill in the blank).”
“I can’t stop the cravings.”
“Being hungry has nothing to do with my eating.”
It was becoming evident that extra weight was showing up as a symptom of people’s real life cares. And NO diet can fix that.
My struggles with weight and emotional eating turned out be one of those infamous blessings in disguise. Fueled by the frustration, guilt, shame and sense of failure that so many people experience on their weight loss programs, I was determined to find the answer.
My journey took me down a path of remarkable discoveries which eventually led to a complete redesign of my weight loss practice.
The first thing I learned was that the psychology of food is very complex. We have strong emotional attachments to food, which may even lead to food addictions.
“Everything in moderation” doesn’t work for lots of people. Chronic stress directly contributes to belly fat. Childhood traumas increase our risk of obesity as adults. Food can be our best friend and our worst enemy.
We know that we shouldn’t be eating or drinking tons of non-nutritive carbs like white bread, cereal, pasta, cookies, and soda – but here’s the deal: Sugar can hijack your brain chemistry and make you feel calm and happy.
It can also tranquilize emotions you’d rather not feel. No wonder these treats are called comfort foods!
Cravings, emotional eating and weight issues are very often symptoms of what is going on at a deeper, more emotional level. In order to lose weight and keep it off, we first need to address – and start healing – the issues and stressors that are triggering our cravings and emotional eating.
Ignoring the connection between the food that we eat and our emotions will only keep us stuck in a sadly viscous cycle. When I finally understood the connection between food, stress, emotions and brain chemistry I personally lost over 30 pounds.
I’ve kept the weight off for over six years, and I don’t worry about it coming back. I seldom have cravings, but if I do, I handle them with ease.
These days I can actually eat a few handfuls of popcorn if I’m hungry… and throw the rest in the garbage! Not bad for a former popcorn-aholic! The techniques I now use have also helped me heal many of the issues that contributed to my emotional eating in the first place.
As a result, I have a much more peaceful relationship with food. I’m no longer compelled to tranquilize my anxieties or stuff my emotions with carbohydrate-laden comfort foods.
And, as a side benefit of my healing work, my relationships are improving, my health is great, and my career is blossoming. Not every day is perfect, of course, but I’m handling life with much more ease and joy than ever before.
Are you dealing with food cravings, emotional eating and weight issues in your 60s? Please share your experiences below!