Here’s the question that I get asked nearly every single day, and not just during weight loss ‘season’:
“I know what I’m ‘supposed to do’ to lose weight, so why can’t I do it?”
My clients then go on to explain that they’ve tried cutting their carbs or adjusting their macros or tracking their calories, but it’s just not working. Maybe they are able to be ‘good’ for a few days or even a few weeks, but the end result is the same. They can’t stick with it, and they don’t lose weight.
My clients also tell me that they are tired of overeating because it affects them in nearly every area of their lives. Overeating causes them to:
As a registered dietitian, this is going to sound strange, but it’s not about the food! Of course, nutrition matters, but most of us know all about carbs, proteins, fats, and servings sizes. Many of my clients tell me they could write a book on nutrition and diets.
Here’s the thing. Overeating happens for many reasons, all of them related to our relationship with food. We have emotional connections to food. We eat when we’re stressed, anxious, or bored. We eat mindlessly. We eat to reward ourselves. We eat to feel safe. We eat to numb ourselves.
In other words, we have an emotional relationship with food. Logic doesn’t even enter the equation. Of course you know what you shouldn’t be eating when you want to lose weight, but I guarantee you that your emotions almost always win when it comes to your food choices.
Until you re-wire your brain, none of this will change. I used food as my ‘friend’ for many years. It was always there when I needed it.
It was my source of fun when I was bored, my ‘partner’ when I was lonely, my source of relaxation after a hard day. It was how I calmed the anxieties that filled my head – the anxieties I could feel throughout my entire body.
My ‘aha’ moment came when I realized that I had the same emotional eating issues as my clients did. Just knowing about nutrition wasn’t enough. Being a registered dietitian wasn’t enough. Owning a weight loss clinic wasn’t enough.
That’s when I began my own personal journey of healing my relationship with food and with myself. That’s when I dug deep to find out what was REALLY motivating my cravings and my emotional eating.
It wasn’t always easy, but neither was struggling with unhealthy eating behaviors that always led to excess weight.
If you’re not sure what emotional eating means, take a moment to mindfully reflect on the following questions. Be honest. Listen to your body. Listen to your mind. Your answers will give you great insight when it comes to your relationship with food.
On a scale of 0–10, 0 means “hardly ever” and 10 means “all the freaking time.”
1. Do you eat when you’re stressed or when you have ‘chaos-brain’? _____
When you’re stressed out, your body produces high levels of cortisol which can trigger cravings for salty, sweet, and fried foods.
2. Do you eat when you’re not hungry or until you’re stuffed? _____
Emotional eating isn’t located in your stomach. You may find yourself ‘hungry’ within an hour of eating or ‘hungry’ all the time.
3. Do you eat to feel better – to calm and soothe yourself? _____
We often nurture ourselves with food when we’re anxious, lonely, or bored because carbs stimulate the production of ‘feel-good’ chemicals in our brains.
4. Do you reward yourself with food? _____
Childhood patterns with food often carry into adulthood. You may feel like you deserve a treat, especially after a hard day.
5. Do you stuff your emotions with food? _____
Numbing yourself with food can be a way to temporarily silence uncomfortable emotions, including guilt, anger, resentment, and shame.
6. Does food make you feel safe? Do you feel like food is your friend? _____
Weight can serve as a protective shield to keep us safe from unwanted attention or to keep us ‘invisible’.
7. Do you feel powerless or out of control around food? _____
Some foods can be addicting. We may experience intense cravings and once we start eating it may be nearly impossible to stop.
8. Do you eat for entertainment or to relieve boredom? _____
If you feel unfilled and empty, food can be a way to distract you from underlying feelings of dissatisfaction with your life.
Take a moment to reflect upon your answers. Notice the questions where you scored ‘high’ and dig a little deeper to look for patterns. For example, if you eat when you’re stressed or bored, or you’re using food as a reward (1, 4, and 8), note when this happens and recognize your triggers.
Practice visualizing a more mindful response to the situation such as deep breathing, working on a puzzle or project, or rewarding yourself with kind words or affirmations.
If you scored high in the areas of stuffing your emotions with food (2 and 5), it may be time to learn how to feel worthy enough to speak up for yourself. Practice looking in the mirror and telling yourself that you love and like who you are.
If you’re using food to calm the chaos and anxiety in your brain or you find that you can’t stop eating once you start (3 and 7), it may be time to truly honor the fact that certain foods can hijack our brain chemistry, making them ‘red-light’ foods.
Finally, if food and extra weight make you feel safe (6), taking a look at adverse childhood experiences (ACES) can be helpful. If you’ve had trauma in your life, food often shows up as a coping tool. However, going on another diet won’t fix the problem and may even trigger more overeating.
If you want to lose the weight and keep it off, I warmly invite you to download my Weight Loss Essentials Toolbox. It’s packed with videos, meditations, journals, insight, and techniques that will set you on your path to a more peaceful relationship with food – and with yourself.
How often do you reach for food while knowing you are not really hungry? What do you tend to reach for? Do you keep a food diary to help track your eating habits? Please share in the comments below.