I understand. Some days are filled with so much stress, that it is natural for many people to gravitate toward an unhealthy response in an effort to relieve the stress. For many of my clients that means finding solace in food – and it’s usually not of the healthy variety. Sugar is one of the biggest culprits. Not far behind it are sugar’s cousins – breads (including pizza), chips, and crackers. It’s hard to resist that salty, crunchy yumminess when your mental defenses are down. It’s not unlike the person who reaches for a cigarette, a drink, or a drug. We just want relief, and we want it now. The problem with these “quick fixes” is that they are not a fix at all. They are, instead, a method of self-sabotage through emotional eating.
Lately, this has been the primary topic of conversation with my personal training clients. I have been astounded by the number of people who reach a significant point in their weight loss goals, and within days, the scale heads back up the charts. To a person, the explanation has been, “I ate really bad this week.” Upon further discussion, I learn that my client has had a very stressful week, and he/she just didn’t have the strength to overcome unhealthy food temptations.
Tiredness, Tension, and Time Lead to Temptation.
Temptation is difficult to overcome when we are tired, tense, or short on time. There may be many reasons for this, but the one that I continue to see over and over again is that the stress is where we keep our focus. The source of stress in our life becomes this huge, dark cloud that hovers over our mind, blocking out our resolve and our logic. We allow ourselves to become overwhelmed. Yes, I said, “we ALLOW ourselves.” Believe it or not, it is a choice to become overwhelmed. In reality, stress is a given in life. Often, we cannot control the amount of stress that enters our day; but we can control how we respond to that stress. Having struggled with unhealthy stress responses myself, in the past, I have come up with a few strategies to help you overcome the self-sabotage of emotional eating as a stress response.
Use that Wise Mind of Yours
Using your “wise mind” is a term used in mental health care to help people overcome feelings and behaviors resulting from anxiety. Quite simply, it’s looking at your situation with logic. When the time comes that you feel as if you’ve just got to find solace in food, think of these logical statements:
- 100% of the time you have done this same thing in the past, you have regretted it.
- Eating this food will not solve the problem that created the stress.
- It will not make you feel any better.
- You will likely feel worse (physically and emotionally) after you have finished eating.
- Eating this food will sabotage your weight loss, fitness and health goals.
- Eating this food may cause harm to your body (especially if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or other chronic condition).
Take a Few Minutes
If these logical statements aren’t quite enough to do the trick, tell yourself to wait 3-5 minutes. Remind yourself you will not explode in the next 3-5 minutes (there’s that darn logic, again). During that 3-5 minutes, busy yourself with something else. It is highly probable that the craving will pass and you will be surprised later when you remember that you really wanted that yummy treat, but you have since long forgotten about it.
Move away from the temptation! My favorite way is to get myself out the door and down the road in the form of a run. I get that this may not be an option if you are at the office or in charge of people too little and too young to manage themselves while you are out for a run. So, get yourself away from the temptation by getting out of that room, throwing the temptation away (use the garbage can in the garage – not in the kitchen), or hopping on your clothes rack (also known as your elliptical, treadmill, or stationary bike). Stuck at the office? Take a “bathroom” break and head for the restroom that is furthest away from your office (ideally, up a flight of stairs) – and the candy machine.
Still tempted? Make a list of things you need to get done, then start doing them. How long has your closet been a mess? How about your cupboards and counters? How’s your coupon collection? I’m sure there are some that are long expired. Is it time to consider a new hobby? How about researching some vacation options? Most of our food temptations happen in the evening after we are done with our workday and we’d prefer to relax. Well, grab a puzzle, a magazine, or a book. Really tired? Treat yourself to a warm bath – and lock that door and hang the “Do Not Disturb” sign.
Phone a Friend
Consider this as a last resort. Ideally, you want to increase your ability to overcome emotional eating on your own, and the way to do that is to try the previously mentioned strategies, first. When you are effective at using those strategies, your sense of control and accomplishment will be a great reward for yourself. In reality, I know there are times when we just need a friend to help us through the tough temptation. Know in advance who this person is and discuss this with her (or him). The role of your friend is to encourage you to resist emotional eating temptations by reminding you of your health and fitness goals. Chose a friend who cares about your goals and respects you and your privacy.
You are in Control
Decide today that you will overcome self sabotage through unhealthy food temptations. Know in advance which strategy you will use. By doing this, you are creating an opportunity for you to take control of your circumstances and use the power you have to overcome unhealthy behaviors, and in turn achieve your fitness goals. I know you can do this. If you have any other strategies that have worked for you, feel free to share those in the comments. After all, we’re all in this together!
You may also enjoy reading my “Don’t think like a cow” article on the impact of ruminating thoughts on our health.