"Today's the day," we declare, "that I'm starting my summer diet." This is minutes before we find ourselves in a staring match with a scone.
We all have a rational sense of what to eat, and when. We've come a long way in terms of nutritional knowledge. And yet somehow, the diet section on Amazon.com expands along with our bellies.
The problem with facts about food is that mouths are myopic and stomachs don't strategize. We may have the facts, but decisions also involve our feelings. Many people who struggle with feelings also struggle with eating.
Diets advertise thinness, yet eating healthfully offers so much more than a tenuous bikini body. "Emotional eating" is a popular term used to describe eating that is influenced by emotions both positive and negative.
Eating to cope with feelings makes us feel more, not less. When we come to rely on food to cope with difficult feelings, it can interfere with our ability to use healthier methods of dealing with them--it keeps us from uncovering our personal potential. One of the worst feelings a person may face is a sense of hopelessness. Learning to sit with emotions and overcome emotional eating may provide an experience of mastery, or real accomplishment, trumping the short-lived pleasure we notice when we indulge.
Here are 7 tips based on the latest in research psychology to help you change your relationship with eating, and more importantly, with yourself. With these tools, you may actually start a real summer break:
Interestingly, one of the main ways we may come to struggle with eating stems from overvaluing your weight and shape. If we are preoccupied by our appearance, and our perception of our appearance is negative, we're destined to feel pretty badly. Many people who care a lot about their appearance try rigid diets and often, strict diets lead to overeating. A wise stance may be to lower the weight of weight in our lives and consider what actually deeply matters to us, such as volunteering or connecting with friends. Weight loss is a goal--it's not a fulfilling life path.
In order to move away from emotional eating, we need to accept emotions, accept our current weight, and accept our cravings. So often, we eat to cope with feeling fat. Remember, pain is pain, and eating to avoid pain or craving causes suffering. Practicing acceptance of our feelings and who we are is not resigning; rather, it's a stance that nicely escorts change. If the idea of acceptance feels overwhelming, remember that it is a practice we make moment-to-moment. First try slowing down your breath and relaxing your face.
We are intelligent, capable, hard-working people, and an then urge creeps up on us, and we cave in. This makes so much sense given that so many of us have learned that urging means indulging. What happens when we notice our urges from a distance and ride their wave? Many of my clients notice that when they step back and notice an urge, they feel empowered, and note that the intensity of desire fluctuates. Once we learn through experience that urges change, and we accept discomfort, we may choose our behavior rather than fall into temptation.
When we are mindful, we are fully present in the moment. We notice our physiological hunger and we taste our food. We can't multitask and be mindful. We may eat a lot of food with a little attention or find satiety with enough food and a lot of awareness. I find it fascinating that food takes hours to prepare, yet you can gobble it in mere minutes. Slow down to both actually enjoy what you eat and also know when to stop. You may notice you may eat a lot of something that doesn't even taste that good if you're not attending fully.
One of the first steps in regulating both emotions and eating is slowing down to observe the emotional experience. When we recognize, in the midst of facing a deadline, I am feeling anxious, the act of noticing provides us with both distance and the awareness we need to choose our behavior, to know we may choose to either snack or start preparing for that project. Our emotions, even negative ones, provide us with valuable information which eating may obscure.
Developing the capacity to treat ourselves with compassion actually improves our ability to persist in goals we strive to achieve. After all, when we beat ourselves up, we feel worse and lose the support we need to try. Just as we excel when others provide us with warmth, we will reach our personal goals when we provide ourselves with self-validation. Emotional eating is not self-soothing as it maintains the idea that we cannot cope. We all need comfort from time to time. It's important to find meaningful ways to soothe yourself through behaviors that are ultimately healing. Try speaking to yourself in kind, gentle tone you'd use with a friend, making plans to look forward to with a friend, and/or treat yourself to a new song you love listening to. The point is, we do need to relax and take good care of ourselves, but there are more ways to do this than by just eating. Eating isn't soothing if it's for wrong reason.
A challenge we all face when we change habits relates to how we deal with lapses. Do we give up when we perceive we have "failed" or do we persist, knowing a setback is an opportunity to learn from the experience, practice acceptance, and once again, pursue what matters? I like to think of a setback as a minor detour on a long journey. We still covered some ground and need to take a quick look at the road map to reroute.
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