09/18/2011 11:06 am ET | Updated Nov 18, 2011

Master Your Emotions, Achieve Your Health Goals

Does this cycle sound familiar? A new season begins and all the magazines tout "Fall 7-Day Detox" or "Look Great Naked," so you set out with good intentions to eat better and lose those last 20 pounds -- yet inevitably you give up.

Emotional triggers could be the culprits behind your health-goal "failures."

Trigger events can include: losing out on a promotion at work, having a conflict in an important relationship, or your children flying the nest leaving you feeling bored and no longer needed. It can also be as simple as feeling overwhelmed in your life and then too stressed out to workout or eat healthy.

We then find ourselves hitting the snooze button instead of getting up to exercise, or reaching for the comfort of food to de-stress instead of digging deeper to ask ourselves, "Am I really hungry? Do I need fuel right now, or am I diving into that tub of ice cream that I conveniently placed in the freezer to satisfy an emotional need?"

In these moments it can be easy to forget WHY our health goals are so important. We then punish ourselves for what we are experiencing emotionally by not eating well or letting go of the exercise routine.

"Emotional eating is eating for reasons other than hunger," says Jane Jakubczak, a registered dietitian at the University of Maryland. "Instead of the physical symptom of hunger initiating the eating, an emotion triggers the eating."

Jakubczak also says that 75 percent of all overeating is due to emotions.

Emotional eating moods can include: stress, distress, depression, happiness, boredom, anxiety, sadness, agitation, avoidance, compulsion, overwhelm, frustration, disappointment, adversity and failure.

It takes courage to tackle the emotions behind emotional eating when the easier thing to do is give in to our excuses and reach for a cookie "just this one time" because "I don't have time to go for a walk," or convince ourselves that, "I can't afford the salad so I'll get the French Fries instead."

Rather than spending the rest of our lives feeling defeated, thinking things will never get any better, or feeling unattractive and without hope; how can we achieve the health goals we set for ourselves and learn to eat for the purpose of providing proper nourishment to our bodies -- rather than using food as something to "stuff" our emotions?

Oddly enough, a study by Dr. Debby Burgard in Radiance Magazine found "Higher self-esteem was associated with giving up the attempt to lose weight."

Instead of trying to set out to master weight, the real issue seems to be developing a high level of self esteem and emotional mastery so we can achieve true health goals that sustain us for life. Without emotional mastery you simply won't be able to accomplish your health goals.

Here are a few emotional mastery tips to help you stay motivated to achieve your health goals:

  1. Connect with WHY your health goals are important to you. What are the good feelings you will feel when you know you are treating yourself well and caring for your body in healthy ways. Remember that a healthy body = a healthy life, one filled with the energy to do the things you want to do, accomplish your important goals and maintain the energy of "youth" long into aging.

  • Notice when you get triggered emotionally and recognize when you begin to make excuses. Keep the situations in your life in perspective and set healthy boundaries around your life areas so conflicts in one life area don't overflow or affect the others. For example, allowing a bad day at work to derail your health goals.
  • Adopt the "Don't Think, Just Do" rule. Sometimes when we are in an argument with ourselves about getting up and cooking that healthy meal or whether or not to hit the gym after work it is handy to simply stop thinking and just do it! When you over-think your choices, you tend to create excuses and then wallow in the "pain" of accomplishing your health goals. Often times, you truly do have the time, you do know how, and you do want to! Don't allow your emotions to make the important decision whether or not to do what you know is good for you. Just get up and go!
  • Take small steps toward your goals each day. If you get derailed, don't beat yourself up. Simply get back on the rails and keep moving toward your lifelong goals of true health and self-acceptance.