Losing weight can be a lifetime struggle, but it is a struggle that you can win once you learn to transform your eating habits towards health
Food is love. Food is happiness. Food doesn’t judge, and it’s always there for you. Whether you’ve had a bad day at work, your children are out of control, or you’re dealing with personal loss, food can be a reliable and soothing constant in your life.
While some people may turn to other dangerous habits to deal with their stressors, for many people, the drug of choice is food.
Sure, you may be carrying around a few extra pounds, but what’re a few extra pounds in the grand scope of things?
At least, these are the things you tell yourself. The things you say to yourself to help conceal the shame and embarrassment of compulsive overeating. The things you say to make yourself feel better when you’ve outgrown another pair of pants.
How do I know this? Because I once told them to myself.
Everyone has a bad habit (or two). Maybe you’re always running late. Or you bite your nails. But if your bad habits are causing you unwanted weight gain, they could be negatively affecting your quality of life.
Fortunately, just as habits can be made, they can just as easily be broken.
I had three huge bad habits that caused my weight to pile on, habits with a negative stigma surrounding them which make them hard to acknowledge, let alone talk about… until now. Do any of these bad habits sound like you?
1. Using Food as a Substitute for Intimacy
Sometimes you just need a hug. You need someone to hold you tight, kiss your forehead, and tell you that everything is going to be okay. When you need the loving touch of a parent or a significant other, nothing else can compare. Sadly, not everyone has that kind of relationship. And when you’re left empty, sad, and aching for someone to help you feel better all too often you turn to food. While food isn’t going to give you that embrace you need, it can help fill a void that you’re not filling somewhere else.
There have been times in my life when I had to deal with some very bad things, and I had to handle them all alone. I didn’t have someone to turn to, someone I could vent my emotions to, so I turned to food. Food distracted me from my loneliness. Food made me forget that I was dealing with some difficult emotions. Food gave me that vital dopamine rush that I needed but wasn’t getting. So I ate and ate and ate until I had gained a hundred pounds on my very small-boned frame. No amount of baggy sweaters or loose pants could hide my very noticeable weight gain.
Does that sound like you?
Look, food doesn’t love you. Food doesn’t care about you. Food isn’t looking out for your best interests. It’s just food.
Once I let this reality sink in, I had to find a new way to deal with my feelings. No longer could I stuff myself sick to squash them down. I just couldn’t do this anymore. For someone so young, I had a host of serious health issues because of my weight. I had acne, I couldn’t walk up the stairs without feeling winded, and I certainly couldn’t play any sports like other people my age.
Finally, I realized that food wasn’t going to take care of me. People would. I didn’t need more food; I needed a relationship. So I learned how to pick up the phone and call my sister when I was sad. I learned how to tell people how their words hurt me. Over time, I stopped overeating as I learned how to better manage my emotions. Guess what happened? Within a year’s time, the hundred-pound weight surplus had vanished.
Are you struggling with relationship problems? Are your kids out of control? Has your spouse grown distant? Do you miss talking to your siblings on the phone? When was the last time you talked to your college best friend?
Food isn’t what you really need when you are feeling lonely. What you need is love.
So instead of grabbing that bag of candy, reach for the phone. Or, if you don’t have a support network, there’s no shame in talking to a counselor about your feelings. Having someone to bounce your feelings off of, no matter how scary it may be, can be the first step in helping you break the bad habit of turning to food to fill your intimacy void.
2. ‘Eating Your Feelings’ When Dealing with Stress
Some people are total Type A personalities. They’re super by-the-books and very strict on themselves. Others are Type B. They go with the flow, they’re zen, they’re easy-going.
I’m a Type A plus. Anything less is unacceptable.
Of course, being so meticulous meant that I put an awful lot of pressure and stress on myself. While I would try to keep every other part of my life looking like I had my stuff together, my weight was steadily creeping up. Combined with not knowing how to deal with these stressful feelings, I did what many others in my shoes might do: I inhaled an entire bags of chips and multiple bags of candy, all in one sitting. Then I chased it down with sugary soft drinks. Water? Fruits? Vegetables? What are those?
It was awful. I blew up. I felt terrible and I looked terrible.
The relationship struggles combined with my academic and personal stress were a dangerous combination. I had never learned the necessary coping mechanisms to help me deal with my stressors. I saw other people around me joke about stress eating, and it normalized it for me.
How did I break this bad habit? I had to retrain myself. I had to untie the reward-system of eating with stress.
Instead of instinctively reaching for chocolate, I had to find new ways to cope with stress.
I slowly taught myself a few skills. One thing I did was I got in touch with my creative side. I started drawing and using my hands to create art. When my hands were busy with other tasks, they couldn’t be shoving food into my mouth!
I also took up running. While that may seem a bit extreme for some, it really gave me a chance to lay my emotions out on the pavement. Plus, as a runner, you have to eat to fuel your body for exercise. I couldn’t eat junk and expect to have a good run the next morning.
By learning these new, healthy coping habits, I was able to slowly break the bad ones. Not only did I trim another 20 pounds off my body, but I also was able to get stronger and fitter. I’m now proud of my legs when I look in the mirror, instead of embarrassed and ashamed.
What are your hobbies? What do you like to do?
Finding ways to unleash your stress in a safe, healthy way can do wonders for your weight.
Even going on a walk around the block can help you manage your stress in a healthy way. Instead of eating, think hard about your feelings. Sit with them, then tackle them head-on, in a healthy way. In time, you’ll notice a positive shift in your weight. And your mental health will also be so much better.
3. Delaying Responsibilities with Food
Back when I was in college, I was a total perfectionist. Anything less than an “A” on my schoolwork was unacceptable. However, because I pushed myself so hard, I would often drag my feet before starting my assignments. The fear of failure was so great, so I wouldn’t want to begin.
Instead of starting my homework, I’d instead distract myself. I’d binge-watch my favorite shows on the Internet. And of course, you can’t watch your favorite shows without a snack, right? My evening was often punctuated by frequent trips to the kitchen to see what was in the fridge or pantry. Finally, when I couldn’t procrastinate any longer, I’d finally buckle down and do my work.
By then, I was sick to my stomach. I was sluggish, lethargic, and tired. The pounds started to pile back on again. Fortunately, I was able to pinpoint my behaviors early on and was able to curtail the weight gain before it was more than ten pounds.
What did I do to stop stress eating?
I had to modify my behaviors.
One huge thing that helped me was permitting myself to ‘fail’. Although failure to me was getting a “B” instead of an “A” on my work, it was still a huge weight off my shoulders.
I also changed my approach to studying. I forced myself to sit down and review my notes on the same day as my lecture. Then I would review them again in the days leading up to an exam. I forced myself to start my essays early, too. Once I did, it surprised me how easy it was to get the words out on paper. Over time, my binges slowly tapered off. The weight also melted off. I’m proud to share that I’ve been maintaining the same healthy weight since college, give or take a few pounds here or there.
Do you struggle with the same thing? Is there something at work that you’ve been putting off, or something at home that needs to be done, but you’ve been avoiding it?
Eating to avoid uncomfortable experiences can seem like an innocent habit, but it can lead to serious health complications. Instead, you need to find a way to tear that proverbial bandage off and face the conflict. By undoing this bad habit of eating to avoid unpleasantries in life, you can finally shed those unwanted pounds for good.
Learning Good Habits for Life
It’s funny how easily habits are made and broken. Sometimes it can seem like they’re so deeply ingrained that you’ll never shake them. I had to unlearn each and every one of my bad habits. I had to learn how to use my words, instead of angrily binge eating in response to relationship conflicts. I also had to retrain myself when it comes to stress management. I now have healthy coping mechanisms to deal with whatever life throws me.
And you know what?
These same good habits I learned when I was younger have carried me through life. When I have stressors at work that I’m trying to avoid, I now know how to handle them appropriately… without using food.
I ran a 5K with tears streaming down my face after suffering a loss in my family. I sobbed into my girlfriend’s shirt when I was grieving and let her comfort me instead of shutting her out and stuffing myself to numb the pain.
But I’m not perfect. I still will sometimes absently hoover three oatmeal raisin cookies without pause, but afterward, I don’t berate myself. I just acknowledge it and move on. This is a far cry from when I would eat the cookies, feel bad about eating them, and wind up binge eating out of shame.
Please understand that I’m not sharing this with you to brag about overcoming my bad eating habits. I’m sharing my story with you from compassion because I’ve been there. I know what it is like to feel out of control and powerless around food.
I also know that with time, patience, and compassion, you, too, can also overcome your bad habits and finally lose the unwanted weight.
I believe in you.
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