Dear dieter....

Dear dieter,

I hope you’re well! Just wondering how that miracle diet is going?  You know, the diet you started New Year’s Day that was going to fix every one of life’s issues, including your emotional eating?  Oh, not so good? 

Despite how we try to feed it, mental stress does not actually require any additional calories.  Food does not really fix the boredom, sadness, sleepiness, or anger that is the true underlying challenge.  Eating (or not eating) for emotional reasons still leaves behind the trigger for negative feelings often along with guilt for trying to soothe the emotions with food.  Strict diet plans don’t address the fact that a contributor to the weight gain was eating for emotional reasons rather than hunger. 

Everyone has different habits and interaction with food.  Everyone also has stress, daily activities you’d rather not do, and emotional ups and downs.  What differs though is how individuals justify their behavior and also their rewards in the form of food.  How often are your rewarding yourself for daily activities you’d have to complete anyway?  Do you find yourself saying, “I completed that work” or “I had a hard day” so I deserve this ice cream? 

The first week in March is part of eating disorder awareness week.  Disordered eating comes in many forms.  Sometimes the strength of the relationship between eating behaviors and emotions aren’t strong enough to classify it as a true eating disorder, but many habits are not conducive to a healthy relationship with food.  In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) formally recognized Binge Eating Disorder as a diagnosis making it the most common eating disorder in the United States.

If most of your weight gain came from eating from grief, sadness, or anxiety a strict diet is not going to take away those emotions.  It will just prolong the time frame until you turn to food again for comfort.  If you feel like you don’t know where to start, then seek out professional help.  A licensed behavioral counselor can help you address the emotional aspects of your eating and develop alternative coping methods for your stress. 

If you feel like your habits could improve when it comes to your eating and emotions consider these tips to get started. 

Start by listening to your body and trusting it.  Our stomachs try to send us signals that we’re full.  Eating an entire, oversized portion at a restaurant and adding on a dessert because it’s offered has very little to do with our feelings of fullness.  We eat because it looks good, smells good, and tastes good.  Those are all important parts of enjoying a nice meal, but is your stomach actually full?  Consider wrapping up part of your food at a meal.   You can enjoy it twice, save money by not having to eat different food later, and decrease your overall calorie intake by spreading out the food.  Start by serving less on your plate, but in your mind consider thinking “I’ll start with this,” rather than “This isn’t going to fill me up.”

Consider eating for your health and not just your weight. Remember all those fruits and vegetables you keep hearing about?  Consider adding servings in every day because they provide good building blocks for our immune system and help our cardiovascular system, not just because they are on every diet plan.  Skip the lemonade, iced tea, and soda because there’s more sugar in each cup than your body possibly needs for energy. 

Plan your food.  No, it doesn’t have to go to the extreme of one of those photos on Pinterest with twenty-one meals all neat and tidy in a million, itty bitty containers.  A human body typically needs to refuel every four hours.  If you don’t feel yourself and allow yourself to get overly hungry you’re likely to grab something quick and overeat.  Take some food with you that will last without refrigeration like a banana, a pouch of nut butter, and a granola bar with minimal ingredients. 

Move your body.  And ENJOY it!  For some dieters exercise is only done as a punishment or during complete deprivation.  Being hungry and pushing through another few steps on the tread mill is a sure way to suck all the enjoyment out of physical activity.  Formal exercise programs certainly have their place, but if you haven’t stuck to an exercise routine, just try to move more.  Put on music and get a groove on!  Exercise is an anti-depressant backed by multiple studies showing positive effects on mood and attitude. 

And last, but not least- Skip the awful self-talk.  Don’t say things to yourself in the mirror that you wouldn’t say to your best friend.  Love your body and start to acknowledge all the wonderful things it can do!