Before you get impatient or feel hopeless, let's take a moment and think about the associations we’ve developed with food, throughout the course of child & adulthood. Our parents would often express love through sugar, like birthday cakes and treats as reward for good behavior (hello, cookie for going potty? dessert when you finish dinner?).
Our relationship with food has been shaped over many years, without even understanding or realizing it! So it’s no wonder we seek comfort in food; we use it as reward for “good” behavior (whatever that may be), and also naughty behavior, when we want to “live a little” or be "daring" or “bad.” Add to that: social pressures, internet-fueled misinformation, and insidious messaging through advertisers and food companies, it’s no wonder many of us struggle with food issues!
WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?
One area that many of us often overlook is the mental dialogue that pre-empts our decisions. All of us suffer from an overactive mind from time-to-time, where we don't even notice the ongoing chatter! But next time you think you’re hungry, have a craving, or want to eat, stop and bring your attention to what you’re saying to yourself.
Are you thinking: “I’m hungry, but I don’t know what I want,” and then aimlessly looking through the pantry or refrigerator, hoping that something catches your eye? “Do I want something sweet? Salty? Crunchy? Chewy…”
Instead, direct your attention to whether you’re actually hungry. Maybe you’re thirsty, so drinking a glass of water should be the first thing you do. Then think about when & what you last ate. Is it time to eat again? Have you exercised, making you more hungry at this time of day than you normally are? What could be fueling this desire to eat, or are you just bored?
BE AWARE OF YOUR THOUGHTS SO YOU CAN DECIDE WHICH ONES ARE HELPFUL OR HARMFUL
The purpose of this type of exercise is to pay attention to the habits you’ve formed, and evaluate whether they are serving your health goals. If you tend to be a snacker, realize that you weren’t born this way, and you can change this tendency. The first step is to bring awareness to it, and then adjust your thought patterns (more on this, below).
According to Judith Beck, Ph.D.’s New York Times best-selling book, The Beck Diet Solution: Train Your Brain to Think Like a Thin Person, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques are extremely effective in training your brain to think differently, in the context of health & weight loss.
If we can bring awareness to our thoughts, we have the power to decide which ones we want to allow or listen to, and which ones to ignore. In her book, Dr. Beck provides many ways to counter sabotaging thoughts, and refers to each decision as an opportunity to flex a muscle. Each time we give-in to a craving, we flex the "giving-in" muscle, and when we resist temptation, we are flexing the "resistance muscle." Which one do you want to strengthen?
RESPOND TO SABOTAGING THOUGHTS PRODUCTIVELY
Sabotaging Thought: “This food is not on my plan/diet but I really want it NOW.”
Response: “I’ll get a few moments of pleasure but I’ll feel guilty for much longer; it’s not worth the momentary pleasure."
Sabotaging Thought: “I wish I could eat whatever I want!”
Response: “I can eat whatever I want, or I can lose weight and feel better about myself. I can’t have it both ways.” Also, "So what! Life isn't fair, I just have to accept it, and stay on my plan anyway."
Sabotaging Thought: “I can’t keep snacks & treats out of the house & deprive my family, just because I can’t control myself.”
Response: “I’m entitled to ask my family to make temporary changes to help me stick to my program more successfully. These snacks are not as important as our health.”
Sabotaging Thought: “I’m craving ______” [pizza, donuts, chips, soda, etc.]
Response: "Food cravings go away when I decide not to give-in; cravings do not get worse. If I distract myself and decide that it’s NOT an option to give-in, the craving will subside."
Sabotaging Thought: “Eating healthy/losing weight is too hard. I’ll get back on track tomorrow.”
Response: “While it feels hard, it’s not impossible and I can do it! If I give-in now, it will be harder to resist next time. I want to strengthen my “resistance muscle” and weaken my “ giving-in muscle.”
Sabotaging Thought: “If I’m feeling upset, the only thing that will make me feel better is food.”
Response: “If I’m upset, I’m entitled to do something to alleviate that. But I’m also entitled to achieve my health goals, and soothing myself with food is going to interfere. Plus, food will not make the issue go away; I'll find another method of comforting myself.”
Sabotaging Thought: “The people I’m with will give me a hard time, and think I’m not fun if I don’t drink or I am too rigid on my diet.”
Response: “That may be true, but what’s more important? What they think, or that I’m doing what it takes to get healthier? And whatever they say or do is not serious at all. No one really cares all that much, and I will feel so good afterwards, when I have stayed on plan.”
Sabotaging Thought: “This is a special occasion” or “I’ve earned it—I deserve this.”
Response: "If I want to change my habits and improve my health, I have to learn to celebrate in different ways. If I keep celebrating with food, I’ll keep struggling in the same place as I am now, and I really don’t want that!”
Sabotaging Thought: “I’ve always been this way; I can’t change that.”
Response: “This is a skill I can learn, just as I learned to be the way I am currently. If I practice, I can get good at this, just as I did swimming, riding a bike, or playing a sport, etc.“
Sabotaging Thought: “I don’t deserve to give myself credit for doing the right thing/making the healthier choice; it should be easy and automatic. And if I do recognize my progress with self-praise, I’ll get cocky and start to loosen up.”
Response: “This is not easy-- if it were, then no one would be overweight. It’s important to give myself credit to build my confidence, and eventually it will become more automatic to make the healthier choice. And I won’t loosen up, because I will acknowledge praise as encouragement to keep going, and I will find other ways to reward myself. I’ll flex my ‘resistance muscle’ to maintain momentum.”
IF YOU WANT TO MAKE SUSTAINABLE CHANGES TO YOUR HEALTH, YOU MUST CHANGE THE WAY YOU THINK ABOUT EATING & YOURSELF
People who struggle with weight loss & maintaining a healthy lifestyle have a different mindset than people who appear not to struggle, and the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can make changes. We all know it's not healthy to make comparisons, but we do it anyway. And the reality is that we have no idea what others are dealing with. If we just focus on our own thoughts and behaviors, we will be successful at maintaining our health goals.
If you view hunger as an emergency, overestimate the discomfort and duration of cravings, feel nervous about attending functions or eating outside of home, CBT will help to retrain your mindset. You will know how to eat, how to motivate yourself everyday, how to create time and energy for your new lifestyle, how to solve diet-related problems, and how to use many other essential techniques.
For more information on how I've helped clients to address their relationship with food, and how you can make small, incremental changes to a sustainable, healthy & mindful lifestyle, book your free 50-minute health consultation today!
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