A WW meeting I attended last spring was one of those negative ones where everyone in the room seemed obsessed with how hard it all was. How could they be expected to eat so little food? How could they cut the amount of food they ate with every ten pounds they lost? This was impossible. It went on and on for more than ten minutes. By the end of it, I was so frustrated and could feel that my motivation to go on had leaked out with each complaint until I was almost empty.
Finally, I wanted to scream, "It's not about the food!" You know you won't starve. It's about the emotions. You are using food to meet your emotional needs or to anesthetize emotions you don't want to confront, and you're rebelling against the thought of your emotional needs not being met.
These thoughts surprised me, but they were extremely helpful and illuminating. For me this effort to become a healthy writer and eater is not about the food. It's much more mental and emotional. My greatest barrier to success is often myself. I've had to come up with ways to combat my mental and emotional barriers. I've developed ten guidelines for healthy eating that helps me combat my urge for emotional eating and lose weight.
Michelle's Top Ten Guidelines for Healthy Eating and Losing Weight
1) Promise Yourself You'll Give It a Year
At the beginning of 2009, I promised myself I'd give it my all to lose weight that whole year and spent time figuring out what "my all" would entail. I reflected on what had worked for me in my past attempts at weight loss, what hadn't and why I always quit trying. I used that information to figure out how I could change my results. I decided that my biggest mistake was that I never gave it enough time. I let my discouragement at how hard or how slow it was convince me to believe it was impossible and quit after a few months. I needed to see if trying for a whole year would make a difference. I even broke this down into smaller goals to make it even harder for me to quit. I would attend 45-50 WW meetings and work out at least 100 times.
Resolving that I would try all year is the best thing I've ever done for my weight loss. Whenever I've gotten frustrated at how slowly the weight comes off, I can't contemplate quitting because I promised myself I would give it a whole year. All that energy that used to go into the discouragement I let myself feel and the angst over whether I should keep trying, should I just quit, could I really do this went instead into my continued efforts to lose weight. This determination carried me through the 18 times I gained weight in 2009. At the end of the year, I was nearly 30 pounds and several clothes sizes smaller. I was so thrilled with the results I promised to give it my all in 2010 and for however long it took me to get to a healthy BMI.
2) Find a Way to Be Aware of What You Are Eating and Make Healthy Choices
In a lot of ways, my journey is not about the food, but I have had to recognize that food is my drug of choice. I've used it for decades as a coping mechanism, as a way to anesthetize emotions, to avoid ugly thoughts or emotions, to reduce stress, and to reward myself. I have to learn how to be aware of what, how much, and why I am eating at all times and must work to ensure I'm eating a healthy amount. I have to fight myself on this because if I'm not mindful of what I'm eating, I will overeat.
I have 4 keys to succeeding at this:
a) Keep a Food Diary
b) Practice Portion Control
c) Make healthy, nutritious and satisfying food choices
d) Occasionally indulge
3) Manage Your Expectations
So much of the successful journey to becoming a healthy eater and losing weight is mental. You need to learn how to manage your thoughts, avoid playing mind games with yourself, and just keep working at it whenever you hit a rough patch. One way I accomplish this is by managing my expectations on a day-to-day or even minute-by-minute basis and over the long term. I need to have healthy expectations about how low my goal weight can be, how long it will take me to reach a goal weight and how much I expect to lose each time I step on the scale. In fact, I try to be "Zen like" and approach the scale with zero expectations of any weight loss at all.
4) Plan and Prepare for Success
I try to ask myself the following questions on a regular basis: What do I need to do to succeed in my weight loss efforts? What should I do for the short term and for the long term? What challenges can I anticipate? How can I approach these challenges so that they won't sabotage my efforts? What kind of support systems and habits can I build into my life that will help me lose weight and ultimately maintain a healthy lifestyle?
One of the most common ways I plan and prepare for success is to meal plan for the upcoming week and go to the grocery store to ensure I have healthy food on hand to eat. Other ways I've done this include: cooking one day for the month, figuring out healthy meal options I can have when eating out, throwing out my fat clothes, developing a game plan for the holidays or food pushers, evaluating my past year and setting goals for the upcoming year, finding goals to work towards that have nothing to do with the scale, and asking tough questions such as can I take a break, what's in a number, and am I backsliding.
5) Find Other Ways to Measure Your Progress Besides the Scale
The scale is not my friend. It's a necessary part of tracking my progress, but I can't let it become the "be all" of my journey to becoming and staying a healthy writer. Sure, there are times when I love the number it shows, but it also breaks my heart on a regular basis. I've got to come up with other ways to acknowledge what I've accomplished and give me motivation to continue. Learning to recognize non-scale victories keeps me going when I'm not losing weight and is an important part of making my journey a success.
6) Learn to Recognize Emotional Eating and Develop Ways to Combat that Urge
The key to this is asking yourself why am I eating. Am I experiencing physical hunger or emotional hunger? You need to learn to recognize the signs of physical hunger, such as a growling stomach, lack of energy, light-headedness, a headache, and the signs of emotional hunger. Have you eaten enough that day that you should not be hungry yet? Are you eating for reward or because you think you deserve a treat? Do you have an almost uncontrollable urge to eat, but you have no idea what you want to eat and nothing you eat satisfies you? Are you feeling an emotion that you don't want to acknowledge? Learning to recognize the difference between physical and emotional hunger is a skill you can develop over time.
Since January 2009, I've developed short-term and long-term tactics to help me combat my urge for emotional eating. When I am confronted with an urge to eat for emotional reasons and not for physical reasons, to eat for reward or even to binge eat, I try to stop and recognize why I want to eat. I tell myself that I'm not hungry and don't need to eat. I try to distract myself. I'll try to find some kind of external motivation or "sign" that will stop me from overeating. If I can't resist the urge, I'll try to contain it to just one meal and get back on the healthy eating wagon at the next meal.
Another step I try to take whenever I feel like overeating or binging is ask myself why do I want to do this. What emotions am I feeling that are encouraging me to overeat as a way to suppress them? Can I address these emotions? What is causing these emotions? Why am I upset? Can I figure out ways to address what is making me upset and work out these emotions? Can I change the situation? Can I change my reaction to the situation? Can I change my thoughts about the situation and eventually change my emotions? I sometimes do this emotional searching in a blog post, such as the one on jealousy, fear of success or the dark side of the holidays.
Healthy guidelines 7-10 are also long-term tactics of mine to combat emotional eating.
7) Develop Ways to Comfort Yourself Besides Eating
One of the ways I combat my emotional eating is to find other healthier methods to comfort and soothe myself so that I don't turn to food and overeat. Nature can soothe me. Escaping into a great book has always worked for me. Other ideas include knitting, exercise, meditation, listening to music, dancing around your living room to said music, attending church services, calling a friend on the phone, taking a bubble bath, getting a massage, and doing something social with friends or family.
8) Enjoy the Benefits of Exercise
In his book The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, David Kessler argues that the only feeling of reward close to the one you get from overeating comes from exercise, and you can literally rewire your brain to want the healthy version and not the unhealthy version. I have been trying to do this since May of 2009 and have had a lot of success with it. I've taken the time to figure out what exercise I enjoy and focus on the benefits I get from exercise as opposed to thinking of it as something I have to do to lose weight. I'm learning to really enjoy and appreciate regular exercise. I miss it, and the benefits it gives me, when I've gone too long between gym visits.
9) Determine Why You Started to Overeat and Address that Wound
I learned this guideline by watching The Biggest Loser. A set of questions that the trainers want the contestants to answer before they leave the ranch is: When did you start overeating and gaining weight? What was happening in your life at that time? How did you feel? It all builds to the question why did you start overeating. The trainers firmly believe that this is the most important lesson of all for the contestants. In order to reach their current state of being morbidly obese, these contestants had to have some serious emotional eating issues. They have to figure out why they started overeating so that they stop and finally conquer this issue. They need to face these emotions and work out some kind of resolution, or they'll just gain the weight back.
Realizing how and why the urge to overeat all started was an important step in learning how to stop or moderate this behavior. Once you know this original wound, you can heal it or at least face it and change your reaction to it. Forcing myself to go through this exercise has made a profound impact on my weight loss and my confidence that I'll be able to keep it off.
10) Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food
The key to figuring out what a healthy relationship to food is may be realizing what it is not and what you can't look to food to provide. It won't fix your problems. It won't fill a void in your life. It won't heal an emotional wound you are trying to ignore. Any comfort, soothing or joy is temporary at best. It won't make you happy. Figuring out what will is a much better long-term tactic than overeating.
These ten guidelines are still a work in progress. I plan to write more about them throughout 2010 as I continue losing weight. While I'm not a fast loser, these practices are helping me with my most successful attempt to lose weight. I'm nearly 35 pounds lighter than I was in the beginning of January 2009 and several sizes smaller. I am fully committed to making it to a healthy BMI. What I've learned along the way will help me get to that goal weight and stay there.
What do you think? Do you find these guidelines helpful? What am I missing? What do you think I should add?
Michelle Butler has made becoming a healthy writer a priority. She lives, works and writes in the Washington, DC, area. You can follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/healthywrtr