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Conquer Comfort Eating & Maintain Momentum

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

The two biggest challenges that I've witnessed when working with clients on changing their eating for weight loss and maintaining those changes:

  • Eating for comfort/stress relief

  • Acknowledging your successes

You're probably not surprised about the first. But, the second one, what's that about? Well, losing weight sustainably takes consistency over time, and rewarding yourself for small successes is critical to maintain your momentum.

Here's a couple of scenarios that may sound familiar:

It's been a MONDAY - your dog/cat/child woke you up in the middle of the night. You get up and it's the kind of day where everything feels against you. You have an unpleasant interaction with your coworker/child/a fellow driver. Nothing seems to be going your way. You get through it and think, "I've had a crappy stressful day, so I deserve to have a pint of ice cream/bag of chips/several glasses of wine."

Or maybe it's the opposite kind of day:

You've done it! Finally wrapped up that project you'd procrastinated about/kept the kids happy and busy/followed your workout plan every day this week! So how do you reward yourself? Usually one of two ways:

"YESSS, I'm gonna treat myself and dive into that bottle of bubbly/pizza/pan of brownies this weekend, because I deserve it!"

- or -

"Well done, me! OK, now what's next on my to do list?"

It really all makes sense. When times are stressful, we naturally seek comfort in food, and celebrating with food and drink is part of the human experience. Food is pleasurable, and many of us have practiced food as comfort/reward our whole lives. When you cried out in hunger as a baby, you were fed. And what would a birthday be without cake (and maybe ice cream too, if you were in my family), or Thanksgiving without pie?! Nothing to do? Pull out the milk and cookies. Keg parties to celebrate finals! Drowning breakup sorrows with your besties and a pint of Ben & Jerry's. We all have a history of food mixed with feelings.

As far as celebrations, I'm not saying you should abandon the foods you love to celebrate life. All restriction, all the time is not much fun, and it tends to backfire. But if using food and alcohol to reinforce good feelings or smooth over rough ones on the regular isn't working for you, let's talk about some alternatives. And yes, even if you feel you're too busy to celebrate your wins, it's helpful. Necessary, in fact. I like to call it your Food for the Soul Menu.

This isn't about massages and bubble baths, but if that's your thing, go for it! Think broadly, and simply. It could be something like petting your dog, which I would call a "Starter" because it's uncomplicated, and doesn't require a lot of time or effort. Include a few ideas for a "Main Course" and "Desserts" that require a bigger investment of time, but are particularly sweet for you.

Here's how to begin. Think of your senses, beyond taste : smell, touch, vision, hearing, and movement. For example, a Starter might be a 5 minute scroll through photos of people or places you love. Or 3 deep breaths. Or singing in the car. The idea is to use this menu to think ahead, and be prepared. Invest a little time now, so when you have something to celebrate or need some soothing, you won't have to think, just choose.

Here are a few more examples:

Touch - petting your dog or cat, massaging lotion into your hands or feet

Smell - rub some rosemary between your fingers; if you live near pine trees, go outdoors and take in their smell; use aromatherapy sprays or diffuser

Hearing - listen to the birds outside; your favorite music artist; play an instrument

Vision - look out the window, go to a museum (well, you can virtually for now)

Movement - stretch; foam roll; do that one yoga pose you love; take a walk or bike ride

I've created a blank menu for you. All you have to do is click the graphic below. It will take you to a downloadable menu that you can fill with your own ideas.

Remember, overcoming a lifetime of habits is going to take some time, and the successes don't have to be big in order to add up. They do have to become consistent, and put on repeat. Finding what nourishes you beyond food is essential if you struggle with emotional eating.

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