Admit it women: we have a thing about being too much or not enough.
We fall into the trap of telling ourselves we’re too pudgy or too emotional; we’re not smart enough or motivated enough. We are really good at stressing ourselves out! And the more stressed we feel, the more we turn to food for comfort.
New research from the University of Florida has found that stress causes the desire to eat. When you feel something your body perceives as a threat, like worrying about your own shortfalls, your body goes into stress mode. Stress makes your body think it’s under attack, so you turn to food because it provides the comfort your body craves. But sadly, the more you turn to food, the more you start worrying about food—and you have one more thing to stress over.
I know this cycle well. In fact, I let myself fall into such a downward spiral of stress and unhealthy eating that I physically collapsed. My journey back to health wasn’t a straight path. I struggled with the deprivation diets and wrestled with the puzzling details about proteins, fats and carbs. Talk about stress inducing! Eventually, I began paying less attention to all those “shouldn’t haves” and more attention to what my body was feeling.
Importantly, I had to stop listening to my inner-critic b*tch—that voice that harped on my weaknesses. The voice sent me right back into stress mode and to that universal quick-fix: food.
You can break out of this cycle before you crash and burn. And the good news is that it won’t require any self-recrimination, scale-hovering, or endless deprivation.
Follow these commonsense tips to discover a new body awareness and defeat your food obsession:
1. Ditch your inner-critic b*tch.
When you hear a voice in your head saying: “You’re such a loser for eating that,” or “Look at that roll of fat around your waist,” tell that inner-critic bitch to take a hike! Identify her—you can even name her—and challenge what she’s saying. Shutting off her voice is necessary. Replace her with your new Healthy Babe who’s compassionate, forgiving, and empowering. Start by looking in the mirror and trying to really see yourself through loving eyes. Stop focusing on the bulging belly or the wrinkles. Look at yourself the way others actually see you—someone who’s lovely and fascinating and kind.
2. Challenge your food cravings.
Obsessing about food has less to do with food and more to do with your “go-to” escape from stress. Start noticing what you’re feeling when you feel hungry. Are you angry? Bored? Tired? When you notice that you want to flee something, is your response to reach for food? Pause and ask yourself this question before opening the refrigerator: “Am I eating for a reason other than hunger?” Maybe what you really need is a break, a change of scene, or a hug.
3. Recognize the symptoms that trigger your “eat fest.”
Eating to soothe or hide feelings means an emotional trigger is at work. Or, if you find it difficult to stop eating a particular food, a chemical trigger may be at work. Some foods have chemicals in them that are addictive: sugar, gluten, cheese, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners are the biggies. Understand your triggers and use strategies to avoid them. For example, if there’s a plate of cookies at a party, don’t help yourself until all but one is gone, so you eat only one. Unless you’re allergic to a food, you may not need to deprive yourself completely by moving your trigger foods from your “every day” to your “sometimes” list.
4. Beware of self-defeating words.
Changing some simple phrases can help you change your mindset. Eliminate words such as “cheat,” (if you really want to eat something, just have a bite or two, enjoy it, and get back to healthy eating); “deserve” (if you need to reward yourself, treat yourself to something you won’t later regret like a massage, a cup of tea, or a nap); and “I don’t have time” (be honest with yourself and admit that it isn’t about time, but about prioritizing). Simply saying, “I don’t want it,” instead of “I can’t have it” is empowering.
5. Fight off food perfectionism.
When it comes to eating healthy, it’s not about perfection—it’s about loving yourself enough to know that you deserve to feel great. The problem with perfection is that it’s not sustainable and it sets you up for failure. We all get off track sometimes. The important thing is that you get back on track—and then get back on track again.