Just because you know how to eat and train for fat loss, does not mean that unwanted fat will start melting off your body. There is still one more important piece of the fat loss puzzle – the final frontier for getting and staying lean is conquering emotional eating. If you know what you should be eating, but continually find yourself getting sucked into emotional eating traps, here is what you need to do.
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Understand the connection between emotions and food
We all have some level of emotional connection to foods. That is why we know what terms like “comfort foods” mean. This connection can start as a child. It is your birthday – you get cake. You have a bad day at school – mom serves up cookies and milk. There is a special holiday (e.g. Christmas) – your family feasts. Now, having food as part of a celebration is not bad – it’s great, but it can get out of hand if the emotion connection to food is too strong.
Understand the trap of emotional eating
Emotions are not a static thing. They go up and down. The problem is that we often connect junk food to both happy and sad emotions. If emotions are constantly fluctuating (some people more so than others) and we eat junk food each time they spike or drop, we can quickly end up with in a calorie surplus.
Steps to Conquering Emotional Eating
Have real goals
Many people don’t really have goals – they just have wishes. They would like to lose fat, but they have not truly created and embraced a real, specific, reasonable, measurable, time-sensitive fat loss goal. Make sure you goal is crystal-clear and then adjust your nutrition, lifestyle and training to achieve this goal. When you tempted to eat junk, go back to your goal and ask yourself, “Which do I want more, my goal or this sabotage food?”
Related posts: Goal Setting 101 and A Simple, Cheap Way to Monitor Your Body Composition
Stay consistent with your training
While you cannot out-train poor nutrition, consistent training not only burns extra calories and if done properly can increase your EPOC, it can help with emotional eating. All your sweat equity that you invested in the gym can work as incentive not to blow it with an emotional eating binge. It also helps provide structure and consistency with can help you have a better self-control in all areas of your life.
Keep a food log
A food log is a wonderful way to increase your accountability and help make the connection between your goals and what goes in your mouth. Set a rule that EVERYTHING you eat must get written down in your food log. This will increase your incentive to stick with your plan.
Related post: Food Logging for Body Composition
Once you have a regular food log going, go back and reflect on it. At least twice a week, look back over the week and circle the meals where you lost control and ate a bunch of stuff you did not want to. Then, make a note of when it was, what was going on at that time, where you where, and how you were feeling then. Reflect on this and look for trends. Here are some examples of when people may find they slip up:
- At night while watching TV
- At a party and feeling a little nervous – they just hang out by the chip bowl
- When feeling stressed or down
- When bored
Once you have tracked identified your problems you will have a good idea of what you need to work on. Then, look for an alternative. Here are some sample alternatives based on the examples given above:
At night while watching TV: Use laziness to your advantage. Before you sit down, brush and floss your teeth. Do this thoroughly and take a good amount of time. After that, you will less likely want to repeat this process and it will be easier to avoid the snack foods. Another way to use laziness to your advantage is to avoid having junk foods in the house. If you are sitting down to relax and watch TV and you have to stop, get up and drive to the store to pick something up, you will be less likely to do so than if you just had to make a quick trip to the cupboard.
At a party and feeling a little nervous: Nurse a water bottle – grab a bottle or glass of water and hold it in front of you like people do with a beer. Each time you are nervous or there is an awkward pause in the conversation, take sip. Also, if you are not a talker, seek to find out what others are interested in. Get them talking about themselves and their interests and passions – people love this! This will get them talking and make less work for you to try to come up with something intelligent to say.
When feeling stressed or down: look for go-to activities that relax and recharge you. These can include: going for a walk/bike ride outside, listening to music, finding something funny to watch or listen to so you can have a good laugh or even just some slow, deep breathing with your diaphragm.
Related post: Breathe Your Way to a Better Body
When bored: always keep interesting, helpful reading materials with you. This can be great way to occupy your mind and get it off of snack foods. Also, if you find yourself with lots of time on your hands, consider taking up a hobby.
Fill up on the good stuff
By emphasising whole, natural, single-ingredient foods, you not only fuel your body for high performance, but also create less stomach space for junk foods. Make sure lean proteins and veggies are getting top priority in your daily menu. Also, if you go too long without food, your blood sugar will get too low and your body will crave sugary foods to get it back up.
When it comes to hunger, there are 4 essential things to understand:
- Hunger is not an emergency (Dr. John Berardi)
- If you are trying to get lean, you will at times have to say no to certain foods that you want
- Psychological boredom can often be confused as physiological hunger
- Meals should make you feel not hungry – not stuffed
Plan treats, watch for food addictions
Trying to eat perfectly 100% of the time is not necessary or healthy. It is okay to have some treats. This can even work with you in helping you stay on track with your eating. Plan them ahead of time so you can look forward to them and enjoy them without feeling guilty. This also allows you to adjust your food intake for the day so you can avoid an unwanted calorie surplus. For example, if you know you are going out for dinner and want to have a treat with some high-carb foods, emphasize lean proteins and veggies for breakfast and dinner.
Don’t give up if you slip
No one eats perfectly all the time. This is not a reasonable or desirable goal. We all at times eat things and they realize, that was not a smart idea. If you have a slip-up and eat something that was not part of the plan, accept it and move on. Don’t let a little mistake turn into, “Well since I messed up by having that piece of cake at the restaurant, I might as well go all the way and polish off a tub of ice cream when I get home!”
Seek an accountability partner
Making any kind of change is challenging. If you are looking to make changes to your eating patterns, keeping a food log will help hold you accountable. However, I also highly recommend finding a good accountability partner to regularly check up on you.
Seek professional help
Emotional eating can be a symptom of deeper physiological or spiritual issues. If these practical steps are not helping or if you suspect you may be dealing with bigger issues, I highly encourage you to seek professional help from a qualified and experienced professional counselor. Get to the root of the problem, work through it and you will be on your way to reaching your goal!
If you want a complete guide on how to optimize your training, nutrition and lifestyle to develop a hard, lean athletic body, check out my book Athletic Training for Fat Loss.