Conquer emotional eating for real weight loss

Fear of change can hold you back from personal growth and new experiences. It can keep you in a job or a relationship you’ve outgrown. It can stand in the way of you leading a life that is more edifying and fulfilling.

If you’re struggling with weight loss you probably don’t recognise that fear is involved. You blame your lack of willpower or busy schedule, but they are only a symptom of your powerful, often unconscious concerns about the way in which weight loss will shake up your identity and life.

These fears may on one level seem petty or pedestrian, but for most people, they go to the heart of the matter and stand in the way of embracing important lifestyle changes that promote a healthy weight.

Fear: I won’t be able to blame lack of weight loss for my failures

If only weight loss would make you more successful in your career/relationships/social circle. This kind of thinking is a real trap. Blaming your weight loss failures for every dissatisfaction encourages you to hide behind it so you don’t learn to address or effectively deal with setbacks. The prospect of losing this emotional crutch can leave you feeling extremely vulnerable, so you avoid changing your eating or exercise habits to avoid facing reality.

You don’t think you deserve success or happiness, so you shy away from meeting new people, embracing opportunities and nurturing your appearance or health. The resulting unhappiness reinforces your tunnel vision that your weight is responsible. On the flipside, if you do lose weight, life can never live up to your unrealistic expectations that, suddenly and magically, weight loss will help you achieve nirvana.

So you achieve weight loss but still can’t find the right partner or struggle to get out of bed some days and think, “What’s the point? Being slim hasn’t made me feel better.” You might then slip back into unhealthy lifestyle habits without ever addressing the reason for the numerous dissatisfactions with your life and yourself.

Challenge your thinking: Weight loss will not fast-track your path to happiness. You need to do the groundwork, giving your body, relationships, career and self-image the attention and nurture they need to thrive. For example, if you want a promotion, do further training outside of work hours and your new skills (not how many kilos you lose) will increase your chances.

If you crave greater happiness in your love life, consider psychotherapy or kinesiology to look after your emotional health. Once you are more in tune with your needs, you will address unhelpful behaviours and choose more appropriate partners.

When projecting ahead to what life will be like after weight loss, always remember that when the kilos are gone, underneath you will still be the same person with the same emotional baggage.

Fear: I’ll have nothing to look forward to in life after weight loss

Stress is the modern epidemic, so most of us run on empty much of the time. In this context, food (particularly unhealthy snackfood or takeaway) not only becomes a reward for making it through, but may also be the highlight of your day. Once you adopt an eating and exercise plan that is more health-centred for weight loss, those old food rewards are no longer acceptable and you may complain that you feel empty, flat or depressed.

With food no longer providing a buffer from your anxieties and emotions, you start to feel and process your true, often burned-out emotional state. Not liking this feeling, you may soon reach for a food reward again; it’s much less confronting to comfort yourself with a packet of chips than admit your job is dissatisfying or that your friendships are less intimate than you would like.

Unfortunately, in the long run, this approach erodes your health and helps you avoid making necessary changes to reduce the stressors and unhelpful patterns in your life.

Challenge your thinking: Fill your life with activities to nurture your spirit and mood, such as listening to music, meditating and watching the sunset. Meanwhile, build a repertoire of non-food rewards to use at the end of a stressful day, such as having a candlelit bath or reading a good book. Address life issues that need healing whether you attend relationship counselling with your partner, overcome unhelpful self-talk or change your place of work. Spend more time connecting with friends — good company both revives and rejuvenates.

Fear: I’ll embarrass myself by regaining the weight

Worrying about feeling humiliated if you fail to live up to the weight loss expectations of yourself and others can prove an enormous roadblock to weight loss. This weight loss fear may become magnified if you have lost weight and regained it numerous times in the past as you may have little faith in your ability to succeed in the present.

Challenge your thinking: Set realistic weight loss goals of around a kilo a month. Weigh yourself as little as possible so you don’t feel put off by small fluctuations. Notice the little achievements such as the half a centimetre you’ve whittled from your waist or how much easier it is to walk upstairs now you are exercising regularly. Tell few people about your weight loss plans until you feel confident that your weight loss lifestyle changes are permanent.

Fear: I’ll alienate my loved ones

Will your friends feel threatened by your weight loss? Will your partner worry you will get more attention now you are slimmer? Will your parents or siblings feel you’re judging them because they still eat plenty of fast food and never get to the gym? It is possible that those close to you may envy your weight loss or fear you will look down on them for not making the kinds of lifestyle changes you are embracing. However, if a person close to you can’t support your weight loss desire to become healthier and happier, either that relationship is not in your best interests or they have their own fears that centre around weight loss.

Challenge your thinking: Enlist your friends and partner as your weight loss support team and they will have more invested in helping you lose weight. Explain that you still look forward to doing enjoyable things together but sometimes that might mean going to a movie rather than an all-you-can-eat buffet. Accept that friends or loved ones who are jealous or put off by your weight loss clearly have their own issues that they need to address; don’t take it personally.

Fear: I’ll appear self-centred

Taking time out to achieve weight loss and a healthier lifestyle is not selfish. Your family and partner will benefit from your healthier cooking methods and increased nutritional knowledge and you may spur them on to pursue better health as well. The fitter you become, the better you will feel about yourself, which will improve your sex life, energy levels and general disposition, making your home life happier.

Challenge your thinking: Explain to your family, partner and friends what you hope to achieve through weight loss; that you will become happier, less moody and more energetic. This will help them see there are pluses for them as well. Remember that weight loss through exercising and eating well models good behaviour for those close to you, encouraging them to also adopt healthier habits that will help them live a longer, better life.

See yourself slim

Your mind is a powerful tool. It can help you overcome weight loss fears in readiness to embrace change. To support your weight loss efforts mindfully, engage in regular meditation for 20 minutes every day to restore calm and re-energise. Focus on relaxing the muscles in your body and listening to sounds around you. Now you are ready to engage in weight loss visualisation.

  • Bathe yourself in light: Visualise a beautiful golden light sweeping through your body from your head all the way to your toes. Imagine that the light is sweeping away your fears and cleansing your body of negative thoughts so you are ready to embrace lifestyle changes and weight loss.
  • Picture lifestyle changes: Make a mental picture of your body as it is now. Visualise little vignettes of yourself engaging in healthy behaviour such as eating fruit, walking along the beach, preparing a healthy salad and jogging at dusk. After each vignette, go back to the mental weight loss picture of your body, but each time make your mental snapshot of your physical size a little smaller, as though the kilos are melting away.
  • See yourself as you want to be: Imagine your body at a healthy weight, with your complexion glowing and muscles toned. Linger on this image and enjoy it, noticing how light and well you feel in your skin.

  • Find a chant: Maintain the image of your healthier body and play around with some weight loss words until you find a little motivating phrase or a word that makes you feel positive and uplifted. End your meditation by silently repeating this weight loss mantra.

Stephanie Osfield has been a freelance health journalist for 15 years.

Stephanie Osfield

Stephanie Osfield

Stephanie Osfield is an award-winning freelance health journalist. She is an advocate of nutritional medicine and specialises in all aspects of health, from exercise and disease prevention to stress, depression and women’s health issues.

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