ReelChatter of the Month
I started my journey to becoming a health coach when I was only eight years old, which is the first time I remember thinking, “I’m fat.”
When it comes to women’s weight, there is so much shame. Everywhere we look we’re told how to look, what to eat, and more importantly, what not to eat. As women, we’re told that we come last. Take care of everyone else first, then give yourself what’s left, even if it’s nothing. We’re told we’re only worthy if we’re able to talk about how busy we are.
When it comes to women’s weight loss, we’re bombarded with messages and images that make us feel less than. But when we try to make a behavior change from place of lack, we set ourselves up for cycles of defeat. Those cycles of defeat are laced with judgment and shame and only create more weight gain in our future.
There is a huge gap in social and emotional support when we look at weight loss and creating healthy behaviors.
Weight is a symptom.
It can be a symptom of anxiety, depression, perfectionism, loneliness, burnout, stress, fatigue, frustration, boredom, sadness, and so much more (or a combination of many of these). Assigning a diet and exercise program to someone who is struggling with these underlying issues is like giving someone pain medication for a broken arm. It doesn’t heal the bone; it temporarily masks some of the pain. The pain will keep coming back.
The first step to weight loss has to be understanding the root causes. That means getting curious about why we have tendencies to overeat, binge, overdrink, or emotionally eat.
Before I go on, if you struggle with any of this, I want to address the shame that comes with it. If you use food to cope, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. As humans, all eating is emotional. You aren’t broken. You aren’t out of control. You aren’t unworthy. These are all normal parts of our human experience, and our culture has created a perfect recipe for it.
This is something no one talks about, and it’s so important to understand and normalize. I’ve worked with so many women who hide this part of themselves. They sneak food, they worry about what other people would think if they knew, they constantly beat themselves up for eating. But I promise, it’s normal.
As part of human survival, our brains were created to find pleasure in food. When we eat, our brains release neurotransmitters that make us feel good. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have had the motivation to spend energy looking for food to survive.
As food production has evolved, companies learned that a bigger chemical reaction in our brains means increased sales. With time, food has become highly concentrated to promote a highly concentrated reaction in our brains. The more addicted people get to their product, the better. The easier it is for people to get food, the better.
In addition, as a culture, we’re stressed. We’re often exhausted, overstimulated, overworked, and overcommitted.
When we combine these two things with the pressure of diet culture and the shame around wanting these highly addictive foods, we’re set up to use food as a way to mask our negative emotions. The primal part of your brain thinks you need the exact food you’re trying not to eat for its survival.
To begin the process of untangling our relationship with emotional eating, we have to understand that relationship.
The first step in creating awareness is getting really curious about the times when we did the thing we don’t want to do. Most women have so much judgment and shame over their overeats that they block themselves from true understanding.
After we overeat, we go straight into judging ourselves, and directly into shame. There’s to space in our minds for understanding. Then that shame adds to the negative emotion we’re trying to cover up. It builds the need to overeat, and we do. The food temporarily makes us feel better, only to feel worse again. It becomes a cycle that feels impossible to break.
To know ourselves and to understand ourselves is key to creating a lasting behavior change. To begin the process, we can begin by answering these questions.
When is the last time I overate?
Was I physically hungry?
Where was I?
Who was I with?
How was I feeling?
What triggered those feelings?
What was I thinking before I ate?
What was I thinking while I was eating?
What was I thinking after I ate?
What did I do after I ate?
When you go through this process, it’s important to think about yourself in a curious and compassionate way. What would you tell a child, a friend, or a loved one? It’s not “You’re out of control and there’s something wrong with you.”
When you start to understand the thoughts and feelings triggering your eating, you begin to understand the root cause of your weight. That’s where the real work needs to be done. Not counting macros, avoiding carbs, fasting, or any of the other gimmicks we’re used to starting with.
Take as long as you need to build this awareness around how you eat. Once you understand it, you can begin to make a plan to change it.
When you understand the feelings you’re trying to mask with food, you can shift away from food and find healthier ways to manage them.
One of the most common objections I hear from women when they’re trying to lose weight is that they feel deprived when they diet. There’s a thought that deprivation happens to us - that deprivation is external.
The other end of deprivation is desire. When we have a strong desire for food based on our emotional connection to it, we feel deprivation when we take away the food.
The main problem with dieting is that it’s all about willpower. It’s about taking the food away without addressing the underlying desire for the food. Diets are temporary because willpower is a limited resource.
It’s important to understand that you create the desire for food in your mind, through thoughts about it and patterns of using food to manage emotions. Restricting the foods we desire reveals underlying neural pathways, addictions, habits, and feelings that need to be addressed.
Here are more questions you can answer that will help you understand yourself better:
What are the emotions I try to avoid on a daily basis?
When do I normally experience these emotions?
How does overeating affect these emotions?
How would your day look if you felt those emotions instead of overeating?
What other activities could I do that would help me manage these emotions that are not going to make me feel worse after?
These are often difficult questions to answer, but the wisdom in them is gold when you are on a journey toward changing your eating.
Where the mind goes, the body follows. This is a principle that is overlooked in our diet culture and our healthcare system.
Our body responds to our mind. Emotions are physical sensations in the body, as is pain and hunger.
If you consider the fear that comes with walking on a stage, it comes with physical feelings. A pounding heart, an upset stomach. I get cold and begin to shake. Our minds have the ability to make physical symptoms, but symptoms are treated as if they are all created from the body part that the symptom lives in.
Over the course of my journey, I’ve studied exercise physiology, psychology, health behavior, and the neuroscience of pain. I’ve coached women in weight loss, worked with physicians to research surgical outcomes, and overcome my own chronic pain and dysfunctional relationship with food and exercise.
As a coach, I help women create the connection between mind and body. I help them uncover the thoughts that are holding them back from better health and a better life.
Improved health is a lifestyle of caring for your mind and body. Diets try to convince us that there's a quick and temporary solution to our health. It isn't one big decision, it's the accumulation of many small decisions over time. So make one small change, own it, then focus on the next. This accumulation is where lasting change lives.
If you want to learn more about me or my coaching, please visit fitnesslovesflowers.com or follow @fitnesslovesflowers on Instagram. On my website, you’ll find a free workbook that can help you understand hunger and emotional eating. You can also sign up for a free coaching call to personalize this information to you.