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Why can’t you keep your weight off? — The 8 Essential Rules for Weight Maintenance

29 Oct

Recidivism among dieters has prompted major revisions in treatment methodology as researchers discover the significant contributions of genetics, psychology, and environmental factors to eating behavior. More than 85% of Americans have dieted during their lifetimes, yet the majority of diets offer little flexibility to accommodate the biopsychosocial components of the dieter’s life. Weight regain is virtually inevitable under these circumstances as self-regulation and emotional management deteriorate. No longer can the traditional focus of nutrition from the calories in versus calories out approach; exercise; and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) be considered the gold standard intervention trifecta. Studies report a 98% relapse (weight regain) rate following weight loss. Approximately 50% is gained back after three years and the rest gained back after five years. While discouraging, we can learn a lot from the two percent who are successful maintainers. What do they do? How do they think? Where do they differ in regards to behavior? Research accessing the lived experiences of successful and unsuccessful maintainers offer rich details that those of us who are actively engaged in the weight loss process and preparing to embark into maintenance can begin applying.

 

1.     Be constantly vigilant: The dedication you implement during weight loss must continue during maintenance. The effort you put toward your health cannot stop once you have reached your goal weight. Ask what you are doing now that you are willing to continue with when you achieve your goal. Defensive pessimism, a concept described in the weight loss literature, explains the adoption of an approach with a foothold in reality. Successful maintainers anticipate threats that may occur, know that there will be times they struggle, and plan ahead accordingly. Any goal that is met with commitment is one we will work toward with a “no matter what” attitude. Relying on motivation for goal achievement will lead to disappointment—we will often “not feel like it” or “not want to” do something, but those who keep on keeping on understand the fleeting nature of feelings. With practice, they can more easily move past them and onto how happy and encouraged they will feel if they follow through with what they know is in their best interest. Self-determination theory classifies these types of goals as intrinsic. Weaved into the fabric of our lives, intrinsic goals parallel our core values.

 

2.     Develop a support system: Not only is support the number one factor contributing to well-being and resilience, it is a primary element in maintaining commitment to weight maintenance related behaviors. While research shows that responsibilities in other contexts, such as familial, relationship, career, etc. can create tension that can lead to goal-compromising behaviors, having a support network minimizes the negative effects of goal threats.

 

3.     Challenge your ingrained beliefs and behaviors: Most individuals who have been on and off of diets for most of their lives acknowledge the entrenched beliefs and meanings around food often created in childhood. Food as comfort, food as love, and food as a stress reliever are three of the most commonly held attachments to food. Many of us grew up hearing “clean your plate” or “you can have dessert when you finish your dinner.” Throwing away food was unacceptable. On the other hand, many are brought up in households of abundance. Food was always available and access unconnected to hunger. In essence, it was used as a pacifier when negative emotion was experienced (i.e. getting a cookie from during a time of upset). Successful maintainers become conscious of their motivations to eat and begin rewriting their narratives about food and the relationship they want to have with it.

 

4.     Self-monitor: The National Weight Control Registry is a wealth of information from over 10,000 individuals who have lost and maintained their weight for significant periods of time. Self-monitoring is one behavior you will hear them mention repeatedly as critical to their weight maintenance success. Practical aspects of monitoring include consistent weight tracking, monitoring of portions, engaging in regular exercise, and setting boundaries around eating practices. Emotional monitoring to avoid engaging in stress eating or eating for reasons unrelated to hunger include practicing awareness and management of stress, choosing more effective methods of dealing with negative

emotion, but also being flexible and compassionate with one’s self when setbacks occur.

 

5.     Adopt a growth mindset: Carol Dweck, a researcher from Stanford University, has studied the difference between a growth versus a fixed mindset and its impact on goal achievement. Individuals who take steps toward their goals with a growth mindset focus on discovery and exploration and believe that through learning they can develop skills and enhanced knowledge and proficiencies. It encourages persistence and expectations of failure for the purpose of greater success. We learned to walk by falling! A fixed mindset, on the other hand, encourages one to give up easily and reduces the likelihood that grit will be extended toward mastering something new. The concept of neuroplasticity and the manner in which we can be active participants through adulthood in changing our brains should provide ample evidence and motivation to continue learning! The growth mindset spurs individuals to be on the lookout for opportunities, and expansion of one’s biases and normal ways of behaving increases gray matter in the areas that matter most too. Your prefrontal cortex will thank you! Finally, successful maintainers adopt a non-perfectionistic approach. While they may not like failure, they embrace it and give themselves permission to experience it; they allow versus avoid painful emotions and disappointment, thus positioning themselves toward greater pleasure; and they are grateful for their successes.

 

6.     Be structurally flexible: Successful maintainers understand how rigid food rules and depriving themselves of their favorite foods creates more cravings, more urges, and the propensity to binge. They realize that they can’t eat whatever, whenever, but they plan for indulgences in moderation. Structured flexibility gives them a sense of control without the belief that willpower will carry them through the tougher situations. They learn to ask questions of their cravings and check in with themselves to understand what might be driving their urge to eat. They practice recognition of black and white/all or nothing thinking as well as distorted thinking that propels them toward mindless or emotional eating. For example, the use of “I choose not to” versus “I can’t eat that” feels empowering and more intrinsically motivating. Being structured but flexible means having high expectations in combination with the understanding that uncertainty is inevitable and will require reflexivity and responsiveness rather than impulsivity.

 

7.    Develop a toolbox of strategies: Different contexts demand different strategies. What is effective in one situation may not be appropriate for another. But successful maintainers know that they have the choice to change their environments or change the way in which they respond to them. In some contexts, an “if__________, then____________” approach can work well. This is called an implementation intention. For example, “If Don asks me if I want some dessert, then I will say ‘no thank you’ and excuse myself.” In other contexts a more flexible, responsive approach is needed. This could mean drinking more water when a cravings is felt; pausing to really assess physiological hunger; repeating a motivational, empowering mantra; asking a question to increase awareness; and/or slowing down during a meal to fully experience satisfaction and reduce overeating. In essence, successful maintainers create rituals—new patterns of behavior that help to create lasting, meaningful change.

 

8.    Master mindfulness: Successful maintainers describe how they’ve acquired a new sense of themselves—about their bodies, about their minds, and about their lives and what is important to them. As they have practiced opening up to new experiences, objectively assessing their circumstances, and observing their behavior less judgmentally, they see their lives through new lenses. They practice being present, more compassionate, paying attention, deepening their awareness, avoiding avoidance, and intentionality. Through such practices, a successful maintainer can recognize that different identities sit down to eat sometimes – identities based on prior learning, on comparisons of self to others, and ideas about what others believe.

 

Don’t miss out on the discussion! Tell us about your emotional triggers and the biggest difficulties you’ve had as you move toward your goal of weight loss OR if you’re working on keeping it off! What bogs you down and gets in your way?

Starving, Stressed, and Stockpiling

1 Sep

We’re involved in a crisis. It’s epic. It’s huge. Just like we are.

We’re starving. Yet we’re fat. Ironic.

We’re suffering from a severe deficiency. As much as we eat, and we’re lacking nourishment.

Our bodies are deprived and I argue it’s because we’ve lost our minds. Literally.

When I hear “Kori, I’m hungry…all the time”, as a nutrition consultant, I go automatically to the structure of the diet. The nuts and bolts– what are you eating, when are you eating it, how  much are you eating when you’re eating. I’m looking at the blood sugar response they are creating based on these components of their intake. This is not a comprehensive list, of course.

The second place I go though, and the fact that I’m a therapist makes this a bit less daunting for them (or it’s the reason they’ve come to me in the first place), is straight to the heart of the matter. The heart, and what I’d argue is the center of our wisdom. What’s in there is what we’re constantly trying to feed, except the nourishment (or what we’re mistaking for nourishment) we’re giving it often leaves us feeling more empty, more deprived, and more hungry.

So we’re starving. But it’s not for lack of food. We’re starving for contentment, we’re starving for authenticity, we’re starving for connection, we’re starving for competence, we’re starving for worth, we’re starving for freedom, we’re starving for the creative capacity to be ourselves in a world that says we’re not good enough as we are, we’re starving for presence, we’re starving for attention. (By the way, as I was typing this my cat jumped on my lap and didn’t stop meowing in my face until I paid attention to him. The second I met his eyes, even without touching him, and spoke softly to him, he stopped crying, laid down, and fell asleep).

Wrapped up in this spiritual starvation (and by this I just mean the “whole” of who we are) is the stress response. When I say we’re starving for attention, I am not referring to the attention we get from others, although this is likely an unfortunate reality in our automated, digital world, which has us developing less genuine relationships with others; I’m speaking to the attention we’re giving the moments of our lives– the awareness with which we approach each situation, event, person, task, meal. The attention we put into this second, right now determines our embodiment– the essence of our being, how in tune I am to what’s occurring around me and inside of me, and how open I am to experiencing this experience. Sound a bit hokey?

Consider the results of a published in Gastroenterology assessing the concept of “dichotomous listening.” (Imagine being at work and trying to listen to the individual on the phone when your boss walks in and starts talking about some new ideas he’s been wanting to share with you– I know you’ve been there). In this study the subjects were given a mineral drink when in a relaxed state, and then again when exposed to the same sort of situation as the one described above. Absorption for sodium and chloride was tested for both conditions. Absorption in the small intestine occurred at a rate of 100% for the relaxed group. Care to guess the rate for the distracted group?

Zero.

Paying attention to two things at the same time resulted in 0% absorption. (Now think about what happens when you inhale your meal sitting in front of the television with your computer on your lap checking for text messages on your smart phone).

Now back to the stress response. Something similar happens when you’re in fight or flight mode. First, remember how this response came about- it was necessary and useful when we were at risk of being eaten by lions. The threats of the 21st century are far from life-altering. Well, let me rephrase. What we are perceiving as threatening in the activities of our daily lives do not necessitate the kill or be killed reaction. Second, digestion stops when we’re in stress mode. There’s a reason that the opposite mode, governed by the parasympathetic nervous system, promotes “rest and digest”, and aptly, the “feed and breed” activities. When you’re stressed out, all you can think about is sex, right? (I had to go there). Finally, the stress response prompts fat storage through an increase in cortisol production which dumps glycogen, then glucose into the blood stream, causing a subsequent release in insulin, and when insulin is released you cannot burn body fat—it prompts fat storage.

Which brings me to the stockpiling effect. Most of us appear to be living in big bodies, yet we’re not at all operating with big minds. We’re not big thinkers– curious, inquisitive, open, captivated by ourselves and others. No, instead we’re mindless automatons just doing what everyone else is or what everyone else says we should, and eating what others say is best for our bodies with no clue as to the effects. So we’re stockpiling fat and we’re stockpiling meaningless information, and we’re doing it in a less than thoughtful or aware way. Fritz Perls, an 1800’s, astute psychotherapist and father of Gestalt Therapy, said, “awareness cures.” I couldn’t agree more. Particularly when you consider what’s involved with assimilation of the food we eat.

Wrap your brains around this: the cephalic phase digestive response (CPDR) relates to the “experience” of eating– the textures, the aromas, the colors, and the satisfaction surrounding a meal. It is,  in essence, a digestive mechanism that originates from the tops of our bodies– cephalic means “of the head.” Recall the last time you were google-eyed over the brownies you saw on your friend’s Pinterest board  or when you drove by Jimmy John’s (their marketing is brilliant) and caught a whiff of their “free smells.” Catching that fresh baked bread aroma wafting through the air and you may have noticed an instant salivary response. That’s the CPDR in action! Just by noticing a food, smelling a food, and then if you actually decide to eat, and are tasting and chewing the food, your body releases increasing amounts of saliva, gastric and digestive juices, pancreatic enzymes, hormones involved in appetite, and so forth. So this is great, right? Our bodies are pretty darn efficient and know what they need to function well. Except, what if we’re not following Fritz’s advice, and we’re operating like we’re living in the Zombie apocalypse?  Oblivious, stressed out, checked out, and maxed out? And what if we’re freaked out about not losing weight quickly enough or the “right” way? And what if we’re obsessed with the Food Network and spend all of our time stockpiling recipes and drooling over pictures in magazines of meals that we “can’t eat” or “won’t fit our macros” or maybe even making them but stockpiling them for later “when we’re not dieting anymore.”

I’ll bring your full circle. Are you paying attention?

You’ve created the optimal metabolic position for fat storage outside of any caloric considerations.

Nourishment travels far beyond food. Our brains and our minds must experience pleasure through the food, by way of awareness and presence to function in a manner that says, “I’m full.” You know what it feels like when you’ve had a heart to heart with your best friend? You feel full. You feel nourished. There is no gnawing hunger ‘for more’.

We can experience the same and cure our deprivation crisis with awareness.

How’s Your Metabolism?

29 Aug

This past Tuesday, Dr. Joe gave a workshop on metabolic positioning. The goal was to explain how we can set ourselves up in a healthy, physiologically sound, science-based way for maximum fat loss. He explained to our viewers and attendees how the body utilizes carbohydrates and described the 3-stage process of energy usage for sustaining the most optimal metabolic position. The concepts he covered are largely misunderstood. The on-again, off-again nature of diets has people losing and gaining “the same 2 or 3 lbs” every week and banging their heads up against the wall wondering what’s wrong with them that they can’t lose weight.

However, once an individual understands and has applied this knowledge, the body kicks into a metabolic firepower mode. It’s no longer a mystery. “OH! Now I get it!” we’ll hear. “So when I overeat I’m storing energy that my body has to  use before it will go back to burning fat again.” Yep. Great, we’ve got that down.

What happens though when this person–who admits to being an emotional eater, to really struggling with food and acknowledges that he uses food under any circumstance that stirs up uncomfortable emotion, whether it be anxiety, boredom, discouragement, anger–has no concept of his emotional metabolism and how IT can be optimally positioned?

Studies show that at the top of the list among individuals who are obese, who have weight issues and struggle with their food relationships, who have dieted over and over and over again, or who have disordered eating lack one crucial skill– the ability to metabolize their emotions. Call it what you like- emotional eating, stress eating, using food to soothe, disordered eating, binge eating. Food is not being used to nourish. No, it’s a mechanism used to numb, forget, disembody, check out, and step out of life.

Emotional metabolism involves learning about how to change your relationship with food and your understanding of its effect on your body, but more importantly, learning how to change your relationship with yourself.

In so much of my work with clients who have lost significant amounts of weight and have kept it off, the overwhelming sentiment that differentiates them from those who continue losing and gaining is the internal shift they experienced and practiced. They learned how to view their bodies in a new way, to create a home within them, and choosing to live instead of die. They chose life. With all the emotions, hurt, ups and down and all-arounds that come with it, they chose experience. They chose to respond versus react. They chose to explore rather than ignore. They chose to ask rather than attack.

In my own personal journey the turning point was a question about life: “You know you’re killing yourself, Kori?” The walk back to my dorm from Student Health is as vivid as if it occurred yesterday-  my feet felt like cement blocks, the vice around my lungs threatened to squeeze them through my throat, and I choked on my tears. It was in that moment that I chose life.

And now I choose to step up instead of out. I choose to be curious instead of catastrophic. I choose to breathe into being me instead of belittling myself. You have the same choice to make–your metabolic position depends on it.

(Check out my series on Changing Your Relationship with Food as part of my podcast program. Parts 1 & 2 are available on our website).

Face the Space…and Speak Your Truth

6 Aug

Victor Frankl said, “Between the stimulus and the response this is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

On my recent vacation I noticed the spaciousness that I felt- a sense of boundless energy unencumbered by the familiar minutiae of my days and the never-ending task list. I felt free.  Free to explore, free to be curious, and free to just be.

now clockWhat I encounter so often with those I work with however, is not this sense of space, with time and opportunity opening up to them. It’s a confining, imprisoned clinging to a pseudo-safe space. The space is small and not so tidy. It’s filled with fear and distrust of themselves. And it leads to a gravitation toward certainty, extremes, and control. The client who binged, for example, and then went immediately to setting up a new, rigid structure with which to follow for the next week.

The space I felt operated on a continuum…like the circular motion of the clock hands. No end and no beginning. Just perpetual motion. The space I see so many others contort themselves into is a narrow, limiting, suffocating space.

We keep looking for perfection...This type of space is what the pursuit of perfection feels like. And perfection grants us no choice but to strive to be someone better, someone smarter, someone prettier, someone with more willpower…you name it. Perfection says to us, “Once you accomplish __________(fill in the blank), THEN you can__________________.”

As a woman I think we’re faced with a different space than men. We have varied challenges to contend with. Sure, I’m speaking in generalities, but think about it. Our space has historically been the home. Our space has historically been with the children. Our space has culturally been to accommodate the needs of others and fill the care-taking space. Our space is genetically and biologically more emotional, yet so often we’re chastised for showing our feelings and “being emotional.” Hence, our space is often rife with a twisted, confused, and desperate longing. Our space is gradually opening up to allow us to speak our truths, however, and some of us take that space more readily than others, but it’s a conflicted space.

Trust YourselfThe space demands that we learn how to trust ourselves. And in trusting we learn how to let go of the expectations that we’ve let cling to us–the unrealistic expectations that we’ve created, the expectations of others, and the assumptions we make about what and how we need to be. We’re not victims. Far from it. And we’re not criminals for wanting to have a voice and our own truths apart of what we believe we SHOULD be.  But we can erroneously begin to take on that role and end up building our own prisons- a space with solid, iron bars and minimal light to allow us to grow into who we really are.

I described this compelling imprisonment to a client of mine just this morning: so often we’re navigating our days in automatic pilot mode. We’re putting out fires, we’re crossing off the items on our lists, we’re accommodating the needs of others, and we’re barely aware of what we’re thinking, what we’re feeling, and what space we’re in. Until the day is over or we MAKE a space, intentionally and deliberately, to check in with our truth in the moment, and we finally breathe and realize just how much of a magnet we have been all day. We look down at ourselves and we’ve got stuff just hanging on us. And we can pick it off, piece by piece, and decide what can stay and what needs to be let go of. But without the space, we become everyone else’s truths, just dragging our own behind us…or barely aware of what they are at all.

Your Truth Sounds Exactly Like FreedomAnother client today spoke directly of perfection being a problem for her. If she were to step into a freeing space, we could examine together how her perfection is less a problem but more a signal of a deep desire to be and do something, to experience a sense of mastery, of purpose, but taken to an unrealistic extreme.  Underneath the behaviors and black and white thinking is intelligence and wisdom and talent. It was just taken too far. Stilted from ever getting past a certain point in various areas of her life she wondered why she couldn’t follow through. Perfectionism. With the goal of being perfect, a setback would annihilate her self-confidence and be the proof that she just wasn’t good enough. If she were to face the space and step into it intentionally and vigilantly every time she felt that controlling pressure to “succeed”, or every time she heard that voice that says, “See, you can’t do it” or “How come you can’t get it right…” she could then ask, “What is it that I can let go of now?”

If you were to face your space, step into it, honor and embody it, what truth would you speak? How would you respond differently? How would your life blossom?

Willpower as a Scapegoat?

11 Apr

Yesterday I started the day with willpower on the brain. No, I was not thinking I needed to exert it  or muster up the energy to power through a difficult task. I was thinking through what I wanted to cover in my Willpower podcast scheduled for later that afternoon.

My Willpower is Stronger than my Won'tI had decided to title it Willpower Without White Knuckles because of the common misconception that willpower is this intangible, mysterious concept that we are either born with or without and if we’re unfortunate enough to have been left with the short end of the stick, then we’re white -knuckling our way through the effort it takes to meet a goal, stop procrastinating, achieve a task, you name it. Whether it’s dieting to lose weight, increasing exercise to gain strength and enhance our functionality, or studying each night to get closer each day to holding that diploma, willpower is at play. We’ve all got it- some of us are just better at using it, and each time we do, we strengthen it!

As I was contemplating how I wanted to convey what willpower is, isn’t, and what makes some of us more effective at utilizing it, I came to the conclusion that there’s something besides a lack of it that can get in our way. If we’re always thinking that it’s willpower that is going to power us through the tough stuff, does that give us license to take a free pass when we perceive that “I just don’t have it in me today”?

In short, I want you to consider how you might be using willpower as an excuse to NOT do what’s congruent with your goals. Are you looking at progress that you’ve made and the willpower you’ve already exerted and using that as justification for doing something outside of what is between the lines of the path to your dreams? “Meh, a little detour won’t take me too far off course…..I avoided the cupcakes that Anne brought in for the birthday at work! I deserve this chocolate after dinner.” Or this, “I exercised for an hour this morning, so I can afford to eat this burger and fries for lunch.” Or this, “Well at least I only had 4 slices of Efficacypizza…before, man, I would have eaten half of the whole pizza!”

Stop! How does this make sense? If losing weight is your goal, how does eating the chocolate help facilitate you getting closer?  It doesn’t.  The cupcakes- One challenge that was approached successfully. The chocolate- A separate challenge. The exercise- One step in the many steps toward losing weight. Eating a healthy lunch- a completely independent step toward that same goal. Four slices was two more than you had committed to eating when it was served.  Don’t let your feel-good emotions or comparisons get in the way of remembering what your goal is in the first place, and don’t mistake your progress toward the goal as having reached the goal.
Willpower without white knuckles means thinking one step at a time, objectively. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot to Each Step Brings you Closer to the Finish Lineavoid tripping over yourself. If you find yourself saying, “I just need more willpower!”, take that a step further:

  • Assess where you get tripped up.
  • Under what circumstances are decisions that you’re less than thrilled about happening?
  • Are you justifying? Reasoning?
  • Listen to the stories you’re telling yourself that get you out of taking responsibility. 

STOP!!

27 Feb

Stop the MadnessNeed a simple strategy to become more aware RIGHT NOW?

If you struggle with road rage (I often find my ugliest self comes out on the road- what is up with people who pull out without looking?!); feeling like your brain is going to jump out of your skull with racing thoughts; never feeling like you can get ahead with your 10-mile long to-do list; and irritated at the slightest of situations, try this:

When you recognize you’re acting like a crazed person or you notice you’re trying to avoid what’s right in front of you (distracted, eating when you aren’t hungry, for example):

Say to yourself STOP
S: stop and recognize where you’re at and what you’re doing
T: Take a breath…two…even three, big deep ones
O: Observe what’s happening for you in the moment (IN YOUR BODY)…is there tension?  Where?
P: Practice responding in a way that’s congruent and matches your goals.

Your breathing is always with you. Use it to your advantage. Tune into how one big, deep breath changes your physiology and how the tension dissipates. When you are better able to be with your breath, you are more internally aware.

Try doing this a few times a day.

Can you trust your struggle?

13 Feb

Lean Into DiscomfortI’ve been practicing more and more  “leaning in” to my anxiety.

Using what I notice my body is conveying to me– the racing mind, lack of focus, tense shoulders, heavy sighs, and fidgitiness — as a signal to tune in to the feeling as opposed to galvanizing my energy to run away from it, I find I’m not less comfortable like you might think would occur. In fact, when I realize that I am the same as my experience (I am the anxiety), there is nothing to run away from.

When I do this I think of the saying,  “Wherever you go, there you are.” We suffer most when we attempt to push away from us what we are experiencing, right?

If we are our experience though, we are one with it. If we absorb our experience, we relieve ourselves of rigidity. If we refrain from building a wall that we mistakenly think will protect us from it, we respond with greater flexibility. We are more resilient.

Like the reboundability and quick recovery that athletes practice — the  mental toughness that we all desire more of.

Trust Your Struggle

Like a willow tree that bends in the wind yet remains firmly planted in the ground.

Like the water you slide into when you immerse yourself into a warm bath.

If we learn to lean into our discomfort, won’t we suffer less? Grow more?

Can you trust your struggle?

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