What a week! I just got back from Paris and have the worst jet lag of all time. The good news? I get a lot done when I’m up at 4:00 am. This week I’ve been writing about a quick way to change the habit of overeating. It’s a tool to lose weight that has nothing to do with dieting. Listen in to this week’s podcast to understand clearly how it works. It works for people who have developed a habit of drinking too much as well. Really, this two step tool works with any behavior you want to change.
Recently, I started using this tool with a client I’ve been seeing for a while. She’s smart and kind, always bubbling with energy. She is a woman who overcame an incredibly traumatic childhood in which there was abuse, neglect and addiction. This week, she told me she is worried about the amount of alcohol she drinks. It started out as something she did on the weekends, sometimes to excess. Then she started drinking a glass of wine with dinner. The one glass has grown to two, sometimes more, and she doesn’t like it. She wants to stop but it has become a habit.
This is the same dynamic I see with people who routinely overeat. Almost every woman I work with wants to lose weight. They all wish they could stop the mindless eating. One woman I worked with would start the day with conviction to eat healthy, but by 4:00 she would be grabbing junk in the break room, or getting some chips at the vending machine. When she got home, she would eat in front of the television and graze after dinner. She never gave enough credit to how her workplace made her feel during the day and how this contributed to her stress and overeating.
One thing is certain, food and alcohol are powerful. They numb our feelings and give us temporary satisfaction and relief. We use food and alcohol to cope with every feeling there is. We eat when we are stressed, let down, bored, and to celebrate everything from the end of a day to the beginning of a weekend. We go out to eat to connect with people and we eat to quell loneliness. We eat comfort food to deal with not getting a job, and we go out to eat to celebrate getting the job. You get my point. Food can easily become our cure for every feeling. Food and alcohol become the answer to everything.
One way to stop the habit of overeating and drinking, which can result in addiction and obesity, is to start intentionally using an easy two-step system to deal with feelings in a better way. Of course it is nice to come home from a stressful day, turn on the news and get some cheese, crackers and wine. That will numb, distract and taste wonderful. However, it might not address the real feelings the day brought up. Perhaps one day, you open the wine to deal with some stress. Maybe the next day, you get out chips and salsa while ruminating about your co-worker who is so difficult. The next day, you eat to celebrate a raise. The truth is, it’s better to address the feeling you’re having with a behavior designed to address that particular feeling.
Get in the habit of asking yourself throughout the day, “What am I feeling?” This is step one. It seems basic and it is. However, most of us aren’t aware of the changes in our feelings throughout the day. Maybe in the morning we are exhausted and then after lots of caffeine and sugar, we are up and feeling energized for a while. We might feel happy. Then we get a crash in the afternoon, especially when the boss says we need to stay late to finish a report. Maybe then we feel frustration. Hence the trip to the vending machine. When we get home, the frustration is still there. Instead of just grabbing some food, ask yourself what is the best way to deal with frustration. This is step two.
Step 1: Ask yourself how you are feeling.
Step 2: Pair the feeling with another behavior that directly addresses the feeling.
Step 2 involves awareness of what traditionally, makes you feel better when you feel a certain way. For example, if you are angry, what you might need is cardiovascular exercise. Food could soothe but nothing works out anger and frustration like vigorous exercise. Maybe if you are feeling down, taking your dog for a walk would address the feeling. Being outside and spending time with your dog might be the thing to improve your mood. Upset? Take a bath or curl up with a book you love. You get the concept. If you decide you want to use food and drinks to celebrate and connect with friends, great! I do too. Creating specific behaviors for all the other feelings that come up, will result in greater happiness and fewer unwanted pounds.
Lots of people struggle with this tool because they are tired at the end of the day. Or they have to be home with their kids. I get that there are times in your life that this tool is hard. Maybe to deal with stress, you can only go to your room and do a meditation for 10 minutes. Maybe you have to invest in some exercise equipment at your house in order to get some movement in. In terms of energy, I know for a fact that exercise will give you more energy. Taking a walk and clearing your head will make you feel better. Taking a bath will relax you. Stretching for a bit, or deep breathing for a few minutes will help you regroup to handle all the stuff that needs to get done like laundry and dishes. If it sounds like extra work for a day that’s already hard, I get it. No one said health was easy. I know it’s hard. But, if you are like so many people who are sick and tired of feeling ruled by bad habits, give this a try!
You can listen to me talk through this in the podcast by clicking ‘play’ below or in the following places:
Have a wonderful week!
Shannon Connery, Ph.D.