Self sabotage and emotional eating… have you experienced either of these?
These are the terrible twins that hold so many people back from reaching their weight loss goals. But the good news is, we can do something about them.
This is a post about understanding the brain, and taking control of how we think, feel and act.
We’ll look at ways to manage stress, improve your self belief, and create results.
Let’s dive straight in.
Thoughts and emotions
We humans are fascinating creatures.
Our emotions are heavily influenced by what’s going on around us – people, circumstances, TV, adverts, social media. We are programmed to react to people and situations.
Here are a few examples –
- You have an argument with your partner and find yourself consumed with anger
- You’re given yet another task to do at work and suddenly experience overwhelm
- A negative news story pops up on your phone, and anxiety creeps in
- You eat a piece of cake, and it’s accompanied by guilt and frustration
These are all emotional states, and they impact our behaviour.
Most of us have learnt we can change our state through what we can find in the fridge or cupboard.
A bar (or few bars) of chocolate or a glass (or bottle) of wine… YES please. It’s like a great big hug at the end of a long hard day.
Feelings lead to actions – emotional eating. And our actions create results – frustration and weight gain.
But what we often don’t realise is that our emotional state, and therefore our feelings, are governed by something we have full control over – our thoughts.
This concept may seem super simple, but it’s so powerful to fully understand.
It is essentially that simple. In any situation, we can consciously choose how we think.
We can do this by reframing how we see things – choosing a different perspective – the perspective that serves us.
And it exponentially benefits us to do so. Especially if your thoughts are creating feelings you don’t like, and leading you to comfort yourself with food. Even if someone else has ’caused’ you to feel that way, the only person who suffers for it is you.
Change your thoughts…. direct your energy and focus towards what you can control… and you change how you feel, what you do, and the results you create.
Self sabotage and emotional eating
The more responsibility we can take for our thoughts, feelings and actions, the more we get to win in life.
We often create a lot of our own stress, without even realising it, due to the way we think.
This is understandable – most of us are never taught to effectively manage our mind. It’s something we’re expected to just know. And we learn from those who influence us as we grow up. Unfortunately, if the people around us have bad thought habits (as many do), we pick them up and adopt them as our own.
In a world where it’s easy to fall prey to anxiety, perfectionism, low self esteem, over-analysing, worry (or all of the above!), it can easily create a negative cycle that leads to self sabotage.
Here are a few examples of self sabotage and emotional eating…
- Feeling bored at home, you use food for some tasty entertainment
- You’re anxious about a task you know you should be doing (maybe being a perfectionist and worrying it wont be good enough?), so you procrastinate with a snack
- You’re emotionally drained after a long day and order pizza rather than cook the dinner you’d planned
- The kids are stressing you out, so you grab a bar of chocolate to calm down
- You step on the scales and the little bastard shows no weight loss. WTF? So you head to the kitchen cupboards (because “what’s the point? It’s not working anyway…”).
These are all disempowering states.
And the more time you spend there, feeling unhappy, frustrated, overwhelmed, peed off at the scales… The less control you have over what you do. This is where you end up making choices that don’t serve you.
But once we learn how to manage our state, things can change rapidly.
How to manage stress – resilience
The goal is to become resilient and resourceful.
We want to increase our ability to handle problems and keep ourselves on track.
This is key to your success, both in weight loss and many other areas of life. And it comes down to how you manage your state.
Here’s an example. When your state is one of calm and confidence, it’s much easier to be creative and overcome challenges. You think clearly and act decisively. You don’t waste time and energy worrying about what others think. Best of all, you feel a sense of belief in yourself, take action, and make things happen.
On the other hand, when you are in a state of stress and overwhelm, your creativity is blocked. In this state we become blind to possibilities. Emotional eating is now a very tempting ‘solution’. Deep down you know it’s a temporary fix (that doesn’t fix anything). But in the moment, you can’t see the other options.
If your brain is used to responding to negative emotions by emotional eating, that’s what it will do every time. But remember, there is nothing wrong with you. At one point your brain decided to try food as a solution… it felt good in the moment… so you repeated it… quite a few times… and now you’ve got a well-established unhelpful habit.
The good news is, like any habit, you can break it or replace it with a better one.
To lose weight and keep it off for good, we need to learn to find non-food ways to change our emotional state.
This is a quote David Godfrey, Mindset Coach and author of the book Think Straight, Lose Weight (which I highly recommend):
“Learning to manage your mental and emotional state is the most important skill you can develop in order to succeed in your body transformation goals. I cannot emphasise this enough.”
That means choosing thoughts, feelings and actions that enable you to be the best version of you, and support the life you want to live.
How to feel better – Changing your state
There are two main factors that influence how you feel:
- Your body language
- Your mental focus
Body language is incredibly powerful. In fact, what you do with your body has the power to override the words you say to yourself. Put simply – your body tells your brain how to feel.
Here’s an example of this…
Imagine you’re trying to motivate yourself to give an important presentation at work.
You’ve read that it’s a good idea to talk positively to yourself – so you try some Tony Robbins style self coaching. You’re looking in the mirror and telling yourself – ‘YOU CAN DO THIS! You’re brilliant! You’ll nail it!’.
But you feel a bit embarrassed, and there’s not much conviction. In the mirror you see yourself with your shoulders slumped, looking terrified and like you have no idea what the hell you’re doing. Who is this strange person?
Your posture radiates doubt and insecurity, so that’s what your body picks up. It ignores the words in your head, and you feel what your body language reflects. Insecure, nervous, no clue what you’re doing, bit of a weirdo.
You walk out displaying this in your body language, and the presentation doesn’t go well.
Now let’s flip it.
Imagine that while saying those positive uplifting affirmations, you look in that mirror and see your posture isn’t the best.
So you change it. You pull your shoulders back and stand up tall, like a strong self-assured person would do.
You breathe deep and lift your head up. A calm, confident smile spreads across your face.
Because you know that you look calm and strong, you begin to feel calm and strong too. Although still a little nervous, you walk out exuding confidence. And you nail that presentation.
High five sista!
Fake it til you make it
What you say to yourself is crucial. Your self talk matters a lot. But your body language and posture must line up with that too. If they don’t, that’s something you can change.
Aim to embody the most confident person you can think of.
‘Fake it til you make it’. You don’t have to believe it – do it anyway and experiment with how it feels.
Just standing tall with shoulders back and a smile on your face can make all the difference.
So that’s body language, now let’s move on to focus.
Focus and limiting beliefs
None of us actually have a true representation of reality.
There is so much sensory information all around us that it would be physically impossible to take it all in. So the vast majority of what’s happening gets filtered out.
Your brain is selective with this filtering process, and it bases its decisions on your current thoughts and beliefs.
Beliefs are thoughts that have been repeated so many times that we now see them as facts.
I’m not good enough.
I’ll never succeed at this.
I haven’t got the willpower / I love food too much / I’ll always be fat / blah blah blah.
Just because you think a thought, you don’t have to believe it.
When we think negative thoughts, we mentally rehearse the behaviours that we don’t want to do. How many times has your brain reminded you of times you’ve ‘failed’, given in to emotional eating, and done things you wished you hadn’t done?
Anytime we vividly imagine something, we strengthen that neural pathway in the brain, and actually make it more likely we’ll do it again.
We filter for all those past failures and forget times we’ve done well.
The brain finds, follows and creates what we think about. So we need to change our focus, and filter for what we WANT.
This means you need to decide what you want and write it down.
Then start taking small action steps towards it.
Keep your focus relentlessly on what you want, and look for all the wins along the way. Your brain will get distracted, ruminate on the things you didn’t do well, and tell you you’re failing… that’s all ok. Whenever you notice this has happened, redirect to what you want, and keep going.
How to stop emotional eating and start believing in yourself
One of the most powerful ways you can increase your self-belief is to make promises to yourself that you keep.
That means setting simple, realistic goals and intentions, and following through. This could be as simple as writing down what you will eat for the day. Don’t write down the perfect diet day. Write down what you will actually eat. Even if it’s pizza.
The goal is not to be perfect. The goal is to build self trust. By writing down what you plan to do, and then doing it, your brain starts to trust what you say. If your choices are not fully aligned with your goals (like planning pizza on a regular basis when you want to lose weight) it will start to question that. This is brilliant and exactly what we want.
What many people do is plan the perfect diet, succumb to emotional eating, order pizza, and build the association that a) they can’t trust themselves, and b) pizza means comfort and stress relief. When you actually plan for it, your brain starts believing that you follow through. And it also starts to say ‘hey, you know what? Maybe this isn’t the best choice if we want to lose weight… let’s choose something better this time’.
Reverse psychology on your own brain – surprisingly powerful. Give it a try.
Summary – key points to stop emotional eating
Our feelings and actions are driven by our thoughts.
When feelings are creating actions that don’t make you happy, you can change it.
You can learn how to manage your emotional state, avoid emotional eating, and become resilient and resourceful in times of stress. Changing your body language and your focus are two quick and effective ways to do this.
Direct your brain towards positive beliefs and affirmations – if it dwells on negative limiting beliefs, redirect. Enhance your self belief and self trust by making promises to yourself that you keep.
Then notice and celebrate all the wins. They all add up.
If you would love to be supported and guided through this process, this is what we focus on in online coaching