Keeping our promises to ourselves – why is this so hard?
You wake up each day and promise yourself that today will be different. Or you plan for the beginning of the next month. Or you decide the day after your next birthday is when you will start. This is when you will (re?) start your health drive.
We already know how this story ends. Somehow life gets in the way – the stressful morning, or the night out with the girls, or the complete exhaustion, or the fight with your spouse etc.
Why is using willpower to achieve healthy eating so difficult?
Whatever the reason, your initial resolve is undermined. You succumb to 'naughty' foods. And then the guilt kicks in. Actually, the real culprit here is not the initial fall from grace, but the guilt.
Guilt feelings are stress feelings. Stress impacts your judgement and stress actually drives us towards food. In addition, stress actually slows down the metabolism making it harder to shift weight - see my earlier article Why some calories are more equal than others.
Our brains are wired to stay with the familiar – this is how come we develop habits. If I asked you to try sleeping on the other side of the bed tonight you would realise how strange even such a simple act feels and how hard you have to think about it just to accomplish this simple task.
Because we are wired to stay with the familiar, our brain will keep reminding us of the familiar eating patterns we are used to.
These habits and patterns show up in all sorts of places:
- Time of the day – it’s the morning I must eat breakfast.
- Feelings – I’m bored, a biscuit will keep me entertained / I’m sad I need a hot chocolate.
- Social setting – I’m at a BBQ, of course, I should be eating / I’m in a meeting with biscuits laid on, certainly don’t want to waste them / I’m at the cinema, whoever heard of watching a movie with no snacks
I could go on…And once we succumb, the stress feelings brought on by guilt erode our resolve even further and we end up back where we started.
Busting through habits that do not serve
We have already determined that changing our habits does not happen just because we wish for different habits.
My experience with myself and with my clients has shown that two key elements can make a big difference when working to create new habits.
This first one is obvious. Having more information about which foods serve our particular bodies and temperament can help us make informed decisions when we are choosing what to eat. 'Superfoods' like avocados, nuts and seeds are great for us however overindulgence in these calorie-dense foods is not going to be very helpful if part of our health drive is to lose weight.
I remember many moons ago consuming a litre of orange juice each day because it is full of vitamin C right? What no one had told me was how much sugar I was consuming with my vitamin C.
By the way, it is worth noting that the term 'superfood' was coined for marketing purposes by the food industry to influence food trends and get us buying new products.
What?!! What on earth does forgiveness have to do with eating healthily. Actually quite a lot.
Remember how I talked about the impact stress has on our eating and metabolism? Well, when we lambast ourselves about our cravings or what we are eating, we end up creating a vicious cycle of eating, feeling guilty, and eating again.
If I asked you to not think about a white rhinoceros, we all know what will occupy your mind for the next five minutes.
When we try to force ourselves not to think about food or what not to eat we usually end up fixated on what we are trying to avoid.
A good exercise for dealing with overeating is to start noticing what might be going on in your mind when you want to eat. No judgement. Just explore what is going on in your mind and accept the feeling. Over time, with practice you will find that just stopping to explore your feelings gives you the opportunity to determine:
a) are you actually hungry?
b) can you make a healthier choice?
c) can you start to resolve the feelings that made you think of food (if the feeling was not actual hunger)?
Accepting and forgiving creates the space your mind needs to start dealing with the underlying feelings that might be driving overeating. And has the additional benefit of relieving stress overall.
A word of caution
This is not an overnight cure for overeating (there is no such remedy sadly). This approach will take some time, and you might want support for dealing fully with the feelings and situations that would normally trigger a snack attack.
What I have described might come under the label of 'mindful eating' however I believe it can be about much more than eating and can significantly change your whole outlook on life – it has for me.
Either way, I hope this article gives you food for thought (excuse the pun) and helps you on your journey towards a healthier, happier you.
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