I was at a barre class recently and saw a good friend of mine. After suffering through an hour of deceptively simple but excruciatingly painful ballet moves, we stopped in the lobby to talk.
As we chatted about how hard the class was, she said, “Yes, but I’m here so I can eat later.”
I hear women saying things like this all the time — and I used to do it, too. But as harmless as it seems, this way of thinking is keeping you stuck, preventing you from ever losing weight.
Saying things like you were “good” all day, so you can shove down cheese dip and chips at dinner. You had an extra-hard workout, so you can binge on Girl Scout cookies. You didn’t eat all morning, so you “deserve” to eat your kids’ left-over fries.
It’s sort of like working hard to earn your paycheck and then blowing it on payday. It might be fun to “reward” yourself by spending all your money, but you’re never going to become a millionaire if you keep doing it.
This constant back-and-forth is keeping you stuck in the diet/fail, restrict/binge mindset, preventing you from losing the weight you’re so desperate to lose.
You keep yourself on a permanent plateau by not eating then rewarding yourself with food, or doing things like binge eating then trying to make up for it with a punishing workout. And especially dieting to get rid of the weight then putting it all back on when you go back to your unchanged habits.
It all stems from using food as a reward, which is the definition of emotional eating. As you may know if you’ve read any of my posts, emotional eating is the real issue here. It’s not about the food, it’s about the way you eat the food. And it’s not about the weight, it’s about how the weight got there.
And the even deeper issue here is your constant focus on losing weight. Anything you focus on intently you bring into your reality. So if you’re always trying to lose weight, you will keep yourself always having to lose weight. And it’s even worse if that’s your only goal, because then all your energy is being spent on it.
This focus makes your subconscious push you to take actions to support it — which means you’ll starve yourself, obsessively diet, commiserate with your friends about how awful you look, and contort your body in all kinds of uncomfortable positions to hide the weight. And guess what? These actions create massive resistance — which you will then neutralize with food.
However, if your goal is to be in a state of perfect health or to be in the best shape of your life or to bombard yourself with nutrients, you’ll take actions to support that better and more energizing goal. (There is nothing more demoralizing and energy-draining than for your main goal in life to be to lose weight.)
So here are some strategies to get out of the checks-and-balances mindset that keeps you stuck:
Narrow your perspective. Most often, I want you to enlarge your perspective, but in this instance, I want you to narrow it. Focus only on the meal at hand. Don’t think about the whole day, about how good you were until 3 pm and now you can eat whatever you want. Don’t think about what time of day it is at all — focus only on what you’re doing in that moment.
Focusing on what you’re eating right now helps you make clear-headed decisions, because it silences that voice in your head that fuels the mania about what you should and shouldn’t eat. It takes the pressure off and allows you to act rather than react.
Add something healthy. Adding a side salad or some fruit to your meal takes you out of the binge/reward mindset. When you add something healthy, you’re more likely to eat more slowly and mindfully, which pulls you out of the tendency to binge. And the reward you get is now choosing to do something healthy rather than shove down something unhealthy to make up for how “good” you were earlier.
It also gives you a small win that gives you momentum to continue making healthy choices throughout the day. No matter how small it is, add something. It’s mostly psychological — a handful of grapes or a squeeze of lime over your meal is all it takes to get the feeling of being in control.
Choose a non-food reward. Instead of rewarding yourself with food, do something totally unrelated to food or eating. Go get a pedicure, watch a favorite Netflix show (binge on fruit, not chips!), light a candle and read a good book, take your dog for a walk.
Doing something rewarding that has nothing to do with food or eating trains you to stop binge eating to make yourself feel better, it reinforces your commitment to your health (physical and mental), and it lets you spend that time doing something fun instead of sitting around, trying not to eat.
It seems normal to operate from checks-and-balances mode, because everyone around you is doing it, too. But you aren’t doing yourself any favors by bingeing and punishing yourself later or working hard just to reward yourself with food.
Look at it this way instead: The reason you’re working out isn’t to make room for girls’ night later — it’s to feel stronger and live longer. And the reason you choose to eat less isn’t to starve yourself after yesterday’s late-night binge — it’s to slow down and enjoy your food more.
Catch yourself when you hear yourself talking this way. It takes practice to stop doing it, but you’ll get there.
And in the meantime, your barre class will become (slightly) more enjoyable.