A few years ago when I was going through my divorce, my tendency to eat emotionally came back full force.
Whereas before I had been in the best shape of my life, I soon found myself 15 pounds heavier – which on a 5-foot-2-inch person feels like the equivalent of 50 pounds (at least it did to me).
I was very aware, of course, of two important things: 1) the implosion of my marriage was pushing me back to my primary means of coping with pain, emotional eating, and 2) I had trained myself (a long time ago) to cope this way.
Knowing these two things fortunately kept me from feeling shame, labeling myself a failure, and giving up altogether.
However, I was definitely not happy about the way I looked, and I found myself slowly slipping into demoralization – the kiss of death if you want to make changes.
Feeling demoralized kept me from taking decisive action, and my lack of action kept me from losing the weight. And the longer I stayed in a place of getting no results, the stronger my tendency to eat emotionally became.
Furthermore, the chaos in my life was also pushing me to eat in a disordered way. The stress of having to deal with the disintegration of my marriage plus having two small children to take care of – plus having a full-time job while also starting this business – was overwhelming.
I would wake up every morning determined to have a hard-core workout – then skipping it altogether because I was so exhausted. I would resolve to eat no sweets – then find myself on the couch after work, binge watching Netflix and binge eating cookies (and binge drinking white wine).
But me being me, I methodically analyzed the situation and quickly figured out one of the major barriers to my success: dinner. I was managing to eat healthy most of the day . . . until the end of the day.
Because of the stress of my circumstances and my exhaustion from not taking care of myself, the last thing I felt like doing was making a healthy dinner each night. Not only that, I didn’t have the mental energy to come up with something that both my kids and I would enjoy.
I knew that if I could just eat a healthy dinner, things would improve. If I rounded out the day with a big green salad, I would be less likely to binge after that, I would sleep better, I would feel more like working out the next day, and so on.
But my kids didn’t want to eat salad. And I couldn’t make a separate meal from my kids, could I? After all, a good mom makes the effort to prepare a nutritious meal for her children and then sits down at the table with them for a family dinner – where we all bond, Leave It to Beaver style. Right?
So instead of doing what I’d planned, I would make my kids mac and cheese and eat it with them. And then feel like crap that I was eating it. And then eat more of it. And then eat cookies and drink wine on the couch after that.
Worse, in addition to the dinner barrier, my mindset was also keeping me in a place of inaction. Useless guilt and feeling demoralized were keeping me stuck. I found myself in a major, major rut.
How I Got Out of My Rut
I decided that instead of wearing myself out to get over this massive hurdle, I needed to remove it altogether. So I did. And, more importantly, I also made the critical decision to ditch my paralyzing mindset right along with it.
So for one week straight, I ordered my own separate dinner from a vegan juice bar. For seven days, I ate a low-calorie, nutrient-dense smoothie bowl for dinner.
And for those seven days, I decided to quit worrying about what kind of mother I was and to stop feeling like my kids were going to suffer permanent emotional damage if I didn’t create the perfect family gathering each night.
During that week, I watched a little bit of the weight start to come off. This small progress boosted my confidence, which made me take more action, which got me even more results.
Eating this way also boosted my energy, made me crave sweets less, and helped me sleep better. And the better I felt and looked, the more excited I was to work out and the less I needed to drown myself in wine every night.
Pretty soon, I was out of my rut, and I returned to my normal healthy self.
The Difference Between Being a Failure and Being in a Rut
Ok, now that I’ve told you my shameful secret, you may be asking: How can I, the woman who preaches about small changes over time and who teaches that cooking is critical if you want to be healthy, admit to you that I ate the same take-out meal for a week to get fast results?
Because I knew that I was in a temporary rut – as opposed to being a failure. Feeling like a failure fuels desperation, which is what pushes you to want immediate results . . . and get them any way you can.
But being in a rut simply means that all you need is a small boost to get you over the hurdle that’s keeping you from getting momentum, which is essential if you want to be able to stick with it and get permanent results.
However, it’s hard to distinguish between a rut and failure. Being in a rut feels like it’s game over and that nothing will ever change – when nothing could be further from the truth.
Being in a rut keeps you from taking action, and if that’s the place you’re in, I want to help you get out of it so you can get back to making small, steady changes over time.
Being in a rut also lends itself to all kinds of mental drama that gets in the way of you taking action. Saying things like “Why can’t I just stop eating?” and “What is wrong with me?” are like draping a weighted blanket over your shoulders and dragging it around with you – making it that much harder to do what you need to do.
So here’s what I want you to do: Find the one biggest barrier to your success . . . and eliminate it. I don’t want you to go around it, jump over it, or push through it. I want you to get rid of it – and not feel bad about it.
What’s Your Barrier?
Do you intend to make a healthy dinner for the family – only to heat up leftovers each night and clean your plate?
Do you promise yourself you’re going to get up in the morning to exercise – then hit the snooze button and skip your workouts altogether?
Do you plan on not snacking at all between lunch and dinner – then pick the kids up from school and spend the afternoon scarfing down their chips and cookies?
Barriers like these may be all that’s standing in the way of you taking the forward leap you need to gain momentum.
If dinner is a challenge for you like it was for me, you could call DoorDash and order something super healthy for yourself (and only yourself). Or you could schedule a delivery service to drop off the groceries you need to prepare a healthy family meal. That way, “I don’t feel like it” is removed from the equation.
If you can’t seem to get motivated to work out in the morning, hire a personal trainer or plan to meet a friend for a good work out. Having to show up for someone else makes it a lot harder to skip it.
If snacking in the afternoon is keeping you from making progress, hire a sitter later in the day so you can get some of those home projects done that you’ve been meaning to do. Or better yet, escape the house altogether and go do something relaxing and fun. Temptation is completely eliminated.
A key point I want to make here is that these solutions are for the short-term.
You can’t order DoorDash for the rest of your life to make sure you eat healthy, and you may not be able to afford a personal trainer for the next six months just to show up for a workout. Use these barrier busters for a week, two at the most.
Another, more inspiring, alternative is to set a goal that automatically removes the barrier.
Go 75% vegan. Train for a marathon. Start a business or learn a foreign language. That way, meals become automatically healthier, you get enough exercise by default, and your newly busy schedule leaves no time for snacking.
Don’t Make It Harder Than It Needs to Be
You’re not lazy, weak, and have no willpower. And you almost certainly have life circumstances that actually do make it harder to stick to your health goals.
If you’re in a rut, all you need is a small amount of focused effort to get out of it. And then you’re off to the races.
This isn’t about losing ten pounds in a week and then going back to your old habits. It’s not a diet, and it’s not a quick fix.
It’s to start seeing some tangible results so you can get momentum.
Most importantly, there’s no guilt involved in making it easy on yourself. You’re not cheating by getting a little help, and no one’s going to die if you do something outside the box for a minute.
There’s no short cut to weight loss, but there’s no shame in temporarily speeding up your journey on the way to your destination.
If a registered dietitian who preaches small steps can do it (and admit to you that she did!), then you can, too.
So leave your guilt and drama at the door, clear the hurdle, and be on your way to achieving your weight-loss goal. I give you full permission!
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