Health and Cooking

Outeating Exercise, and the Signs of Emotional Eating

It’s the summer. During it, we find a multitude of excuses as to why we need to do something else besides exercise. The kids are out of school. Work is hectic. It’s hot. (This is a big reason right now. Remember to hydrate regardless of what you are doing!)


The problem most often is that we do not compensate for the lack of time spent moving. Nor do we look for alternatives to continuing our healthy diet, exercise regimen, and successes in our goals. For a lot of people, life bowls us over. We get derailed by vacations, kiddos, and our own personal surrender to the inevitable thought, “It’s summer. I need time off.”


The truth is that there are ways of helping yourself through those weeks of vacations, kids home, etc. In the Marine Corps, there is a phrase: adapt and overcome. My husband was trained to figure out methods of getting around obstacles. In health and wellness, this has become very easy. There are a multitude of resources at our fingertips. I’m a part of a group that encourages its members to take control of their health by any means possible. A lot of them are stay-at-home moms. They cannot necessarily afford, or get to, a gym. So they have opted for an easier, equally accessible method: DVDs! Some of them start seeing visible results with as little time as 2-3 weeks.


But we don’t just discuss and encourage exercise in this group. A large part of well-being stems from a proper diet. A girlfriend of mine recently confided in me that she was having issues with this. Her pants were getting too snug (and the next size up too comfortable), she felt absolutely emotionally terrible (and experienced feelings of self-hatred), and had no idea where to start. It was time that she seek help and she was scared to turn anywhere else.


I’m really proud of her for finally reaching out, for taking the first step toward a healthier lifestyle. It is the hardest step you will ever take. As an American Council on Exercise (ACE) certified Lifestyle and Weight Management Coach, I can help redirect her attention toward positive thinking and reinforcement of behaviors, setting goals, and developing new habits that will transform her body and mind. Some of the first things I plan on asking her to do include keeping a food log (for at least two weeks), considering how she would like to feel and what she would like to see happen to her body, and establishing a pattern of positive self-talk to replace the cynical mindset she had developed. I am excited to help her establish her first goals and see her succeed. Having taken weight training class together in high school, she knows that I’ll push her enough to keep her going 🙂


One of my friend’s biggest trouble areas, and a huge stumbling block for many people, is overeating. On the group forum, the moderator posted this great thought:


You cannot out-exercise a bad diet.


I grew up in a household where both my parents struggled with food issues, so this thought hits close to home. My dad tended to work all day and eat huge meals at night. Other people grab the quickest thing possible, which is often fast food. At most fast food restaurants, we inhale portion sizes that are 2-8 times the actual portion size without a second thought. And then we wonder why America’s waistline is growing, why marketers have to change pant sizes from a Size 16 to a Size 12 so that people feel good enough to buy clothes, why physical and mental diseases run rampant throughout our society.


There are two key causes of overeating, though there are many more. The first is ignorance as to actual portion sizes. The second is emotional eating. The first is more easily combated than the second. The reason why may be obvious. When we are under stress, experiencing emotional mood swings (either positive or negative), depressed, etc., we reach for something that comforts us. For a lot of people, this is food, and not just any food either. If it were as easy as grabbing a handful of carrot sticks, we’d all probably be in great shape. No, we grab our favorite kinds of foods: sweets, salty snacks, things with crunch, mama’s home cooking…and we eat them in massive quantities.


How do you tell the difference between emotional and physical hunger? Here are the most common things to look for:


Complied by a team of health experts and shared via Nutrition Solution Lifestyle. For more information, check out their Facebook group, linked to photo.


This becomes more of a problem when people are reducing their food intake. In fact, lifestyle modifications can compound emotional eating. In the fitness industry, we understand that eating less causes stress, and that it is a pervasive habit for people, overweight or not, to reach for their favorite snack when stressed.


If this is the case, how then do we combat it successfully? There are a lot of tools we use. ACE suggests these when talking about lifestyle modifications and behavioral changes (ACE Lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant Manual, Second Ed.; p. 333-337):


  • Set small, realistic goals as stepping stones to reach large, overall goals.
  • Modify your environment. If a certain food is a problem for you, try not purchasing it in favor of better, healthier foods. (For me, it’s sugar. As long as I don’t have it in the house, and I have fruit instead, I am okay.) If it is exercise, try keeping your gym bag at the door or in the car; there are stories of some people even wearing their sneakers to bed so they will do their exercise first thing.
  • Remember that it is okay to have your favorite food on occasion. The idea is not to cut the food out of your diet entirely. This creates more stress than a cure for stress. Instead, reward yourself with a treat once a week or bi-weekly (or whatever time frame you give yourself) for doing such a great job.
  • Find a buddy to help keep you on track. A social support network enhances self-efficacy, the perception of the ability to change and perform a particular habit.
  • Learn how to combat negative mood and cynicism with cognitive restructuring, which is defined as changing the way one perceives or thinks about something. Scientific studies show that the more negatively one looks at a situation, the worse the situation (and your self-perceptions) become. This is not a permanent mindset. It can be changed. The first step is to simply become aware of yourself thinking in this way. The second requires you to consciously change those counterproductive thoughts into productive ones. This, while it requires a great deal of practice and self-monitoring, is possible if you can observe your own thoughts, and not immediate accept them as reality.


As you can see, I just mentioned self-monitoring. This can be complex but I believe that the principles are accessible to everyone. With food issues, the best way to monitor yourself is with a food log. These days, smart phones have apps like MyFitnessPal (which I have used and like). If you do not have a smart phone, or the program is not enough for you, I recommend writing it down. Regardless, I recommend this. There is something about the action of writing that directs your attention more successfully to what is happening than a mere phone application. Try doing so for two weeks, being brutally honest with yourself (no one else is going to look unless you want them to) so you know exactly where your problem areas are.


Once these are known, change one poor behavior at a time. Tackling everything at once will only cause frustrations, stress, and relapse into the old habit. It is better to focus on dealing with one habit (my sweet tooth, for instance: I started by removing processed sugary candies from my diet instead of everything I liked). You will find that the new behavior you seek to instate in your life will happen quicker, more easily, without the added stress of another or others.


Of course, if you have self-monitored and don’t know where to go from there, do not hesitate to ask help from professionals! Seek out a trained medical or fitness professional for advice. Not sure where to look? Start by asking your physician. They have a wealth of resources at their fingertips. Be aware that seeking out help does not mean you require permanent assistance. Use the resources for as long as is necessary for you to learn the tools needed to combat unhealthy habits. In the long run, this will save you money and give you a greater sense of self-efficacy.


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