Eating Psychology – How It Helps You Lose Weight

Guest PostBehavior and Mindfulness

eating psychology

It’s your moment of truth. You slowly step towards the scale that’s about to tally your entire week’s efforts — the hours of sweat at the gym, the rejection of that second helping of pasta, the refusal of that double-chocolate dessert, the stares of your family when you eat a burger with no bun — you’ve done it all. Now maybe finally, this God-like metal platform will reward your efforts with a number smaller than last week.

You take a breath and step on board. Without breathing you lower your gaze, waiting for the gavel to fall. How can it be? It’s as though you sat at home all week eating bon-bons in front of the TV! You gained a pound, despite your adherence to your diet and exercise plan called eat less and exercise more.

Eating Psychology

Maybe at this point you think to yourself, Why bother? With all the work I’m doing without results, I might as well eat what I want and stop killing myself at the gym. You then proceed to binge on everything you’ve been depriving yourself of, until you feel so guilty you start on a new diet that gets you the same results. Or maybe you take it as a sign you are still not trying hard enough and you keep cutting back your calories and increasing your time at the gym. You still don’t see the results you want, and feel exhausted and starving on your diet.

Is there another way to look at weight loss? Are you stuck in the dieting cycle forever or doomed to have excess weight all your life? The answer is NO! There is more to weight loss than eat less, exercise more. Mind-body Nutrition and Dynamic Eating Psychology show us that how we eat is just as important as what we eat, and that who we are as eaters can mean the difference between lasting weight loss and just another fad diet that promises much and delivers only short term results at best.

Here are 5 reasons you may not be losing the weight you want:

1. You are eating too fast.

We live in a world of speed. Getting things done is rewarded in our society. Telling people you are “very busy” is like a badge of honor. It tells others and yourself that you are an important person, that other people can rely on you. And I get it. We have jobs, and kids, and errands, and cleaning, and social lives, etc. And that’s fine. However, there is a trade-off to our lives of speed. So many of us gulp down our food on the way to work, as we work, or in front of the TV.

What does it matter how fast we eat if we make good choices? Whenever we eat in a rush, the body goes into stress physiology. Our bodies can only fully digest food and burn calories optimally in the relaxation state. When you’re in stress mode, you have elevated cortisol and insulin, hormones that tell your body to store fat, not lose weight and not build muscle. Blood flow to the digestive tract during stress decreases four-fold, as your body thinks it needs to prepare for attack. Digestive enzymes that break down food and get nutrients into your body can decrease up to 10,000-fold! If you ever eat fast and it feels like the food is just sitting in your stomach, well, that’s because it is.

What you can do: before you start eating, take at least 5 slow, deep breaths into your abdomen and exhale fully. This can help your body physically switch into relaxation mode, the one that optimizes digestion, assimilation and calorie-burning. Take a time-out for your meals. Eat without distractions in a calm environment, and enjoy food!

2. You think food and appetite are your enemies.

If you’re trying to lose weight or have been on diets before, you probably view food as something to limit, avoid and restrict. Appetite is something to be feared and fought because it drives you to eat more of what you think will make you fat. Let me stop you right there to let you know how INSANE this mindset is!

As living beings, we are designed to eat food to get the nutrients we need to survive. Appetite is the genius mechanism we have that keeps us wanting to eat the food that keeps us alive. If every time you eat, you view food as the enemy and appetite as something to be suppressed, then every time you eat or feel hunger, your body senses threat. It will go into the same stress physiology described above.

3. You are afraid of pleasure.

Humans are designed to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Pain sends the body into stress mode, while pleasure relaxes the body. If your diet consists of depriving yourself of your favorite foods, you are depriving your body of healing relaxation. Deprivation also makes us want the forbidden thing even more. Access can lessen the appeal in time.

What you can do: Plan to include some of your favorite foods, regardless of how “forbidden” they might seem. When you eat them, do it slowly, mindfully, without distraction and most importantly, without a side of guilt. When your body realizes it can have what it wants, it relaxes and the intense “need” for it subsides.

4. You are hating on your body.

It’s all too common to hate on our bodies until it conforms to whatever we want it to be. I will love my body only when I reach X weight, or only when I fit into X size, or feel sexy in a bathing suit. We really believe that once we reach that magic shape, we will love ourselves unconditionally and everything will be sunshine and rainbows. But until then, we are disgusting, we need to be punished, and don’t deserve to be happy.

Hating yourself into weight loss is a dead-end road. Even if you do reach your goal weight, it will not last. For lasting weight loss, you must love yourself through the process. Unconditionally love yourself NOW, and you set yourself up for lasting success.

Learning to love yourself now is a practice. It doesn’t mean you have to love every part of your body, but can you love the person in the body? When you look in the mirror, can you stop the judgment? You don’t have to praise yourself, but can you at least stop the attack?

Try this exercise: When you’re not satisfied with your body, how do you dress? How do you sit? How do you walk down the street? Now imagine you have the body of your dreams. How would you dress? How would you walk down the street? How would you present yourself to the world? Which one invites people in more? Is it your body shape or the way you present yourself that gets a different reaction? Now make a sincere effort to present yourself to the world as though you do have the body of your dreams. Hold yourself with dignity and confidence now. Notice what happens.

5. You have undigested life experiences.

Oftentimes, excess weight can serve as a placeholder for some life experience we never fully processed, broken down, and assimilated into our psyche. Think about when your weight started to come on. Was there something else that happened around that time? Some common hard-to-digest life experiences include:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Divorce
  • Marriage
  • Having kids
  • Moving
  • Losing a job
  • Starting a new job or getting promoted
  • Abuse – physical, emotional or sexual
  • Illness

Excess weight and unwanted behaviors with food are doorways into exploring where we need to move some energy and heal.

Reach out to me or learn more about my services — There is a way out of your battle with food and your body!

About the author:

eating psychologyMeghan Helbick is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Eating Psychology Coach with the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. Her passion for uncovering the stories about our eating and body issues came from her own personal experience with disordered eating. When her extensive education in nutrition only went so far in helping people with their eating struggles, she pursued further training in Eating Psychology to complete the other half of the story when it comes to healing and making peace with food.