Have you “fallen off the wagon?”

The only time a person EVER “falls off a wagon”

is when there’s a wagon to fall off of; 

a set of rules, ideals, or beliefs around food that we let determine how we feel about ourselves.

“I was sooo good with food yesterday, and today, I SUCK.”

sound familiar?

and I’m guessing that when you go into the place of “I suck,”

when you “fall off the wagon,”

you fall hard. Like knee-deep-in-brownie-batter-hard. 

Not fun, and so avoidable. 

If you want to make peace with food, and stop shame-eating cookies in the middle of the night,

Ask yourself,

what “wagons” am I trying not to fall off of?

Where am I judging my performance with food? 

Where did I draw an imaginary line of “not okay?”

AND GET RID OF THAT SHIZ.

Because as long as there’s a wagon to fall off of, you WILL fall off of it eventually.

You see,

“Falling off” is not your problem. Your wagon is your problem. 

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How emotional eating is saving your ass.

Most of my clients think that emotional eating is a curse. That it’s an unfortunate defect they’ve been blighted with, and they were dealt a bad hand in life when it comes to food and weight.

“Poor me! I’m sick of this! Will this food problem ever not torment me?!”

Or something along those lines.

But here’s my take on it…

I’m not sure emotional eating is a bad thing. In fact, I think it might be my guardian angel. 

I know this is the part where you think I’m a crazy person, but hang on a sec.

Emotional eating is an attempt to deal with a tough problem, feeling, or situation we don’t otherwise know how to deal with, and often don’t even know that we have without some kind of symptom to remind us. 

That twitchy feeling that makes us want to go shove brownies down our throats, is like a genius alarm bell, that if responded to appropriately, reminds us to clue into what’s bothering us, before it becomes a more serious problem.

When we strip away the judgement of our emotional eating, and stop calling it a disease, a defect, a problem in and of itself;

we can finally see it for what it is:

An alert that something in our life needs our attention. Something completely unrelated to food or our weight. 

Be grateful for the reminder. It might be saving your ass.  

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What is your “I-can’t-stop-once-I-pop” food?

Sweets drive you crazy?

Can’t have one bite of ice cream without eating the whole pint?

Maybe it’s chips? Peanut Butter? Kentucky Fried Chicken? Feel free to get weird.

And let me tell you a little something about your favorite “addictive” foods.

The only time you will ever feel “out of control” around a specific food, is when you’re trying to control it to begin with.

Somewhere, somehow, you are judging, shaming, or limiting yourself around that food. You are calling it “bad.” You are wishing you didn’t want it. You are worrying you will lose control, gain weight, get caught.

You are handing that food power over you, by fearing it.

If you don’t believe me, try naming one food that “drives you crazy,” that you allow yourself to eat with complete abandon. No shame, no guilt, no fear of losing control. Just letting that food be a part of your life, like it was when you were a kid. Like it’s No. Big. Deal.

I bet you can’t.

The only answer to fear around food, is allowance, more allowance, and deeper still allowance. If you are a veteran of this work, you may not even be conscious of all the ways in which you are still restricting yourself, but let your “lack of control” remind you. Lack of Control = Lack of Allowance = Binge Waiting To Happen.

Lean into your lack of control, and be surprised by the grace that lifts you up. 

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Why You Can’t End The Diet-Binge Cycle

Here’s the thing about the diet-binge cycle that nobody talks about…it’s not dieting, in a vacuum, that triggers it. 

It’s wanting to control your weight,

that triggers the dieting (in various forms),

that triggers it.

Every time I ask a client, “why is it so scary to let go of controlling your food?” the answer is invariably,

“I’m afraid I’ll gain weight.”

Duh.

Fear of weight gain controls us.

Fear of weight gain is why “it’s so hard to let go,” or “I’m not there yet,”

Fear of weight gain backs us up against a wall and says “you don’t have a choice in this matter,”

Get thin or die. 

When you let yourself be controlled by your fear of gaining weight,

because you believe the walls will cave in around you or the Earth will burst into flames if you do,

that’s when the cycle begins. 

that’s when you can not help but to judge every bite of food you feed yourself,

that’s when you can not help but to obsess about your food,

that’s when you feel like you don’t have a choice but to restrict,

because you believe your survival depends on it. 

And then it’s just a matter of time…

before you can’t fight any longer.

before you’re on autopilot — lunging for that jar of peanut butter,

because you just need some R.E.L.I.E.F. 

The pressure is too much; it’s too heavy to bear.

When you’re only okay with yourself at a certain weight, it’s like you’re handing food a baseball bat and saying:

“You have the power to make or break me, show me who’s boss.”

Emotional Eating is the almost certain outcome of hating your body.

Is body acceptance something you are willing to work on? What are you willing to let go of, to get to the other side?

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The Common Mistake of Trying to “Gain Control” Over Food

Overcoming binge-eating
is not about gaining “control” of your food,
but about realizing—
that “control” is a figment of your imagination.

meditation in chaos

Our pursuit of “control,”

based on the very false assumption that we can make our food go our way if we just try hard enough,

is the product of truly delusional thinking, 

considering the infinite and unknowable universe in which we live.  

Let’s be real—

We are NOT in control of our body’s needs in any given moment,

We are NOT in control of our emotional needs in any given moment,

And despite what many self-help gurus might suggest,

We are NOT in control of our every reaction to triggering, environmental stimuli. 

We are only human,

and denying or trying to change this fundamental reality, 

is a sucker’s game—leading only to frustration, rebellion, and evermore compulsive behavior.

Contrary to the suggestion of every diet book ever, 

sanity around food will NOT be afforded to those who tirelessly try to gain control— 

the pursuit of which is a never-ending hamster-wheel leading only to dead-ends and rebellious outbursts,  

but rather,

sanity will be afforded to those who make peace with and accept 
our fundamental out-of-control-ness,

to those who can ride the waves
of uncertainty, of messiness, of human error,

to those who can sit in food-chaos, and find okay-ness

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How to Recover from a Painful Binge-Eating Episode

Stomach AcheOne of the most powerful tools I ever developed for recovering from a “bad binge,”

was simply learning how to separate whatever physical pain I experienced post-binge,
from the emotional pain I experienced post-binge.

When I took the time to notice, I realized that the physical pain of bingeing,
even the kind that leaves you in bed in the fetal position for hours,
is really not much more uncomfortable than having to pee really badly, or having a bad rash, or hangover, or some other arbitrary physical irritation.  

The true bulk of my suffering at the “hands of a binge,”
was actually the result of emotional pain

that is, my shame at having failed,
my fear of gaining weight,
and my belief that there was something deeply wrong with me for not being able to “control myself around food.”

(It didn’t occur to me that most people can’t “control” —aka restrict— their food for very long, and that most people binge when they try.)

While there’s no safe way to eliminate the physical discomfort of a binge after-the-fact (other than wait it out, listen to your body, and take care of yourself like you would a hangover),

our emotional discomfort,
which is the much more painful part of bingeing in my experience,
can be alleviated in an instant,
through challenging our weight-normative beliefs,
our morality of food and eating,
and developing compassionate understanding of what diet-culture has put us through.  

(And don’t worry, the physical discomfort part goes away pretty quickly on it’s own once we get back to listening to our bodies–just like a hangover).

Like this post? Check out my free video series about ending the diet-binge cycle here!

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Why the “health” argument for dieting is kind of a moot point

Broken Plate“Health,” in the various ways that it’s defined, is the most frequent objection I come across to the suggestion that women should probably give up dieting for weight loss. 

Despite the fact that many of these reasons are questionable in their own right, since correlation with weight does NOT imply causation by weight in illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, etc. (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about I beg you to read this),

the grander and more critical problem with the “health” argument, is that “needing to lose weight for health reasons” doesn’t magically make diets work— 

diets almost always fail long-term irrespective of your reasons for going on one. 

And they don’t only fail…there’s strong evidence to suggest that dieting or other forcible attempts at weight control will worsen weight-related health conditions over time, since trying to lose weight is the number one predictor of weight gain in individuals over a three year period or more (…ya know, because of the binge-eating, emotional eating, and metabolic damage associated with restriction over time).

Given this stark reality, you may want to consider Plan B. 

That is, you may want to consider pursuing health-promoting behaviors (like physical therapy, conscious nutrition, intuitive eating, etc.), without the expectation of weight loss, which so often dooms us to fail—not only because it may be metabolically unrealistic for some, but because the anxiety, mental anguish and behaviors associated with this expectation aren’t making anyone any healthier, or thinner, long-term

Even if your goal IS to be as thin as possible for your body-type in the long run, you’re probably better off focusing on developing healthy habits (both physical and mental) without weight-specific expectationsand allowing your body to arrive at whatever weight is natural to it under those conditions.  

In other words, it’s time to cut your losses on the physical lottery that is dieting,

and start focusing on truly self-caring behaviors (like healing your relationship with food, moving your body with joy, providing your body with adequate nutrition, etc.) without judging the worthiness of those behaviors by the number on the scale. 

After all…eating vegetables is still good for you even if you don’t lose a pound.

(And to learn more about finding your “natural weight,” read this). 

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Can’t self-soothe instead of eating?

coachingSmall1Q: Hi Isabel! I read your coaching emails periodically and have been introduced to [fill-in-the-blank “non-diet” approach] for some time now. I’ve worked with many professionals to try to change my behaviors, and I would say I have all the tools I need to stop overeating/binge eating. BUT when I’m in the thick of it, all that goes out the door and I feel like I actively choose to continue or start eating instead of using my skills. I want the easy way out and I’m having a really hard time doing the work, because… well…. it feels like work. I want so badly to change my behavior, but I’m feeling super frustrated. 

So, the first word that jumps out at me in this question is the word “instead;”

It sounds like you’re trying to “take a warm bath instead of eating,” or are trying to replace emotional eating with some other “superior” coping mechanism.

This strategy (the “do-XYZ-instead-of-eating-strategy”) usually doesn’t work long-term…likely because it’s inherently restrictive, and relies on willpower to work.

Willpower rarely overcomes emotional or binge-eating urges longterm, especially when we’re dealing with emotional stressors or fatigue, which weaken our resolve.

Additionally, when you tell yourself not to do something (e.g. “don’t eat emotionally—do something else instead!”), food often becomes more seductive…like a lover you can’t have, or the toy you’re not supposed to touch—resisting it just makes you more obsessed.

So, first off, eliminate the word “instead” from your attempts at self-care. When we aim to take an action instead of eating, the implication is that emotional eating is wrong, not allowed, or otherwise not a valid choice. We’re effectively on the “don’t-eat-emotionally diet,” which ironically makes food more tempting.

INSTEAD (lol), can you try practicing your new self-care skills without making yourself wrong for eating emotionally as well? Believe it or not, journaling still counts as self-care even if you also eat a cookie—and in the long run, self-care practice WILL make you less dependent on emotional eating, even if right now you still want/need the food sometimes. More on this here…

Second,

It’s important to realize that ending binge-eating permanently is not something one does by making the “right” choices in the moment, but rather, is a natural result of a profound shift in thinking around food—away from dieting and towards food and weight neutrality. 

What really sticks out to me about your use of the word “instead” in this question, is that it signifies whatever shreds of diet-mentality you’re still holding on to (e.g. the belief that self-care skills should be used to help you resist food, rather than just enjoyed in and of themselves because they make you feel good!)

As long as you’re trying to resist or control food (even emotional eating), you’re probably gonna keep bingeing in rebellion. You’ll be much better off practicing self-care skills in the context of emotional allowance around emotional eating—

since resistance is what turns one cookie when you’re lonelyinto ten cookies, because, “fuck, I fell off the wagon…

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