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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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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Understanding Weight Set Point Theory (and diet-induced metabolic damage)

coachingSmall1Dear Isabel,

I understand that trying to eat intuitively when focusing on weight is impossible and I do know that weight is not an accurate measurement of health.

But I’d still like to know: if I do get it “right-ish” with food and re-learn how to eat intuitively, and get over binge eating,

can I expect weight loss as a result? Will I lose weight?

Good question. The truth is, you might lose weight and you might not.

It really depends on where your body weight currently falls relative to your natural “set point” weight. Your set point weight is the weight that your body naturally wants to be in the absence of interference (like diet-binge cycling) or other dysfunctional behaviors with food, and everyone’s set point weight is different.

While a “normal eater” may naturally fluctuate around their set point by 5-10lbs, a dieter may fluctuate more severely—leaving you farther from or nearer to your set point (either up or down) depending on where you currently are in your yo-yo cycle.

At my lowest weight in the diet-binge cycle, I was about 35lbs less than my current set point weight (that is, the weight I naturally maintain without effort); and at my highest weight in the diet-binge cycle, I was about 20lbs heavier than my current set point weight.

When I chose to stop dieting for real, I happened to be somewhere in between—about 10lbs above my current set point weight, and therefore lost about 10lbs when I healed my relationship with food. That being said, had I stopped dieting at a different point in my weight cycle, that number might be completely different.

It all depends on where your weight is now, relative to your natural set point weight.

**It’s also worth noting that when I first stopped dieting, I initially gained weight in the first few months, and then lost weight over the following year or so—not only is everyone’s “end result” different, but the road to our set point is not always a straight line.**

The only way to find out what your set point weight is, is to work towards developing a healthful relationship with food (both physically and mentally) and see what happens when you’re truly eating (and thinking) “normally.”

Don’t try to guess your set point while you’re still struggling with food— guessing just creates expectationwhich fast-tracks you to self-judgement around food (aka emotional or subconscious restriction; which, for the record, usually leads to binge-eating, emotional eating and continued swings).

Guessing your set point is also pointless because your set point weight can change over time. Meaning, just because you were 140lbs when you first started dieting, doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily go back to that pre-dieting weight after years of restriction. Some factors that may affect your set point over time include things like age, pregnancy/child-birth, hormones, and diet-history.

Yup—dieting can push up your set point weight over time—as restriction that leads to temporary weight loss, can also lead to permanent changes in your metabolism in the other direction. (It’s evolutionary biology—your body can’t tell the difference between a physical threat of starvation, and that juice cleanse you went on before your wedding—metabolic slow-down is one of your body’s attempts to keep you alive). 

Ultimately, you’re likely always going to bounce around your set point over time (because your body is constantly fighting to get there, and it’s a lot stronger than your will power).

The question is, do you want to embrace your set point, stop diet-binge cycling, and eat relatively “normally?”

OR do you want to keep trying to suppress it against all odds, experience more dramatic swings around it (in both directions), with a likelihood of pushing your weight up further and further over time?

I personally chose to cut my losses on attempts at weight suppression—and a major side effect was that I also stopped bingeing.

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Before You Eliminate Foods for Health Reasons…

coachingSmall1Dear Isabel,

I’ve tried to start weaning myself off of certain foods that I’ve learned may be negatively impacting my digestion—not for weight loss, but for my digestive health. That being said, I’m having a hard time, and fear I may be falling back into restrict-binge-type cycling. Am I just biting myself in the foot for doing this?

Honestly, it really depends. 

I absolutely believe that people who are recovering from diet-binge cycling (or restrict/binge cycling) can learn to eliminate certain foods for health reasons (e.g. allergies, etc.) BUT doing so effectively without falling into old patterns or diet-mentality requires an enormous amount of honesty with yourself about what’s motivating your choices. 

Here are some important questions/comments to consider before starting any kind of food elimination for “health reasons.”  

1. Are you harboring fantasies of weight loss or weight control as a side effect of this choice? If your honest answer is “yes,” you may be setting yourself up for failure (and binge-eating rebound), as active attempts at food restriction for the purpose of weight control (a.k.a. dieting) don’t usually work out that well in the long-run. As you’ve probably heard me say a million times before, the people who are most likely to stick to health behaviors without rebounding, are those who are able to decouple “health” and “weight” in their minds. 

2. Are you comfortable with the possibility that you may not be able to follow your health intentions 100% of the time despite your best efforts? Because—as most binge-eaters know, but too often forget—the reality is that your food choices are not only controlled by willpower, but also by instinct— instincts that are impacted by biology, psychology, emotions, and a million other factors outside of our control. If “breaking” your decision to avoid a certain food makes you feel guilty, ashamed, or like there’s something fundamentally wrong with you because you can’t “stick to” your health choice, you may end up in “falling off the wagon” style binge-eating. (In other words, can you get down with the gray-area of self-care?)

3. Is attempting this particular dietary restriction truly worth the risk of being triggered at this point in time? Because eliminating foods (even for pure health reasons) can be very triggering for women with histories of restrictive behavior, and in some cases, elimination might not be worth the risk of falling back into food-craziness. If you’re new to a non-diet approach to eating, or know that you’re still vulnerable to triggering situations around food and weight, be sure to get honest with yourself about whether or not attempting a specific dietary restriction is worth the risk of being triggered back into food-chaos at this point in time. The risk may be or may not be worth it— depending on the health issues your dealing with, and where you are in your recovery from diet-binge cycling. It’s YOUR body, and only you can make that call. (Also, you can always try later on when you feel more “ready”). 

4. Lastly, if you DO decide to go for it and attempt eliminating a certain food for health reasons, remember that you’re allowed to stop whenever you want. Again, it’s your body and you have nothing to prove. If trying to eat a particular way is triggering you or doesn’t feel right for any reason, you have the right to change your mind at any time. Health choices should always be viewed as just that: CHOICES. When health choices become “rules” that overwhelm our own intuitive capacity for self-care, we are—by definition—at war with ourselves.

ALSO, if you know a particular form of food elimination is critical for your health, or has been recommended by your primary care physician, and you’re still struggling to “stick to” — make sure to read this important post about Eating Intuitive with Medical Restrictions

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The Most Common “Emotional Eating” Mistake

Emotional eating, at the end of the day, is just a coping mechanism.

I’m all about “feeling your feelings,” and there is no doubt that getting in touch with your emotions is incredibly important for reasons that have nothing to do with whether or not you eat over them,

but unless we practice new coping mechanisms, we will continue to eat when emotionally uncomfortable.

Thinking we can live a life without coping mechanisms is totally unrealistic — it goes against our biological instincts to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

Not to mention that coping mechanisms are what allow us to function during times of emotional duress. We need breaks from crying when trauma occurs. Feelings can’t be processed every moment of every day. We have to get out of bed, go to work, pick up the kids, do our laundry…coping mechanisms take the edge off so we can show up for life in the midst of discomfort.

Now the problem for most “emotional eaters” is that they focus on “not eating” instead of focusing on developing new ways of dealing with their feelings.

Of course, the more we try to resist food, (i.e. the more we think about food), the more practiced we become at leaning on food as a coping mechanism. (I know, catch-22 from hell…)

Eventually, we fall out of practicing other coping mechanisms altogether and become dependent on food to take care of all our problems, especially as we obsess, worry and generally freak out about our bodies.

So here’s a new way to think about emotional eating…

instead of telling yourself “don’t eat emotionally,” I want you to start thinking about all the other ways you could possibly “cope,” and start practicing them…regardless of whether or not you eat as well. 

Ultimately, diversifying and expanding our coping mechanisms without worrying about the food is far more effective, than trying to resist (and therefore binge) over it later.

BTW – If you’re not quite sure the difference between “emotional eating” and “binge-eating,” this is something I cover in my free video training series, which you can sign up for here. All three videos of the series are out, so the videos will be emailed to you immediately after you enter your name and email at the bottom of the page. Enjoy!

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