For the majority of my private clients, we spend a few minutes each week addressing any challenges they experienced in sticking to their dietary goals . We also brainstorm obstacles they may encounter in the week ahead. Recently, a client of mine posed the following conundrum:
I’m fine during the week; it’s easy to plan my meals and snacks and eat well. On the weekends though, I just feel like I don’t want to work so hard. I want to relax with my spouse and eat grapes, cheese, crackers, and drink wine. But then I do that and I feel so bad about myself that I end up eating more snacks. How do I get out of my bad cycle of feeling bad, then eating more, and then feeling worse?
I loved this dilemma because the Guilt–> Eat–> Guilt cycle is such a tough issue, and a common one as well. Here’s what I shared with my client:
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If you are newer to the fat loss journey, you may want to consider planning out your meals, even for the weekend. This DOES NOT mean that you have to plan to eat only chicken and broccoli all weekend long! Plan your indulgences (in moderation) as a part of your lifestyle. If you want to enjoy dessert or alcohol or even a pizza with your family, THAT’S OKAY. It’s never a single meal that makes or breaks your fat loss goals.
So plan for the fact that you will probably have a glass of wine and a piece of bread at dinner and opt for a protein shake for breakfast, a big salad for lunch, and some raw veggies for snacks. Knowing that your “bad” meals are part of your plan should help to reduce the guilt factor.
In addition, remember to avoid the indulgences as a reward for your “good week.” Your reward for all your hard work will be the increase in self esteem, self efficacy and pride you feel in completing what you set out to do!
If you absolutely feel the need to munch, at least opt for high volume, lower calorie fare like popcorn, berries, or raw veggies. Yes, they are less satisfying than chips right out of the bag, but they will be much tougher to overeat. Or if you do decide that you need the chips, then portion out what you want to eat and put some water on for tea so you have something else to when you start looking for a second serving. (As you advance through your journey, you may even want to examine why you feel the need to snack mindlessly, but it’s good to have some habits to fall back on in the meantime.)
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Hopefully Step 1 will help you avoid feeling guilty for your weekend food choices, but sometime we get sucked into the Eat-Guilt-Eat cycle because of other negative emotional states, such as feeling weak, overwhelmed, insecure or unhappy. We attempt to numb ourselves from the experience of these emotions, which (as I’ve written about before) only dulls the pain for a brief moment. Eating as means for coping with uncomfortable feelings doesn’t change the underlying cause of the emotion, and exacerbates the negative emotions with the addition of guilt.
Try writing down when you have negative emotions that cause you to overeat, or emotions that create the desire to overeat. (Remember that overeating = eating in response to anything other than physical hunger.) Where were you, who were you with, what situation triggered your emotional response? What can you do to change the situation? How can you take positive action to change the situation in the future? If you can’t change the situation, how can you reframe it so that you change your reaction to the situation? Can you confide in your spouse or a friend? Making the effort to figure out your emotional triggers through journaling will be a huge step in overcoming the desire to eat as a response to stress.
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When you are feeling down on yourself and trapped in your Guilt –> Eat –> Guilt cycle, you ultimately have two options:
a) Spiral down until you feel too guilty or too physically full to eat more. Wallow in guilt and physical discomfort.
b) Do something to BREAK the cycle.
Since emotions are tougher to control, start with taking an ACTION that breaks the cycle: get your body moving!
Seriously, even if its standing up and down to your couch 10 times, it might just be enough to get your heart pumping and get your mind focused on something OTHER THAN your emotions or your next trip to the kitchen.
Or even better, step away from your fridge and out of your house if you can, and start walking! A brisk 5 or 10 minute walk is enough to clear your head.
I’m all for a lazy, relaxed Sunday, but if you find that your weekends are becoming increasingly sedentary on a regular basis, you might want to start planning in a workout first thing in the morning on one or both weekend days to help screw your head on straight for the day ahead!
I’d love to know: If you’ve ever experienced the guilt –> eat –> guilt cycle, how do you snap out of it? How do you avoid it in the first place? Let me know in the comments below, or over on the Facebook page.