Your Fat is Not the Problem, and the Gym is Not the Solution

At the Anytime Fitness club where I play the double role of manager and personal trainer extraordinaire, people frequently come to me to inquire about why their new exercise regimen hasn’t led to significant weight loss. Often these clients are slightly older (beyond 40), and have had experience with and even success losing weight in the past. When they were younger, they tell me, all they had to do was start running or working out a bit, and mayyyybe cut back the portions a tad (if at all) on their normal diet.  They always expect (or hope) to find that if they simply make it to the gym regularly again, they can hold on to all of their poor eating habits.

Believe me, I wish it were true!

I wish that jogging for 30 minutes a couple of times a week could magically undo every piece of bread, pizza, fast food and alcohol that I could consume throughout the day.

I would prefer to bust my ass in the gym 5 or 6 or even 7 days a week just to get to eat a diet filled with sweets and treats and unlimited portions if I could still see the results I want…But unfortunately that’s not the case for me, my clients and most people struggling with fat loss. Personally, I can train hard regularly (because I love it) and still gain body fat because of my diet. (It’s not comfortable or fun, and I don’t recommend it!)

Running obstacle races requires a lot of energy (i.e. calories). But beer calories add up much faster and more easily than the ones you use racing.

Even while training for tough obstacle races all spring and summer, I can STILL easily out-eat (or out-drink!) all of my hard work in the gym.

I sometimes can’t help but feel a little frustrated with the individuals who insist that weight loss should happen easily for them, without making a single change to their eating habits. But in reality, it’s MY JOB to inform them that exercise alone will only get them so far. People wanting to SEE change without having to MAKE change which is one issue, but sometimes it’s simply a lack of knowledge holding them back.

To give you a better understanding of how hard it is to burn off what you eat, check out this awesome video that I first discovered years ago that has really stuck with me:

(For the quick version, check out the video at about 1:40 and 2:45, and you’ll see how many calories one man eating pizza and drinking soda is consuming vs. how many calories the other man sprinting on the treadmill is burning in the same amount of time.)

That being said, unless you are in the gym for hours and hours most days of the week (training for an intense  sport, for example), you will really struggle with your fat loss goals if you don’t address the eating issues that led to your weight gain in the first place.

So, to my Emotional Eaters out there:

If you think you can ignore your patterns of emotional eating and just “work off” your binges and mindless eating with exercise, you’re WRONG.

Another great way to think about this concept comes from Gillian Riley’s book Eating Less: Say Goodbye to Overeating. When people talk about wanting to lose weight, she explains, they are simply complaining about the symptom of a bigger problem. The problem is not your weight itself; your problem is that you eat too many calories for your body and lifestyle. Addressing the symptom without the cause will only provide a short term solution (i.e., losing and regaining the same 10 lbs over and over again). She compares this to a lifelong smoker who wants to figure out the best way to “stop coughing all of the time.”

This is such an awesome comparison!! The problem here is obviously not the coughing, right?  It’s the fact that the smoker keeps smoking, of course! Duh!

Focusing on weight loss (and fat loss) is the exact same misinterpretation. The pounds of fat on your body themselves are not the issue to be resolved, but the habits and actions that put the pounds on in the first place are.

If you truly want to feel, look, and perform better in your life, you MUST address the root cause of the issue:

You ate too much.

Why? Why did you eat so much? Because you were stressed?

Okay, let’s figure out the source of stress and if we can change it. If we can’t change it, then let’s figure out how else you might be able to deal with stress instead of using food to cope.

Did you even notice how much you were consuming on a regular basis?

Okay, let’s start there and use a journal to see the truth of what of your diet really is. Because your body is indicating that it’s too much food for what your current body needs.

Do you see the difference between THIS process, and the one above? THIS is where real, long term fat loss happens.

But that’s enough tough love for one week. Mull these ideas over, and start thinking about your diet and exercise habits in a new way. Stay tuned for next week when I’ll share why you still need to exercise, and how to do it in order to COMPLEMENT and ACCELERATE your efforts to change your eating habits and relationship with food.

If you are itching to take action and start addressing the real issues TODAY, check out my brand new guide to getting started on your Emotional Eating Solution by requesting my FREE EES Handbook over on the right side of the page!

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences below or over on the EES Facebook page.


Always here to help,


Q & A: Breaking the Guilt –> Eat –> Guilt Cycle


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?

instaquote-guilt eat guilt


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:

1) Plan for imperfection

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.)

2) Address the real issue

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.

3) Web Site Get your body moving

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.


Always here to help,


Reduce your Desire to Eat an Entire Pint of Ice Cream with These Two Mindfulness Exercises

My first thought when I see the word “mindfulness” is that I don’t have time for that. It sounds like patience, practice, and hard work. I picture sitting on a mountaintop, “omm-ing” with the back of my hands resting on my knees, pinching my middle fingers against my thumbs.


Basically, this. Ain’t nobody got time for that! (Though I love a good mountain view.)

photo credit: <a href=””>Adrasteia9</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a>

And yet developing mindfulness has been the single most important skill that I’ve used to help overcome the desire to overeat, or to eat when I’m not hungry.

Don’t worry: this doesn’t mean that you need to hike up a mountain in order to receive more clarity about your food choices.

Mindfulness is a really simple yet powerful practice that will no doubt impact your life, if you let it. Mindfulness is being present and aware of the current moment. It is living in your body instead of in your head. It is noticing your thoughts and bodily sensations, and noticing how they change from moment to moment.

Mindfulness is recognizing that after too much ice cream, your body doesn’t feel good.

It is hearing the wind rustle the trees as you walk through the woods.

It is feeling your fingertips against the keys of your keyboard as they type.

It is noticing the moment you feel satisfied while eating, the moment in which you would no longer be hungry if you put your fork down.

Practicing mindfulness is about reigning in your thoughts, even if just for a moment, so that you can refocus your attention on the present world around you. It’s probably the best way to start being in more control of your actions. This doesn’t mean you won’t have desires or urges for food, or that you won’t get lost in your thoughts sometimes, but that you can determine your actions, your behaviors, based on a truer evaluation of what you need and want.

For example, I often recommend that my new training clients keep a food log when they start working with me. I’ve got several reasons for wanting to see what they eat on a daily basis, but mostly I want them to see what they eat. Most people can’t tell you what they had for breakfast yesterday because it was rushed, skipped, or they didn’t count how many times they refilled their cereal bowl (totally something that I used to do on a daily basis!). Aside from being accountable to another person for what they eat, my clients have to notice what they eat and how they felt in response to eating it: emotionally, physically, and mentally.

So how do you begin? When you commit to keeping a food journal to improve your mindfulness and relationship with food, I strongly suggest that you use a pen and paper journal instead of an online calorie tracker. Write down what you eat, estimate the portion sizes, the times at which you eat, and note any unusual sensations (such as digestive discomfort) in your body or significant emotions you experience throughout the day. See how your body responds to the different foods that you eat. (If fat loss is your goal, the food journal is a powerful tool that you can use to see how what you eat affects your scale weight, body fat percentage, and/or circumference measurements over the course of a week or two. However, if tracking any of these is going to make you obsess, then just go by the fit of your clothes and your overall emotional state.) This is an excellent exercise in figuring out which foods work best for you, your goals, and your psyche. It’s also a wonderful habit that can help you reframe negative thoughts when you may have them, identify your biggest challenges, and celebrate your little victories as well.

One of my food journal entries from the fall. I placed stars next the meals I ate mindfully because it was a habit I was working to build, and big exclamation points every time I was proud of myself.

One of my food journal entries from the fall. I placed stars next the meals I ate mindfully because it was a habit I was working to build, and big exclamation points every time I was proud of myself.

The second practice you can use to starting honing your mindfulness skills is an exercise in mindful eating. I want you to spend 10 full minutes going through these steps:

1) Find an almond, grape, raisin, or some other small, smaller than bite-sized nibble of food.

2) Hold it in the palm of your hand. Do any feelings arise? What do you notice about the appearance of the almond? Imagine you had to describe it to someone who had never seen it. What is the texture like against your skin? Where did the almond come from? How was it made? Who else might’ve had to help get this almond from the earth to your palm?

3) Bring the almond towards your face. Does it have a scent? If you touch it to your lips, does it feel cool or warm?

4) Put the almond in your mouth, but don’t bite it yet. Note the flavor of the unchewed food. See if the flavor changes just by being in your mouth for a moment or two. Does it feel hard, soft, bumpy, smooth?

5) Take a small bite of the almond. Does that change the flavor? How chewy or hard is it?

6) If possible, swallow just the small bite from the almond. What do you notice about swallowing? A sense of satisfaction or relief from anticipation? Has the feel of the almond changed after being in your mouth for a few moments?

7) Chew the rest of the almond fully, until it is fully ground up in your mouth, before swallowing.

What did you think about the exercise overall? Did you ever realize you could eat so slowly?? J The first time I did this, I noticed that I felt an immediate anxiety in just holding the almond without being able to eat it. There was the urge to just toss the almond in my mouth, like I have done hundreds of times before without noticing. I felt what it was like to be uncomfortable, and sit with my discomfort as I waited out the urge to eat.

Let me know if you try either of these exercises in the comments below, of if you’ve ever tried them before, and how they work for you! Both are excellent ways to bring yourself back to the present moment, and to begin to develop an awareness about your eating behaviors and desires.

Always here to help,



PS For more ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine, follow me over on Instagram where I’m posting my mindful moments each day. I’d love to see how you stay mindful, too — join in using the hashtag #mindfulmoments!