Goal Setting for Emotional Eating: Why your SMART Goals Don’t Work

support from othersEvery good personal trainer is skilled at helping their clients set goals. We’re taught to interpret goals like “tone up” and “get fit” as “Lose x percent body fat” or “Increase lean muscle mass.” We’re taught to help people voice what they really want from an exercise program, and then it’s our job to show them how to get from Point A to Point B.

We’re taught to set goals that are SMART:

Specific: Specific goals to help you keep focused and define what you want to change (e.g., “lose 10 lbs of body fat” vs. “slim down”).

Measurable: Find a way to track your progress (e.g., instead of  trying to “tone up,” perhaps you take monthly progress pictures or measure circumference around certain body parts).

Attainable: Know where you are starting and make sure that the outcome you desire is a realistic one for YOU.

Relevant: Make sure that the goal is suitable to your life situation and is one that find worthwhile to pursue.

Time specific: Have a deadline for achieving your goal to keep you focused, accountable, and on track.

smart goal setting concept

This framework for goal setting is effective for physical changes in body composition, especially when a client is brand new to healthy living and just needs a bit of structure and knowledge to start seeing results.

However, if this is not your first attempt to lose weight or get healthy, and your emotional eating habits get the best of you every single time you start a new diet, it may be time to rethink the usefulness of the SMART framework.

The problem with your timeline

I am all for SMAR goals; each of the first four qualities are essential when creating out a plan to establish new behaviors. However, for overcoming emotional issues, it’s time to drop that pesky little “T.”

Having a “T,” a time frame or deadline for meeting your goals, is something that you need to let go of. For so long, I desperately clung to deadline after deadline. I will weigh x lbs by my wedding. I will lose 10 lbs in two weeks.  I will follow this diet program for 30 days. I will stick to this meal plan until my birthday party, etc.

For a long time, I could force myself to do what I had committed to until the end date. But eventually, my willpower ran out and even the thought of trying to lose  x amount of weight before a specific date on the calendar would stress me out enough to start rifling around for a snack to relieve the anxiety.

Start diet today. Finish diet on Friday....Start diet again on Monday. Sound familiar?

Start diet today. Finish diet on Friday….Start diet again on Monday. Sound familiar?

There are 3 main issues with setting a deadline while struggling with emotional eating issues:

You are setting yourself up to rebound. The harder and stricter the diet you employ, and the “better” you are at adhering to the diet, the more you will feel the need to reward yourself when it’s over.

Having a deadline means that once the deadline is past, you can just return to your old habits….the ones that put you in this position in the first place.

If you are too focused on a deadline that is days or weeks or months away, you lose sight of what you can do today. I still tend to struggle with anxiety about the future and the desire to zone out and disengage in order  to “relax,” but redirecting my energy towards things I can actually DO right now really helps fight those tendencies.

How to set SMARB goals

Just like with the SMART framework, you should continue to set goals that will keep you focused on making progress. However, rather than setting a deadline for a desired outcome, be sure to set goals for your behaviors. For example, rather than setting a goal to lose x pounds this week (which is an outcome), set a daily goal of being mindful at meals (a behavior). Make sure these goals are still specific, measurable, attainable and relevant.

Specific: What does mindful mean EXACTLY? For me, it’s striving to put my fork down between bites, tasting each bite of food before I chew and swallow it, eating without distraction, and checking in with my body frequently to see if I’m still enjoying the food or if I’m still hungry.

Measurable: On your fridge or a corkboard that you see every day, list your goal with seven boxes (one for each day) next to it. Record and monitor your daily progress. Did you eat mindfully at dinner tonight? Great, check that box for today. Alternatively, draw big stars or exclamation points or smiley faces in your food journal for every meal that meets your mindfulness goal.

Attainable: Know your starting point. If your dining room table hasn’t been used for dining in years, it’s unlikely you are going to get your family to sit and eat there every single night from now on. Hectic schedules and stress will throw you right back into your old routines, so give yourself a chance to succeed by shooting for a mindful, undistracted meal with your family 3 nights per week, or whatever amount feels reasonable and doable to you.

Relevant: Mindful eating habits are extremely relevant and useful skills for improving your emotional eating habits by reducing emotional reactivity, increasing your enjoyment of the foods you do eat, deepening emotional connections to your family members.

Behavior: Behaviors are actions that you can take every day. Actions are what drive results. They can be physical, but they can also reflect your efforts to change mental and emotional patterns, such as meditating, focusing attention, thought stopping, reciting a mantra, etc.

Just because your goals aren’t being measured in calories, grams, or pounds, it doesn’t mean you can’t measure and track them! Monitor your behaviors and start seeing progress!  Just remember:

There is no finish line. All you have is the journey: a path towards being better than you once were.

Always here to help,


PS. Let me know if you set a SMARB goal for this next week over on the Facebook page! Does having  a deadline motivate you or stress you out?

Movement for Strength, Love, and Life

Last week we addressed why you can’t just go to the gym in order to compensate for your habitual overeating. I hope that idea has had time to sink in, and that you’ve accepted what you really need to work on instead.

BUT, as a personal trainer and gym owner, I still recognize the significant value and importance of regular exercise in improving your life.

So what kind of exercise SHOULD you do?

I have two BIG answers to this:

http://mmsaccounting.ca/services Exercise that you will actually DO

First and foremost, a workout program that you can and will do on a consistent and long-term basis is FAR better than the perfect workout program that you resent and dread doing (for the entire 2 weeks you follow it, anyway). I’m a big advocate for http://sph.ba/namik-huskanovic/ daily movement for everybody, regardless of your gym membership status. Many of the psychological and physical benefits of exercise can be achieved with a 15-30 minute daily walk. Some simple calisthenics in the morning (pushups or modified pushups, bodyweight squats, jumping jacks, etc.) or a few Vinyasa sun salutations are both free and easy ways to add movement to your day without ever leaving your house. Check out the EES Handbook over on the right hand side if you need more activity ideas to get started!

A brief overview of a basic Sun Salutation. One movement per breath, and be careful on those back bends! You probably won't look like the cartoon drawing  there! :-)

An overview of a basic Sun Salutation. Perform one movement per breath, and be careful on those back bends! You probably won’t look like the cartoon drawing, but it gives you an idea! 🙂

Movement and exercise should ADD to your life, not detract from it. The key is to find an expression of movement that you actually enjoy. It should offer you a feeling of peace and accomplishment upon completion, and shouldn’t feel like yet another chore on your long list of daily responsibilites. In fact, try to find an activity in which time seems to pass too quickly, and you actually look forward to the next opportunity to participate. Pursuing movement you enjoy forces you to carve out time for yourself (or with others, if that’s your style) and gives you a chance to connect with your body. Making time for your health each day reminds you that YOU are deserving of your own love and care, just as you love and care for your family and friends.
hombres solteros caravaca de la cruz Exercise that makes you BETTER

https://sanisfahrschule.ch/29096-dte16572-free-adult-threesome-dating-sites.html Now that you’ve eased your way in to a regular workout/fitness/movement routine and found that you CAN enjoy physical activity, the next step is to strive to improve your physical capacity. Given your current health status, quality of life, and fitness ability, figure out what elements of fitness you might want or need to improve. Do you get winded walking the dog up the street? Do you have a hard time maneuvering your body in and out of your car? Do you need to get assistance moving your groceries from the shopping cart into your trunk? Do you even try to lift something off of a high shelf, or do you immediately ask for help?

If you have no idea what needs improving or how to do it, here’s a hint:

Strength will help.

Being stronger is better, in almost every instance. The stronger of two retirees is likely to live longer, and with a better quality of life. The stronger athlete tends to succeed more often in sporting events. The stronger of two runners is usually faster. The stronger individual is less prone to injury in daily life. The stronger you are, the easier everything becomes.

Strength training also provides health benefits that are generally associated with other forms of activity, such as improved cardiovascular fitness (if you’ve ever performed a set of 10 relatively heavy squats, you know that strength training can get your heart a-thumpin’), injury prevention, body awareness, mobility and activity level later in life, muscle “tone” and (I know you were waiting for this)… fat loss.

Notice that I put fat loss LAST.

Yes, I know you are here to learn about how to overcome your emotional barriers that stand between you and a healthier and happier life. I know you were hoping for the best and most efficient fat loss exercise. If so, you’ve forgotten the message from last week: exercise is not the most direct and efficient path to fat loss!

One of the first steps in regaining your sanity around food and your body is recognizing that fat loss is not the goal to end all goals, and its pursuit should not dominate your life.

What else can you ask of your body, aside from it being smaller or skinnier or smoother or more toned? How about asking it to do more, to be more of a participant in life and less of an observer? I guarantee that when your physical body doesn’t hold you back because it’s strong and healthy, a whole new world of opportunities will open up to you.

Check out one of my clients, Loretto (along with her husband, Tom, another one of my clients), living fully and enjoying PARTICIPATING in a game of wiffle ball with her family. Before she started training at the gym, she would sit on the side and watch her family at play, declining any offer to participate. Her husband Tom (the pitcher, and another one of my clients who is moving quite well!), showed me this video and my heart swelled with pride….especially when he told me that Loretto actually VOLUNTEERED to play in this game!

In the pursuit of living and engaging more fully with the world around you, you will achieve enough fat loss to live a happy and healthy life — no obsessing necessary.


BONUS: Exercise that feels like a SPRINT

Sometimes, you just need to put everything you’ve got into your workout. You need to leave it all on the table. You’re required to be in your body, present, in that moment of exertion. You won’t be thinking about what’s for dinner, or reminding yourself about that mail that needs to get sent out today.

You need to feel your lungs burn, your heart pound, your legs ache, and then tell yourself to go even faster. You challenge yourself to push through your discomfort, knowing that the pain is temporary and the reward is worthy. Nothing creates more mental toughness, sense of accomplishment, and tired satisfaction than sprinting.*

…And also, in the right doses, sprinting just so happens to be an excellent tool for fat loss.

*Sprinting doesn’t have to be “running,” per se. It can certainly be done on a bike, a rower, pushing a sled, etc. Be sure to work hard while respecting your current ability and fitness level, and challenge yourself safely. If you aren’t sure, it’s best to consult a doctor or health professional before you begin an exercise program.


I could write for days on exercise, but you’ll have to keep checking back in for more! If you are interested in learning more about incorporating these types of workouts, then you should definitely sign up for the EES handbook and subscribe to my newsletter! 

Always here to help,


PS – Let’s hear it from you! Let me know, either in the comments or back on the Facebook page, 1) What is your favorite physical activity, something you could do happily for hours and hours on end? 2) Do you strength train? How has getting stronger changed your everyday life?

Kettlebell carries and swings + puggle chasing feels more like "play" than exercise!

One of my faves: kettlebell carries and swings + puggle chasing feels more like “play” than exercise!

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,