Several years ago I was trying to answer the question, “How do I do what I do?” It’s not easy to explain the making peace with food process (especially to those entrenched in the diet mentality), and it’s even more of a challenge to explain coaching in general.
There are several areas that I work with my clients on. And our work focuses on solving issues in these areas. These issues are in fact, obstacles that block people from making peace with food. So while this process is very different for each person, as is coaching, obstacles seemed to be a good way to describe the process and make it relatable to those struggling with food and body issues.
Here are the 8 major obstacles to overcoming overeating and making peace with food:
1. Lack of Foundation (Knowing Your ‘Why’): If you don’t know the real reason you want to achieve something, you will lose your motivation quickly. Building a foundation requires knowing your personal values and what you really want at a much deeper level than just, “I want to lose weight,” which only gets in the way and keeps you from making peace with food.
2. Diet Mentality: This is a huge obstacle. From a very young age, most of us have been taught how we should look and what we should and shouldn’t eat. At the same time, we are also taught that food is love, food will make us feel better, and we are a very food-centric society, with every celebration centered around the food. These conflicting rules and ingrained habits are what lead us to dieting, followed by overeating, followed by guilt, taking us back to dieting.
3. Learning and Applying the Basics of Mindful/Intuitive Eating: Many people start the process of intuitive eating only to find they have turned it into a diet full of rules and restrictions. It takes time to learn these principles and really apply them. Most of us, including myself, went back and forth between intuitive eating and dieting before it finally clicked and felt right. (But it’s worth it for a lifetime of peace with food!)
4. Negative Self-Talk: I think it’s safe to say that this is one issue that almost everyone wants or needs to overcome. The first step is being aware of it. Some people have those negative tapes playing all day long and they don’t even hear them, but the subconscious does. After being aware of it, the next step is to learn how to handle the talk. It’s my experience that ignoring the “voices” or telling them to go away won’t do it. Those voices are a part of you, so rejecting them, yelling at them to go away, or other similar strategies don’t work very well. Neither do affirmations where you say things to yourself that you don’t even believe. There are better ways of dealing with the voices and changing the self-talk to take a more positive tone.
5. Avoiding or Reacting to Difficult Emotions: Classic “emotional eating” is basically eating in response to strong feelings that you do not want to feel (conscious or otherwise). By “pushing the feelings down,” you get to temporarily avoid those feelings or the situations that are causing the feelings. Food can be used as a numbing agent, and when you overeat to the point of feeling sick or guilty, you can now focus on beating yourself up and planning your next diet, instead of dealing with what is really going on. The problem is if you don’t eventually allow yourself to feel your feelings and process them, they will always come back, often stronger than when they initially showed up.
6. Not Getting Your Needs Met: When you don’t feel your feelings, you are not going to be aware of what you are actually feeling (sad, angry, lonely, bored, etc). Therefore, you can’t identify what you might actually need (talking to someone, taking a walk, asking for help, etc.). In turn, when your needs are not met (and again, you may not even be aware of this), it is very easy to subconsciously turn to food because it temporarily fills the emptiness and creates a distraction. This is a vicious cycle that cannot be escaped without discovering your feelings, determining your needs, and getting them met.
7. Lack of Self-Compassion: Self-Compassion is an extremely important skill to learn. If we can’t be compassionate towards ourselves when we make mistakes or in times of difficulty, we end up in a place of judgment, “shoulding” on ourselves, and engaging in all kinds of negative self-talk. Using self-compassion allows for honoring our feelings, soothing ourselves, acknowledging we aren’t alone in these experiences and it brings us back to the moment and being mindful. This is a much better place than the past and regrets, or the future that we often put our lives on hold for, waiting for everything to be perfect. Research on happiness shows humans are happier when they stay in the present, regardless of their circumstances or emotions at the time.
8. Lack of Self-Care: Self-care is much more than lighting candles and soaking in the bathtub. It’s about taking care of your needs in several areas, including physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual health and wellness. It’s about creating a “balance” in your life – but balance doesn’t necessarily mean splitting your time and attention evenly among all four areas. It is about dividing your time and attention in a way that meets your true needs and desires and fits into your values (as determined when working on obstacle #1).
So there you have it – 8 major obstacles to overcome to stop overeating and make peace with food. You may already have some handled, and others may need more focus. This is normal. Take it at your own pace, learn along the way from your setbacks, and get ready to see not only your relationship with food improve, but other areas of your life as well!