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The Paradox of Distracted Eating

Photo of popcorn and a tv remote

We all do it, from time to time. We grab a bowl of popcorn, sit down in front of the TV, and shovel away. Before we know it, the entire bowl is gone and we don’t really remember eating it let alone how it tasted. And while this seems harmless enough, distracted eating can easily be one of the biggest reasons we gain weight or have trouble losing it. (Truly, I know people who have lost significant amounts of weight by simply banning food from their TV room)

Now, here is where the paradox comes in…

People often tell me that they need to have a book, a mobile device, a podcast, or a tv show playing while they eat because they “get bored” otherwise.

BUT

People also tell me that they eat (even when they are not hungry) because they are bored and it “helps them pass the time.”

So… which is it?

And then things get complicated further when someone claims to be a “foodie” and can’t help themselves because they just love the taste of food … and yet they eat in the car, at their office desk, or in front of the tv. Is that what a true “foodie” does? Is that how to really enjoy the flavours, aromas and colours?

What I propose is a radical idea of not trying to turn your food into entertainment and also not trying to turn your entertainment into feeding time. If we keep them separate, we can fully enjoy both… even if we are a foodie.

If you deliberately give your full attention to what is in front of you, no matter what it is, you will act with intention. And there is never a problem being more deliberate with any of our actions.

Stop looking for the perfect diet

Photo by Marten Newhall on Unsplash

Starting a new diet requires optimism.  Especially if you have a long history of failed attempts. (And most of us do.)

We have to convince ourselves that this time will be different.  Otherwise, why even bother?

One of the ways we muster that optimism in the face of so much damning evidence is to focus on the details of the diet itself.  Maybe our past attempts failed because we hadn’t picked the right diet.

But if you are overweight, the real problem is not your diet.  Lose all the weight you want on whatever diet regimen you choose. If you haven’t fixed the underlying habits and mindset, you are almost certain to regain the weight.

A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that overweight adults who lost weight through focusing on changing their eating and movement habits (as opposed to following a certain diet) were more likely to maintain their weight loss for up to 12 months.

“Maintaining weight loss is often the hardest part of the weight-loss journey,” researcher Gina Clea says, “yet it was successfully achieved by our participants on the habit-based programs, without the need for dieting or strenuous exercise.

This is exactly what we see with our members in the Weighless Program. Although we certainly talk about food and movement, there is no prescribed diet or exercise program. We focus less on what you’re eating and more on how and why you’re eating it.  We work on dismantling that dieter’s mindset and creating the habits and mindset that lead to weighing less, permanently.  (Here’s what that looks like.)

And it’s working! Just last week we got a note from one of our members who started the program two years ago. By the end of 12 months, he’d lost 10% of his starting weight. Even better, he’s now kept it off for an entire year! It’s exhilarating to witness people finally break free of destructive yo-yo dieting patterns and discover what it’s like to weigh less.

It’s enough to make an optimist out of you!

What’s your kryptonite?

“I basically eat healthy but  ______  is my weakness.”

Chocolate.
Junk food.
Chips.
Beer.

It doesn’t really matter what you fill the blank in with. The idea is that you’re pretty disciplined. Except for this one thing.

Your kryptonite.  That one thing that strips you of your strength, your reason, your free will. You’re simply powerless to resist it.

When we declare something to be our “kryptonite” we’re essentially absolving ourselves of responsibility. If you’re powerless, then how can you possibly be held accountable for your actions?

Yet, we still get to maintain our self-identity as “someone who eats healthy.”  I mean, Superman was still Superman, right?

I call BS.

You might like chocolate.

A lot.

And there’s no reason you can’t enjoy chocolate! But you are still in charge of how much and how often you decide to indulge.

And if your choices around chocolate (or chips, or beer, or whatever) are leading to results that you’re not happy with, guess who has the power to choose a different result?

The next time you hear yourself saying, “__________ is my weakness,”  I want you to stop yourself, mid-sentence. Instead of giving yourself permission to self-sabotage by abdicating responsibility, try replacing that thought with something more true.

“If I’m not careful, I can really overdo it with _________.”

or

“If I ate as much of __________ as I wanted to, I would not be happy with the result.”

Then, take back your power.  You get to choose what you really want…both for the short-term and the long-term.

Maybe you’ll have a piece of chocolate.  Maybe, this time, you won’t. But chocolate is not the one calling the shots. You are.

Kryptonite has met its match.

Does your discomfort have value?

“I’ve realized that changing my habits doesn’t have to feel comfortable,’ a friend of mine recently wrote.  “It doesn’t have to be fun. it’s just necessary if I want to reap the benefits of healthier habits. And when I can see that discomfort as leading to what I want, it becomes a valued discomfort.”

A valued discomfort.

I’ve been turning that phrase over in my my head all week.

When we experience discomfort, we often take that as a sign that something is wrong. But sometimes discomfort is a sign that we’re doing something right.

What might be possible if you started to distinguish between discomfort that has value and the kind that doesn’t? If you started to welcome (or at least tolerate) the discomfort that’s necessary to create the future you want for yourself? 

What If you got better at choosing your discomfort?

Do you inflate your feelings into justifications?

A member of the year-long Weighless program recently posted in our private forum that she is doing really well in so many areas (nailing her daily weigh-ins, moving her body more, making healthy food choices) but one area where she struggles is turning to food when she is bored or stressed.

This is a topic that we cover A LOT in the program, and also in the Change Academy podcast (specifically in an episode called Stop Coping So Well). But I had a recent interaction with a close personal friend that I thought may be helpful.

The story

To set the stage, the idea is that we may create (or at least inflate) the feelings that lead us to indulge or temporarily abandon our goal, out of thin air.

For example, a friend of mine is doing Dry-January (avoiding alcohol for 31 days) and only 5 days into the month he texted me saying that he “really wanted a drink!” I asked him why. He said, “I just finished a carpentry job in the house and that usually means beer.” I asked him what the project was. And he said (after a long pause), “Well, actually, I just put up two shelves…”

And like that, the craving was gone.

He went on with his day and is still on track with his Dry-January.

The takeaway

My point of this story is that his brain, looking for a reason to fall back into the old habit, had turned a simple 10-minute job into a “carpentry project” to justify his urge to have a beer.

The bigger point is that I think we do that with other emotions, too. Stress, boredom, loneliness, celebration – our sneaky brains blow them up so we have a reason to indulge.

So next time you feel yourself reaching into your bag of justifications take a minute and consider: am I really that _______? Or am I inflating this into an excuse (that I will regret later)?

Anxious about backsliding?

One of our Weighless members recently shared that, despite her success at becoming someone who weighs less, she was feeling a lot of anxiety about backsliding. (She had done this many times in the past.)

Others who are not quite as far along in their journey are feeling anxious that they might not succeed…because all of their previous attempts had failed.

It makes sense. Our expectations for the future are based on our past experiences. Except that this doesn’t take into account what’s changed.

New tools create new results

Brock offered a great analogy:

“In the past, you were like someone who was given the keys to fly a plane but had never been trained to be a pilot. So of course you struggled. It makes total sense. But now you have read the manual, done the training, and are ready to do some solo flights. Sure, you may still make some mistakes, you will have moments of doubt, but you will not crash the plane.”

Brock then invited her to make a list of all the tools that she had at her disposal the last time she was attempting to maintain a weight loss. She immediately got it.

“There were no tools!  There were just systems that I was either on or off.  So yes, this is different. I need to acknowledge the skill layers I’ve built through Weighless. This is definitely an aha moment and a big confidence builder.”

Letting go of past failures

One way to combat anxiety about the future is to understand–and then let go of–our past failures. We can’t blame our past selves for failing at something we had never been shown how to do. Then, we need to acknowledge the steps we are taking to create a different outcome. This allows us to face the future with confidence.

We may face some turbulence. But we will not crash the plane.

What steps are you taking to create a different outcome? What would make you feel more confident about your future? 

“The 12-month commitment put me off”

We recently checked in with some of the people who decided NOT to join us in the Weighless group that began earlier this month. We know there are a lot of reasons that people might decide not to do the program.  And we wanted understand more about those reasons, in case there’s something we can do to address them in the future.

A few people mentioned being reluctant to commit to a year-long program. Which is ironic. Because one of the things we hear from those who are nearing the end of their year (and often long before then) is that they don’t want it to be over.  It’s over too fast.

Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

The truth is that the year you spend with us in the Weighless program will pass so quickly…just like every year seems to.  (Am I the only one who can’t believe it’s almost time to put up the holiday lights again?)

The difference is that when this year is over, something big will have changed.  You will have a completely different outlook, a new set of habits, a new relationship to food, your body, your thoughts. A new community and set of tools.

Was that true for you this year? Last year? The year before that?

There are people who have been thinking about doing this program for years.  Maybe some of them felt like a year was just too long to commit to. And yet, here they are all these years later still looking for a solution.

Big goals take time

You’ve probably heard us talk about how important it is not too lose weight too quickly. (And if you haven’t, here’s more on that.) But that’s not really what I’m talking about.  The bigger goal is changing our thoughts, habits, and behaviors.  That takes time–especially if you want those changes to last.

One of the biggest advantages (and differences) of the Weighless program is that it gives you the time you need to do this. To figure out what works and then figure out how to make it sustainable. To stumble and learn how to recover instead of give up.

But that’s not how we’ve been trained to think about losing weight. We just want to get it over with as fast as we can…because it’s darned unpleasant.

But what if it wasn’t so unpleasant? What if instead of a few weeks or months of dieting/deprivation (followed by a few week or months of relapsing/regaining) you signed on for a year of  exploration, innovation, and creativity, resulting in a sustainable and enjoyable lifestyle that  allows you to weigh less. Permanently?

Here’s an idea

It’ll be at least six months before we launch another cohort.   If by then, you’re happy with your progress, we will be the first to celebrate with you.  (Really, I mean it. Be sure to let us know so we can cheer you on.)

But if six months from now you’re still more or less where you are today, then maybe a 12-month commitment would be exactly what you need to move foreward.

(P.S. It’ll be over before you know it!)

Challenge or Threat?

Many people find that they can keep their diet and exercise regimen on track perfectly well as long as their life is going smoothly. But as soon as they hit a rocky patch, their meal prep, portion size, evening snacking and exercise time goes haywire.

In other words, when life inevitably gets stressful, their best intentions fall apart.

Enter the…

Transactional Theory of Stress

This model, outlined in Handbook of Behavioral Medicine, suggests that while we unconsciously assess the stressors and demands of an event, they’re not actually the problem.

The real problem is how we appraise each of them and then decide whether we have the resources (grit, determination, motivation or willpower) to meet the problems posed. But these “resources” also include our perceived ability, our previous experience, and our relevant skill level.

So when these stressful times arise, based on your ability to face these problems, you’ll fall into either a Challenge state or a Threat state.

  • The Challenge state is where you’ve processed the situation and concluded that yes, you can cope. You’re fully engaged with the task at hand and can employ positive coping strategies to deliver optimum performance.
  • The Threat state is where you perceive that you lack the resources to cope with the situation ahead. This often leads you to turn to old behaviours/patterns and abandon anything that doesn’t feel comforting or familiar.

The next time you are faced with a stressful situation, wouldn’t it be nice to have the “resources” on hand to be able to switch into a challenge state rather than a threat state?

That is a big part of what our Weighless graduates experience. Over the year-long program, we give you the tools and mindset to be able to reassure yourself that the problem at hand is a challenge which you can handle… without busting into a pint of Ben and Jerrys.

How to get better at resisting temptation

Dog staring at tempting treat
Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Last night, Brock and I were coaching some folks who are working on impulse control. And more than one of them described times when an urge to eat something felt almost like an addiction. The more they tried to resist, the more overwhelming it felt. Sometimes, giving in–even though they knew they’d have regrets–felt like the only option.

But framing a desire as an addiction can make us feel really powerless. It also shifts all the focus onto the object of our desire, rather than our own thoughts and feelings–which is where the action really is.

It might be more helpful to think of that part of ourselves as our inner toddler rather than our inner addict.

When your inner toddler throws a tantrum

Deciding to resist an urge or craving can easily trigger a temper tantrum from your inner toddler. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of an actual toddler’s temper tantrum, you know how easy it is to get caught up in that emotional storm–and when you do, you have lost control of the situation.

But if we can step back and access our mature adult brains, we realize two things:

  1. We can see that the drama is totally out of proportion to the reality. For the toddler, getting the thin
    g they want literally feels like a matter of life and death. As adults, we can see that it is merely a passing squall. We may even be able to see the humor in the situation, which allows us to respond more gently.
  2. We may also be able to see that the toddler needs something–just not the thing they are demanding. Perhaps they need a nap, or a cuddle, or less stimulation, or something more interesting to do. This can turn irritation into compassion and allow us to care for our toddler more effectively.
Woman comforting child
Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

The next time you find yourself in the grips of a desire or craving, see if you can visualize that inner toddler who truly believes that they cannot live without this thing. Recognize the adorable absurdity of it all.

And then, instead of trying to reason with your screaming toddler, disciplining them, or simply giving in to an unreasonable demand (thereby perpetuating the behavior), see if you can figure out what that little person really needs.

Are you coping too well?

A lot of us use food as a coping mechanism. 

We’re eating to cope with stress, fatigue, boredom, anxiety, anger, grief…did I mention stress?

This might be OK — after all, coping is good, right? Except that all that “coping” is leading to unwanted  consequences. We gain weight or we can’t lose weight…and that is creating stress, fatigue, anxiety, anger, grief. 

Maybe we actually need to do less coping. 

If you stopped using food to “cope,” maybe you’d be compelled to make changes that made your life less stressful, boring, or exhausting. 

And maybe that’s the difference between coping and self-care.

So, here’s a question to consider: Is self-medicating with food allowing you to tolerate things that maybe you shouldn’t be tolerating?

What about your life might you be moved to change if you stopped “coping”?