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Healthy You

Q&A: Managing the Emotions Behind Weight Loss

Wednesday, March 09, 2016 9:25 AM

When it comes to improving ourselves through diet and exercise, many of us focus on the now; what exercise will help you lose weight, what items to cut from your diet. Months down the road, it can leave you wondering why you have such a hard time keeping on track.

The experts at NorthShore discuss how self-esteem, motivation and your emotions factor into the continued success of improving your lifestyle:

Q: What advice would you give to an emotional eater with a history of an eating disorder and is currently overweight when it comes to safely losing weight?
A: Since emotional eating can interfere with weight loss, the first step is to learn strategies for managing emotions without food. This typically entails increasing tolerance for difficult emotions and utilizing cognitive-behavioral skills (e.g., distraction, positive self-talk) to cope in healthier ways. A good self-help resource for managing emotional eating is this book: “End Emotional Eating: Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Cope with Difficult Emotions and Develop a Healthy Relationship to Food.”  You might also consider working with a behavioral health professional who has expertise in eating disorders and weight management for specific guidance.

Q: I have been an on again/off again weight program member. When I followed the program twice, I successfully lost approximately 25 lbs in 12 weeks. But at the end of 12 weeks, I stopped to celebrate and gained it all back. And 25 lbs is not even my goal (it’s now 90-100 lbs). I feel better and look better, but can’t seem to keep going with the program. How can I stop this cycle?
A: Changing your self-talk is going to be key to stopping this cycle. When you lose weight, try to remind yourself, “When the scale is down, I have a tendency to loosen up by eating more. If I want to keep losing weight or even maintain the weight that I lost, I have to continue engaging in the behaviors that helped me to lose weight to begin with!” Also, it sounds like the celebrating gets a little prolonged. A desert when you are out to eat is unlikely to cause significant weight re-gain, but a desert after each meal is. Be clear about how you want to celebrate and return to your plan quickly.

Q: I have been working on a healthier lifestyle, including eating right, and have lost 72 lbs so far. I struggle with the thought that there is an end point and that I will be “off” the diet. How can I turn this around and make healthy eating be a normal part of what I do for the rest of my life?
A: Glad to hear you are thinking about this now.  There is not really an end point, there may be a transition point from the weight loss phase to the weight maintenance phase but to keep the weight off, you have to maintain the behaviors that helped you to lose weight to begin with. This really is a lifestyle change.

Q: What can I do when I’m busy during the day until the early evening and refraining from eating after 7:30-8, then feeling like I shouldn’t have eaten when I do?
A: Engage in a behavior that is incompatible with eating- that is, something that requires you to use your hands, so that you can’t eat and engage in the behavior at the same time!

Q: I have lost 60 lbs, and still have about 80 lbs to go. I lead a very structured lifestyle, and watch what I eat very carefully. I feel as if I will never realize that I have lost a significant amount of weight, like I will always be overweight. What can I do to feel more positive?
A: It can take some time for the mind to catch up with the body. Try putting on old clothes to remind yourself of how far you have come. Take pictures of yourself to help the mind wrap itself around the changes that have occurred. Finally, change your self-talk- remind yourself of all the ways things are different for you on a daily basis.

Q: What can you do when you don’t really have the support at home to eat healthier and when you get that urge of just eating out of control? How can I stop those negative and impulsive feelings and find support?
A: Whenever you feel that your eating is out of control, this can signal that it’s time to seek help from a behavioral health professional who specializes in eating disorders and weight management. This may be the best place to start, and the two of you can help you identify ways to increase support in your life.