Info about weight management typically focuses on diet and exercise, but we humans are complex creatures. Even when you know exactly what, how much and when to eat, other factors can strongly influence your ability to follow through. Here are three of the most common barriers I see and suggestions for overcoming them:
Emotions. Practically from birth we’re taught to eat emotionally. We use food to celebrate, reward and comfort each other and ourselves. If your emotions trigger you to eat, your biggest weight loss challenge may be finding an alternative way to address your feelings. Some of my clients eat when they’re bored. For others, anxiety sparks mindless munching. Do you find yourself eating when you’re not hungry or continuing to eat beyond fullness?
The Fix: Try to figure out what you’re thinking and feeling. Understanding your emotional connections to food can be the #1 factor that transforms the way you eat. For 3-5 days, keep an emotional food diary. Instead of simply writing down what you ate, record how you were feeling before, during and after eating. Once you understand your emotional triggers, you can experiment with alternate ways of expressing or addressing your feelings. When I’m sad, I tend to lose my appetite, but when I’m worried, my mind may drift toward thoughts of potato chips! So when I catch myself feeling anxious, I let it out. I make lists, vent out to my big sis and go for long walks. Finding what works to satisfy your feelings may just be the final piece of your weight loss puzzle.
Social situations. Recent research has confirmed what we’ve known for some time – eating can be contagious. We bond with others over food, we often “eat for entertainment” or eat while being entertained (at the movies, while watching a sporting event, etc.), and we tend to eat when other people are eating, even if we’re not hungry.
The Fix: If spending time with your friends or significant other usually revolves around food, try to switch it up and see what happens. Eat on your own beforehand and plan a food-free activity. Try something new, like indoor rock climbing, a play, or a museum exhibit.
Your environment. Your food surroundings can play a major role in setting you up for success, or contributing to your dietary downfall. A recent Canadian study found that people who live in an area with more fast food restaurants and convenience stores versus supermarkets are more likely to be obese. The same is true of your work environment. If goodies like candy, cookies and donuts are scattered throughout your office, you’re a lot more likely to mindlessly munch – even if you don’t want to or don’t realize you’re doing it.
The Fix: Assuming that relocating and changing jobs aren’t realistic options, your best bet is tracking your intake. In my 15+ years as a nutritionist, I can’t tell you how powerful this can be. I’ve had countless clients say things like, “I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables” or “I hardly ever eat fast food” only to find out that their perception was starkly different from the reality. Keeping a food diary is like turning up the lights in a dark room. Once you really know exactly what you’re doing and how often, you can develop strategies for breaking your habits and establishing new patterns. I once had a client who found out (by tracking) that she had been eating an extra 1,000 calories a week in Hershey Kisses. Her office kept a big bowl in the main lobby and she’d grab 4 or 5 twice a day every Mon-Fri. Another client started circumventing a big environmental obstacle. Each morning she had been buying breakfast at the corner deli: half of a multigrain bagel with reduced fat veggie cream cheese and a coffee (630 calories). Instead, she began eating breakfast before she left for work: 6 oz of 0% Greek yogurt mixed with a half cup of frozen, thawed berries and 1 slice of whole grain toast with a Tbsp of natural peanut butter (295 calories). Just by making one simple change, both women busted their weight loss plateaus.
Do you struggle with any of the above barriers? What are your biggest obstacles to healthy eating? Please share?