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Ask The Coaches! Why am I sabotaging myself?

Dear Coaches, 

I seem to be sabotaging my own fitness goals. I want to lose weight (especially this extra body fat) and I try really hard to eat healthy. Then, I go sneak some chips or have a candy bar. And it isn’t just a treat meal once a week, it is a daily snack. I’m not sure why I work so hard and then deliberately sabotage myself. How do I stop?

-Secret Snacker 

Dear Secret Snacker:

First of all, do not be too hard on yourself. This is very common for people to experience, especially when they are going through a lifestyle change. Be nice to yourself, it takes time to change!

Next, you should identify “high risk” situations where food temptation is high. Few people overeat in every situation, so determine the circumstances that are likely to trigger a binge. Once you’ve identified which situations are most likely to spark emotional overeating, come up with a game plan for each one. For example, if you can’t go to the movies without snacking on something, sneak in your own bag of air-popped popcorn or some low-cal candy.

Next, make sure that you use a food journal or track calories online. In a study at the Center for Behavioral Medicine in Chicago, researchers asked 38 people who were trying to lose weight to keep a food diary; doing so not only helped them control their weight during high-risk holidays, but even helped them peel off unwanted pounds. Keep it simple—it doesn’t have to include total calories or fat grams—but don’t forget to jot down snacks or drinks, which can add up. You need to maintain a record at least 75 percent of the time for a food diary to be effective. This way you can see where the trouble spots are and make changes accordingly. Your coaches are here to help too, use them.

Additionally, while this may seem obvious, keep temptation out of your path. Get rid of junk food and replace it with better choices—rice cakes or flax seed chips for your pantry; low-fat/low sugar frozen yogurt, pre-made fruit salad and baby carrots for your fridge; and reduced-fat popcorn or nuts for your desk drawer. It’s going to be easier for you to avoid overeating if you control your external environment.

When you feel the temptation to binge coming on, force yourself to wait at least ten minutes. Drink some water or low calorie beverage. When the vending machine or kitchen beckons, stop and ask yourself if you’re truly hungry, and not just bored or using food to procrastinate from something. Get involved in another activity for 10 minutes, then see if you still want what you were craving. Sometimes we get hunger pangs and they’re more mouth hunger—a desire to taste or chew—than stomach hunger. Try a piece of sugar free gum to keep your mouth busy.

Finally, there is a strong emotional component tied to splurging, bingeing and over-eating. You can learn to manage your emotions in a way that doesn’t involve food. Find another outlet for frustration—whether it’s taking a long bath, meditating, getting in a workout, chatting with a friend or another form of healthy stress relief. If you can distract yourself from upsetting feelings or learn to sit with them for a while, you’ll probably find they pass more quickly than you’d thought. And, you’ll feel better afterward because you’ll have avoided another potential source of distress: losing control of your eating.

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