Will you be making any New Year’s resolutions this year about getting in shape or stopping your emotional eating? If you’re like most Americans, you’ll make one or more resolutions along those lines. And then, a few weeks into the new year, you may be wondering where all those good intentions went.
I’ve never been a big fan of grand, lofty New Year’s resolutions. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t believe in envisioning what we hope to accomplish in the upcoming year. It’s more that I believe those lofty ideas need a game plan. If you haven’t been able to get yourself to exercise or check in with yourself when you want to turn to food for comfort or distraction, how will a change of the date on the calendar make things different? Rather than engage in magical thinking about changing habits like emotional eating, try getting specific about the changes you’d like to make and the small baby steps you know you can accomplish. This may mean adjusting your expectations to a more reasonable level.
There is one resolution that I hope you will make this year: to be kind to and patient with yourself. It takes time, patience, mindfulness, willingness, self-compassion and endurance to make emotional shifts and behavioral changes. Expecting too much from yourself, pushing yourself too hard and beating up on yourself for not achieving your goals only crushes your spirit. Constant self-criticism is de-motivating and only ignites your inner rebel.
So, what might a kind and patient game plan look like? Here are four steps you might want to include:
1) Choose one small, quantifiable baby-step change you feel you can make and monitor your progress. For example, perhaps you’d like to practice interrupting the urge to overeat by checking in with yourself and identifying your emotions and needs. Or perhaps you’d like to add more unprocessed wholesome plant foods to your eating plan to help balance out your body chemistry. Monitor your progress by writing down on a calendar or in your journal each time you accomplish this small baby-step. When you’re ready, add a second change you’d like to make.
2) Practice self-affirming commentary. Each time you accomplish your goal, praise yourself. As a matter of fact, get in the habit of praising yourself all the time! Every time you praise yourself, you’re strengthening the voice of your Inner Nurturer and rewiring your brain for future success. Try on statements like “I’m proud of myself for stopping before I head to the kitchen for a second serving and getting clear on my non-food needs.” “I feel good about the fact that I ate more fruits and veggies today.” Or, “Good girl, you cleared away those two piles of papers on the desk. Bravo!” You are less likely to want to “use” food when you are feeling a boost in your self-esteem.
3) Replace self-defeating thoughts with positive, powerful reframes. Thoughts like “This is just too hard and overwhelming–I’ll never be able to stop overeating” or “There just isn’t enough time in the day to fit in exercise” are limiting, hopeless and pessimistic and can lead to an exaggerated appetite for soothing and comfort. Try on more energizing reframes like “As I practice patience with myself, I realize that I can make one small change today” or “I can easily start by adding ten minutes of exercise into my day–I can do anything for ten minutes.”
4) Forgive yourself for unmet goals and past mistakes. How successful are you at letting go of mistakes, disappointments and losses and moving on? I know, this is a tough one for most of us–forgiveness of self (and others) takes time and is a process. But if you don’t forgive yourself, you hold yourself in a kind of perpetual jail cell and you are never truly free to move on and enjoy your life. A constant sense of shame and self-dissatisfaction can fuel emotional eating. Write down in your journal all the things you haven’t forgiven yourself for. What would it take to let go? Is there any benefit you can see in holding yourself in that jail cell? The more unforgiving you are of yourself, the more you’ll feel that urge to turn to food for soothing and comfort. Your internal world needs to be a sanctuary where you can go for love, acceptance, support and forgiveness.
I’m wishing you a healthy, joy-filled, New Year. And I’m hoping that the one resolution you will make is to be kind to and patient with yourself this New Year. You deserve it.
Posted by Julie M Simon, MA, MBA, MFT, psychotherapist and life coach, certified personal trainer, founder and director of The 12 Week Emotional Eating Recovery Program and author of The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual and When Food Is Comfort . If you have a question or topic you’d like to see addressed in this blog, go to https://overeatingrecovery.com.
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