Self Love or Self Sabotage?

Do you keep telling yourself that when you lose weight you’ll finally love yourself? Do you often say negative things to yourself in the mirror and shame yourself for not liking what you see?  This belief and behavior is one of the reasons people get stuck and prevent themselves from getting the results they want.

Overeaters commonly approach eating and exercise from a place of self-hatred. It’s no surprise that this creates resentment about taking care of ourselves, particularly when we’ve made it into a form of punishment. It may be tough to think of loving yourself when you have a history of feeling badly about yourself, but we are more likely to change from a place of self-acceptance. When we accept ourselves, we’re more likely to have the energy required to take loving actions towards our bodies – important actions like eating well, sleeping well, and exercising.

Let’s think of it like the difference between renting a home and owning a home. Most people who don’t like themselves treat their bodies like a place they rent, not own.  When you rent, you are less likely to want to invest in making improvements. Since someone else already owns it, you live with the little things you might not like about it. You most likely are not heavily invested in the overall condition of the place both financially and emotionally.

When you own your home, you make it yours and decorate it the way you like. You take pride in the time you spend creating the space and investing in its improvements. The financial and emotional investment increases and your attention to every detail is now part of your focus because it’s yours.

If you are waiting until you are “thin” to live and enjoy your life, you actually create more time to turn to food since you don’t pursue your live as actively as you spend too much time interacting with food and your body negatively. You become an observer rather than a participant in your own life. When you are harsh with yourself, you lose the motivation to take care of yourself and then the pain of self-flagellation sends you to the refrigerator to soothe the pain of the harsh inner critic and the cycle continues.

The first step is accepting yourself exactly as you are today. This can sound easier said than done, but it’s a necessary part of taking care of yourself for the rest of your life. Here are a few easy way to start practicing self acceptance and love today:

  • Keep a Gratitude Journal-write down at least three things you did well every night.
  • Practice Discernment-Surround yourself with accepting, happy, positive people.  Look for people who model what you want and spend more time with them.  Decrease the time you spend with negative, fear based people. 
  • Make a list-Ask your friends or family to share what they love about you and acknowledge what you appreciate about yourself. (such as good friend, compassionate, intelligent, fun, reliable. etc)
  • Notice how you talk to yourself – Is it working to get you the results you want?  Start affirming the good things and disregard the negative habits of criticism.
  • Treat yourself with kindness and compassion– We often take much better care of others than we do ourselves. Practice treating yourself as if you were a child, friend or loved one.

Power over food doesn’t just come from changing your thinking; it has to come from changing your actions as well. When you change our actions, your way of thinking inevitably changes. Take loving actions towards yourself and you’ll find self-care feels more rewarding and self-acceptance becomes more natural.    



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How to Create a New Habit in 3 Easy Steps

We often focus on what we are doing wrong versus what we are doing well- and that can feel discouraging. If you have had trouble changing some of the habits you consider non supportive, focus on creating a brand new habit instead of changing an old one. The attention to the opportunity might give you some positive energy and hope about what you would like to create.

Learning habits that reduce stress is a “keystone” to changing other habits because lower stress levels make it easier for us to be proactive rather than reactive. Keystone habits are those that send ripple effects into our lives and tend to make us improve on other behaviors. Some keystone habits reported by successful weight managers include eating breakfast daily, exercising, food journaling, and mindfulness skills. In order to effectively create a new habit, follow these three steps below.

Step 1: Choose a habit that is very easy to start: If you want to start a new habit and begin living healthier and happier, one suggestion that I cannot emphasize enough is to start small. I call it low hanging fruit. What is something that when you think of it, you say “oh I can do that!”  If you have a positive energetic or emotional response to the new habit you are choosing, you chose the right one. Think baby steps. Let’s use the example of taking your vitamins.

Step 2: Create a reminder for the habit: A good reminder makes it easy to start connecting your new behavior to something that you already do. This is why the reminder is such a critical part of forming new habits. A good reminder does not rely on motivation and it doesn’t require you to remember to do your new habit. Picking the correct reminder for your new habit is the first step to making change easier. Write down a list of things you do everyday such as take a shower, eat lunch, pack your brief case, get your travel mug ready, etc. Visualize your routine from the time you rise until you go to bed and list all of the action items you do every day and then choose one to link to your goal.

Set up a visible reminder for your new habit to link it with a current behavior and it will be complete. No need to be motivated. No need to remember. In the example of taking vitamins, you could buy a pill box and put all of your vitamins in the box. Then linking the pill taking with an activity you already do such as brush your teeth, I would suggest putting the pill box on the counter in the bathroom next to your toothbrush or toothpaste.

Step 3: Create a reward or attach a positive affirmation: Acknowledge yourself every time you complete this new habit. Tell yourself, “Good job!”, “I did well today! or “ Great work, Lisa!” (of course add in your name, not mine).  After you take the pills, either before or after you brush your teeth, look at yourself in the mirror and say “Great job!”

We want to continue doing things that make us feel good. And because an action needs to be repeated for it to become a habit, it’s especially important that you reward yourself each time you practice your new habit. Here are some other tips to help support your new habit cultivation:

  • Post reminders of your goals
  • Read books or listen to audios to keep you motivated
  • Make your environment easy to slip into effective behaviors and difficult to slip into ineffective behaviors
  • Create more rewarding associations to effective behaviors.

You might have to experiment before you find the right reminder that helps you to start a new habit. Celebrating and rewarding yourself with positive self–talk can take some getting used to if you’re not someone who typically does that.  Remember that it is all a process so try to have some fun with it!



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Journaling to Change Eating Habits

If you eat when you’re angry, anxious or depressed but not necessarily hungry, you may be turning to food to suppress your emotions- this is considered emotional eating. A mental health professional can help you identify the emotional triggers that drive you to overeat and address the reasons for your depression or negative feelings. As a mental health professional, I often recommend journaling to my patients and consider this a wonderful tool to incorporate as a daily practice for anyone who wants to weaken the cycle of emotional eating.

How exactly does journaling help? Here are a few ways:

  • Creates space and time between urge and action- redirecting emotional intensity by involving left brain activity.
  • Relieves tension- waves of emotional energy get put on paper so the head gets clear from those thoughts. Journaling helps relieves the pressure you might feel and dissipates the tension from not acting on the habit of eating.
  • More easily identify what your needs are by writing and therefore you become less dominated by emotions. You become able to think more clearly.


The great thing about journaling is that there is no “right” way to do it.  Here are four simple methods to consider and see which kind of journaling is beneficial for you.

  1. Morning Pages-This is a method taught by author, Julia Cameron. Start your morning by doing some free form writing, up to three pages.  Open the journal upon waking and write about how you are feeling.  Include every thought, big or small, the goal is to let it all out. Try not to stop and think about it, just keep writing. These pages are for you only so write whatever comes to your mind.
  2. Food and Feelings Log– Buy a small journal that fits in your purse or bag so you can always have it with you. Start in the morning and write down everything you eat and drink. Log the time you ate it and how you felt including emotions as well as physical sensations and thoughts. You can write a few words or phrase, you do not need to write full paragraphs or stories. After a week or two, review the journal to see any patterns. Ask your mental health professional, or a trusted friend/supporter to review the journal to see any patterns you may have missed. For example, do you eat well for most of the day but then overeat after 8pm? Finding the patterns can help you identify what to do to change it.
  3. “Hair on Fire”- As you are frantically headed for the cookies or chips, grab a pen and paper first. Tell yourself you can still eat the food you were wanting but first you will take 5 minutes to write. You can either write about what is on your mind in that moment or how you are feeling. This can help you to identify what the real issue is or help in relieving some of those feelings on paper before breaking in the potato chip bag.  You may find that you feel better after writing and that your cravings have been reduced.
  4. Name or Math: If the thought of journaling is too hard, do a math equation.  Getting the left brain involved will redirect the emotions and help to relieve any stress you are experiencing. If math is too complicated then write your name.  Start by writing it twenty or thirty times. 


Bottom line is that you don’t need to figure anything out, just start writing. Self control becomes enhanced when you use a journal on a regular basis.  And remember there are no rules, just write.



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5 Steps to Changing Your Habits

We as a society find it easy to get caught up in the desire to make massive changes in life. Our nightly programming provides us entertainment and often misguided inspiration as we watch incredible weight loss transformations and think that it’s healthy and realistic to lose 30 pounds in the 3 weeks. Watching the Olympics might inspire you back to a sport you love or to hitting your exercise program with more enthusiasm than before and that can be great motivation. However, it is very important to remember that lasting change is a product of daily habits, not once–in–a–lifetime transformations. The key would be to change your habits to help you produce those results you seek.

Before we get into how to change a habit or replace a current habit you have with one that yields you better results, let’s address what is good about having habits in the first place.

  • We need habits to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the details of life, in a way they can protect us.
  • Over a period of time and repetition, the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine- having a habit can make life easier.
  • Habits help the brain conserve energy, and who doesn’t love that?

If you are at a place in life where your current habits are not supporting your goals, consider taking some time to change those habits. If you are someone who can identify multiple habits that you would like to change, I would recommend you start with one at a time.  Once you have successfully integrated your new habit into your life, you will feel more confident and even excited about changing the next one.

  1. Identify the routine.
  2. What’s the trigger or cue?
  3. What’s the reward?
  4. Make a plan
  5. Find a team

Let’s take a closer look at these 5 steps.

1. Identify the routine: What is the behavior you want to change? Is it night eating?  Are you choosing heavy foods?  Are you stress eating? Do you procrastinate? Do you have impulsive behavior? Are you overworking or obsessing? What is the routine you most want to change?  Write it down.

2. What’s the trigger or cue? What time is it? Where are you? Place, activity or event? Who else is around? What did you just do? Did something happen immediately preceding the routine? I.e. did you see or smell food? What emotions, thoughts, or physical sensations are you experiencing? One of these things is the cue. Look for which one stays the same every time you feel the urge-write it down.

3. What’s the reward? Habitual behaviors are driven by cravings for rewards or avoidance of negative consequences. What craving do you think your behavior is satisfying: the taste of a cookie, a change of scenery, temporary distraction/avoidance or socializing? Do you get a burst of energy from sugar? Comfort?  Feeling in control?  Stimulation? Relaxation?  Safety?  Find the answer that feels the most accurate and write it down. To figure out which cravings are driving a particular habit, it’s useful to experiment with different rewards. As you test each reward, jot down the first three things that come to mind. Set an alarm for 15 minutes. Has the craving lessened in intensity or stayed the same? Keep experimenting until you find something new that satisfies the urge.

 4. Make a plan: Studies show that the easiest way to implement a new habit is to write a plan. For example: When _(cue)_, I will _(routine)_ because it provides me with __(reward)__. Post this plan where you will see it. Try it for a week. Be aware of how it feels. When the intrinsic reward of a behavior (what you feel from doing it) is stronger than the extrinsic (what you treat yourself with afterwards), you’ve got a strong habit.

5. Find a team: Create a support system of people who are on the same path as you are or who have the habits you aspire to develop. People tend to associate with people who act like them Belief in your ability to make changes often comes faster to those who get bolstered by their social groups and see others like them making the changes they want to see in themselves. A strong community can also help make changes stick. State your goals out loud to make yourself accountable. Let others know when you are struggling with an urge. It helps you get out of denial and makes it real.

We need to continually and consciously practice new behaviors for them to become habits (automatic) to overpower old habits. Believe in your ability to change- if I can do it, so can you!  Would love to hear from you below in the comments section.  If you found this article helpful, please share it!  Also sign in at Power Over Food for more helpful tools for your mind, body and health.


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Weaken the Cycle of Emotional Eating

When people first come to see me they often report, “I know how to eat, I just can’t get myself to do it.”

These people are often frustrated and judge themselves harshly for what they perceive to be a lack of willpower. While we may have the facts, decisions about what, when and how much to eat also involve emotions and other physiological drives.

Emotional eating is a term often used to describe eating that is influenced by emotions, both positive and negative. Feelings may influence your motivation to eat, your food choices, where, when and with whom you eat, and the speed with which you eat.

Here are some examples of what emotional eating might look like:

  • Eating to soothe or reward yourself after a long day
  • Eating during or following a stressful event
  • Turning to food to stuff feelings of anger
  • Eating to procrastinate
  • Eating to numb feelings or forget your worries
  • Secretive eating
  • Eating quickly and mindlessly without really tasting the food
  • Grazing on food when you are not particularly hungry
  • Eating that feels uncontrollable or very difficult to stop
  • Frequently craving and eating foods you think of as “comfort foods” 
  • Eating to celebrate or as the primary source of adding joy to your life
  • Continuing to eat when you know you are moderately full

Many people eat in an attempt to self-soothe or to momentarily escape painful thoughts or feelings. Emotional eating is often related to feelings of inadequacy that we don’t know how to manage. When emotions become hard to handle, many people feel like they don’t have the skills to cope and eating seems like the best option available to them at the time.

I used to turn to comfort foods often as a way to manage stress. It was quick and improved my mood almost immediately and with little effort. Sounds good, right? Wrong! Think about your own experience. Does turning to food provide you with true or lasting relief? Most people tell me that the relief they experience is fleeting and is often followed by self-recriminations and guilt which often triggers more eating and thoughts like, “I blew it; I’m a failure.”

As a first step to weaken the cycle of emotional eating, just notice your emotions before and after eating. Do your best to be as nonjudgmental as possible. Take a “just the facts” approach so you can gather important information.  Recall a situation in which you recently overate where you believe emotions were the primary trigger. You might want to jot down in a notebook the answers to the following questions:

  1. What was the circumstance? Where was I, who was I with, had something recently happened that might have prompted the urge to escape feelings through food?  
  2. Was I more vulnerable to eating due to something in me (fatigue) or the environment (appetizing food in view or in the pantry)?
  3. What was I feeling and/or thinking? What sensations was I aware of in my body?
  4. How did the emotions or thoughts affect my eating?
  5. How did I feel physically, mentally and emotionally after eating?

When you begin to notice the feelings, thoughts, and other aspects of your eating experiences, you are taking a step back and getting more perspective on your triggers. When you practice gaining perspective, your behavior will become less impulsive. Over time, you will become able to say things like, “Oh look, I’m really angry and I want to go munch on cookies.” From there you will have the choice to learn a new way to cope with the anger rather than feeling controlled by it.     




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What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is intentionally paying attention without judgment to the thing that’s the most important for you to be effective in the present moment.

It may sound complicated, but in certain situations, you’re probably being mindful already without noticing it.

For example, I’m being mindful right now. Here on my desk are cards I need to send out, a CD that’s supposed to remind me to call a friend, and of course my computer with my e-mail program, the Internet, and the potentially infinite number of distractions it offers. Even the parakeet is chirping for attention. But the thing that’s most important for me to be effective right now is writing this blog. So I intentionally focus on it. When something distracts me, I bring my attention back.

Your senses bring more information into your brain than your conscious mind can possibly absorb. Your nervous system is constantly filtering out low-priority information. Typically, your mind is occupied to some degree with chattering thoughts; sometimes called “the monkey mind.” It is perfectly normal to experience mind chatter. Chattering thoughts may recede into the background when you’re concentrating on a project. They may grow to overwhelming proportions when you’re bored or have nothing to do.

Your job is to observe these thoughts, and yet continue to bring your attention back to the most important thing, the thing that will make you most effective in this moment.

When you pay attention without judgment, without listening to the monkey mind’s complaints or criticisms, you increase the capacity of your conscious mind. Then when you intentionally return your attention to the most important thing, you have extra capacity for new and valuable information that will help you be more effective.

To get the best information about how to manage yourself in the present moment, all you have to do is intentionally focus on your body’s signals, including your thoughts and emotions, and recognize their ebb and flow.

Watch the Ebb and Flow

It’s a fact of life that things always change and pass. Even a headache is not steady state. If you can put off grabbing the ibuprofen for a few moments and just observe, you’ll find your headache gets stronger one moment, weaker the next, and then back to stronger or maybe something in between. It ebbs and flows.

The better you get at listening to the ebb and flow of what’s going on in your body—whether you’re hot or cold, confident or unsure, tired or raring to go—the better you’ll get at recognizing and meeting your own wants and needs. 

If you’re like most people, you probably use food at least on occasion to manage your discomfort, both physical and emotional. You might even have come to depend on food to keep your nervous system stable, balanced and comfortable. The more extreme your discomfort, the more vulnerable you become to compensate with emotional eating.

So avoid the extremes! When you listen to your body’s messages throughout the day, you’ll be aware of when you’re getting hungry, lonely, angry or tired so you can intervene and take care of yourself before any of these conditions become overwhelming. Become mindful so you can get the information you need to manage your discomforts effectively.

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