Whenever we think about trying to lose weight, stress seems to rise. As stress increases around body, weight, and food, we tend to fall back into old (self-sabotaging) habits of dieting, restricting, bingeing.

Why do I call these self-sabotaging habits? Why do I associate dieting with also restricting and bingeing?

Because more often than we want to admit, they do go hand-in-hand.

Stress and Dieting Lead to Weight Gain

  • When we’re stressed and saying mean things to our body, belittling ourselves for eating too much and not sticking to a diet, we self-soothe with food. We pacify our frazzled self with food. We boost our mood and emotions (albeit very temporarily) with serotonin-boosting foods. We eat to soothe our bruised ego. And the bingeing and reactionary restricting cycle starts again.
  • Self-hate, induced by negative self-talk, blame, and guilt, triggers overeating and more body and weight hate.
  • When we’re under stress and feel uncomfortable in our own skin, then we look to food for that which food cannot give us (comfort, forgiveness, a way out). Yet we hope for comfort in sugary, salty, rich foods.
  • A dieting mindset (because of its association with restriction) encourages emotional eating and binge eating. Just like an overly controlled child, we rebel, we try to break free from the bonds that we’ve imposed on ourself with the label of ‘on a diet.’ Under that label (or even just the general feeling), the only option is to binge or to eat in response to the anger and resentment of being tightly controlled.
  • Stress encourages weight gain. Excess cortisol leads the body to preferentially store calories as belly fat. Stress also makes us eat more, sleep worse, and seek higher calorie foods. All of this means added pounds.

Am I suggesting you just don’t diet anymore? Pretty much, yes. Is it that easy? Almost never.

What then can help with eating smart and losing weight, if not dieting?

Awareness. And Love.

When you’re at a moment of emotional eating or bingeing, many people would tell you to sit with your feelings, rather than eating them. But, personally, I hate experiencing my feelings, particularly negative feelings.

Instead, I’d rather analyze them–questioning ‘what caused me to feel this way?’ ‘why is this feeling pushing me to want to eat?’ ‘what can I do to change how I’m feeling now?’ ‘what systems or habits can I put into place so I don’t have to feel this way again?’

That, right there–noticing the impetus for eating, acknowledging the feelings, and for me questioning the feelings–are the first steps of awareness.

Awareness in the key moment is probably the most important thing you can do. Once you have awareness, anything is possible: choosing to go ahead with the binge, introducing a positive mantra to help wait out the craving, or doing something completely different (call a friend, read a book, take a walk, draw up a bath, etc).

The next most important thing you need is love. Love for yourself, your body, the behavior. Why? Because love also means compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, and trust.

Even if it doesn’t feel true for you at first, try an “I love my body” or “I trust my body” mantra. Another option would be to repeat to yourself one thing you love about the way you look and one thing you love about who you are.

Start there and let the feelings of love and gratitude grow and wash over you. We wouldn’t want to shove food down the throat of someone we love, would we?

With practice, patience, and perseverance, awareness and love can begin to replace stress and dieting.

Awareness and love, conveniently actually help weight loss. They replace cortisol with feelings of acceptance and calm, so you want to treat your body well. You provide it with food that heals and nourishes in quantities that make you feel good.

With love and awareness, the diet, binge, restrict cycle begins to erode. Stress falls away. Weight comes off more easily. Eating healthy happens naturally and intuitively.

My hope is that we can all use awareness and love (and not stress and dieting) to discover a weight that feels comfortable for each of our own bodies.