How Do I Stop Eating For Comfort?

I recently received an e-mail from Sarah – she is a perfect example of a smart, successful and happy woman who has mastered most other aspects of her life except weight loss.  Sarah lives a rich, full, busy life and does not lack discipline. She owns and manages a business and is a wife and mother to two girls.

The problem is when she gets tired or upset, she eats. She knows its bad and her body doesn’t need the food, but she can’t seem to stop. “If only I knew how to switch off that mechanism that says –“I’m upset; just one bowl of ice-cream won’t hurt”. It’s like I am possessed. Then afterwards I feel worse and am riddled with guilt”.

In short, Sarah wanted to ask me whether she needs to address emotional eating before she can lose weight.

If you’ve been around the block a few times with dieting, you will know that even the most balanced healthy eating plan will fail if you repeatedly eat for comfort. Eating to self-soothe is one of the biggest obstacles to achieving and maintaining healthy weight loss.  Sarah is stuck in a terrible cycle that she can’t seem to break, and she really wants to get off the merry go round. She is healthy, doesn’t smoke or put any abusive substances in her body, but when she feels bad, her size goes up.

It’s a great question. My answer is that eating for comfort is a learned habit. It’s a coping behaviour.  Fortunately this means we can unlearn it – but it takes mental energy and lots of perseverance.

Somewhere along the line we learned that certain foods can help us get through difficult situations. It can ease the pain, and our drug of choice is only a room away.

My advice is that it is wise to address the emotional eating aspects before you worry too much about weight loss. But sometimes we can do it at the same time. There is so much more to losing weight than counting calories. That is what diets do not address adequately in my opinion. They can tell you what to eat, but most don’t teach you how to stop putting food in your mouth when you are stressed, angry or tired.

Why do we turn to food? Pure and simple – comfort and relief! It provides temporary soothing and food is easy – it helps us regulate our mood and energy levels. When you eat entire tubs of ice-cream or family bags of chips, you are trying to handle an emotional need with food.  Relief and comfort is a true need, just NOT a food need.

With increased emotional awareness, you can begin to figure out what you are trying to cope with and deal with that more directly, and make some progress. It’s important to practise new coping skills and have effective strategies in place – which I outline in my Thin For Life program.

Talk to people about your feelings and concerns. Don’t hesitate to get support.  Ask yourself what you need and then make sure you get it. This may involve delegating tasks, reaching out for help or scheduling in some time for relaxation and fun, like a movie or a swim and sauna.

Lastly, it’s important not to view your habit of using food for comfort as a personal flaw or weakness. It has simply been your best way of coping and the habit is deeply grooved and may have started very young. Acknowledging the problem, combined with regular consistent practise of new coping skills is what will set you free.

 

Top 5 Tips for Staying (Almost) Sugar Free

For years, we have been saying to ourselves and hearing others say to us, both subtlety and obviously – that all we have to do is stop eating: “Put down the fork. You’d be so pretty if you lost weight. Your sister eats just one of those”.

I remember how demoralizing this felt. And if it were that easy to just stop, of course we all would. The problem is that certain foods act in the body as if they are drugs, creating an addiction powerful enough to hold people captive in a pattern of overeating despite their most fervent efforts to break free.

I call these foods “drug foods”, which by themselves are not drugs, but through a series of chemical reactions eventually cause production of brain chemicals that can have a drug like effect on the body. Sugar and refined carb foods (which act like sugar in the body), as we now know, are “drug foods” and more addictive than cocaine. No wonder it isn’t easy to stop at just one.

Do you have the same kind of emotional attachment to celery as you do to M&M’s? Natural, whole foods (as nature intended them) are not drug like foods, so we are pretty safe eating them. On the other hand, chips, ice-cream, cookies and candy are designed to get you hooked.

When I took my first step toward getting most of the sugar out of my life 14 years ago, I had no idea that once I broke my dependency on sugar and rid myself of addictive behaviour, I would be able to eat and enjoy small amounts and then stop. Up until then, if special sweets came into the house, I would be haunted by them until they were gone (that is, eaten).

For those of you wanting to break free from the hold sugar has over you, I have good news – change is possible with the right strategies. The bad news is, in most cases, it takes a lot of work. Like a smoker trying to quit cigarettes, it can require the fierceness of a lion to break the stronghold.

But living without the excess sugar will give you better moods, better health, clearer thinking, less headaches, more energy and almost effortless weight loss.

To get you started, here are my top 5 ways to be mostly sugar free;

  1. To Strive For Perfection Is Pointless – it’s absurd and unnecessary to be totally sugar free all the time because sugar, high fructose corn syrup, barley malt and a host of other sweeteners are hidden in thousands of processed foodstuffs, from crackers to ketchup. By becoming more aware of where sugar hides, you can make better choices, buy plain foods and add a touch of sweetener yourself. So instead of being perfect, aim for 80 or 90% sugar free. For example, I will have a third of the amount of ketchup (which I know contains sugar) and mix it with two thirds Dijon mustard to have with my steak or lamb chops. I also buy plain yoghurt and mix it with berries or stevia and cinnamon for sweetness. I also buy the darkest chocolate which contains the least amount of sugar.
  2. Always Have Healthy Emergency Food with You. For the best chance at success, it’s imperative to plan ahead at all times. One of the reasons people get caught out and tempted is when they are stuck somewhere and there are no healthy options. Whenever I leave home, I pack water and some protein rich snack like nuts, Babybel cheese or beef jerky in a ziplock bag to ward off the blood-sugar blues, which can lead to reaching for the donut or muffin for quick energy even when you promised yourself you wouldn’t.
  3. Go For Quality. If you are going to have sugar, perhaps when you want to enjoy a divine dessert at your favourite restaurant, make sure it’s worth it. If by chance the recipe disappoints you, accept the disappointment and move on. It’s not worth it, instead, save your “sweet quota” for something exquisite. Also, at home, experiment with making treats with alternative sweeteners, such as stevia or Brown rice malt syrup or simply using half the amount of sugar in a normal recipe. This will help you adjust your palette to be less sweet.
  4. When Stressed or Tired, Temptation Will Strike. It’s important to see things coming. Over the years, I have come to understand my vulnerable times and triggers for sugar laden foods. It’s when I’m overtired, have a headache, under extreme stress, and have deadline pressure or emotional turmoil. Sure enough, my calm resolve will be shaken and at that point, I have to remember to pause and clarify what the real problem is. When I address the issue at its root, like take a nap, or have a headache tablet or call someone to talk things over, I am less likely to turn to sugary foods to feel better.
  5. Falling off the Wagon is Ok, Perhaps Even Expected. Food is not like alcohol or drugs, where we can remain absolutely abstinent. We always have to eat, which means that whenever and wherever you go, sugary non-foods will abound and sometimes it will feel easier to just eat it than to give a reason as to why you can’t. Yes, food pushers can get you when you least expect it. In this situation, allow yourself few bites, and then put it down. Like anything, the harm of sugar is dose related, so a little will do a lot less harm than a lot. We are human beings and we’re not perfect. Sometimes we just won’t eat right. But it’s what you do afterwards that counts.

I hope that helps you stay on track for being mostly sugar free, so you can enjoy all the benefits that comes with no longer being dependant on a substance that isn’t doing your body any good.

 

 

What to Eat If Nothing Healthy Is Available

One of the questions I often get asked by clients is what to do when there is no decent food available. It may be at a party or at a fast food restaurant with friends, or at a sporting event, theme park or live show where all they have is basically junk food to eat.

Since arriving here in the US a month ago, I have found myself in quite a few situations where I am hungry, but the choices for some “real” food are scarce. Even though I like to be prepared, sometimes you still need to eat, and it’s clear that healthy food isn’t always available.

Take yesterday for example. Simon, the kids and I set off very early, at 6am, bound for Disneyland. I packed a cooler bag with some nuts, seeds, apples, almond butter portions, water, Babybel cheeses, Turkey jerky, dried apricots and some dark chocolate. It’s always important to be well prepared, as I find it is the best defence.

However, with extras taken care of, we still needed to stop for breakfast, lunch and dinner. After an hour and a half in the car, we found ourselves at Mc Donalds, as it was the one of the only choices available as we waited for Disneyland to open.

With a big day ahead of us, I fancied something filling, but everything on the menu came with pancakes, biscuits or muffins, but I really just wanted some eggs and a coffee. Much to my surprise, when I told the server I would just love some scrambled eggs only, he said “Sure, we can do that!”. Along with my eggs, I then spread some almond butter on half of Simons English muffin, and I was satisfied and off to a good start.

When we entered Disneyland, needless to say, there were sugary delights on every corner. I kept the kids sustained with some healthy snacks from our cooler bag and mid morning, Simon and I stopped for coffee at a quaint bakery, which had every cookie, pastry and sweet treat you could imagine. Fortunately, because I’d had a decent breakfast, the coffee and large water was enough and I wasn’t desperate for a massive pastry or donut.

By lunch time, I was getting very hungry and tired. Most of the food choices on offer were doughy starches like pizza, fries and pretzels that I knew would not satisfy me and only increase my cravings for more fast sugars.

By then we had spotted lots of people eating what looked like enormous Turkey drumsticks. So Simon and I tracked them down and ordered two delicious glazed jumbo Turkey drumsticks. They were healthy, fed all four of us, a good source of protein and fun to eat! The kids loved them too. In fact I was full all afternoon, as was Simon.

After walking all day, we were all exhausted, the kids were grumpy and we just wanted to eat before we crashed at our hotel. So we stopped at the local Del Taco for a quick bite. There I ordered two crispy shrimp tacos and a large ice-water. When we arrived at the hotel, I enjoyed a hot tea with a piece of Ghiradelli 86% dark chocolate (my new favourite chocolate) and a hot bath – just what I needed after a magical day at Disneyland, which was a dream come true for our family.

While we did treat our kids to some cotton candy and some popcorn during the afternoon, all in all, being prepared with a well stocked cooler bag and making smart choices was our life saver.

 

Use my three tips for when healthy choices are scarce;

-think ahead and always try to be as prepared as possible

-don’t be afraid to request modifications to the menu, to suit your desires

-when there is nothing else, just practice portion control and then move on

Many times you can’t lug along everything you need, but by always keeping some portion controlled baggies of nuts, jerky or some fresh fruit in your bag, at least you will be well equipped for emergencies!

What do you do when there is NOTHING healthy available? I’d love you to share in the comments.

 

How to Balance Your Hormones to Beat Belly Fat

As you may know, carrying extra weight, especially around your belly, on your hips and thighs is a key indicator of a hormonal imbalance. If you have struggled to lose weight and keep it off, I guarantee that your hormones are at play, so I want to share with you the key 4 hormones that all skinny people have in balance and how you can get your humming too.

Your hormones control every aspect of weight loss including your metabolism, where you store fat, your appetite and even your cravings! This means any form of hormonal imbalance will sabotage your efforts.

Now for the good news. Here are the 4 hormones that skinny and healthy women have in balance – and how you can get yours in balance too!

1.       INSULIN

Chronically elevated insulin and insulin spikes make you fat and put your body into fat storing mode instead of fat burning mode. Without the presence of inulin, it is impossible to gain weight, which is why the first sign of Type 1 diabetes is dramatic weight loss (because the pancreas can’t produce insulin). Refined carbs and sugar are the worst offenders because they send blood sugar skyrocketing.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Bump up your protein and healthy fats to keep blood sugar stable. Avoid simple high glycemic carbs. If you are going to have some sugar or carbs, always eat them in the context of a meal, alongside protein, fibre and fat to tame the insulin response

2.       ESTROGEN

A premenopausal woman with high levels of estrogen (also known as estrogen dominance) will likely have PMS, too much body fat around the hips and difficulty losing weight. Menopausal women may experience low libido, memory loss, poor motivation, depression, loss of muscle mass and increased belly fat.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

If levels are high (a blood test can assess your levels), consider drinking green tea daily which can help rid your body of excess negative estrogen. Adding ground flax, chia seeds and a psyllium fiber supplement will also assist your body to eliminate harmful estrogen. Also, soy products increase estrogen, so limit your consumption of soy based foods.

3.       LEPTIN

Leptin is an important hormone that controls appetite. When you have adequate levels of leptin in your body, it tells your body when to stop eating and naturally controls your appetite. When leptin is low or you are leptin resistant, our body’s never feel really full, because we don’t get the feedback signal that tells our brain we’ve had enough to eat, so we gain weight and overeat.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

The best thing you can do to restore leptin balance is to eat real food and avoid processed junk with no nutrients. When you get rid of excess sugar and refined empty calories, your appetite control system will restore itself. It’s important to get plenty of sleep, eat slowly (it takes 20 minutes for your brain to register fullness), eat fish regularly and get more zinc (poultry and seafood are high in zinc).

4.       CORTISOL

Persistently elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, is very detrimental to your health as well as to your body composition. If you suffer from a mood disorder such as anxiety, depression or exhaustion or if you have irritable bowel syndrome, you can bet that your body is cranking up the cortisol. Not only does it increase your cravings and appetite, it makes you store fat around the middle.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

It’s really important to sleep enough and at the right times. Sleep deprivation makes us wake up with higher amounts of the stress hormone cortisol, which then increases appetite and cravings, particularly for sugary and carb-laden treats. Try practicing yoga and meditation or listening to soothing music daily. Take magnesium and vitamin C daily and limit your exposure to violent TV shows and movies.

ACHIEVING YOUR THIN FOR LIFE BALANCE

Getting rid of stubborn fat is a balancing act.  Along with following the Thin For Life program eating and exercise guidelines, all of these components I’ve mentioned above work together to instil a healthy balance that allows fat loss to occur. When your hormones are working beautifully, it certainly helps rev up your metabolism too, so be sure to integrate these tips into your daily routine!

 

How to Reset After a Few Days of Deviation

They say that moving house is way up high on life’s list of most stressful events. Needless to say, I certainly felt the stress accumulate, when we not only moved house, but moved country. As you may know, Simon, Matilda, Alfie and I moved to the States two weeks ago.

Before the journey started, I knew I was in for a hairy ride, and I was right!  In the back of my mind, I was also curious to see how the stress, fatigue and anxiety of moving country would affect my eating.

But I confess, I fell off the boat last week – and wow could my body feel it.

WE ALL GET OFF TRACK SOMETIMES

For me, it all started with the manic day before we boarded our flight from Melbourne to San Diego. I was clearly exhausted after packing up the house, but managed to start the departure day off with a lovely cooked breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs, tomatoes and mushrooms at the hotel, along with a few coffees. So my intentions were good.

We boarded our plane late morning, and, as usual, the midday meal seemed to take forever to come out! After extra time spent waiting on the tarmac, I was SO hungry, I was getting overly ravenous, so I ended up begging the stewardess for some nuts and crackers, which I devoured in one fowl swoop.

By the time lunch came out, I dived on the stale bread roll with butter and reached over to steal Alfies bread roll too, which he didn’t want. I then inhaled my (somewhat mediocre) aeroplane meal, along with the dodgy dessert. It’s true that if you are stressed, tired and if you wait till you are overly ravenous to eat, primal hunger takes over – and overeating is almost inevitable!

Unfortunately, I then learned that we weren’t being served dinner on our 14 hour flight, and only a light breakfast would be served a couple of hours before landing. Predictably, about 5 hours later, around my usual dinner time, I started getting hungry for some real food, but there was none. OUCH!

So I started feeling anxious. After sipping on numerous mugs of tea and coffee, I was getting desperate and ended up just picking at whatever I could get my hands on all evening, like packaged cookies, ice-cream bars that the stewardess kindly handed out, numerous more coffees and several packets of crackers and cheese. But I was still not quite satisfied. Fatigue had thrown my hormones out of whack.

And then, miraculously, in the dark of the overcrowded cabin, I smelled pizza!  If I wasn’t so “hangry” (hungry and angry), I probably would have passed on the pizza subs, but I shocked myself and actually inhaled two pizza subs at the speed of lightening. For dessert I had some dark chocolate I luckily found in my handbag.

By the time we arrived in LA, it was 24 hours without a wink of sleep and I was drained. As we dragged ourselves, our luggage and tired crumpy kids off the plane and through customs, we then learned that our connecting flight to San Diego was delayed an hour and a half, so the first thing I did was go to Starbucks and buy a coffee and a huge scone, just to keep my head upright!

And guess what? After all that junk, and no sleep whatsoever, I felt like crap. And I felt like crap the entire next few days. Everything was out of whack. I was tired but wired.  And it really didn’t help that upon arrival, we ate at fast food restaurants for a day or two, before we had a chance to go food shopping for some real food.

HOW TO RESET

So how do you reset after a few days of deviation and unhealthy eating? We all go off track sometimes, so if you have a bad day or two or three, try these tips to get back on track.

* Mentally adjust yourself, acknowledge that you have deviated from your normal routine, but don’t judge yourself or beat yourself up. Simply vow to get back on track to eat real, nutrient dense food at regular times.

*Bump up the quality protein and leafy greens at each meal – eggs, chicken, fish, nuts, seeds to keep insulin stable. Happy insulin = no cravings.

* Start the day with exercise. If you can’t get out for a brisk walk, I do “squat walks” and “step jumps”, which can be done anywhere, without leaving the house or hotel. I can work up a sweat, as the kids play happily near me.

* Focus on hydration. After a long flight and no sleep, I was parched, so I sipped ice-water all day and drank lots of rooibos and green tea.

* Get some quality, restorative sleep. Adequate sleep ensures our leptin (the hormone that tells us we’re full) and ghrelin (the hormone that tells us we’re hungry) levels are maintained, which keeps our appetite control system work and keeps cravings in check. To sleep better, have a bath or shower before bed and read an absorbing book to mentally wind down.

* Cook your own meals. As soon as I could, I found the nearest supermarket and stocked up on eggs, natural peanut butter, Greek yoghurt, extra virgin olive oil, a BBQ chicken, salad greens, cherry tomatoes, milk, cheeses, nuts, avocados, hoummus, carrots, oranges and berries and my favourite new discovery – roasted, salted sunflower seeds (they are delicious to sprinkle over salads) or for a salty nibble before a meal.

* Start the day with vinegar or lemon water and keep up your regular supplements. I made sure to take my fish oil, magnesium, probiotic, vitamin C, vitamin D and my Multi vitamin B for stress, along with my 5-HTP and GABA to keep me calm and in a centered state.

BACK ON TRACK

After a few good nights sleep and a couple of days of real food, you will feel much more vibrant, de- bloated and energetic. And with great relief, within a few days, I felt back to my normal self, with the physical and mental energy I needed to settle in to our new town of San Diego.