You have no coping skills
Elaine, a woman I met at the gym who had 100 pounds to lose, didn't start gaining weight until she was in her late twenties and went through a divorce. Some people have the life skills to move on. Elaine didn’t. Without the benefit of a supportive family to walk her through the steps of dealing with emotional turmoil, she ran away, landing in probably the worst place for someone in need of comfort: a cruise ship, where she worked for five years. Elaine dove right into the all-you-can-eat-and-drink cruise ship culture. And it wasn’t even fun. The heavier she got, the more she stayed isolated in her cabin. “I didn’t want to feel anything. I was eating and drinking to push down my feelings,” she says. Without good coping skills, an upheaval can send you into the arms of your neighborhood baker, then the shame and embarrassment of cleaning out the bakery will make you continue your descent into overeating. These tips can help you overcome emotional eating. And here are some of the most motivating weight loss stories you'll ever read.
When Mitzi, one of our Extreme Weight Loss cast members, began the weight-loss process, she took the time to look at old photographs of herself. The changes—and their causes—became obvious. "When I reflect back at different times in my life that my weight went up, each time involved a loss of some sort," she says. "My mother and father’s divorce, a bad relationship, losing my mother. Getting into my teen years and into my twenties, it was getting attention from older men. If I gained more weight, then they’d leave me alone. It was a way of shutting people out." Instead of figuring out a way to deal with unwanted attention from men, Mitzi found it was easier to just get fat. Fat is insulation in every sense of the word. Psychologically, it insulates you against painful emotions. Physically, it gives you a place to hide away from the world. People might not even befriend or be polite to you. A man will go the extra mile and hold a door open for a thin woman. But for a 300-pound woman? Ignored. And she feels that.
You’re punishing yourself
Maybe you see food as a reward. Something you get to indulge in for taking all the crap that comes your way or maybe even for something good you’ve done. But I see it as a punishment, a form of self-sabotage. You think you don’t deserve to be fit and healthy. You’re not worth anything so why not drown yourself in a bucket of fried chicken or a huge hero sandwich? For Extreme Weight Loss contestant Amber, the realization that she was punishing herself with food was liberating. “I used to always think of food as a positive thing. I like to eat, I don’t have a boyfriend—which I didn’t back then—I have food. It was a source of comfort and I used it in so many ways. To celebrate, when I was ashamed, everything,” she says. “Now I see how I used it as a weapon against myself. That shift was huge.”
You’re trying to fill a gaping hole
Food fills you up in more ways than one. Or, should I say, people use it to fill a hole; that doesn’t necessarily mean it works. In fact, it doesn’t. You can eat until the end of time and not fill the emptiness that comes from loss, anger, depression, or loneliness. So many of the overeaters I’ve met were stuffing themselves because they had lost a parent or because a romantic relationship had gone south. Loss and emptiness in life translate to a feeling of emptiness in the stomach. You’d think that exercisers were, on the contrary, doing the healthy thing. But this same transference can be found among extreme exercisers. You can run a hundred miles and still be sad and lonely. I would ask that person, “What are you running from?”
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You are more stressed than you know
There’s the everyday stress that you can’t help but be all too aware of. I’m not making enough money. The traffic makes me crazy. My parents lean on me too much. Then, there’s the other kind of stress, the cause of which hasn’t bubbled to the surface. You might even think you’re perfectly happy—you love your boyfriend, you love your job, you have a good relationship with your parents. But there is also a little bit of a nagging feeling in the far reaches of your mind, and of course the unhealthy living. Scientists have a name for people who manage not to consciously experience stress: repressors. If someone asks you how things are going, you say, “Great!”—and really mean it, even though your body and behavior tells a different story. In my own life, I’m not always clued into stressors going on beneath the surface. In the 20-plus years that I’ve been married, my wife and I have never had an argument that wasn’t about something else. “What are you upset about?” she’ll ask me. “It can’t be because the kids didn’t put their books away.” And she’s right. I am usually upset about something else—maybe I’m even upset at myself about something—but I don’t always have the ability to verbalize or even understand what it is. No one is going to know what’s inside of you, so you have to figure it out. Let other people help you. Talk things out. The more exploration you do, the closer you’ll get to discovering the issue you need to deal with. That’s how the weight will come off. It’s not about counting calories.
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J.D. Roth's new book is filled with motivational real-life stories from The Biggest Loser and other reality show contestants. Losing weight isn't just about calories or exercise, but unlocking the emotional roadblocks to making healthy lifestyle choices. Learn more here.