Hi, I'm Diana. Several years ago I lost a bunch of weight by completely changing my attitude toward food and exercise. Since then I've learned a few things about keeping it off and I'm still learning. Even if I'm constantly fighting off a few pounds, I can't imagine where my weight would be now if I hadn't made such a drastic life change. I'm a health coach for the Prevent program by Omada Health, and previously I was a Weight Watchers leader. Hopefully my silliness will help make your journey to health a little more fun. More about me here.

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The tough questions: sugar cravings

The second installment of my coach Q & A series

Q: I've always turned to sugary foods as a reward or treat. Whether I've survived a stressful day or done something worth celebrating, I feel entitled to a cupcake or some ice cream. How do I break out of this mindset?

Being consistently responsible is tiring and sometimes you just need a break. But the guilt of a sugar indulgence is enough to make us feel like we’re being pulled in both directions, needing the treats and also needing to resist them. How can we skip the sweets but also feel relaxed and replenished after a long day?

Let’s take a look at the underlying assumption of the junk food habit:

My responsible behavior earns me sugar.

Is that necessarily true? Why? Is it possible that I’m LOOKING for a reason to eat sugar with a clear conscious? Does the fact that I’ve worked hard today actually clear my conscious? Not really, since I’ll feel even worse after the snack session is over.

Let’s re-work this statement in a healthier way:

My responsible behavior earns me rest, recovery, and non-food reward.

I do need to re-charge after a long, stressful day - I just need to find a better way to do it. Since emotional eating is a deeply ingrained habit, it’s going to take some creativity, discomfort, and lots of practice to replace that habit with one that’s less destructive.

Thoughts, behaviors, and outcomes are all connected, so building a new habit starts with new thinking. To change our thoughts we have to make time for them, as impulsive, quick behavior will likely reinforce the existing habit. Take a moment to notice your craving, breathe slowly in and out several times, and formulate a plan. Remind yourself that you are in control and you have the power to choose your behavior.

The motivational gold is WHY you choose not to eat the sugar. This will be different for everyone, so take some time to brainstorm your reasons for wanting to be healthy. Eating brownies isn’t a logical decision, so you can’t logic your way out of it. What are your emotional reasons for turning them down? More years with your loved ones? Pride in your appearance? Freedom from guilt and self doubt? Think about all the emotions and know EXACTLY why you choose to pass. Keep those reasons at the top of your mind for the moments when temptation arises. Old thinking tells you you’re missing out on something by passing up junk food. New thinking tells you you’re missing out on everything that you want by eating it. Envision yourself at your best and act accordingly.

To truly eradicate an old habit we need to replace it with a new one. Rest, recovery and reward are legitimate needs, and we need to have strategies for getting them without food. Reduce your stress by leaving junk food at the store, making sleep a priority, and exploring new ways to recharge. Taking a quick walk outside might help if you’re stressed, calling a friend could ease loneliness and boredom, a book or bubble bath may be the perfect way to wind down before bed. Don’t worry if you fall back into the old habit occasionally - it’s all part of the process. Keep trying new strategies until you find something that hits the spot.

Saying no to junk food is tough, but being unhealthy is so much more difficult long term. We’re making the harder choice in the moment in exchange for a longer, happier life. Trust me, when your reach your goal weight and look back on the journey that took you there, you won’t miss the food at all.

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