Today, a client reminded me of a very important skill when it comes to sustainable fat loss. Regulating emotions without food and eating. From a young age, many of us learn to reward hard work with a treat or a special meal at our favorite restaurant. As adults, we continue to engage in similar behaviors. Likely, we don’t even know we are doing it! In fact, most of our behaviors are largely subconsciously driven and automatic, happening below our conscious awareness.

Cravings are both behavioral and biochemical

Client: “Question, I’ve been taking the metabolic living supplements and drinking the protein shake. I haven’t noticed any difference. For example, The supplements say there will be a decrease in cravings. This is not true for me.”

Coach: “There are other factors that contribute to cravings. A protein shake and nutrients could be just one piece of the puzzle. Do you want to tell me a bit more about your cravings?

Client: “Well I started to figure out something. I grew up in a house where the reward was going out to eat after we worked. For example, if we spent the day raking leaves, the reward was to go out to this restaurant called East Side Mario’s. What I realized is that when I work incredibly hard, whether it’s for my business or for the house, I crave Italian-style food. So, pizza and pasta.”

Coach: “Great work identifying this pattern! This is the part of cravings that a shake won’t directly address, as it is psychological in nature (meaning, a habit loop). However, using nutrition strategically, we can help buffer cravings while we intercept these habit loops and rewire the brain.”

Have you heard of a habit loop?

This is a term used to describe a series of events that govern our habits. It consists of three elements:

  • a trigger or cue that starts the loop
  • the routine itself
  • and the reward

In many ways, these loops are an efficient way to get our daily tasks done without much thought. Given the number of decisions we are faced with every day, this is a huge mental energy saver! But it can work against us when it comes to habits that are hindering our health goals.

In many cases, the problem isn’t you. It’s your environment and the habit loops that you have formed in your environment over time. The more times you choose a habit (good or bad), the more dominant it becomes.

Try any one of the following tips to hack your personal habit loops:

🔥 Learn your triggers. A trigger can be a person, place, or thing that cues a particular behavior or craving. Once you’re aware of your triggers, consider if they can be replaced and then replace them with one that will support a new habit loop – one that is aligned with your health goals. When you do this, your brain records a new loop. But it takes time. Consistency is the name of the game here!

As I reminded my client today, it takes time to rewire these habit loops. And lots of practice. And lots of self-compassion.

🚶‍♀️Change the routine. This is often the habit that we’re trying to break. This is a bit tricky to change since we are targeting the habit itself. If the trigger can’t be traded for another one, consider the reward that you’re after. Give this some serious thought. What are you truly looking for by engaging in this behavior?

🧠 Change the reward. Are you looking for a mental, physical, or emotional pick-me-up? Many of us engage in behaviors on a subconscious level because they provide uplifting effects to our mood and energy. If you’re consistently caught in habit loops that are throwing you off track, then consider which of these three areas needs the most attention: your cognitive battery, your emotional battery, or your physical battery.

In the end, my client discovered some powerful insight. She wrote: “This conversation is helping me to realize that I’m pretty limited in what I consider to be rewarding.”

Regulating our emotions without food or eating

Regulating our emotions without food or eating is a skill that we have to learn. You’re not expected to know how to do this. Awareness is step one. Certain situations or “triggers” can induce cravings. In those moments, use the “surfing the urge” technique. To develop a habit of not being controlled by cravings, watch it rise, peak, and dissipate. This takes practice.

Non-food rewards

In the meantime, start exploring new ways to reward yourself. Consider which of your three batteries needs the most power, and find an activity that will charge it up! Is it your physical battery? Try leisure walking, tai chi, restorative yoga, foam rolling (self-massage). Is it your emotional battery? Try calling a friend, snuggling with loved ones and pets, massage. Is it your mental battery? Try Epson salt baths, long showers, funny movies, spa therapies.

Whatever charges you up, we’d love to hear it. Let us know what you do when cravings hit. Thanks for sharing!

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash