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A Fresh Start and The Emotional Side Of Eating

By Maya Garcia CSCS

I keep this post-it on my cork board as a reminder of how far I have come. The 30% refers to my body fat seven months after my son was born.

In the spirit of our New Year’s Fat Loss Challenge, let’s talk about how some (not all) of us relate to food. Every time I am courageous enough to talk about emotional triggers that often precede poor eating habits, I feel liberated as a teacher and fellow sufferer. I know from my own experience that prescribing “extra cardio,” more intensity, and a Dr.’s version of a low carb diet are just not enough to propel every person forward. While it is true that exercise and a nutritious dietary plan (particularly one that optimizes hormonal responses in the body) will initially steer you in the right direction, they are only part of the story for the majority of people successfully keeping the weight off. Most will tell you that it requires a balance (some days better than others) of the aforementioned components in conjunction with an inner shift in the way we approach our daily life.

Some people are puzzled (and even offended) when I offer them my truth: it takes more than exercise and the illusion of a perfect diet to declare victory over a heavily ingrained behavioral pattern sometimes referred to as emotional eating or compulsive overeating, the latest terms for those of us who aren’t anorexic or bulimic or experiencing thyroid or metabolic health issues, but still struggle with our weight. First off, it’s important to debunk myths about the ways in which this manifests in our lives. Compulsive overeating does not look like the binge eating portrayed by Meredith Baxter-Birney in the 80s made-for-TV movie, Kate’s Secret. Thankfully, I don’t race to use my fingers to stuff food in my mouth like Kobayashi, the hot dog eating champion, either. Nor do I hide in my car to wolf down three king size value meals so that I can purge it all by the time I get home. It’s never that theatrical or extreme. It just means that I sometimes eat more than I expend (even though I know better) and that my tendency to overeat (even the good stuff) is often correlated with my state of mind.

And, here’s what I have learned from being in the trenches on the emotional side: it’s not always some huge traumatic event or difficult life circumstance that cause us to fall off the wagon. In my quest for understanding and healing, I have learned how profoundly my inner state of being determines how I experience the outside world. If I’m feeling down, irritable, or anxious at any given moment, more subtle forms of stress get the best of me. Sometimes it’s as simple as watching the evening news (or worse, following CNN for daytime analysis of our current economy), the sound of my son crying, being in a rush/arriving late, responding to email and cell phone calls, or simply listening to someone in a bad mood. It may sound silly to some of you who don’t have a reoccurring dysfunctional relationship with food, but for those of us who do, it’s easy to disregard nutritional boundaries when you have a lethal combo of internal unrest and external chaos operating within and around you. I think we use food the same way smokers take cigarette breaks — as a time-out, an outlet, a soothing quick release of energy.

I’m not suggesting that every time you overeat there is some dark pathology lurking in the shadows, but I am trying to help you discover why even despite your best efforts (i.e. daily exercise and an honest intention to eat right), life seems to “get in the way” and for whatever reason you lose the inspiration to stay the course that day and you momentarily give up on your weight loss goal and maybe even convince yourself that you secretly lack the necessary willpower to ever get this right. I want to offer you instead the idea that creating new rituals to de-stress and interrupt old thought patterns will open incredible new doors for you. Create healthier forms of time-outs and ways to release tension so that when you’re in trouble or bored and restless, you choose a different way to self-soothe. And like me, you may have to face that choice again and again and again because there’s no magic pill for this one yet (or Oprah says she would own it). The great news is that despite the odds, many people are winning these small battles one decision at a time here at the IC. I challenge you to be among them in 2009

My greatest hope is that you’ll discover some fantastic new ways to expand your joy instead of your waistline and gain more life experience instead of weight.


“You can attract only that which you first mentally become and feel yourself to be in reality.” -Ernest Holmes

Maya and her husband Steve Khuong have an incredible training facility in the bay area. Make sure you check it out at


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