By Kathy Judson, R.H.N. and Certified Fitness Coach at SweatBank

When it comes to nutrition and obtaining results from your New Year’s Resolutions, it is obvious that WHAT you eat really matters! Less obvious however is WHY you’re eating! Your particular “why” can be just as critical as what you’re eating when it comes to getting the results you crave.

There are many reasons to eat. There are the obvious reasons, like hunger, or for energy, which need no further exploration. But in our world of abundance and access to food, we have the opportunity to eat for many other reasons as well. We eat for sensation and pleasure. We eat to share an experience with another person. We eat out of boredom, and also to ease our emotional distress. Food can act as a calorie-laden bandage during emotional or stressful situations for many people.

We also eat out of association. We tie particular situations with food making their bond strong and hard to break. For example, if you’ve always gotten popcorn and pop at the movie theatre since your first cinema experience when you were six, breaking that habit when you’re a 45 year-old movie-loving adult will be a challenge because it has been practiced and reinforced for decades. You can tie drinking associations in along with food associations as well, as they’re similar and can be just as detrimental to your goals. For example in times of stress, if you look to a frosty lager or a bottle of wine to help you relax every time you encounter some resistance in your life, this can add up and sabotage a week of steady efforts at the gym.

If negative associations and stress-eating are obstacles that are holding you back, implementing a few simple strategies can give you back some control.

Here are a few suggestions on how to handle emotional eating or negative food associations:

1) Flat out ask yourself why you’re eating! Acknowledge the reason and move on. If for no good reason, and you still choose to continue, do so without guilt. The stress that comes from guilt and the resulting cortisol increase in your body is often much worse than the actual poor eating choice itself, so let it slide. Accept it for what it is and move on. Being aware of your WHY is a great first step to making a better choice in the future.

2) Journal it! If you find that you’re snacking and eating

things mindlessly, and it’s getting you down, try documenting it, either in a journal  or in a calorie tracker. Sometimes just being accountable to someone or something can help.  Perhaps if you know that you’ll have to write it down, you’ll ingest less as a result.

3) Ask yourself, “Will this food bring me closer to my goals, or farther away?” Much of what you eat will fuel your body in great ways: help build muscle, increase your metabolism, provide much needed nutrients, etc. However, certain choices can sabotage an entire week of wholesome nutrition and exercise. And because it’s easy to do in a matter of minutes, ask yourself these simple words, “Will this bring me closer to, or farther away from my goals?” Your honest answer may help you make the right decision.

4) Ask yourself,  “How badly do I want this treat/snack/indulgence?  Do you want it more than your results? If so, go for it and don’t regret it or feel guilty. If your results are more important, than this answer may motivate you to do the right thing.

5) Find a replacement. If you feel there’s a void that needs to be filled, or you feel that a reward is due, try to find something equally or even more pleasurable than food. A relaxing bath, a shopping trip, a massage, etc. Even something as simple as drinking a glass of water with lemon or a herbal tea sweetened with stevia every time a ‘craving’ hits can be a great way to side track your thinking about it by satisfying your body in a different way.

One of the number one struggles that people tend to ask me for help with often has to do with the emotional side of eating. The power behind it is immense, but in most instances, applying one or all of these simple strategies may help you through it. A healthy relationship with food is important, and being mindful of your eating patterns and habits is a huge stride in the right direction.