As a dad of three wonderful teens, weight loss coach, former compulsive eater, psychologist, author, and person continually seeking to improve himself and grow, I have discovered a powerful connection between weight loss and two crucial skills: Self-soothing and problem-solving. I am excited to share with you how these two skills helped me lose weight and keep it off!
Before I discuss self-soothing and problem-solving, I want to first share something very personal. Nineteen months ago a tornado slammed through my life and challenged my calming down and problem-solving skills to the max! As I have written in past blogs, my beautiful, amazing fiancée, Oi Yin, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
While her medical challenges continue to leave us with many unknowns, what I do know is that she is a powerful model of both healthy self-soothing and problem-solving. With Oi Yin's diagnosis unfortunately being inoperable adenocarcinoma, the most deadly form of pancreatic cancer, her doctors told us that she had only seven months to live. The stress of Oi Yin's cancer, combined with my being a dad, managing my full time psychology and life coaching practices, and dealing with my own shortcomings and challenges has been quite stressful.
In the face of all the stress, I have had many temptations to "just eat" and neglect my body. After all, "comfort foods" are always there, especially when you feel stressed out. The reality is that I have worked hard at managing my weight all my life.
Twenty-three years ago, at age twenty-seven, while in a marriage that was failing, I weighed forty more pounds than my current weight of 190 lbs. Yes, I am six feet tall, but my body was heading sideways as well. At that time I rocked the scale at 230 pounds! My blood pressure and cholesterol were heading in the wrong direction as well. This was a direct result of comforting myself with food to escape the numbness and emptiness I felt at that point in my life. Though it was not easy, I got my weight back under control. As I describe below, I drew upon self-soothing and problem-solving strategies to help me to do this.
In the face of major stress, some of us eat less and some of us eat more-much more! In order to not again lose myself in food, during the past nineteen months, I focused on how Oi Yin modeled, and continues to model, with grace and dignity, tremendous self-soothing and problem-solving skills. What a blessing in the face of this horribly painful situation to learn from her how to calm down and problem solve in ways I never had before. Of course, I have had my days where I felt I was falling to pieces. But by calming down and problem-solving in healthy ways, even though at times I fell to pieces, I have not fallen apart!
I have had a front row seat to watch a true miracle unfold before my eyes. Again, Oi Yins' initial prognosis was only for seven months. Suddenly confronted with this deadly time bomb ticking inside her, Oi Yin soothed herself through her faith in God. She also drew upon the strength of loving friends and family. She problem-solved with diligent studying of conventional and alternative care interventions. She used her bravery to fight her cancer and withstand brutal chemo, radiation, and challenging alternative health care strategies.
Throughout the challenges and hardships of this adversity, Oi Yin has been a wonderful example of the power of calming down and problem-solving. She has been doing all this fully cognizant that no new true medical advances have been made in treating pancreatic cancer for over forty years! Most people facing this would want to give up. Not Oi Yin! Not only is she fighting for her life, she is fighting for her two children Sienna and Derek, ages eight and eleven. An even more powerful twist in this story is that Oi Yin's late husband, a healthy, non-smoker, died of lung cancer five years ago at the age of thirty-six. She is the only living parent of these two children.
I have battled my emotional eating tendencies in the face of divorce, parenting struggles, and plenty of every day challenges like many of us face. But it was not until the past year and half that I have had the emotional eating "road test" of my life with Oi Yin's battle for her life. Many days I never thought I'd get through the profundity of it all. I still struggle and get tempted to eat mindlessly. But I also know that eating whatever I can stuff into my face to gain a false sense of comfort (and gain weight as well) is not going to help me.
What gets me through is healthy self-soothing. For me, this means reaching out to supportive friends, hitting the gym regularly, writing out my daily gratitudes, praying, watching motivational videos, and last but not really least, closely monitoring my daily food intake. In the problem-solving department, I have extensively researched pancreatic cancer treatments, assisted Oi Yin as best I can with her health care needs, and proudly accompanied my Oi Yin and her children to Washington, D.C. to lobby for pancreatic cancer research funds in conjunction with Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. I have also attended all the cancer charity events I can to feel a sense of service to these powerful causes. In addition, I have done my best to stay on top of daily demands I don't really like, such as paying bills. These skills in self-soothing and problem-solving help me stay grounded to fill myself up without mindless eating and continue to manage my weight.
One woman I recently coached for weight loss reclaimed her self-soothing abilities by exploring new forms of music and bird watching. Turning to problem-solving, a few years ago to I helped another coaching client make a huge connection. He changed the meaning of his occasional hunger right before my eyes. Putting on our problem-solving hats, we had explored how even when he was compulsively eating, he often still felt hungry! This was a huge insight for him (and me, too). This powerful realization both soothed him and gave him a problem-solving mindset to address his overeating. He switched his view of the challenge of caloric accountability from "restricting" to "responsible monitoring" of his daily calories. This change in perspective was key for him to reframe his emotional hunger.
So no matter what weight obstacles you face, remember that healthy self-soothing and problem-solving will get you to a better place. If you have a propensity to emotionally eat, as I do, and you really want to get your weight under control, before you do anything else, take a close honest look at how you self-soothe and problem-solve. As I have described above, there are many ways to self-soothe and problem-solve in healthy ways. Music, prayer, pets, yoga, exercise, reading, sports, writing, automotive tinkering and repair, gardening, and hiking, are just a few examples. There are far more than I can mention here. The key is to realize that soothing yourself and solving problems in healthy ways are crucial to be emotionally healthy and to help you lose and manage your weight.
Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist, parenting and relationship author, weight loss coach, and executive coach with over twenty-two years' experience. You can visit his website at www.drjeffonline.com.