Help for yo-yo dieters: consider why you eat

By Julie Fann
Star Staff

Most of us believe it is what we eat that is the key to losing weight; however, the answer to getting thin and staying that way is more about why we eat, not counting calories, according to weight-loss coach Linda Spangle.
   "The two most common resolutions made every year are to lose weight and exercise more, but why, every year, do we have to make those same resolutions again? Instead, we need to recognize what we're feeling and what we need and deal with that. Often, it's easier to just get something to eat," Spangle said.
   Author of the book Life is Hard, Food is Easy, Spangle, an R.N. who lives in Denver, Colo. struggled with emotional overeating for years. Barriers she encountered in her struggle to lose weight led her to seek counseling for her problem.
   "I've found that the best success comes when you deal with the life issues that interfere with staying on a diet. Eating when you're really not hungry or needing food is called emotional eating. Underneath it, there are problems that need attention," Spangle said.
   In her own life, emotional eating centered around grief issues about not being able to have children. After losing five pregnancies, Spangle went into a state of emotional denial.
   "My counselor eventually encouraged me to deal with my emotions. For instance, to let myself cry and feel sad instead of turning to food," she said.
   In her book, Spangle reveals how we all engage in non-hunger eating at one time or another, using food to deal with boredom, stress, and other emotions. She presents a five-step program that addresses underlying eating behaviors and emotional issues most dieters ignore.
"I help readers find alternate ways to take care of their emotions besides turning to food. It's like a diagnosis to recognize why you turn to food," said Spangle.
   Alternatives to eating may involve phoning a friend, taking a walk, reading a book, or allowing yourself to feel unpleasant emotions such as anger and sadness.
If your resolutions for 2003 include, "Start New Diet, Lose Weight", Spangle suggests committing to the following instead:
   - Eat when hungry, stop when full. Too hard? You are not alone. Try the next one.
   - Whenever you have a food thought or craving, ask yourself, am I physically hungry?
   - If you are not physically hungry, ask yourself what you really want. Will food fix it?
   - Make a list of what you need in your life. Begin to address these needs and food will lose its power.
   - Figure out how foods got linked to emotions in your life. Write down childhood memories and associations about eating and your favorite foods. This will be an eye-opener.
   - When you eat, eat very, very slowly. Set a timer for 20 minutes, and make your meal last that long, even if it is just one cookie. Savor every single bite. Appreciate food to the fullest.
   - Keep a list of activities handy, such as drinking ice water, stretching, walking, or calling a friend, that you can do the instant you want food for a reason other than hunger.
   - Ask yourself what is causing you to give up, cheat, slip, or lose motivation. Dig deeply until you get to that very last excuse, then work on changing it.
   - Eat regular meals and snacks to avoid getting too hungry or overeating at night.
   - Identify the people and situations in your life that stress you out. Pounds will drop and self- esteem will rise as you begin to deal with these.
   Spangle is founder and director of WINNERS for Life, Inc., a Denver-based weight management program specializing in emotional eating. Serving as a referral source for more than 350 physicians, her clinic has a success rate that far exceeds the national average.