Is it Hunger or Habit? by my client Jonathan Sykes

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. You enter a party or family gathering and you are so excited because there will be food. Not just any food too, but PARTY food. You know, the kind you don’t keep in your house. You try a little of everything and then move onto seconds, thirds, and maybe fourths just because it’s there. You got into the party swing and without knowing it, you have consumed enough calories for an entire day. As you leave the party you find yourself adjusting your pants because you stomach is stuffed. You feel bloated and you keep burping up different flavors from the food that you gorged on a few hours ago. Now, as your party bliss disappears and you enter the real world, the guilt and regret settles along with your overly stuffed stomach.
How about this one? Its late at night and you have been good all day. You ate the breakfasts, snacks, lunches, and dinners that you so carefully and precisely planned, cooked, and packaged the weekend before. You are lying in bed and the rumbling of your stomach starts. You get nervous because you know that you can’t sleep if your stomach is empty. Anxiety pours into your brain and the worst case scenarios start adding up until you feel like your skin is crawling and the only way to make it all stop is to eat something. “Just some almond butter and oatmeal is fine. Maybe some organic dark chocolate, that’s healthy right? Oooh, left overs!” You end up tricking yourself into believing that you need more calories into your perfectly calibrated diet just to find some solace from your mini-meltdown.
And how about this? You have been dieting for years. Literally years. Every fad diet, low carb diet, fasting ritual you could get your hands on and you never really saw success. The amount of diet blogs on your Facebook news feed is overwhelming and you almost feel like a professional dieter because you’ve been doing it like it’s your job. But where’s the progress? Where’s your success? You might yo-yo and lose 5 pounds here or maybe even 10 but then after you get tired of whatever diet you’re doing, the weight just seems to creep back up and you have nothing to show for all those squats you did and celery you ate. Why? Why does this keep happening? Everyone else is losing weight. All these weight loss blogs are showing these people who lose 100 pound and KEEP IT OFF. When is it going to be my LAST TIME losing weight so I can just move on with my life?
Science has shown us that the main idea of weight loss is calories in and calories out. The more calories that you eat, the more weight you will gain and the more calories you burn the more you weight you will lose. As someone who has run 2 half marathons, I will attest to the beauties of exercise and weight loss. But I am not a professional athlete nor could I keep up with that type of training schedule. So when the race was over, the weight came back. It has been said that weight loss is 80% what you eat and 20% exercise, which makes total sense. To burn off a restaurant cheeseburger will cost you at least 45 minutes of cardio. Over an hour for a slice of pizza. Over 2 hours for a slice of cake. Sure, if you were a professional athlete you could eat those things and burn it off. But I am guessing since you are reading this, you’re not a professional athlete.
I started an 8-week challenge program at a gym near my apartment, No Body Denied in Springfield NJ, and working with the health coach Kathi Sottosanti, I told her my main issue was night time eating. I would get the hunger pains and anxious thoughts and feeling the NEED to eat. She gave me a weird look which gave me the impression that this wasn’t normal. That made me feel like this might be the root of my problem. I eat great during the day and I was following the exercise program, but still, I wasn’t losing. I even gained a pound and a half. I was sabotaging my progress.
I shamefully had to tell my coach when I would eat at night and it pained me because I am the kind of person who works hard and generally succeeds at everything I do. The guilt would be so bad that I almost didn’t want to tell her, but I knew that I had to for this process to work. I would tell her that my stomach would rumble and my body felt like I needed to eat; like a void begging to be filled. She would keep telling me that there was no need to eat at night. She told me that the eating was a habit formed long ago and my body was used to it. Then something clicked; HABIT. I have been eating late at night since I can remember. I would stuff my face at every party I go to. What was the main issue for not losing weight? MY HABITS! The urge to splurge at parties was a habit, not a hunger. The night time eating stemmed from training my brain and stomach that at 11:30 every night I was “hungry.” This wasn’t hunger or food issues, it was a psychological issue. And luckily, I feel more comfortable fighting my brain than my stomach.
HUNGER OR HABIT. This new mantra is what helped me not eat in my sleep for 4 nights now. This new mantra is what helped me actually sleep THROUGH the night without waking up to eat. This new way of thinking has been my shield from platters of cookies, family gatherings feasts, and buying unhealthy foods at the grocery store. HUNGER OR HABIT. I would tell myself that my behaviors were habit and not hunger. The psychological effects of being addicted to food or using it as a crutch are powerful and in my opinion the root of why people can’t lose the weight.
So take a look at your life and your “habits.” Do you always go to McDonalds after work because you pass it on your commute home? Do you always get three plates of pasta at Sunday dinner because you don’t eat pasta all week? Do you feel the NEED to have whipped cream and that caramel drizzle on your morning latte every day? That need is not your body asking for food, it’s your mind following your habits. And habits can be broken. They say it takes 21 days for an old habitual act to dissolve and a new one to stick. My entire life I thought I was fighting a hunger, where in fact I was actually fighting a habit. And for someone who loves food as much as I do, habits are much easier to overcome.

Kudos to my guest writer!
Jonathan Sykes
Update: He has not eaten in the middle of the night in a week! First time since forever!
Thank you for the article Jonathan! Deep breath. So proud of you. And shout out to his awesome trainer Susanne Schoen who is kicking his butt while I kick his mind!

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Your Iron Beauty Coach
Kathi Sottosanti

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