By: Madeleine St. Marie

So, we’re a week into Stacey’s End-of-Summer Shred, and I gotta tell you, I’m feeling really good about exercising. I’ve managed to (somehow) get up before 6 am for three days this week and make it into Arena for both Spartan and MMA training. The classes rock, and despite the early call time and killer workouts, I’m feeling great.

I do have one gripe, however.

With the addition of the food journal to the Shred, I have rediscovered a fundamental truth about myself: I love to eat.

I say “rediscovered” because it wasn’t so long ago when I could count McDonald’s dollar menu as a staple of my diet. My “fat pants” had somehow become my new pair of skinny jeans and I was getting sick every two to three weeks, a trait that did not exactly endear me to my employer. Thanks to a lifestyle change, courtesy of Weight Watchers and Arena Fitness, I was able to drop fifty pounds and restore my “fat pants” to their rightful place in my wardrobe.

I thought that once I got down to my goal weight, making smart food choices would be a breeze and I would no longer struggle with food. Bzzz. Wrong. Turns out that getting in shape is less of a one-stop destination and more of a journey. And while I was aware that I had been slipping on some things, Stacey’s Shred really thrust my eating habits into the spotlight.

When I sat down to think about why my food journal looked more like the grocery list of a teenager instead of a catalogue of healthy, nutritious meals and snacks, I realized that I needed to identify why I eat. Because, let’s face it: if I was only eating because I was hungry, then there’s no reason I should have had an entire bag of potato chips in the middle of the day.

Identifying why certain eating habits exists is helpful because it allows you to be mindful of situations that may encourage poor eating habits. By being aware of these situations, you can better avoid them and stay on the right track. A friend of mine once mentioned that he realized that he likes to eat until he feels full, which can do some major caloric damage if you’re not careful. He solved this problem by making sure that he was eating foods, like leafy greens, that made him feel full without adding an extra 500 calories to his meal.

While I don’t have that particular problem, I do tend to eat as an emotional response (and judging from my food journal, my feelings taste a lot like Drumstick Ice Cream cones and pizza). I also eat when I’m bored, hence the bag of chips. And if food is put in front of me (bread or chips at a restaurant, anyone?). Since I know these things about myself, however, I can put myself into a position to help myself succeed on my weight loss journey.

So what can you do to help identify why you eat? Food journaling is an excellent way to identify what you eat and why. Once all of that information is down on paper (or a word processor), you can take a closer look at what you are actually eating, when you are doing the eating, and ultimately, why. If you’re doing the Shred, you can take a look at the food journal you’ve kept after a week and think critically about the choices you’re making. Are you eating something because it’s cheap? Readily available? Are you eating because you like to feel full? Because of stress? Once you nail down the reasons why you eat, you can better understand the steps needed to take your weight loss journey to the next level.

If you, like me, eat because you’re bored, try and pick up a few hobbies. I taught myself to crochet and as it turns out, if I keep my hands busy, I am less tempted to use them for evil (and for consuming Girl Scout Cookies). If you stress eat, you can try and alleviate stress in different ways. The obvious go-to is physical exercise, but if you already have your fill of high-intensity exercise, you can de-stress by taking a walk or running through breathing exercises. If you find that your stress won’t quit until you actually eat something, try and make it a healthy choice, like fruit.

As for me, I know that I will be trying to keep my food journal as I eat, not as a recollection of the day. I’ve found that if I pick up the pen to write “cookie” on my food journal, I’m actually less likely to eat it because it forces me to stop and go, “Wait – do I really need to eat this right now?” Identifying and changing eating habits can be difficult and extremely frustrating, but with the help of food journaling, you can get on the right track to pursue a healthier, happier life.