Thursday, July 19 , 2018, 5:11 am | Fair 63º


Collin McShirley


Collin McShirley: How to Break Free From Unhealthy Eating Habits in 3 Mindful Steps

Ever found yourself thinking, “I’ve been on a diet for two weeks and all I lost was two weeks”?

How about hating yo-yo dieting? Working hard to cut calories just to find yourself over indulging and gaining back all the weight you lost?

I have the answer. It’s no secret, but it requires a little self-care and mindfulness.

Has there been a time when you felt guilty for reaching for second helpings of a delicious dish or dessert while justifying it with something along the lines of, “It’s OK, I’m just going to go on a diet/detox after this”?

Or maybe this sounds familiar: You find yourself eating really healthy for one week, then the minute you cave in and eat something unhealthy, your eating habits suddenly take a turn for the worst.

You might find that you’re extremely hard on yourself when you don’t feel comfortable in clothes you want to wear and suddenly regret all the unhealthy food choices you’ve made the past few months after indulging in the sweet treats you wanted.


You’re not alone. I’ve experienced all of these scenarios.

I used to yo-yo diet for years, and I would cycle through super healthy or restrictive eating plans one week, to eat-whatever-you-like the next week.

I wasn’t aware what I was doing wasn’t helping me. I thought I was doing the right thing.

I was always fighting to be a particular weight or to look a certain way. My eating habits were inconsistent, and so were my weight, energy levels and self-esteem.

I could feel very happy about my weight one week and the next I would have poor body image.

After years of unhealthy eating habits, my body didn’t take it so well anymore. I got to a place where I had no energy and felt unhappy with my choices. I knew I needed a change.

After years of not looking after my body in the proper way it needed to be cared for, the messages became louder and clearer until I made the choice to pay attention and listen to my body.

I was in my early 20s and I didn’t have the energy of a normal adult my age. It was time to listen to my body and make a change.

I began to re-educate myself about my health from a more holistic perspective. I moved away from using food as a way to control how my body looked and moved toward using food as a way to heal my body of illness.

By embracing mindfulness with my eating I began to notice which foods my body rejected and which fueled my body.

Paying attention to these details made me very aware of how my eating habits affected my mindset. I noticed that when I paid attention to how the types of foods changed not only my mood but how I physically felt changed.

I redefined what being healthy meant for me. On reflection, these are the steps I took to redefine my health and finally be free of yo-yo dieting and controlling eating behavior.

Tune In to What Truly Motivates You

For a lot of people, the initial reason to diet is to be thinner; however, this motivation is not always enough when more important things take priority in life, such as having energy to go about your day, building a career and being present for your family.

When my low energy levels started to affect my social life and college life, my motivation shifted and accelerated because attention was now drawn to one of my highest values: my health.

I realized that striving to be healthy just so I could be thin was not helping me in the long run if my body was suffering.

To be truly committed to creating a healthy lifestyle, you need to be driven by something of high value to you, across all areas of your life, such as your health and vitality (what keeps you alive and thriving so you have the energy to be with your friends and family, excel in your career, to travel or do whatever it is that makes you happiest).

Use this driving factor to remind yourself why you need to be healthy to live a fulfilling life now. Don’t wait till you’re burnt out and sick to value your health.

Change Your Perspective on What It Means to be Healthy

Eating healthy doesn’t need a label like vegetarian or vegan, and it doesn’t require counting carbs.

When I changed my perspective on health, I also realized some of my old beliefs about health were not helping me.

I used to believe that being healthy meant only eating foods with fat-free labels; consuming just under daily calorie requirements; and avoiding avocados, nuts or any foods naturally high in fat.

I learned to look at the beliefs that led me believe these ideas. I also learned I had to let go of these old beliefs that held me back and create new ones that brought me toward a lifestyle where I felt energy and vitality to do the things I loved.

My beliefs to this day include eating whole foods as much as possible, making healthy snacks, listening to when my body is truly hungry — not just emotionally hungry — and letting my body to judge food intake rather than counting calories.

Dig Deep to Fnd What Is Truly Holding You Back

When we continue to stick with unhealthy habits, even ones we want to change, we become stuck in them because staying there is fulfilling a need.

Usually, we don’t know what that need is until we look within and be completely true, real and honest with ourselves.

As a college student, it was trying to manage a full scholarship, a full social schedule, and being away from home for the first time. I was anxious and trying to control my exterior situation by controlling what I ate.

Dieting fulfilled that need because when I lost weight I would like my body; however, when I gained weight I’d dislike myself.

Once I started to accept my natural body type and embrace the body I have rather than change it to look like a photoshopped celebrity, I began feeling good about my body all the time, regardless of how much I weighed or what I ate that day.

Once you dig deeper and understand your why, you can work toward meeting your need for something like self-acceptance in a healthier way, too.

To do this, start with the behavior you see on the surface, such as restricting calories, and ask yourself the following questions:

» Why am I doing this to myself?

» What is this behavior truly feeding? 

» Why or what is the purpose of these actions?

Once you follow these steps and mindfully create a healthier lifestyle that is unique to you, your own version of being healthy will become a part of who you are, not just something you strive for.

It will just become you naturally.

Collin McShirley, MA, IMF, is certified and specializes in mindful eating, emotional eating, body image and self esteem; she provides coaching services in Santa Barbara, Montecito and Goleta; and she developed the program, “Break Free From Emotional Eating and Learn to Love Your Body.” She grew up in Santa Barbara​, graduated from UC Santa Barbara and received her masters in clinical psychology from Antioch University Santa Barbara. Click here for more information, contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter: @CollinMFTI. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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