I’ve always struggled with “those last ten pounds.”

Well, except after a particularly gut-wrenching heartbreak, when I religiously ran six miles a day, did two hours of yoga, and lost my appetite along with any trace of “love handles.”

Being that my relationship to my voluptuous figure and “those last ten pounds” has been a complicated, frustrating constant in my life, I was shocked when a large entertainment company hand-picked me three years ago to create my first yoga DVD to be titled and themed, get this, Yoga for Weight Loss.

Are you sure you want me? I silently wondered. I’m not the stick-thin, uber-lithe model frequenting the cover of yoga magazines. I have a short torso, curvy boobs, and hips. Don’t get me wrong, I do worship my body appropriately and am incredibly grateful for my relatively lean, healthy, athletic build. I’m just always comparing myself to my (seemingly) effortlessly thin colleagues.

I knew this DVD was an assignment from the Universe to break the mold of uber-thin yoga teachers populating the DVD racks in chain stores and speak from the heart of experience about what it means to create and live in a body you love—any shape or size.

I found my voice and dug deeper into the complex relationship many of us have with food, self-love, emotional eating, and body image.

For the past six weeks, I’ve been blessed to lead a Yoga for Weight Loss test group for Prevention magazine consisting of a hundred women over the age of thirty-five. Be on the lookout: the yoga sequence and group results will be printed in Prevention’s December issue. 

As a mind-body psychotherapist, I’m most interested in the mental and emotional components of sustaining a healthy weight and transforming the root causes of overeating. We all know you need to burn more calories than you consume on a daily basis to lose weight. The key is why we don’t do this and how to create lasting change.

After pouring over the initial questionnaire I sent participants (and years of therapy with women working to improve body image), one thing is clear: our main struggle with food is emotional eating.

Here are five practical steps to help you rewire your behavior and thoughts around food, eating, and self-nurturance

1. Find your “Sweet Spot”

I love this term, coined by detox expert Natalia Rose. A large reason we turn to food is because we’re stressed, not hungry. We’re over-stimulated, over-committed, overwhelmed, or inundated with emotions we don’t know how to handle. When you notice yourself walking toward the fridge, STOP!

Do whatever is necessary to bring yourself into a calm, sweet frame of mind. Do not eat if you’ve just been in an argument (or argue at the dinner table). Take three to five deep breaths (four-count inhale, four-count exhale) to calm your nervous system. Go for a walk around your office building before lunch. Enjoy some fresh air. Turn on soothing music. Turn off any distractions, like the computer or TV. Avoid eating while driving. Get settled, centered, and peaceful.

We are what we eat. If you’re unconsciously eating to quell turbulence, that turbulence is being swallowed right back in and has a direct impact on your state of mind and health. Get in the habit of setting a nice table for yourself, lighting a candle, and making meals a ritual of self-soothing and pleasure.

2. When You Eat, Take a Seat

Ayurvedic chef Cristina Urioste taught me this in Ojai, CA when she catered one of my yoga retreats years ago. Intuitively, I had always felt weird standing up or hurrying when I scarfed down food, but Cristina illuminated the larger principles of eating in a rush.

Not only is your digestive system labored, but also you begin to associate food with rushing and pressure. Eating is the most sacred form of survival and self-care. Without food, we die. Regain the power of your meals and send a message to your psyche that you’re worth the time to sit down, slow down, and savor eating.

3. Say Grace

Reclaim this age-old tradition and the connection food provides to the world around you. Take a moment to acknowledge the abundance of having this beautiful food before you. Imagine where it came from. Bless all beings who created and prepared it (the elements, the soil, animals, plants, farmers, drivers, chefs). Bless the healthy body you live in to be able to even eat and enjoy this meal. Give thanks for the wealth you have to receive such an abundant meal. Ask that these nutrients create health in your body, clarity in your mind, and happiness in your heart.

Taking a moment in gratitude will wire your mind on the positive, goodness, and beauty in your life as well as stimulate the pleasure centers in your brain. Be grateful.

4. Say “Choose” Instead of “Should” or “Have To”

My dear friend and soul sister Kate Northrup taught me to joyfully draw healthy boundaries with myself by switching the words I use. Whether it’s money, food, or shopping, flip the switch in your mind from deprivation to empowerment. Say, “I choose to have…because…” instead of “I can’t have…” or “I have to…”

For example: “I choose to order a healthy salad because I know my body will feel vital from the greens and nutrients.” or “I choose not to have a glass of wine because I know I will feel more clear and energized tomorrow.”

Again, you are training your subconscious mind to wire positively. Every moment is a choice. When your actions and choices reflect your highest good and greatest goals, you will have more confidence and build self-trust—priceless!

5. Drink Up—Light to Heavy

If you think you’re hungry, start by drinking water. We are often thirsty, not hungry. Many of us were not taught to differentiate between hunger, stress, fatigue, or thirst. We go to food first, because it seems most logical, but the majority of our population is dehydrated and sleep deprived.

Drink a minimum of half your body weight in ounces of water every day (140 lb. woman = 70 oz. water).

If you want to eat, start by drinking a big ten to sixteen-ounce glass of lemon water. Wait twenty to thirty minutes. If you’re still hungry, then eat. When you eat, consume the lightest foods on your plate (soup, salad, steamed vegetables) and then progressively move to denser foods (carbohydrates, protein).

We fill up quickest on greens and vegetables. Plus, our digestive system uses the roughage to clear the path for denser foods. You may notice you eat less of the denser foods and more of the lighter fare.

In any case, enjoy your food. Process your emotions and clear them before sitting down to eat. Let eating be a time to rejoice, recap the day, be silent, enjoy solitude, or celebrate with friends.

Please comment: 

1. When you notice you are EMOTIONALLY EATING, what emotion is typically coming up? (e.g. loneliness, anger, overwhelm, fear)

2. What is your favorite tactic to combat emotional eating?

Live Truth. Live Love.


Elevating personal growth as a lifestyle, Ashley Turner, M.A., brings a fresh approach to yoga as a modern-day psychotherapist with a soulful take on celebrating the body’s wisdom and inner spirit, translating complex themes into practical, real-life tools, and is known for challenging clients from the inside out. She is the co-author of Aroma Yoga®: A Guide to Using Essential Oils in Your Practice and Your Life and creator of the best-selling DVDs Yoga for WeightlossYoga for Stress Relief + Flexibility, Power Yoga, and her latest Yoga Bootcamp. Ashley is also available on Facebook and Twitter.

November 23-25, 2012: Ashley is leading Urban Priestess, a yoga retreat for empowering women, at Kripalu in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts.

*Photo by Greencolander.