Here Is the Real Key to Weight Loss (Hint: It’s Not Diet or Exercise)

It's probably not what you think.

I’ve worked with many clients who can afford personal training, even a personal chef or tailored meal delivery services designed for weight loss, and yet despite these resources they wind up sabotaging themselves through emotional eating. If you find yourself in the same boat, focus on your feelings first, not your diet and exercise plan. Here are the top four emotions that tend to derail healthy intentions, along with strategies for altering how they impact your habits.

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title: Happiness

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While some of my clients are most “on track” when they’re happy, others have a pattern of celebratory eating. It makes sense, because it’s culturally encouraged to connect food to bonding, praising, and commemorating. This holiday season if you find yourself drawn to too many goodies, either because you’re pleased with your holiday bonus, reveling in your time off, or enjoying time with friends and family, try out non-food ways to be jubilant. Rather than cooking or eating, plan a craft project or an outing, like ice skating, or a nature walk. And most importantly, find ways of expressing your feelings rather than eating them. For some of my clients, solo singing does the trick, while others enjoy group activities like organizing games, from good old fashioned charades to edgy Cards Against Humanity. When you’re joyfully occupied, you’ll be surprised how little you’ll think about food.

quicklist: 2category: Here Is the Real Key to Weight Loss (Hint: It’s Not Diet or Exercise)

title: Sadness

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quicklist: 3category: Here Is the Real Key to Weight Loss (Hint: It’s Not Diet or Exercise)title: Anger

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quicklist: 4category: Here Is the Real Key to Weight Loss (Hint: It’s Not Diet or Exercise)title: Fear

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When I feel anxious or worried, I tend to lose my appetite. But for some of my clients, eating becomes the primary distraction that allows them to shut off the fear, at least temporarily. I had one client who told me that between meals and snacks she felt compelled to suck on candy or chew gum, because constantly engaging with eating helped her not focus on worrying.

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor. She privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is also the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the New York Yankees MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.This article originally appeared on Health.com

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