Essential Skills for Weight Loss

emotional eating joy self-care self-love weight loss

When recently reading “How to Do the Work” by Dr. Nicole LePera, it was fascinating to see how her four pillars of reparenting so closely intertwined with the four pillars I stress as essential skills for learning weight loss in a sustainable way. 

The significance of understanding these four pillars in detail is crucial to realizing just how much they can assist you not just in weight loss, but in many aspects of your life. 

We all have ways in which we are not seen, heard or understood as children. Because our young toddler and childlike brains can’t put all of the pieces together to make sense of a lot of the things that happened to us as children, we carry them into our adulthood as wounds that cause us to have maladaptive behaviors like overeating. These key pillars contain messages that guide us in healing those past wounds and re-setting current patterns. 

Emotional Regulation

The skill of being able to feel your feelings, hear their messages, and allow those emotions to process through you without turning to food, other substances or behaviors to buffer, anesthetize or numb those emotions is essential. 

In order to do this, stress needs to be dealt with in a flexible and adaptive way, rather than a reflexive way, which is usually turning to food to soothe ourselves in some way. As adults, we frequently have trouble with this because we simply weren’t taught it as children. Our parents weren’t taught it either, and so it was not a skill that was modeled to us in our early years. 

Despite this, it is certainly a skill we can grow, just like a muscle that can get stronger. We have to think of it as a lifetime process, and not a switch we can flick to suddenly master our emotions. This will involve having a commitment to doing the work inside your emotional life on a daily basis. 

One of the most fundamental tools we have to help us engage with that is our breath.  Breathwork is a topic that continues to reemerge because it is so closely connected to our nervous system. While our breathing happens automatically, we also have the ability to consciously choose how we breathe. When we’re stressed or anxious, our breathing rate gets a little faster, our heart rate increases, cortisol rises, and we experience a physiological stress response. The beauty of breath is that when we just stop and pause and take a few deep breaths, we have the power to lower cortisol levels, decrease our heart rate, and switch into a more restful and peaceful nervous system called the parasympathetic nervous system. This is an amazing way to regulate emotions without turning to food. 

It can help us to treat emotions as messengers, almost like the indicator lights on our car. They are our body's way of telling us to pay attention because something is not aligned inside. Something is not being addressed or what we’re doing is not aligned with our values. Using our breath is an easy way to stop, slow down and pay attention. Try to witness the feelings in your body that the feeling is causing. Where are you feeling it? Is it a hot or cold emotion? Is it still? What color is it? Is it vVibrating? Is it spinning? Recognizing how it feels in your body goes a  long way in helping you to understand what it is saying. 

It’s also useful to notice when you are getting activated by these big, negative emotions. Is it after speaking to a certain person? Is it often work-related? Tired? Is it after you’ve had a fight with your kid or partner? But most importantly, we must do this whole process without any self judgment. Our first response to this kind of work tends to be negative and self critical. Therefore it’s key to approach this with a sense of curiosity and self compassion, knowing that our emotions are nothing more than messages.

Loving Discipline

Many women on a weight loss journey claim that they know exactly what they need to do and how to eat, but they just don’t do it. This really boils down to having boundaries with yourself and being committed to following through with the things you promised to do for yourself.

In weight loss, we often fail at this because we bite off way more than we can chew (figuratively!). Many of us fall into the “all or nothing” way of thinking, which inevitably means we end up “failing” due to the unrealistic expectations we put on ourselves. 

However, if we allow ourselves to make tiny promises to ourselves that we can actually follow through with, we can start to develop this skill, exactly like a muscle that grows stronger each time you use it. 

Picking something non-food related is often a great way to start building this skill. The reason for this is that at the beginning of a weight loss journey, we often experience fear, anxiety and expectation. When it's emotionally charged in this way, practicing the skill becomes much harder. At first, if you pick something completely unrelated to what your goal is, it allows you to demonstrate that you can show you for yourself. With big leaps and drastic changes, you're showing yourself that your word to yourself doesn't really mean anything and so the next time you make a promise, your brain has checked out already because it knows you’re not going to follow through. 

Find small ways you can show up for yourself consistently, and do this every day to build trust with yourself. When you're choosing what you want to do, make sure you come from a loving, peaceful space, and not a space of punishment (as is often associated with the word discipline).

Pick something meaningful for you, that can make you feel good, but that you are ready, willing and able to do every single day. My recent example of this is making the bed each morning! Once you show yourself you can commit to something, then you can start applying it to food.


Self-care has become a commodity in more recent times. It’s highly commercialized and superficial, so what I’m not suggesting here is that you choose regular dates for a pedicure or that you buy scented candles!

The true meaning of self-care is taking steps to achieve what your heart and soul needs. That could be through meditation, moving in a way that feels joyful, or simply connecting with someone you love. It’s all about filling your cup in a meaningful way. 

So often, we put our needs aside in order to be there for others or accommodate our self-inflicted, busy schedules. Therefore it links back to the previous pillar because loving discipline is needed to set aside time to do this. It also makes sense from the point of reparenting because part of parenting is making sure a child’s emotional needs are met, as well as physical needs. Ask yourself what you can do to feel truly cared for because true self-care is going to help you reconnect to yourself again and feel safe inside your own presence.

A lot of women who tend to eat out of boredom in particular, are scared to be alone with themselves. The thought of it terrifies them and so food becomes a distraction and a comfort to avoid those negative feelings. Self-care can create a safe space and give you the internal hug that allows you to very slowly start opening up to your emotional life again.

Finding your joy

So many of us turn to food to feel good but there are so many other ways to get that feeling of connection and company, rather than through eating. I always encourage people to make a list of things that make them feel good but are also good for them, such as playing with the kids, dancing, crafts, or spontaneous trips out. Think back to when you were a child and what you loved to do then so you can start to reintegrate it into your life now. We all need a daily infusion of pleasure so that food is not needed to fulfill that purpose any longer. 

I view these four pillars as crucial skills to develop during your weight loss journey. I would encourage you to pick just one to focus on in the coming week and then sit down to write how you can commit to practicing that pillar and strengthening that muscle.

Once we understand how we think, how we feel, and the choices that we have the power to make to guide us through change, we will be able to grow and build those essential muscles.