The secret to keeping a New Year’s weight-loss goal is changing the underlying behavior, according to local health and wellness experts.

Carlos Monge, owner of Body By Design Personal Training in Ahwatukee Foothills, said he usually starts getting calls from new clients near the end of January. He said these clients have let their weight get out of control or they’re suffering from some health problems, and they’re looking for a way to change their life in the new year.

“These are all excellent reasons to change,” Monge said. “But the change has to come with good intentions.”

Monge said the No. 1 reason he sees people give up on their health goals is because they refuse to change the underlying behavior—eating.

“We can give them the program, but food is an emotional thing,” he said. “How many times do we go out with friends for food? How many times do we gather with families around food? If you don’t get to the root of the problem, and 80 percent of it is food, you won’t see much difference.”

Dr. Julie T. Anné, founder and clinical director of A New Beginning, sees how emotional eating affects people on a daily basis. It’s a very common problem, she said, and also very treatable.

“People need to recognize this is an emotional issue,” Anné said. “A lot of times people only want to treat a symptom, like weight, so they go about it trying to take care of the weight, but they’re not treating the emotional factors that are driving the behavior.”

If people are eating when they are not physically hungry, they tend to eat more when alone, eat past comfortably full, turn to food for coping, or feel shame or remorse after eating. Those are all signs you may be an emotional eater.

The first step toward solving the problem is recognizing it. Once someone realizes they have a problem, professionals can help. Monge said he’s working on a program at Body by Design that will focus on precise eating coupled with precise training. A New Beginning has a new program, called Healthy Weigh Out, which brings people together to discuss the issue and ways to cope with those emotions. The goal of the program is to avoid dieting but create a sustainable way to deal with emotional eating.

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