6 Tips to Extinguish Overeating
Do you ever find yourself sometimes (or often!) eating more than you intended? Or, perhaps you eat things you didn’t mean to eat, and the end up overstuffed, or feeling otherwise crummy and beating yourself up for overeating – yet again.
You’re not alone!
So many of my clients struggle with either overeating, or being unable to resist foods or beverages that they don’t actually want to eat. It can feel really crappy to ‘lose’ to those urges and it doesn’t do a lot for our self esteem!
Because – let’s face it – there’s a stigma around it. People who are weak or have no discipline overeat. No one ever calls up their friend excitedly to tell them what they’ve been overeating! That just doesn’t happen. And no one wakes up in the morning and says to themselves, “Today’s the day I’m going to overeat!”
It’s not the way it works. No this overeating thing somehow sneaks up on us. And the effects become a lot more obvious once you’re in your 40’s, 50’s or beyond!
In order to make any changes in your eating patterns, it’s important to first DEFINE what overeating really is. … and it’s not.
Just as key is to gain an understanding of WHY so many of us overeat – some of these reasons might be different than what you think.
Armed with that knowledge you’ll be better equipped to implement one or more of the 6 strategies for putting the brakes on your own overeating patterns.
What IS Overeating Anyway?
Have you ever really defined what ‘overeating’ even means?
Is it plowing through a bag of chips in the evening while watching Netflix? Is it going or seconds and thirds on the ice cream? These are the sorts of ways that most people define overeating. As eating more of a food they either wish they wouldn’t eat at all or they’d prefer to eat very moderately.
And sure, those sorts of behaviors can be defined overeating. But there’s more to it.What about healthy foods? What about ‘cleaning your plate?’ Is it possible to overeat a salad? Or does overeating only apply to desserts and junky foods?
A real definition can be elusive, and be different for different individuals but I believe that for all of us eating ANYTHING past the point of satiation constitutes overeating. It taxes your digestive system and your body to have to process food beyond what your body needs for fuel.
So… from that definition… yes, it’s possible to overeat even a salad. (Especially one that is packed with lots of filling goodies, even healthy ones like nuts and avocado.)
Overeating is what happens when you are TUNED OUT from your body. You are DISTRACTED or you want to BUFFER an uncomfortable feeling. So… you just keep eating. Or, almost unconsciously you head for the cupboard and grab that big jar of nuts and start shoveling them in.
This might show up when you are staring at the TV, computer, or even a book while eating dinner, and you suddenly realize you’ve cleaned your plate… and you’re uncomfortably full. (This one has happened to me more times than I care to admit.)
Another form of overeating is also mindless in the same way – and it’s almost a form of self-sabotage, This is when we go for a high sugar food, or a food that is otherwise not all that nutritive to the body… and then we just keep eating and eating. (In the next section you’ll find out why it’s so hard to stop with these foods).
There really is no way to say exactly how much food means you are ‘over eating’ though. That will vary from person to person – depending on their body type, their constitution, their activity level, and a lot more.
The real way to know if you are overeating (and not just holding yourself to unreasonable standards of how much you should eat) is when you have disregarded your own body’s messages and you feel overly, full, sort of sick, or otherwise ‘off.’
WHY Do You Overeat?
Most people have ONE idea about why they overeat… and they usually attribute it to emotional eating or just plain and simple bad habits.
And they beat themselves up for not being stronger and being able to overcome that problem. (Never a good way to initiate a change in your behavior by the way.
Emotional eating patterns and entrenched habit are certainly two valid answers to the question of why we overeat. But there are physiological reasons as well. It has to do with brain science, and with the chemistry around how certain foods at in your body.
I’m not a scientist so I will explain it in basically 2nd grade terms.
There is a part of your brain that has not changed since the stone age. That part of your brain is wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. This was a mechanism for survival back when we were living in caves, but it’s not as helpful in the 21st century.
When you eat a food you like – especially one that contains sugar, processed carbs, or certain fats – you receive a powerful shot of dopamine directly into your brain. This is the a powerful neurotransmitter of pleasure, and your brain really LIKES getting this.
There’s a lot more to it, more than I want to explain here – but just this gives you a clue as to why you feel so compelled to eat yet another sliver of cake, or spoonful of ice cream. or to polish off every single one of those salty, crunchy potato chips.
And, even when the food is ‘healthy’, if you’re enjoying it and getting pleasure, your brain is instructing you to keep it coming!
This is one of the causes for that intense desire for certain foods. Your brain is literally addicted to that shot of pleasure.
And then there’s the emotional component. Which also ties back into the primitive wiring. Most of us learned at an early age that certain emotions are painful or cause painful reactions in others if they are expressed. For example, if you were angry or sad as a toddler and threw a temper tantrum, you might have been punished or told to stop.
We learn at an early age to suppress our emotions. But – all emotions, even those less pleasant ones, are part of the human experience. Emotions are meant to be experienced in the moment, and then they process through your body quickly.
However, since we are afraid of those ‘negative’ emotions, and because we simply dislike the discomfort of being with them, we find ways to put a ‘buffer’ between ourselves and that emotion. It’s a well-meaning strategy to feel better…. but it usually backfires.
Food is one of our favorite buffers. Chowing down on something delicious neatly takes care of that sad feeling, that lonely feeling, or just that weird feeling that we’re not even sure what it is but we don’t like it.
This is such entrenched behavior that it often happens on a totally unconscious level. That’s how you can end up wondering where all that food went!
We all have this way of pretending to ourselves that we have absolutely no control over the urge to overeat and that there is simply no way to manage that intense desire for a certain food, or o keep eating something that is so delicious.
And – now you know why it can feel that way. Those dopamine receptors want more and more. The urge is often coming from something literal and physical in your body. Couple that with emotional distress – and well, you’re reaching for that chip bag pretty darn quick!
6 Tips to Put the Brakes On Overeating
We’re actually lying to ourselves when we say we just can’t control it. We are just allowing the more primitive parts of our brain to take wheel, to be in charge. That’s that part that wants all pleasure and no pain. However, we humans DO have another part of our brains – that good old prefrontal cortex. That part of our brain is the part that makes plans, that sets goals, that envisions you in that highest and healthiest version of yourself.
We do get the CHOICE in any given moment – which part of our brain we want to give the steering wheel to. A
The solutions for how to put those brakes on the tendency to overeat are simple, but they’re not easy. It’s downright uncomfortable to turn away from pleasure.
And it’s even more uncomfortable if it means turning TOWARD some sort of emotional pain that is going on. But, I will tell you, when you practice doing just that there are so many rewards beyond not feeling overstuffed or liking what you’re seeing on the scale.
Here are my suggestions to help this along. Many of these are not new or rocket science… but it’s interesting how that primitive brain can cause us to forget!
You know about many of these, but let’s be honest – how often do you do them? What if you could implement just ONE of these strategies this week?
- Three Deep BreathsWhen you start to reach for food take a pause and take 3 deep breaths. Then check in with yourself about whether you want it.2. Chew Mindfully
As you take each bite, count how many ‘chews’ it takes before you swallow. Try to increase the amount of chews per bite.
3. Notice and Name
After each bite, take a second to notice what you are thinking and feeling about the food, about eating, about yourself, about what’s going on, etc. Briefly articulate this in your mind before your next bite. This will help you to understand your body’s messages, and to tune into how much you are really enjoying your food (or not!)
4. Eliminate distractions.
Turn off the TV, put away the book, When you eat make it about just EATING. This especially applies when you are alone. Pay attention to the food on your plate, to the action of actually putting it into your mouth. Take a moment to acknowledge your gratitude for this nourishment.
5. The 5-Minute Pause
If you tend to eat at night while watching Netflix or TV. Give yourself a full 5 minutes before you go for the treat. Set a timer. Then ask yourself why you want it. Really listen to the answer. You may still want the food after this – but you might notice you don’t eat as avidly or as much.
- TAPUse EFT Tapping (Emotional Freedom Techniques). This easy-to-learn technique can take away your cravings in minutes, and calm your nervous system so you can be more tuned into what’s really going on. You can use tapping in conjunction with any of the above strategies to increase your presence and awareness while you are eating.
What are you willing to try this week to become more in touch with your own overeating patterns? Share here in the comments. Or better yet, post in the Ageless Radiance Facebook Community.
You can view a video over there where I go over all of these points in a bit more detail. If you’re not a member yet, request to join Ageless Radiance: Light & Healthy Living for Women Over 40.