As Seen On
While overeating can be a physically and mentally painful experience, I believe that Emotional Eating, or eating when you’re not hungry, is the body’s way of communicating a powerful message to you. But, you have to be willing to reflect or look back on the situation after it happens in order to gain the wisdom that your body and subconscious mind are trying to convey. When you look back and become a curious observer, you will see what your triggers are and be able to work to avoid or come up with solutions to counteract them in the future.
This is called INSIGHT and/or AWARENESS. When you gain insight into your eating habits or become aware of the things that trigger an overeating or binge episode, you tap into valuable information about yourself that you didn’t have before.
So, for instance, after you eat an entire box of girl scout cookies you might want to think about what triggered that need to eat the cookies in the first place, maybe it was boredom. The next time you reach for the box of cookies you may realize mid or pre-binge that you are in fact, just bored again and do not need the cookies after all. Now, you know you have a need to fill, and that is the need to have stimulation of the brain or body. So, maybe you eat 2 cookies, and go watch your favorite show, read a book or play a game on your phone.
So, now that we understand WHY we need to understand, let’s look at your “triggers” or what kind of Overeater you are. You could be any one of these Overeaters at any given time and most people are at one point or another.
The main idea here is to identify the type of overeater you are in that specific moment that you are overeating. This helps identify the need(s) that wants fulfillment, then you work to fulfill the need(s) instead of reach for food, which helps you overeat less and less. Suddenly, food becomes something that fills your stomach when you’re hungry and nothing more.
So let’s look at 5 specific types of overeating and what to do about them:
1. Diet Driven Overeating:
This type of overeater is the person who is constantly on a diet. He/she follows the rules of the diet rigidly and refuses to let up. This person also sees eating as a black or white activity. When the rules are not followed, she/he believes they’ve “blown it” or broken the diet rules, they throw in the towel for the rest of the day, eating everything that’s not nailed down. The peanut butter, squirt cheese, entire loaves of bread- nothing is sacred, and nothing is safe.
How do you know if you’re in the Diet-Driven overeating cycle? Ask yourself the following questions after an episode of overeating:
-Did you feel you “deserved it” after a looong week of salads and other cardboard-type food items?
-Were you so deprived that you just had to have these foods (in a dark room with the shades drawn) no matter what?
-Did you have a case of the “fuck it” effect (aka- I’ve already blown it so I might as well eat anything that’s not nailed down)?
Stop following restrictive meal plans or cutting out whole food groups that leave you feeling unsatisfied and deprived.
2. Rebellious or Inner Teenager Overeating:
You were once (or many times) told by an authority figure in your life that you “shouldn’t” be eating something. Maybe you were meant to feel shame by friends or society in general whenever you wanted to eat something that someone else felt you shouldn’t be eating.
So, in order to practice your own autonomy, you eat in secret or in public large amounts of the food that someone once shamed or scolded you for eating. Maybe eating large amounts of anything is your own way of “sticking it” to the people who tried to control your eating in one way or another, even if it happened years ago.
Are you a Rebellious Eater? Ask yourself:
-Did someone tell you that you shouldn’t be eating that food?
-Do you feel like you’re being judged by others when you eat something that’s not considered “healthy”?
-Do you eat in secret or hide foods until no is around to eat them?
If you’ve followed me for a long time, you’ve surely heard me talk about the Paradox of Permission. This is a concept in Intuitive Eating that states that by giving yourself permission to eat anything you want, then you remove any and all foods from a pedestal and therefore, that will take the allure or unconscious habit to overeat those foods away…for good. By giving yourself permission to eat the foods you love, you are literally curing that need or habit of rebellious overeating. Since you are allowing yourself to eat whatever you want when you want it, you are already exercising your right to choose the foods that go into your body which silences that inner food rebel.
3. Disappointment Overeating:
This type of overeating is done when you are eating something that you don’t like…at all. You might be following a diet and the food is bland and tasteless, maybe it doesn’t have a good balance of macronutrients so you’re left wanting more, perhaps you ordered something that you thought would taste good and didn’t or you ordered what you thought would be the “healthy choice” on the menu, but you really wanted something else.
Are you Disappointment Overeating? Ask yourself:
-Did the food taste bland or not how you thought it would?
-Were you eating a bunch of food that you thought would be a healthy choice, but really wanted…(fill in the blank)?
-Do you feel deprived and want more food even though you are not physically hungry?
In order to combat this type of eating is to try to eat spicy, fatty, yummy foods as often as possible- now, that doesn’t have to be something that’s considered “unhealthy” all the time. Eat foods that have intense flavors like ripe fruits, spicy organic meats, whole grains with good texture and organic oils and full fat organic butter or ghee. Throw out or don’t eat the foods on your plate that don’t appeal to your palate. If you are a guest at a dinner party or somewhere that you can’t get new food or throw the food out and start again, but you still don’t like the food that’s being served- eat a small amount of what’s in front of you to the point of comfortable satisfaction or less, reassuring yourself that you will treat yourself to a more palatable food choice at your next meal or snack and then follow through on that promise.
4. Escape Overeating:
This type of overeating is done when you are dreading an activity or task that’s hanging over you. It also can be used to change your current situation or make it more exciting. It can turn a boring day at the office into an exciting adventure to the vending machine for a naughty snack of hostess cupcakes (oh you naughty thing you!) It turns eating into an exciting break for the unpleasantness that currently surrounds you.
Are you Escape Overeating? Ask:
-Is there a task are you trying to avoid that you know will be postponed if you eat?
-Do you need a break from your current situation?
-Is dinner/dessert the only time every day that you get to take for yourself so the longer you eat, the longer your break?
-Are you bored out of your freakin’ mind?
This is tricky because if you’re at work or home with the kids, it’s not like you can say “sorry kids, you’re boring mommy, I’m going to go get a mani/pedi”, nope you’ve got to work with what you have. So, at work, if smokers get 15 minute breaks, why can’t you? Take a smoke brake without the smoke- go walk around the building, go outside and mosey around for a bit, go eavesdrop on a conversation or go to the bathroom and hang out in the stall while you play on your phone for a bit. If you’re somewhere that a break by yourself can’t be taken- like a stay-at-home mommy, then take your kids outside and plop down in the grass while they play, throw them on a movie while you lay down on the couch or do the task you hate another time because even if you choose to eat (which, by the way- is perfectly fine if you do), the task, job or boring situation will remain but you’ll just have the added guilt of eating when your body didn’t need food.
5. Hate Myself or My Situation Overeating:
This type of overeating occurs when you are not feeling good about yourself or something going on in your life. Things like fighting with your spouse, stressful work environments, back-talking kids, and subconsciously feeling you need to punish yourself can bring on this kind of eating. I remember when my son’s teacher called me to tell me he was significantly behind his peers I school. I was so shocked by this news that I grabbed a bag of chips and started munching away while I processed what she said and tried to come up with viable solutions to help my son. After about ten handfuls, I finally looked down and realized that I was eating and also that I wasn’t even hungry.
If someone doesn’t believe that he or she deserves to be happy, they could overeat to subconsciously “punish” themselves when life is going well since eating more than your body needs can induce guilt and shame. Being overweight from frequently overeating can also be a way for someone to create problems for themselves when none are present or there are unpleasant circumstances that they can’t control or something that’s really bothering them in their life.
Are you Overeating because of an Unpleasant Situation or Low-Self Esteem? Ask yourself:
-“Am I eating to help me process this emotion that I’m feeling?”
-“Is there something going on that is really unpleasant at the moment?”
-“Am I overeating to create “controllable” problems or mask problems in my life that I can’t control?”
Sometimes when we are upset, or don’t know how to solve a problem, the simple act of chewing can get our wheels turning and help us process. For these circumstances, I would recommend gum, celery or a super crunchy whole grain cracker or ice.
For those that are creating false problems, ask yourself why you don’t think you deserve happiness? Do you constantly feel a false sense of guilt or shame? Are there problems in your life that you don’t want to face or don’t know how to solve? If these are big factors for you, I would strongly suggest seeking therapy or a specialized professional for these underlying issues since many times they can balloon into more than just an overeating episode or two. In the days when I really struggled with food, I would be so excited about starting a new exercise and diet regimen because it meant that there was at least one thing in my life that I could control because the rest felt out of my control. I couldn’t find a job, I wanted a partner and there were none in sight and I didn’t like where I lived. So, eating or restrictive eating was the only factor I could manipulate in my life. Of course, I would start feeling deprived and then something would go wrong or I wouldn’t get the job I’d interviewed for and I’d go home and binge or overeat.
When you force or expect yourself to be always IN-CONTROL of your food, there are always going to be times when you are going to spiral out of control.
Brut force and punitive measures against yourself or anyone else never worked as a great motivator to do anything- especially not in the category of eating and exercise!
So, by identifying what type of overeater you are in that moment, you identify the need that is going unfulfilled and then working to take care of that need in a specific way that helps you turn to food less and less and enjoy your life more and more! This is how you chip away at Emotional Eating, piece by piece. So stop obsessing over food and over eating and start going after that big life that you crave- because you’re totally worth it!