Posts Tagged ‘overeating’
We all have done it. We decide to start eating better, exercising regularly or taking better care of ourselves, yet despite our good intentions we don’t have much success in sticking with these changes.
Our Food & Fitness Behaviors Are Driven Subconsciously
It doesn’t seem like it should be that hard to do what we say we want to do or to make healthier changes we know would make our lives better. As one woman said to me recently, “I am smart, I know this is important, and I’m in control in other areas of my life, so it doesn’t make sense that I can’t be more successful with eating well and exercising.” The truth is that our behaviors around food and fitness aren’t driven by rationale; they are driven by subconscious beliefs and emotions that are intertwined and multi-faceted.
Cocktail Party Sabotage
Imagine being at a business cocktail party that has plates of appetizers being offered around the room and a banquet of pastries, salads, meats, side dishes and desserts. You don’t know many people there and you aren’t very comfortable in these types of situations. You are also out of town and traveling on a tight budget. When you get to the event you buy a glass of wine and look for people you might know.
You don’t see anyone familiar, and while you stand there you are offered some appetizers. You take one, and then as you are approached by others with trays of more appetizers, you take another and another. You try talking to a few people, but don’t really connect to them. Next thing you do is head over to the buffet tables. You fill a plate, and when that’s done you go back for more. You still don’t see people you know, but you do see lots of people talking and having a good time. You go for another glass of wine and talk briefly with a gal who clearly is looking for someone else. You also find yourself eying the dessert table. Soon you are filling up your plate once more with lots of wonderful little cakes and chocolates. You could stand there all night enjoying those rich desserts, but you decide you’ve had enough and go back to your room. You feel sick from all the food and wish you hadn’t had so much. It’s a familiar feeling, and you don’t want to think about it, so you just go to bed.
Uncovering the Real Issues
For a client of mine, who had this experience and is willing to let me share this with you, she finally came to understand what was driving her to over indulge at events like this. As we talked through what happened, she realized that she was feeling a lot of anxiety because she doesn’t know how to approach people who are already talking and then isn’t sure what to say. She was also feeling vulnerable because she’s overweight and believes people automatically assume the worst about her. And she was feeling unwelcome, because she was never welcomed at school parties or events as a kid. And that led to her feeling ashamed of who she was because she was never thin enough to please her parents.
She was surprised by the depth of emotion she was experiencing and could see how using food was a way to push these feelings away at the business event. By talking about them, she was getting a way to validate the feelings and start to get them out, instead of keeping them repressed and turning to emotional eating. She also got insights about what she needed, such as tips for networking and approaching people. There are books and programs for this, which would give her more confidence. She also needed to change her belief that people assume the worst about her, and she had plenty of examples where this wasn’t true. And she could see that she had anger towards her parents for judging her body, when in fact she wasn’t that overweight as a child. They just compared her to her ultra-thin sister and considered her the fat one.
She also realized as we talked, that for her a banquet of free food shouldn’t go to waste, especially since money was tight. She often overate when food was readily available and she hated to see food go to waste, even if it was food she didn’t even like. As a result, she often overindulged, only to feel really sick afterwards and nearly pass out from getting so full. She said this really affected her productivity at work and some days she didn’t even go in because she felt like she was in a fog. I asked her how much that was costing her, and she had an ah-ha moment. Maybe it was costing her more to eat all that food than to simply let it go to waste. Not only did it cost her at work, but it cost her more in healthcare costs and having to buy larger and larger clothes. And it cost her in low energy and poor self esteem. Not only that, the heavier and worse she felt about herself, the harder it was to feel welcome walking up to people at business events.
Creating Easy Resolutions
As you can see, her behavior with food that night at the cocktail event was being driven by many different emotions and beliefs, some of which dated back to her childhood, that she couldn’t see for herself. Yet once she was aware of them and began to address the feelings, change her beliefs and get networking guidance, she found she could attend any event without turning to food as her crutch. She finally felt free and relaxed, and to her surprise she discovered she loved networking and now goes to events frequently.
When you can peel back the layers and understand what is driving your behaviors, you may be surprised yourself to find that what is really going on is more complex than you might expect and may have nothing to do with food. Fortunately, once you know the underlying drivers of self-sabotage, whether they are related to food, fitness or any other behavior, the real issues are usually fairly easily to resolve.
There is always concern about how much candy kids are eating at Halloween, but what about parents who consume nearly half of what the kids are bringing home? Candy is a comfort food for many of us, and when lying around in bowls and bags, it becomes a temptress greater than most adults can resist. Do you find yourself unable to stop when it comes to Halloween candy?
Instead of gearing up for a binge fest and worrying about how you are going to handle having all that candy around the house, consider what is driving you to overeat and crave it and then put some strategies in place to help yourself eat much less of it.
Some of the most common reasons people can’t seem to stop at a few pieces of Halloween candy start with feelings of deprivation. Candy for most people is considered junk food or a food they should not have, and for them candy is on the forbidden food list. When they eat it, they believe they are being bad and falling off their diet, so they have to finish it and get it out of the house to be in control. Then they strive to stay away from it until the holidays get underway and they find themselves right back in the same place, struggling to avoid the next round of bingeing on sweets and striving (but failing) to be in control. It is a never ending cycle that continues right through Valentine’s Day. Does this happen to you?
What does this have to do with deprivation? Everything. When you believe that you shouldn’t have something, you want it all the more. And the more you try to control the urges and deprive yourself, the more you obsess and overdo it when given the chance. This is human nature, and it is easy to see in children. We tend to forget that as adults we aren’t any different. Like kids we rebel against harsh rules and restrictions that are depriving.
We want our candy – or what it represents, but we are determined to apply willpower to resist it. This creates an internal battle between our Enforcer voice and our Rebel voice. Very often the Rebel wins out. But because of the loud Enforcer in the background, harshly criticizing you for what you are doing, you begin to feel guilt and shame, which triggers emotional eating and an all out binge. Next thing you know you’ve eaten more pieces than you want to admit and you feel uncomfortably sick.
What if you created an agreement with your Enforcer and Rebel voices by allowing yourself a bit of candy every once in awhile, agreeing that it isn’t forbidden and that if you really want it you can have it in moderation. Now you have calmed down the Rebel voice that will have a tantrum by overeating if it doesn’t get its way. The trickier voice to negotiate with is the Enforcer. This is because the Enforcer is the one that enforces your beliefs.
When your beliefs are black and white and don’t allow for some grey, then the Enforcer will instigate the Rebel. If you allow for moderation and satisfaction along with some guidelines for restraint, then the Rebel and Enforcer will both quiet down. If you also allow for throwing out the candy when the family has enjoyed it and had enough, everyone wins.
To put this in practice, try the following guidelines (or strategies) to help both the Enforcer and Rebel trust that their needs (meaning your needs) will be met. The first guideline is to eat candy along with a meal so that you aren’t eating it alone and driving up your blood sugar levels, which in turn leads to cravings. The second guideline is to pay attention to when you are satisfied or the first signs of feeling a bit full and stop eating. If you know you want some candy with dinner then make room for it instead of eating it when you are full.
Third, pick just 2-3 pieces of candy that you know are your favorites and savor them, so that you achieve satisfaction. And fourth, tell yourself that you can have more at your next lunch or dinner, so you know that you won’t be deprived and can still enjoy this once-a-year candy fest. After a few days, you will all have enjoyed having a bit of candy and you’ll be left with candy that isn’t your most favorite or you will be tired of it. Now throw what is left out. You won’t miss it, because you’ve let yourself enjoy it. And if that Rebel acts up, tell it that there is always more at the grocery store if it really wants to have it again before next Halloween.
Or you may have other ideas of what kind of strategy will work best for you. One that a few of my clients are choosing to do this year is to buy candy to put out that they don’t like, so going into the evening they aren’t finding themselves dipping into the candy bowl and setting themselves up to continue bingeing when more candy comes into the house.
This week consider what strategies you can put in place so you can enjoy yourself this Halloween without anxiety or guilt.
Clair prides herself on being really good when she diets, until she isn’t. And then she is really really bad. She can’t seem to help herself. The moment she gets derailed and succumbs to food she knows she shouldn’t have, she is taken over by an insatiable desire for all the foods she’s been denied the past few weeks. The pattern is always the same.
Then there are people like Betsy, who are really good during the day, only to leave work and find themselves unable to stop their desire for fast food, ice cream, chips or cookies. Betsy would head to the closest convenience store after work, where she loaded up on cookies, an ice cream bar and candy, and then hurriedly ate it all on her commute home. Mike did the same, always stopping for some candy.
Nancy never stopped; she would go straight home, but then raid her cabinets for any junk food she could find, feeling as if possessed by a demon. Why she would ask me, as the others did, am I so bad at night after being so good during the day?
Read the rest of this article at Your Tango
Have you ever noticed that when you aren’t satisfied by the food you are eating, you eat even more in an attempt to get satisfaction?
Maybe you are settling for food you think you should have, instead of what you really want. Or maybe you think you want a food because it is supposed to be good or once was, so you eat it expecting a certain experience. I see this happen a lot with my clients who overeat out of a desire to feel good only to end up feeling disappointed, full and wishing they hadn’t eaten so much. They don’t even recognize this pattern because it is subconscious and they aren’t paying enough attention to how they feel physically or emotionally.
In our culture where dieting rules, we aren’t taught to value the importance of eating for satisfaction. In fact we are taught the opposite. We take on the belief it is virtuous to avoid the food we love, feel badly if we succumb to foods that are really good and assume that any food we really want is a bad food. We proudly deny the need in ourselves to enjoy food and feel satisfied, believing we are being good and will be rewarded on the scale. Sometimes that works, but very often it doesn’t.
Satisfaction is a genuine need that a part of you (often your inner child) craves and will do anything to get. Instead of resisting this desire to enjoy certain foods, give yourself permission to have the food and fully appreciate it without any guilt. If you are afraid of overdoing it, which is a valid concern at first, be strategic as to how much of your favorite food you can access at one time. If what you really want is Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, see if you can get just one Ben & Jerry’s ice cream bar in your favorite flavor. If you love a certain type of cookie or candy, find a way to get or create packages of just a couple at a time.
What so many of my clients have discovered to their amazement is that once they have permission to have their favorite foods and to experience the pleasure of satisfaction, they don’t want to eat all that much of it. When they pay attention to how good it tastes, they don’t overeat. Instead they may have just one of the two cookies they put on a plate, just one slice of pizza with a salad or just a few bites of a rich yummy dessert. That is all they really wanted, and they are amazed that by giving themselves what they really want they are intuitively and naturally in control. There isn’t any struggle or resistance.
It is when you deprive yourself, you give the food control over you. You obsess about it, eat it when no one is looking, eat too much of it or eat everything else in sight. It’s as if you are helpless to control yourself, and you are when you are unaware of the subconscious need to be satisfied that is driving your behaviors.
The same thing happens when you think you are allowing yourself a favorite food but still carry the diet mentality, believing you really shouldn’t have it and feeling guilty about it. When this happens, you can’t fully experience satisfaction. Instead the guilt feeds emotional eating, which causes you to overeat and create more fear about being out of control around this food.
When you stop judging foods as good or bad and allow yourself the pleasure of eating what you really enjoy, you discover it doesn’t take all that much to be satisfied. Even three bites can be enough, which is why some people go by the three-bite rule for yummy foods that aren’t highly nutritious, such as desserts and appetizers. I personally love dark chocolate and have two bites (1/2 square of bittersweet Bakers) with my lunch and dinner most days of the week. It does the trick and I can have chocolate in the house without overindulging. You can too.
This week, pick a food you’ve denied yourself that would be satisfying. Find a way to start off with just a bit of it in a controlled way, so you don’t scare yourself or experience overdoing it while you are still susceptible to the good/bad mentality and subsequent guilt.
Do you binge, but don’t purge? Do you overeat at night on a regular basis? Do you eat when you are stressed or to cope? Do you eat in secret? Do you feel like a sugar or carbs addict? Do you eat lots of junk food? Do you constantly crave food?
Are you good during the day, but bad with food at night? Do you overeat forbidden foods before or after a diet? Have you been on multiple diets, yet still can’t seem to make healthy food choices or stay in control around certain foods? Or do you have restrictive eating and cheat days?
If you said yes to any of these, you have an eating problem. That does not mean you have an eating disorder, but you may be heading for one if you don’t change the way you eat and your relationship with food. Those with serious eating disorders are diagnosed with bulimia, anorexia or a binge eating disorder, which are severe enough to put one’s health in danger.
Read the rest of this column posted at YourTango.com
You know you shouldn’t have that piece of cake, the Girl Scout cookies or the candy that is calling your name, but you just can’t help yourself. You just have to have some. The next thing you know, you’ve eaten more than you wanted and now you are feeling a bit full and guilty. Once again you just couldn’t seem to stay in control around food. Has this happened to you recently – like over the holidays?
Feeling out of control around food can happen to the best of us, and right now it is happening to a great many people who have tried so hard to stick to their New Year’s resolutions and are giving in to their forbidden foods. Succumbing to what isn’t on a diet is inevitable. The more you try to force yourself to resist something you want and believe you shouldn’t have, the more you rebel against that restriction. Have you ever noticed that when you are deprived of something, you want it all the more?
Rebelling is a valid emotional reaction to being deprived of your needs and wants. It isn’t just “what you resist, persists,” although that universal law certainly plays a role. It is the battle between your inner voices, where one part of you is determined to enforce the restrictions you believe are necessary, and another part of you rebels against that enforcement and doesn’t frankly care about your rules.
You can almost hear your inner child or rebel’s voice when you go for that cookie or candy saying, “I don’t care; I’m going to have it anyway. You can’t stop me”. That emotional part of you drowns out your parental enforcer voice that is strongly reminding you not to eat foods believed to be on the forbidden foods list. In fact, the louder and more controlling your enforcer gets, the more determined your “rebelling child” is to get what it wants. In the end, your rebelling child almost always gets the cake, cookies or candy, and usually in large quantities.
You may be thinking that the only way to control your behavior around food you shouldn’t have is to give your enforcer a bigger stick, but that only causes your rebelling child to act out even more and leads to bingeing. You’ve probably tried getting tougher on yourself to behave. Yet as hard as you may have tried, most likely your “good” behavior didn’t last and you succumbed and gave in. The more you beat yourself up for being “bad”, the more likely you continue that “bad” behavior.
The reason is emotional. If you harshly judge yourself and feel bad or guilty for eating what you shouldn’t, you will eat to push away the bad feelings, to prove yourself right that you are bad and to find a way of feeling good.
The way to be in control around food is to stop judging your behavior and foods. Instead of believing any food is bad, recognize that it is the quantity of a food that becomes problematic. If you love a certain type of cookie, give yourself permission to have it with a balanced meal and enjoy it. By giving yourself permission, you are taking care of your inner child’s needs and giving yourself satisfaction and pleasure. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, by giving yourself permission to have any food you want whenever you want it, you will find you don’t really want all that much of it. You’ve removed the power of the food and the enforcer’s role of trying to control you.
It is when you are depriving yourself that you are emotionally compelled to make up for being deprived. This is true whether you think you should be deprived of ever having the food again, will surely be deprived because of an upcoming diet, have just been deprived having stopped a diet, or were deprived in your past. Many people are overeating foods they were once unable to have, even as far back as fifty years ago. An older man in one of my audiences wanted to know what he could do about overeating desserts every night. It turns out he grew up in the depression when sugar was rationed and he seldom got desserts. He is still compelled to make up for having been deprived of the desserts he wanted as a kid.
This week, pay attention to the foods you are trying to restrict and notice how this affects your behavior. Then try giving yourself permission to have that food in moderation and see if you really want all that much of it.
Does it make you uncomfortable to throw out food these days, compelling you to eat it instead? Did you grow up hearing that kids are starving in Africa, to always clean your plate or that throwing out food is no different than wasting money? Many of us did and it hits home during an economic recession, but that doesn’t mean those beliefs warrant eating food that you don’t need or don’t want. Instead, it may be time to reconsider the benefits of wasting food rather than eating it.
If you stop and think about it, whether you finish eating something or you don’t will not save you money, and having a clean plate as an adult is really a habit and doesn’t serve any real purpose. To address these beliefs requires a change in thinking and some techniques to change your habits.
It starts by looking at these beliefs and deciding if they still serve you or not. If not, what belief would make more sense for you now, such as “before I get full, no matter how much is on my plate, I will stop eating and determine the best thing to do with the remaining food.” Sometimes the best thing is to save them as leftovers, mix them with new ingredients for another dish, or ask for a doggy bag. Or you could throw the rest of it out, if none of these are possible.
Throwing food away is more challenging for most of us. It really does feel like money is being wasted, but this needs to be put in perspective. If you can’t see a way to save it, then you are faced with two options. Eat it or toss it. The cost of tossing it may be far cheaper than the cost of eating it – if you take a long term view rather than an immediate one.
Let’s look at the cost of wasting it versus putting it on your waist. Often this issue comes up at dinner time, which is the most expensive meal of the day. If the meal costs $16 and there is 25% more than you need, then the amount you don’t eat is worth $4. If this happens five times a week, and you can’t find a way to reuse the food three of those times, the total cost for the week is $12. Or perhaps you didn’t eat half of the food on some of those occasions, so the total cost is $20. How often do you spend $20 a week on things you don’t really need? Could you buy smaller portions of food, split portions with others or put less food out on your plate to begin with to avoid the extra expense?
Now consider eating all that food instead. If you eat a few hundred more calories than you need or than you burn off, you are putting on weight. As you gain weight, you need larger clothes and you will likely contemplate starting a new diet. Both can be costly. How much have you spent in the last year doing a diet or on buying new clothes – either from gaining weight or yo-yoing down and back up?
In addition, this weight gain often gets added around your mid-section, and this fat is the leading cause of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and the need for medications. What are you spending in co-pays for doctor visits and medications related to these conditions?
And there is one more thing to think about. Overeating affects your energy level, your mood and your self confidence. What is it costing you to feel lousy and dragged down? Probably more than you think.
While wasting food is not ideal, it is better to look at your options than to carry a black and white belief about waste. The next time you find yourself with more food than you need or want, consider what your beliefs are, if you think they make sense, and what would be better. You have the power to challenge and change your beliefs around food if you stop and look at them. This week, take the opportunity to see what your beliefs about wasting food are costing you.
You hear it all the time; “I am being good this year and not going to have xyz bad foods, so I don’t gain any weight.” This is the time of year when people join Weight Watchers and go on diets, so they can stay in control during the holidays. For some it works, and that holds out hope for everyone else. For the majority it not only does not keep them in control; the guilt, deprivation and old familiar patterns lead to giving up on the idea and then really over indulging since they blew it anyway. By the time New Year’s rolls around, they have put on nearly 10 pounds – twice the average holiday weight gain. Have you ever done this or know people who have? What happens in January when the holidays are over? Does this process get repeated?
For Julianne (not her real name), this is just what happens every year. She promises herself she will be good at Halloween, but isn’t. Then she becomes determined to do better at Thanksgiving and doesn’t. This leads her to take more drastic measures and go on a more rigid diet before Christmas, restricting herself as severely as she can so she won’t gain more weight. Yet for reasons she can’t explain, she still blows her diet and can’t seem to stick with it as she should, and by Christmas Eve she is gorging herself on candy canes and anything sweet she can get her hands on. For the next seven days, she is in full binge mode, knowing that she starts her diet again on January 1st. And then her annual cycles of dieting and bingeing begin again. She is in her late 50s and ashamed that at her age she is still doing this. She wonders why she never learns and can’t get herself to do as she should. She wonders what is wrong with her.
Nothing is wrong with her. She was never taught how to eat normally or how to recognize what really drives her to make the choices she does. She just assumes she is bad, and the harder she tries to be good the more often she feels like she fails. Sound familiar?
So here are the 3 things she has learned in our sessions so far this year as she successfully navigates the holidays and all the food she loves to eat. She let me share this with you if I didn’t use her name, which I fully understand. Her lessons are a bit painful to face, yet they are fairly common.
1. She does not like candy canes. She was so obsessed with eating what she couldn’t have before her next diet began, that she ate food she didn’t even like. She realized she didn’t even taste her food or know what she really enjoyed, because she was driven by a greater need to get what she could while she could. Now she focuses on what really gives her pleasure and satisfaction, and she finds she doesn’t want all that sugar or to overeat. This has been amazing to her.
2. She has been dieting and bingeing every holiday since she can remember, and her mother did the same thing. Her mom still struggles with food and her weight. Dieting doesn’t work. She just believed it did and was the thing to do because her mother did it. She can choose her own beliefs now, and she is learning first hand that eating with consciousness of what feels good to her body is a better way to go through the holidays.
3. She was very hard on herself and that judgment caused her to overeat and choose foods she knew were bad for her, reinforcing how bad she was. It was a vicious cycle of self-hatred, self-restriction, rebellion and guilt that spiraled into food binges she couldn’t stop. She is learning to see herself with compassion, non-judgment and greater understanding. The more she does this, the less often she finds herself drawn into the cycle or wanting to eat food she doesn’t need.
You may see yourself in Julianne’s lessons or you may be getting other insights. No two people have the same internal beliefs, emotional reactions, subconscious drivers or backgrounds. Yet what most of my clients share is a belief in dieting to lose weight and that when you eat foods you shouldn’t have on a diet you are being bad. Yet they can never be good enough to reach or sustain their goal, so they give up and dig in. This holiday, consider doing what feels good to your body and your head, rather than striving to be good. You may just enjoy the food more and end up weighing less.
“I just want to eat normally and feel like a normal person around food,” Joyce said, choking back her emotions. I hate eating in secret, feeling like I am the only one who can’t stop eating, and obsessing about food. I have tried everything, and I hate what I have become.
That was three months ago, and this past week she was thrilled to experience what it is like to eat normally and now sees that she can eat food without overindulging or losing control. Joyce learned the 3 secrets of intuitive eating.
Secret #1: Easy Portion Control
People who eat normally do not count calories to manage their portions. Instead they wait to get hungry to eat, and then they stop when they are satisfied without getting full. It is not something they have to think about; it is intuitive and something they just do. Infants do the same thing. We all have this ability, and it is amazingly simple to regain with a little awareness.
Joyce was shocked to learn she did not know what it felt like to get hungry or get full. She had never paid any attention to that. All she had ever focused on was what she should or shouldn’t have or how many calories she was avoiding or overeating. Yet within just a couple of weeks, she was finding it easy to recognize her hunger signal and eat when she got hungry. She was also amazed that she did really know when she had had enough and could stop before getting full. The best part was; she felt so much better and she no longer had to worry about portions. She was getting exactly the right amount of food to fuel her metabolism and her energy levels by trusting her hunger levels and intuition.
Secret #2: Controlling Cravings
Even if you are aware of getting full or grabbing food when you aren’t hungry, you may feel powerless to stop yourself. So why is that? What is really driving you to eat when you aren’t hungry? Do you know? Most people have absolutely no idea and assume it is because they have no willpower, are simply bad or just can’t help it. But that is not what is really going on. Something is driving you to eat, and you can figure it out with a few simple questions you can ask yourself out of curiosity rather than out of self-judgment.
Is something bothering me?
Do I feel like I need a reward?
Is this a food I know I shouldn’t have?
Am I eating this because I think I should or have to?
There could one or more of these subconscious drivers affecting the way you are eating, and once you spot them you can start to resolve them. Consider if there are other ways to resolve what is bothering you or another way to get rewarded. Determine if your beliefs about food or the need to eat for someone else at your expense really makes sense, and if not, change your internal rules. And notice if you are eating because you stopped paying attention or because what you are eating is something you automatically associate with something else you are doing. Once you are aware of these, you can be more conscious of your choices.
As Joyce began to ask herself these questions in an attempt to better understand herself, she discovered that she often felt deserving of a reward when she got home from work. Her favorite food reward was crackers and cheese before dinner. If she didn’t have an afternoon snack and was famished, she would eat these to the point of feeling sick, and then skip dinner. If she had a stressful day or deprived herself during the day, trying to be good, then she would keep on eating, usually bingeing for hours on cookies, ice cream, or anything she could find that would satisfy her need for sweets. Those nights she usually slept poorly and woke up feeling groggy and sick. Joyce could finally see what was going on and that bingeing didn’t satisfy her cravings; it just made her feel worse and unsatisfied.
The common reaction is to try to be better and avoid having bad foods in the house, but that doesn’t work for long. You have to address your needs, including your need to get rewarded, to be fully satisfied by the food you eat throughout the day, and to validate and address your emotional stress. Joyce discovered that giving herself permission to have a small treat at least once a day, getting in an afternoon snack and finding other ways to reward herself made all the difference. Almost overnight, she stopped craving sweets and bingeing. It was practically effortless.
Secret #3: Healthy Choices Naturally
When you listen to your body and what feels best, while identifying and resolving food triggers, an amazing thing happens. You start to want healthier foods, and it happens naturally. This was a huge surprise to Joyce. Within a few weeks of starting her coaching sessions, she found herself craving broccoli. The next week she wanted to try roasting some vegetables, and then she began asking for extra vegetables when she went out to eat. She couldn’t believe she was the same person. She told me she felt like her body had been taken over by a vegan and she was excited to start cooking healthier recipes.
I have seen this happen repeatedly. When you are aware of how you feel and resolve your subconscious eating issues, you naturally gravitate to healthier foods intuitively. You don’t have to force it; it comes easily by choice. You can eat normally like other people when you follow these 3 simple steps.
Katharyn knew she was eating because of stress, but she wasn’t able to stop herself from going through her cabinets and eating one thing after another until she was sick to her stomach. She is not alone. Most adults are overeating at night, and the primary reason is stress. Are you one of them?
Stress is now such a big part of everyone’s life, and the more we put up with, the less we notice how stressed we are. As a result, you might not even realize that what is driving you to overeat, crave sweets and carbohydrates, or turn to food when you aren’t even hungry is chronic stress. You may be under yet another tight deadline, feeling overwhelmed, dealing with negative people, making do with less, anxious or concerned about things outside your control, or trying to do too much each day. And that is for starters. Extreme levels of stress are no longer determined by whether there are major upheavals in your life, but by the cumulating daily stressors that add up without being defused.
Once Katharyn was able to review what was happening earlier in the day from a neutral perspective, she could see very clearly the causes of her stress and that she felt deserving of a reward when she got home. That need to be rewarded for putting up with the stress is often how the overeating starts. It is easy to justify pacifying yourself with food when you have been put upon or had to tolerate an unpleasant situation. And once the eating starts, the food becomes a way to avoid thinking about what happened and to further repress the emotions of the day. Very often stress eating becomes emotional eating, where food becomes the coping mechanism and a way to avoid dealing with how the stress makes you feel or your unmet needs.
There are 5 simple steps to stop stress eating, which Katharyn used to stop bingeing when she got home after a long and often challenging day.
1. Become Aware of When You Do Stress Eating
One of the things Katharyn realized is she wasn’t fully aware of what or how much she was eating on the nights she snacked until she couldn’t eat any more. She couldn’t even remember what she had eaten, if she had enjoyed any of it, or when she started to feel full. It was a blur and a way to zone out and forget her problems.
If you aren’t aware of what you are doing at the time you are doing it, you have no ability to stop or make a different choice. Instead you are on autopilot and out of control. So the first step is to actually notice you are eating unhealthy foods, too much food, and getting full. Once you can really see this, you can also start to look at what happened during the day, which is driving you to eat this way. And you can start to notice how you feel physically after a night of eating poorly.
2. Don’t Judge Yourself
The point of gaining more awareness is not to harshly judge yourself. When you feel judged, you will actually eat more to push down those feelings. There are good reasons for why you are stress eating, and the only way to really identify and understand those reasons is to be objective and have some compassion for yourself. By standing back and being a neutral observer, you are more willing to get curious and start to see what triggers you to eat.
3. Observe Your Eating Patterns
With that curiosity, you can begin to see your patterns. You will begin to notice when you eat because you feel stressed, and if you pick different types of foods or beverages for different types of stressful events. Maybe you turn to soda at work when you are irritated or frustrated, but you turn to sugary foods when you feel let down or unable to do as you planned. Maybe you automatically want a drink after work to deal with your anger or frustration, or maybe you get home and binge out of habit and exhaustion.
4. Get Specific about What Triggers Your Choices
The more you observe without judgment, the more you can see exactly what is triggering you to turn to food or a beverage. It may not always be because of stress. There are 8 possible reasons for being out of control with food and drinking, and stress can be a factor but not always the full cause. For example, one common reason for overeating or making unhealthy choices is being mindless, and stress can keep your mind so busy that you don’t pay any attention to what you are eating or drinking until you have overdone it. Another reason is having unconscious beliefs, like you deserve a reward for working hard or having to put up with things. When you feel stressed, you may also be eating or drinking something unhealthy to reward yourself. A third common reason is distracting yourself from how you feel by eating or drinking something, which is classic emotional eating.
When you stop to really see what you are thinking or feeling, you can start to see what is actually triggering your food or drink choices, and you can also begin to notice if those choices leave you feeling all that great after you have had them. Most likely, you feel worse not better. You also probably haven’t solved the real issues that are making you feel stressed.
5. Create Strategies to Deal with the Stress Differently
Now that you are more aware of all the different things that are driving your choices, you can start to think of strategies to reduce the stress and get your needs met without using food or beverages as the crutch.
Katharyn realized that she needed to take breaks during the day, so she could get some down time and make sure she got balanced snacks and meals to boost her energy levels. She also noticed that if she remained calm when things were hectic, instead of snapping at people when they snapped at her, that everything seemed easier to manage. And she could see that a better reward when she got home was a cup of tea and playtime with her dogs, followed by a nice dinner and the promise of some time to read. When she did these things, she reduced the stress at work and at home, and she got more sleep and felt better able to handle whatever she had to deal with in her day. As a result, she no longer binged when she got home.
The holidays are coming. The holidays are coming! Soon you will be surrounded by lots of sweets, cookies and navigating holiday party foods and drinks. Are you prepared with a game plan to keep yourself on track without feeling deprived? Now is the time to put your strategies together.
You don’t have to wait until after you’ve overindulged on candy, eaten one too many cookies or gotten stuffed on appetizers. You already have hindsight from previous years, and you probably can guess when and what will happen again this year.
This is just what my client Jean realized when we started talking about Thanksgiving at her son’s. She was afraid of overeating as she usually does, and she could picture all the times and ways that was going to probably happen again. She and her husband always drove 4 hours south on Wednesday, stopping at the same great deli where they picked up sandwiches for lunch and lots of treats they would bring as their contribution before the big meal. Yet more often than not, they didn’t eat much of the sandwiches and would dig into the bags of treats before arriving. The next day they would arrive at their son’s around noon hungry and ready to nibble on the appetizers and have their first drinks of the day. By the time they headed out for the big meal at the club, served buffet style, she was usually starting to feel full. Then she’d eat a big meal and stuff down several desserts. The next day, they would have a really big breakfast to tie them over on the long ride home, and they would stop again at the deli for treats to enjoy on the way back.
Like Jean, you can probably describe what your Thanksgiving holiday traditions around food will be like, just as you can see what will happen this coming weekend on Halloween or what you usually do at a party or around a bowl of candy set out for anyone to eat. That gives you a great advantage, because this enables you to think about what you would do differently that would leave you feeling better and still feel like you got to enjoy the festivities. So pick a time that is coming up, and remember how you felt last time when you over did it. What would work better for you?
Here are some ideas to consider:
- Eat a healthy balanced breakfast the day of a big meal, so you don’t arrive ravenous and overeat because you are so hungry.
- Eat a healthy balanced snack before going to an event, so you aren’t showing up hungry.
- When faced with lots of appetizers, decide in advance how many you will have and be picky about which ones you really want. You may decide to just have 3-4.
- When you know you are susceptible to having a drink too many, have a glass of sparkling water after your first drink and then decide if you really want a second drink.
- At a buffet, first look at everything to see which things you know you really want and be picky. Use a smaller plate, and focus on getting a mix of protein, vegetables and some other complex carbohydrates.
- Have salad first if that is an option at a buffet.
- Save room for dessert, and then choose the desserts that are your favorite. Have very small pieces and really enjoy them.
- Allow yourself to have 1-2 pieces of candy a day if you really like it and it is calling your name from the candy dish someone put out near your office. This can replace dessert on those days.
- Buy Halloween candy to give out to kids you don’t like eating yourself.
- Pick out the best Halloween candy and eat a few pieces with your meals instead of having just candy by itself. That will minimize blood sugar highs and lows and reduce cravings. Give yourself a few days to have your favorite candy and then throw the rest out.
- Remember that Halloween candy can be gotten anytime. You don’t have to eat it all now just because it is Halloween.
Which of these sound like they will work well for you? Really think about the situation you will probably be in and what would feel best to you before, during and after. Then add in some other ideas and decide ahead of time which approach you want to take. As Jean discovered by creating her own strategies with me, she got to enjoy her Thanksgiving rituals in a way that left her feeling better physically and really good about herself. She was thrilled to discover she could stay in control and still eat the foods she wanted.
When I first met MaryLou, she said her biggest issue was emotional eating. She ate frequently when she wasn’t hungry and felt compelled to eat junk foods when things didn’t go well. That certainly suggests emotional eating, but it could also be the result of other eating issues or subconscious triggers.
Emotional eating is often used as a catchall for any eating that isn’t based on a physical need, such as overeating, eating when you aren’t hungry or eating lots of unhealthy foods. Yet there can be many reasons for these things, and until you have a clear understanding of the real issue you can’t solve it.
The most common reasons that tend to fall under the emotional eating category are
- emotional repression,
- emotional deprivation (or restricted rebellion),
- perceived pressure and
- unconscious beliefs.
MaryLou was taught at an early age that junk food was bad and that she could only have it for special occasions, like when she had a good report card or on her birthday. On those days, she could have anything she wanted and as much as she wanted. She remembers those events vividly, because she gotto indulge in lots of chips, candy, cake and ice cream, and then she often got sick. But it was always worth it to her. Unconsciously, she believed that going on a binge as a reward for doing something well or on special holidays was her right and that feeling terrible afterwards was to be expected. Of course, as an adult, she got to decide what was a special occasion or worthy of a reward, and instead of a few times a year she overindulged a few times a week.
This is a form of eating driven more by a belief than an emotion, although it can trigger emotions as I will describe with restricted rebellion. Other unconscious beliefs that drive food behaviors include: eating everything on your plate, not wasting food, getting your money’s worth, leftovers are bad, healthy food is too expensive, healthy food doesn’t taste good, and many more. You can probably add a few of your own to this list.
MaryLou’s belief about junk food created a dynamic that led to another type of eating, where she felt emotionally deprived on the days she wasn’t being rewarded or celebrating. As she enforced the rule that she couldn’t have the food she craved except under certain conditions, another part of her rebelled against this rule. That part of her wanted the cookies, chips and chocolate all the time, because it wasn’t sure when the next reward was going to be and felt deprived and restricted by her strict belief. So when she finally did give herself permission to have these foods, she went on a greater binge to make up for feeling deprived between binges.
This rebellion against being restricted of food or specific foods is one of the most common forms of emotional eating. Whether you feel should be restricted by the beliefs you carry, were recently restricted by a diet, was restricted as a child or anticipate being restricted by an upcoming diet; you have a high likelihood of having an emotional reaction and overeating that food or foods to make up for not getting your needs met – whether you really want or like the food or not. You won’t be able to help yourself.
MaryLou had thought her biggest issue was eating when things didn’t go well, so discovering that she was out of control with food when things went well as a reward had been a huge eye-opener for her. Yet her reward eating had a common relationship to the times she ate to cope with challenging or upsetting situations. In both cases she had a lot of emotions, but she wasn’t acknowledging them. Instead of feeling deserving and celebratory when things went well or feeling angry and frustrated when they didn’t, she turned to food and pushed those feelings down into her body unexpressed. This is classic emotional eating. And then because overeating and eating junk food made her feel badly about herself, she then ate more in an attempt to avoid feeling ashamed for what she was doing. Again, this is typical with emotional eating.
When you repress either positive or negative emotions by turning to food to feel good, you lose the ability to really feel and express your feelings or to get your needs met that are associated with those feelings. In MaryLou’s case, she wanted to feel rewarded for the things she was proud of, and that is a valid feeling and need. But overeating junk food didn’t fill that need. Instead it made her feel worse and unfulfilled. She also had valid emotions when things didn’t go well, but the more she repressed them the bigger those emotions became so she was easily triggered when the littlest of things went wrong. She also hadn’t resolved the situations that upset her, so she felt more and more out of control and more often turning to food.
To MaryLou’s surprise, as she got to observe her eating patterns working with me, was how often she ate to please other people. She had no idea that was happening. There were many times during the week when she met people for coffee, lunch, dinner or went to networking events. Often she ate when she wasn’t hungry or had already become full, because she felt she needed to. If the person she was with wanted to share a pastry or dessert, she felt she had to say yes. If others were still eating, and she was done, she felt she had to eat more so they wouldn’t be uncomfortable that she was not eating. If she was offered an appetizer, she felt she had to have one so the waiter felt appreciated. If she didn’t eat everything on her plate, she worried the chef might think she didn’t like the food. Or if she wanted to order a light salad and others asked whether she wasn’t going to get more, she felt she should get something more substantial. In the end, she almost always overate and ate something she didn’t want.
Yet the people around her probably didn’t even really care what she did or didn’t eat. She was creating her own story about what these people were thinking and then tried to meet what she perceived were everyone’s needs but her own.
Belief- & Emotion-Driven Eating
As you can see, emotional eating is a mix of beliefs and emotions that subconsciously drive eating patterns, and everyone has their own unique set of beliefs, emotions and needs. Because everyone is different, I have only touched the surface as to the many ways these can appear for someone.
The trick is to be able to see what is really driving your own eating choices and behaviors without judgment, and then to change the specific beliefs, feel the specific feelings and get your real needs met. If you simply call everything emotional eating, it will be much harder to detect what is really driving you and how to finally address the exact beliefs, feelings and needs.
This week the topic was on subconscious eating and how to address those times when food seems to have all the power and you just can’t stop yourself from losing control. While everyone is feeling more in control with food choices and portions, they are still prone to over indulging and eating when they aren’t hungry from subconscious triggers. By knowing more about them and how to deal with them, they will be better prepared and more easily avoid getting triggered to eat out of control.
Your Behavior is the Tip of the Iceberg
It is so easy to judge your behaviors as good or bad, yet it is never that simple. When you over indulge, for example, the behavior may appear bad but that misrepresents what is going on. It is not a matter of being good or bad, but instead of understanding what drove you to have that behavior. Your behaviors stem from your subconscious thoughts, beliefs and feelings, most of which you aren’t even aware of. All you see is the behavior; not all that lies beneath it. To change your behavior, you need to expose what is driving it, and that is what I spent the session explaining how to do.
The Behavior Chain of Events:
Situation —Beliefs —Thoughts —Feelings —Behavior —Beliefs —Thoughts —Feelings —Behavior —
When something happens during your day, your thoughts about the situation are determined by your beliefs (most of which you absorbed from others you thought knew best as you grew up but may not necessarily be in your best interests) and these thoughts often create feelings about what is happening, whether you realize they are there or not. If you are like most people, the next thing you know after experiencing a trying situation is you are eating something you don’t really even want or losing control around foods you know you shouldn’t have. That then triggers beliefs about your eating behavior, which leads to negative thoughts and emotions, which drives you to eat even more.
For example; if you experience something that you believe is unfair, your thoughts reflect that and you begin to feel annoyed or upset. But seldom is there an opportunity to express those feelings, so you find yourself turning to food to avoid those feelings and to feel better. But you know that isn’t good and you shouldn’t do it, which leads to feeling even worse and continuing to eat out of greater frustration, shame and guilt. This is classic emotional eating, which I refer to as emotional repression since it works to keep you calm and your feelings under control – as in pushed out of consciousness. The problem is the emotions are still there, unresolved and ready to be triggered again.
As I shared with the groups, emotional eating is a term people use to cover many different aspects of subconsciously-driven eating behaviors, and it helps to separate eating driven by beliefs from those driven by emotions or to recognize when it is a combination of both.
Dealing with Beliefs Eating
If you overeat because you subconsciously believe you must finish everything on your plate, this would be a type of beliefs-driven eating behavior. There is no emotional component to it. Another example is eating food because you don’t want to throw it away or you want your money’s worth. Very often the beliefs you carry are those you got from other people or the media, and when you really stop to evaluate those beliefs will find they don’t serve you.
Does it really make sense to eat until you are sick to get your money’s worth or to skip meals to save your calories for dinner, which creates blood sugar lows and usually leads to night-time bingeing? Or does it make sense to overeat or eat food that makes you feel sick to take care of someone else’s feelings? Just because you perceive pressure to eat, doesn’t mean you have to eat or that the other person cares as much as you think.
You can change your beliefs once you identify the ones that don’t work for you. You can decide to create a new belief, like if you are done eating and can’t keep food as leftovers that throwing away food may be the best option.
Dealing with Emotional Eating
There are two primary types of eating that are driven by emotions. One is emotional repression, as I mentioned earlier. The other is when your emotions represent a reaction to having been or currently being deprived of food you want. This I call restrictive rebellion, where one part of you (the inner parent – holder of beliefs) enforces your dietary rules and the other part of you (the inner child – holder of emotions) rebels to get its unmet needs addressed. As most of us know, our emotions usually win one way or another, and often it is by going out of control with food.
The way to address these is to understand what it is you are feeling and what it is you need (to address those feelings) that don’t involve food. So if you are angry about something, determine what needs to be done to address what created that anger and allow yourself to acknowledge the anger, instead of repress it. And determine if there are additional emotions beneath the anger that need to also be addressed. The idea isn’t to dig up the past, but to identify what you feel and need now. In my book that goes along with this program, I go through the exact steps on how to do this.
Read What the Participants Have to Say
Learning about subconscious eating and specific examples of belief- and emotionally-driven eating was eye-opening to people in the groups. As several of them said, they now had greater insight about themselves and their relationship with food, and it all made more sense.
Find out what else the participants learned from this topic, which they usually add the week after this post goes live. Please feel free to add your own comments as you follow along.
To participate on your own or in a group (3 more groups starting soon), check out the contest website for details and tools at www.aHealthyLifestyleWorks.com/contest.
Have a fit and healthy week,
This week, I asked everyone to share a significant change in the way they were eating since starting the New You program, and to pick an area they had listed in their contest application as a major problem they wanted to solve. It was amazing to hear just how much had changed, and how easy it had been to make the changes.
A Change in Mindset
To date, they have been shown how to pay attention to their body’s hunger, satisfaction and fullness levels, the basics of nutrition, and how to balance all foods in moderation – as you’ve been reading in this blog. They have been encouraged to notice how different foods or beverages leave them feeling, and to stay conscious when they eat so they can remain in control. They have been discouraged from labeling any food as bad or criticizing themselves when they are challenged to pick healthy choices or in controlling portions.
They have not been put on a diet, been restricted in any way, or been told what to eat or not to eat. There has been no judgment about their choices, but instead a focus on feeling good physically and satisfied emotionally.
And the results within just six weeks are impressive, because no one feels pressured, forced or restricted. Instead they have changed their mindset and been given freedom to do what feels best and works best for them. With this approach, they have all easily, intuitively and naturally gravitated to healthier foods and beverages, low-glycemic balanced foods, smaller portions and more frequent meals. And they have done it by choice, not to win an award or to lose weight fast. Instead they have done it because it just feels and tastes so much better.
Here is a summary of what has changed during the past six weeks across the 4 groups participating in this New You 2010 program, including the contest group.
Portion Control is Now Easy
Nearly everyone struggled with portion control and wanted a way to manage how much they ate, particularly at night, when entering the program. When they first started paying attention to when they started to become full, many found it didn’t feel good and others discovered they had no idea really what fullness felt like.
Now, everyone has easily shifted to eating when they get hungry and stopping before they get full, with perhaps a couple of exceptions during the week, and even then they almost never overeat by that much.
As several people said this week, they just don’t want to eat beyond the point they are satisfied and it has become easy to simply stop. They have found, whether they journal or not, that they are remaining conscious of their hunger and fullness levels when they eat, which is changing their behavior naturally. Others pointed out that by getting enough to eat during the day and not getting too ravenous before dinner, they are more in control and don’t overeat at night. Some noted they are easily taking food home when they go out to eat, which is something they never used to do.
Choosing Healthier Foods is More Satisfying
When most of them filled out their applications, they wrote about the struggle to make healthy choices and many of them shared they weren’t sure if they had or even knew how to eat healthy meals. So many of them had dieted, and sadly diets are seldom healthy.
Now they are gaining confidence that they know what is healthy and are making healthy meals and snacks. They have been experimenting with the foods they already eat, and finding ways to make them more nutritionally balanced with other foods or by finding healthier alternatives (such as whole grain vs refined flour pasta). They haven’t had to change the way they eat drastically. Instead they have made minor modifications and begun experimenting with new recipes. As importantly, they are combining foods in a way they find most satisfying, so they don’t feel like they are being restricted or being put on a diet.
Many of them shared how much they were enjoying their healthier choices and how much better they felt physically and mentally. They are discovering how to balance foods that give them more energy, last a few hours, and taste so much better than what they used to eat. In the process, quite a few of them are getting excited about cooking, trying new recipes and checking labels to make healthier purchases. Some are figuring out better ways to plan their grocery shopping and prepare foods more effectively.
And, many of them are finding they want more fruits and vegetables, so we talked a bit about ways to more easily and quickly prepare vegetables. We will also have Katie Habib, our personal chef sponsor from In Home Cooking, do a class for us on ways to plan and prepare vegetables in April or May.
Excessive Overeating and Bingeing Seldom Happens Now
As I explained to the groups early on, there is always a good reason for overeating and bingeing. The trick is to uncover the subconscious trigger driving you to eat when you aren’t hungry or are already starting to get full. The first step in doing that is to simply observe with curiosity when you overeat and not judge it.
Very often the cause is an internal battle between beliefs you are carrying about food (such as food you shouldn’t have) and emotions caused by unmet needs (such as foods you love and have been deprived of). The drive to overeat and binge can also come from beliefs about wasting food, eating everything on your plate and deserving a reward. It can also be the result of using food to repress emotions and using food to cope with what is going on in your life.
Nearly everyone had been doing excessive overeating to one degree or another, and now it is very rare. They are seeing what is triggering them and they are either changing their beliefs, acknowledging their needs and finding ways to get those needs met, or they are coming up with strategies to avoid getting triggered in the first place. Several shared how amazing it was to them that they no longer graze after dinner or have any desire to eat foods in large quantities. They might have a little something at night, but just a bit, and very often they are happier having it with dinner as part of their balanced meal. As one person put it, there just isn’t “any desire anymore to overindulge”. Others pointed out that because they no longer feel restricted or deprived and instead have permission to eat what they want in a structured way, they are perfectly satisfied and don’t go looking for more food.
Beverage Choices Naturally Healthier
A number of people had been drinking a lot of soda or alcohol, which we haven’t talked much about in the groups. For a few it was a big issue, and they have specifically worked to uncover what is driving them to drink so much and to come up with strategies to reduce their quantities. And that has worked really well. For the others, they simply found they didn’t want as much of it and started drinking more water or seltzer water instead. For them, the change just naturally happened because it made them feel better. And for another, what naturally occurred was a greater desire for a higher quality drink than for quantity.
Addictions and Cravings Seem to Have Disappeared
For those who felt they had carb or sugar addictions when they filled out their applications, none felt they had these now. The cravings have disappeared, and many believed it was because of their balanced food choices and their ability to enjoy a little of whatever it is they love as a part of their meals or snacks.
If they want a cookie, they can have one. If they want chocolate, they can fully enjoy it. And since they are no longer deprived or beating themselves up for slipping, blowing it or being bad, these once forbidden foods don’t hold power over them. Instead, they are eating to be satisfied instead of indulging to make up for what they can’t have or didn’t get to have in the past.
What is also making a big difference for a number of them is breakfast. In the past, they were eating primarily carbohydrates and mainly simple carbohydrates (such as a breakfast of cereal, milk, fruit and fruit juice), which was fueling carb cravings the rest of the day. Now, by balancing their breakfast with more complex carbohydrates, protein and fat, they aren’t spiking their blood sugars first thing in the morning, and the desire for carbs has dropped off.
The Changes Don’t Feel Like a Sacrifice
As one gal put it, “it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice” to make healthy changes this way, and that is why they are all being so successful. Simply by having awareness when eating, a simplified understanding of nutrition and the freedom to make choices that feel best, they are willingly and intuitively making positive changes they will easily maintain long-term. They don’t have to rely on willpower to do as they should, because there are no rules and restrictions – just common sense that feels good.
Read What the Participants Have to Say
Find out what the participants have to say about their changes with food, which they usually add the Monday after this post goes live. Please feel free to add your own comments as you follow along.
To participate on your own or in a group, check out the contest website for details and tools at www.aHealthyLifestyleWorks.com/contest.
Have a fit and healthy week,