How do you approach making changes to overeating?
Find yourself wanting to make big changes right now because you feel like you’ve put your life on hold for emotional overeating long enough?
I hear you. I was the same. Like most of my most clients, I just wanted the struggle with bingeing and weight to be over. Now. Or yesterday.
Either we want to lose 30 lbs by Christmas or we don’t want to even start. That’s the crazy diet mentality at work. We suddenly take on a complete overhaul of the way we eat and one small set back we give up altogether.
But if there’s any ‘secret’ to stopping binge and emotional overeating it’s being willing to make small changes that are long term.
Most of us have been fighting so long we have battle fatigue and have given up altogether.
But you can win the battle and get your life back if you change strategies to picking a small tactical skirmish you can win.
This is the exact opposite of a diet. Instead of trying to change everything now, pick one small change you can stick to forever and try adopting as ‘just something you do’.
I can trace the exact moment I finally started to have success with overcoming binge eating. I stopped years of bingeing and emotional overeating when I made the relatively small decision that I would never eat to being completely overfull again.
This was actually pretty easy to stick to because it was such a small commitment, it seemed do-able. Once I started slowing down the binges I could increase my awareness. When I did this I could see that actually, eating to overfull isn’t comfortable. Then I thought if I can change that I could make another small commitment which was to eat regular meals of real food instead of just grabbing snacks throughout my busy day. So from that first tiny habit, I ended years of feeling powerless to stop overeating.
Even though this small change seems too small to make a difference sticking to it was enough to prove to myself that I could change long-term after breaking so many diets. From this, I eventually added the ability to allow urges to binge without responding to them. This was a game-changer. (I will tell you more about this next week.)
I find that if people get confidence with one small habit they have confidence that they can break the urge to binge or overeat when it arises.
The good news is, this is something you can start now even with the holidays coming up. It doesn’t require a New Year’s Resolution and it’s something that you can keep for good when all of the dieters have quit in January.
I invite you to try making one tiny small change today. Here are some ideas.
One of the biggest challenges binge and over eaters face is believing they can change with so many years of failed diets to prove them wrong. If there’s one thing I know for sure, is that if I can do it after more than 20 years of binge and overeating … you can too.
It’s never too late to start. Pick one small change you can make today.
Have a great week,
Remember, if you need help applying these strategies I'm always here to help. I offer a 20-minute online mini-session where I am happy to coach you through an issue for free. It ’s zero obligation just so you can get to experience the power of coaching first hand. Zero sales pressure and as always I promise you will get value.
People often think that they should stop emotional overeating so they can lose weight and finally be happy. I always tell people you don’t need to lose weight to be happy, in fact, it works better if you are happy with your body before you lose weight. Loathing can only get you so far on any diet plan, then there’s the crash and binge.
I personally believe the only reason to stop bingeing and emotional overeating is because bingeing and dieting function as distractions. We overeat and binge to avoid unwanted feelings. And the ultimately the diet-binge cycle provides a distracting sideshow that stops us from moving forward with our lives.
I remember when my days were planned around food. Either what I would be eating through the day or what I would allow myself to have at the end of the day. Honestly, so much of my mental energy was spent on diet and food I hardly had time to think about what I really wanted outside of stopping overeating and losing weight. Plus, everything I wanted in my life was delayed until after I got this binge thing under control and yet my days were filled with thinking about food.
So many clients come to coaching feeling absolute stuck in the cycle of dieting and bingeing just like I was.
It wasn’t until I stopped using food as my “go-to” to avoid emotions and learned to process them that I really got a handle the problem and lost weight for good.
Frankly, the real benefit was not getting past the shame and embarrassment of bingeing or even losing weight, it was the time and focus I got once I learned to manage my mind and emotions around food. All of a sudden I was using that same energy to move forward on my business, my social life and my family.
I was no longer putting my life on hold till after I got this overeating thing handled. I just didn’t think about food and the urge to binge was completely gone.
And this is true of anything we use as a distraction, whether is a drink at the end of the day that turns in to more than one or two leaving you tired the next morning, or the Netflix binge that has you scrambling to catch up with all the things that you should’ve got done. It’s easy to spot when we are in an over-consumption distraction loop because there’s always that sense that we are out of control and powerless to stop it.
Managing our thoughts around food is the key to change. I never thought there would be a day where I could honestly say “It’s only food” and mean it. That I could go to a restaurant and look at the menu for an option that fits with my plan and not feel deprived. It’s just a non-issue now. Sure, I still have foods just for the flavour but they are planned and I never have that sense of deprivation around food because I have taken the time to explore and manage the thoughts I have around food and to work on changing them over time.
An exercise that you can use to begin to understand your relationship with food is to use the prompts below to understand how you are thinking about food today. Make sure you answer each of these questions quickly and honesty so you can see the thoughts that are running your relationship to food. If you take the time to write down the answers on paper it’s even more powerful in revealing your thinking to you.
The last prompt should tell you a lot about what you are thinking prior to a binge, so take note of that one in particular because that is one of the thoughts that is driving your urge to binge.
Notice if you have conflicting stories about food. Some positive and some negative. You might think food is ‘love’ and food is bad at the same time. It’s this conflict that leads to us feeling like we are actually eating against our own will. The thought that food is bad drives us to limit food, while the thought that food is love drives us to binge.
Until you really take the time to look at what is in your mind you can’t begin to create thoughts that are in alignment with how I want to think, feel and act around food?
Ask your self how do I feel when I think that ‘food is love’ when you are considering stopping overeating? Most likely, it makes you feel ‘deprived’ or something similar. Now notice how you act when you feel this way? Again, if you are like most binge eaters you’ll find this feeling is what drives your bingeing.
It sounds crazy but it really is this simple. Thoughts create feelings which drive our actions.
By identifying the thought you can begin to work to change it. And by changing the thought and you will begin to be able to change the feeling and action. Do this enough and you will be able to change your relationship to food for good. And most importantly you will be able to get on with more important things in life than constantly obsessing about food.
Remember, if you need help applying these strategies I offer a 20-minute online mini-session where I am happy to coach you through an issue you have around your eating for free. It ’s zero obligation just so you can get to experience the power of coaching first hand. Zero sales pressure and as always I promise you will get value.
Have a great week,
It’s easy to get down on yourself when you binge or overeat. As bingers and overeaters, we're way too familiar with the negative thought spiral after a binge - I’m a quitter, I just can’t control myself around food, it’s hopeless, this is just the way I am.
The worst part is thoughts like this lead to despair that fuels the urge. We feel hopeless to stop overeating, so we overeat.
A great thought-shift to use when you are stuck like this is to look at how binge and overeating are working for you.
Weirdly, acknowledging how binge eating is working for you can create enough self-acceptance and compassion to loosen the grip of negative thoughts in a binge eating spiral. You’re not crazy. Looked at the right way, binge and overeating make sense.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in coaching, self-acceptance and compassionate awareness are the first step to change. After acceptance it’s important to return to the basic premise of all of my motivational work:
The reason we do anything is because of how we think it will make us feel.
So, I’ll just list some of the benefits binge eating offers us:
There’s also a relief from the pain of isolation caused by the shame of overeating. The thing is, when we experience shame we tend to isolate ourselves, and when we isolate ourselves we are setting ourselves up for a binge.
There was a famous study conducted by behavioural psychologists called the ‘Rat Park’ study where rats put in isolation preferred opioid-laced water over plain water, while rats in a ‘park’ setting with other rats consistently preferred plain water. This study was done after it was observed that not all veterans of the Vietnam War became opioid addicts when they had opioids for pain relief at war. While the study had flaws, the finding was the difference was social connection. Social connection created less need for artificial stimulation.
You can create connection by simply listening to yourself. Try connecting with yourself by acknowledging and accepting your current thoughts and feelings just as they are without trying to immediately change them.
Building a good working relationship with yourself can be like parenting you need to have both a strong emotional connection but also have authority over yourself. Let me explain using four
types of parenting identified by researchers*. Of the four types, the Authoritative style is the most effective.
When we allow ourselves to binge, we are caring for ourselves in the way that a permissive parent might care for a child. Essentially, we are saying “I know you are in pain, have whatever you want.” While kind, it doesn’t stop bingeing.
When we are critical and punishing with ourselves and restrict food we are treating ourselves like an authoritarian parent by emotionally rejecting the part of us that wants to overeat. There’s no emotional connection with our feelings, and this just adds to the stress. Ultimately, we rebel and overeat anyway.
When we are present with our thoughts and feelings without allowing ourselves to act on them, are acting authoritatively. We begin to build a relationship with ourselves where we are in control of our actions, aware of our thoughts and accepting of our feelings. We care for ourselves without allowing ourselves to do what isn’t good for us. Instead, we take the time to connect with ourselves by writing down our thoughts, feelings and actions. We take time to work on changing thoughts that drive the feelings of the need to perform the action of overeating.
Treating ourselves with compassion while developing a strong relationship with ourselves in terms of honouring our commitments is part of exercising personal authority over our lives.
We are all capable of change, we just need the right tools. Let me know if you want more help finding them. Drop me a line at email@example.com or book a free no obligation consult session at www.lpattison.com. I’m currently taking new clients. Maybe that’s you!
*Baumrind D. 1966. Effects of authoritative parental control on child behavior. Child Development, 37(4), 887-907.
“Everyday I say I am going to start and then by the end of the day I’ve quit.”
“I tell myself I’ll do something and then I don’t and I don’t know why.”
We’ve all been here. It's one of the biggest problems people bring to coaching. Either they want to stop doing something or start doing something, but they feel completely powerless to change.
I used to be the world’s biggest procrastinator. I just couldn't seem to follow through on diet and exercise. I was on the daily diet-binge cycle with Netflix binges interspersed.
The worst part about it was that the things that I wanted to do were important to me and my health, but I just couldn’t seem to get myself to follow through. I would be constantly waiting for the next wave of motivation asking myself “Why can’t I get this done?”
The obvious answers would be there. “I’m just not a motivated person.” “I’m lazy.” “There is something wrong with me.”
And like so many coaching clients, I’d give up.
But the truth is all of this is just a stream of thoughts in our heads. In fact you can argue that is all that is ever actually happening to us is a stream of thoughts. And as I learned as a qualitative researcher each of these thoughts cause feelings that drive actions.
This is the Think-Feel-Act cycle. It’s lighting fast and it controls absolutely everything that we do… or don’t do.
So, while we start off with a thought that’s very motivating, when faced with creating new habits we allow other more habitual thoughts to take over on the way.
“This is too hard.”
“I need a break, a snack, a treat.”
“I’ll start tomorrow.”
Following the Think Feel Act cycle we can see each of these thoughts lead us away from our initial motivating thoughts to thoughts that make us feel completely discouraged, which lead us to take the action of giving up.
But the great news - and the secret to the universe - is we are always just one thought away from a different feeling and action.
Find the thought and change it and you can create a better feeling and a better action.
It really is that simple. But it takes awareness and practice to wise up to what’s going on our minds when we see are used to accepting our thoughts and feelings uncritically and we just let them run without questioning them. Especially when the environment is saturated with distractions like food, drink and Instagram offering us alternatives to looking at what is going on within ourselves.
The first step of breaking the cycle is to look back at an instance like a binge eat and refuse to beat yourself up but instead look critically at the thoughts that were leading up to that moment. Be willing to investigate those thoughts and feelings by writing them down. Start with the thought then write down the feeling and the actions that result.
Once we learn to do the thought work and process the emotions that drive our actions we can use our minds to get what we want and to motivate ourselves instead of being at the mercy of thoughts without questioning them. We literally don’t have to change anything but our thoughts. Choosing more motivating and compassionate thoughts about ourselves is all we need to do to feel better and to motivate ourselves.
The good news is by doing this work we can fundamentally change our habits so that we don’t have to diet or binge ever again.
Hi, I'm Lydia Pattison.