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How to Stop Overeating- A Radical Approach

Updated on July 30, 2012

Think about the last time you munched on a Snickers bar or slurped ice cream right out of the carton. Did you berate yourself for hours afterwards, wishing you had more self-control? Did you vow never to do it again, only to find yourself in the same predicament a week later? It’s a story repeated over and over in people who struggle with overeating. We binge, we feel guilty, we make promises, and we break them. It fuels our self-hatred and propels us to continue overeating. We buy books on diet and exercise, sure that one of them will “cure” us of this problem.

The following article is a synopsis of a radical approach to solving the problem of overeating. The ideas and concepts are taken from the book, When Women Stop Hating their Bodies and is a must read for anyone serious about exploring the motivations behind overeating. To begin, let’s look at the difference between mouth hunger and stomach hunger.

Two types of hunger

All of us experience two types of hunger. The first is stomach hunger. This is the rumbling and grumbling in our bellies that signal it’s time to eat. When we ignore this sensation, blood sugar levels plummet- leaving us feeling lethargic and uncomfortable.

The second type of hunger is called mouth hunger. This is described as a sensation of wanting to eat. Our bodies might not be hungry, but our mouth is. You want to feel the pleasure of tasting, chewing, and swallowing. Typical weight loss programs will encourage people to ignore mouth hunger because it’s not based on a real physiological need for food. So we try as hard as we can to ignore it- yet so many of us fail. Why?

Source

Mouth hunger is a signal

Every time you feel mouth hunger, analyze the events right before you felt the feeling. If you deny yourself the right to feel the feeling, it will only produce more urges later on. Almost every instance of mouth hunger is triggered by some negative emotion. Take the following examples:

  • It’s 2:00pm at your job and you start to crave something to eat. Did you have a passing thought that your work is boring, unproductive, and unfulfilling? Did you get another project assignment that overwhelmed you? A meeting with a boss who was overly critical?
  • It’s 9:00pm and you are watching your favorite TV show, Grey’s Anatomy. Is there an illicit love affair happening that triggered memories of a past relationship? Perhaps your current marriage is failing and you wished for some excitement.

With practice, you can begin to identify the unwanted feelings and emotions that triggered the desire to eat. Mouth hunger is a pleasurable experience and we typically run to pleasure when we experience unpleasant emotions.

I can hear some of you saying, “well yeah, so what- that doesn’t stop me from indulging!” Identifying the reason behind mouth hunger is only the first step. You will be unsuccessful in your attempts to identify what types of food your body craves at any given time unless you first legalize ALL food.

Legalizing food

For people who overeat, food is not a neutral topic. There is good food and bad food. Carrots, apples, and celery are good foods. Snickers, chocolate, and Twinkies are bad foods. We base a food’s “goodness” on its nutrition content. Making a food “forbidden” only adds to its pleasure. For people who truly want to stop overeating, the only way to do so is to eliminate the good vs. evil disguises we put on food in an attempt to control ourselves.

Psychologically, carrots and ice cream must be the same. No one food is good over the other. It’s all simply food. If you begin to panic at this idea, your emotions are telling you something very important. You are terrified of food and don’t trust your own body to tell you what it needs. Diets strip an individual of the ability to “read” his or her own hunger cues. The dieting culture is firmly embedded in your psyche.

For the purpose of this article, let’s imagine an individual whose “forbidden” item is ice cream. He can sit down and eat a whole ½ gallon in one sitting. When he allows himself to buy it, it’s gone it one day. This is another symptom of overeating- we are so afraid of not having access to it later, that we eat as much as we can right now.

Practical steps

Step One- Identify your forbidden foods
Sit down with a piece of paper and list all the foods that you binge on. Write down how much you can eat in one day.

Step Two- Buy that food in large quantities
For the man who loves ice cream and eats a carton a day, he must go to the store and buy three times the amount he can eat in one sitting. At a minimum, he should buy at least three ½ gallons for his freezer. More wouldn’t hurt. Fill your house with all your illegal foods. The more the better. For me it was Doritos. I went out and bought ten bags.

Step Three- Identify the feelings
You may feel a host of feelings at this point. You might be panicked that you’ve given yourself access to so much food. You are afraid of losing control. Don’t let this stop you from the process. Most people who push through those feelings report a sense of calm once they are surrounded by all their forbidden foods. The lure is gone. Psychologically, lack produces desire, surplus produces security. Once we shed the idea that we CAN’T have something, the desire for it diminishes significantly.

Start the journey

Why do we make food illegal?
It’s easier for us to eat “bad” food and then tell ourselves we’re bad, rather than own up to “illegal” feelings. Jealously, rage, hurt, sadness, despair, etc. are all feelings that usually produce some level of guilt- hence the illegal. We are not accustomed to processing these scary feelings so we reach for food to distract us- physically by the pleasure of eating, and then psychologically by berating ourselves for overeating. In this ritual, we have avoided the root problem entirely.

I’m surrounded by forbidden food- now what?
Give yourself permission to eat it. You’ll be surprised at how much less you crave it when you know it’s there in abundance for you whenever you want. If you first bring ice cream into your home and proceed to eat two cartons, go ahead and buy more. Keep your pantry or freezer stocked. Don’t dismay if you spend the first couple of days eating in a frenzy. That is a symptom of a “dieters” mindset. Eventually, you’ll realize that ALL food is legal and available, and the lure of food will lose its power. That is when the real work begins- learning to deal with our feelings without the tranquilizing power of food.

This is only the beginning
The revolutionary book When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies goes through all the steps of legalizing food, dealing with bad body image, how to differentiate from stomach hunger and mouth hunger, how to deal with perceived “failure”, experiencing your feelings without food as medicine, and enjoying the pleasure that comes from giving your body exactly what it craves.

-Julie DeNeen

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    • Hendrika profile image

      Hendrika 23 months ago from Pretoria, South Africa

      I have heard about this before and I think the ideas behind it is sound. With this approach, you run into trouble though if have had or have an eating disorder. I am 64 and I am still not completely over it.

      If only we can get this book in all our young children's hands. I really think parents should give really serious thought to it before their children are too big and it is too late.

      Of course the first step int this is not forcing them to "clean their plate" as some parents still do and also not to force them to eat something they do not want to eat.

      Once you reach the stage where you do not only crave food but you crave the feeling of being totally stuffed the road gets very difficult

    • That Grrl profile image

      Laura Brown 4 years ago from Barrie, Ontario, Canada

      You can make yourself hungry, stomach growls and all, just by thinking about eating something. I've done it. So I don't trust either kind of being hungry any more.

    • Julie DeNeen profile image
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      Blurter of Indiscretions 4 years ago from Clinton CT

      breathe2travel- yes I notice the same thing with my kids!

    • breathe2travel profile image

      breathe2travel 4 years ago from Gulf Coast, USA

      Having an abundance of food does curb the over-eating of it -- or so I have noticed with my kids. I used to only buy chips occasionally, and they'd tear through the bag(s). However, recently, I bought several varieties - we had about 8 0r nine regular size bags of chips and three kinds of pretzels in the pantry. I actually ended up throwing away the unused open bags after the bags sat in the pantry for weeks - about six weeks. I have five children, and they can devour quickly!

      Also, I used to go to the grocery store every other day, buying enough yogurts for a day or two, along with produce. However, I decided to get several packs of yogurt, plus 10 individual flavors -- and, just as you theorize in your hub -- the kids only eat them occasionally rather than devouring.

      Voted your hub up, useful and interesting. Great writing.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 4 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      This was interesting to read. I hadn't heard of this approach before. Thanks for sharing and voted up!

    • Julie DeNeen profile image
      Author

      Blurter of Indiscretions 4 years ago from Clinton CT

      @rusticliving- thank you so much!

    • Rusticliving profile image

      Elizabeth Rayen 4 years ago from California

      Fabulous Hub Julie! Our relationship with food should be that of a healthy one and you have nailed some perspectives right on the head! Great illustrations and examples as well as important tips we should all follow (whether we have a weight issue or not) Thumbs up! Lisa

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      I had a huge issue with weight for most of my adult life; at one time, I was up to 366 pounds. I tried everything. Finally, my father-in-law (a doc) told me about gastric bypass. It turned out to be a life saver. I have lost and been able to keep off 200+ pounds since 2001. After the surgery, I had to retrain myself how to eat. You make a lot of very valid points. VUMS (Voted Up, More and Shared) :)

    • Julie DeNeen profile image
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      Blurter of Indiscretions 4 years ago from Clinton CT

      @chrisinhawaii- thanks for stopping by!

    • profile image

      chrisinhawaii 4 years ago

      Interesting article, Julie. I definitely like the idea of being surrounded by pizzas, burgers, and burritos...but I think that allowing myself to eat whatever I wanted without restrictions or regrets is kinda what made me fat to begin with.

      I must agree with the idea that complete deprivation only makes cravings and splurges more frequent rather than less.

      Voted up and interesting. Aloha!

    • Julie DeNeen profile image
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      Blurter of Indiscretions 4 years ago from Clinton CT

      @beachlife- thanks for stopping by! :)

    • Julie DeNeen profile image
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      Blurter of Indiscretions 4 years ago from Clinton CT

      @debbie- you'd need 10 chocolate cakes!!!

    • Julie DeNeen profile image
      Author

      Blurter of Indiscretions 4 years ago from Clinton CT

      @billy- hmmm....you slobber every time I post a recipe? LOL just kidding!!!!

    • Julie DeNeen profile image
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      Blurter of Indiscretions 4 years ago from Clinton CT

      @Shining- thank you for the encouragement and the vote!

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

      Julie - Fascinating and insightful new ways to combat the bad food urges. Although food is emotional, I am fortunate that food, for me, provides possitives. My emotion isn't in eating sweets and "bad food", its enjoying what a good meal brings. I am also fortunate that I have always considered some of my favorite foods consisting of the good food category. However, I eat them because I enjoy the taste.

      I think you did a fine job giving hope and a new way to look at our relationship to food.

      voting up and I hope more read this.

    • Julie DeNeen profile image
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      Blurter of Indiscretions 4 years ago from Clinton CT

      @Chris- depending on your relationship to food, it could be fun or terrifying! LOL- but its really crazy what happens psychologically when you surround yourself with the very thing you've forbidden. Like another hubber commented, you can't try this method without doing the WHOLE process, and it certainly doesn't work for things like drug and alcohol. I think that's why her book isn't mainstream (well that and the dieting industry is a much more powerful monster). I can't do the whole method with just one hub, but I tried to pick out the "radical" parts so people would get interested. Down with DIETING! ROAR! :)

    • profile image

      Chris Hugh 4 years ago

      I don't know if this will work, but I think it'll be fun to try. It's fun just read about, and I love the pictures! Great Hub, like a breath of fresh air.

    • Julie DeNeen profile image
      Author

      Blurter of Indiscretions 4 years ago from Clinton CT

      @crystal- I encourage you to buy the book. It tackles all those thoughts you just lined out. Since it was a hub, I couldn't possibly go into all of it- but I wanted to whet people's appetites enough that they do some research themselves. I understand what you are saying, but food addiction is slightly different than drug and alcohol addiction. You need food to live. It's normal to crave food. Thanks for posting!!

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 4 years ago from Georgia

      This is an interesting approach. As a food addict, it's not one that I can afford to take. It would be like an alcoholic deciding to buy three times the beer he thinks he can drink. Bottom line, for me, if I don't abstain from certain foods, I will be in the throes of addiction. Those who are real addicts don't react to food the way others do - it's not merely emotional - it's actually physiological as well - so this approach will work for some but not for others. I'd love to be able to eat a few slices or just one slice of cake, but once I do, it's over. It helps me not to look at food as forbidden but as not the best choice for me if I want to be healthy and sane.

    • profile image

      Beachlife 4 years ago

      I thought this was a well written hub and very interesting approach. In the past I have found that too much of a good things all made me sick to my stomach,lol.

    • debbiepinkston profile image

      Debbie Pinkston 4 years ago from Pereira, Colombia and NW Arkansas

      Julie, I have often thought that if I bought a huge chocolate cake and gave myself permission to eat as much as I wanted of it, I would soon get over my tendency to overeat! Great Hub.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      A fascinating look at this radical approach. I have never had a problem with food but, as we know, I can be rather compulsive in other areas of my life. Well done Julie; a very interesting hub!

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