How to Stop Overeating- A Radical Approach
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?
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.
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.
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.
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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.