Instead of filling up on low-calorie, cardboard-like food to help you “avoid temptation,” make your favorite foods a priority. Eat them first – even if they are cake and cookies! When you give yourself permission to eat any foods that you enjoy, it’s much easier (and natural) to stop when you’ve had enough. If you avoid these foods, eventually deprivation will drive you to eat them – usually in an overeating or binge episode – so you don’t even allow yourself to enjoy them. Feelings of shame follow and you beat yourself up for “blowing it” once again. But this isn’t about blowing it or being weak, if you eat what you really want, you can enjoy it and move on, feeling satisfied. Go for your favorites first, and…
2. Truly SAVOR those favorite foods you’re eating.
When you first allow yourself to eat your favorite foods, you may feel an urge to eat them quickly, to shove them in before anyone sees you or before you actually notice! This isn’t unusual, especially if you’ve been avoiding these foods like the plague. However, similar to avoiding your favorite foods, eating them quickly will also backfire. You can’t enjoy food you eat quickly and feel guilty about eating. If you truly love a food, eat it with love – be mindful and notice the taste, texture, subtle flavors and all the wonderful attributes you can’t discover when eating mindlessly.
3. If it isn’t delicious, don’t eat it.
You may begin to eat a favorite food and find that it doesn’t taste as good as you imagined, or remember. This can happen on occasion when you allow yourself to eat a food that you usually restrict when on a diet. This could also occur when you try a different brand than you’re used to, or even a different recipe. No matter the reason, if it isn’t as good as you imagined, throw it out. Starving children on the other side of the world will still be starving, whether you throw it out or eat the entire thing. But YOU will feel the difference, and you’ll likely feel deprived if you eat it, leaving less room for something else that might taste really good. Just get rid of it, let go of any guilt, and try another food that looks really yummy!
4. Say “NO” and stay firm.
You probably know who the food pushers are among your family and friends. I used to give in and eat more, to avoid hurt feelings. But I didn’t feel good overeating, and I wouldn’t enjoy the rest of the gathering. It finally occurred to me that food pushers don’t care about MY feelings! If I said, “no, thank you” or “I’m full,” the pushing didn’t stop. I now set an intention to honor my body and my boundaries. If you’re full, or you just don’t want more, say ‘no’, with the expectation of having your boundaries respected. Say it politely, but confidently. If all else fails, ask if you can take some home for later or ask for the recipe. It’s your body and you decide what and how much you put in it.
5. Don’t allow others to comment on or question your body or what you eat.
I don’t understand why some people think it’s appropriate to say anything about someone’s body. This includes comments about how “thin” someone is or how much weight they’ve lost – this can be triggering for many people. Think about it – someone says, “You look great, you’ve lost weight!” How did he/she think you looked before you lost the weight? And why is it anyone’s business? There’s truly no good reason for any comments – even if it’s done out of a concern for “your health.” You cannot determine how healthy someone is by the size of her body – period. If you receive comments, feel free to speak up and say it’s not ok, or walk away if necessary. Our culture is so weight-focused, many people don’t know comments can be damaging – if it were pointed out, I’m sure many would stop.
6. Don’t engage in or put up with diet and/or body talk.
Along the same lines as comments about your body and/or eating, you don’t have to put up with diet and body talk. This time of year many people plan their diet and exercise resolutions, while eating all they can before January 2nd. As you stop dieting and make peace with food, all this discussion will likely annoy you! Don’t we have anything better to discuss? The best solution is to attempt to change the topic, or simply find a more interesting discussion with other people. If it’s really prevalent in your family or circle of friends, you can suggest ahead of time that you have a day free of diet and body talk. You may be surprised how many will actually love this idea!
7. Engage in extra self-care.
Self-care is important anytime of the year. But this is the time we push even more, stress over time and money, and expect way too much from ourselves. It’s easy to put self-care on the back burner to make that one last shopping trip or attend one more holiday event. Instead of cutting it out completely, try shorter bouts of self-care, but keep up the frequency. Focus on self-care you want to do, let go of the “shoulds.” If you’re an introvert, make sure you have extra decompression time for yourself. If you need help with all the things you have to do, ASK! Get your needs met – it’s the only way to meet the needs of everyone else and keep up with the demands of this time of year.
8. Focus on happiness!
Research shows that humans are happiest when they stay in the present (instead of the past or the future), when they have experiences (instead of collecting material “stuff”) and when they actually demonstrate compassion towards others and engage in helping others, (instead of dwelling on self too much). The holiday season certainly offers many opportunities for reaching out and helping other people. Whether it’s volunteering at a food bank, or visiting a lonely neighbor, you don’t always have to invest hours and hours of your time to help others and benefit yourself as well.
9. Connect on a spiritual level.
Regardless of your personal beliefs, religion, or faith, connecting to something bigger than yourself provides a sense of peace and a feeling that there’s a bigger purpose to our lives. Simply taking a few minutes to meditate or just be present can be enough for some. For others, it means attending services or special events. Whatever spirituality means to you, having this deeper connection with something bigger than yourself can keep you grounded and provide that sense of inner peace so many of us are seeking all year long, and especially during the holidays. This is extremely important for anyone working on overcoming the use of unwanted coping mechanisms, like emotional overeating.
10. Have FUN!
If you don’t have fun in your life, make some! Over the years of working with so many women who want to stop overeating and/or binging, I’ve discovered that a crucial missing ingredient in their lives is FUN! The only “fun” they have, according to them, is eating. Ironically, it really isn’t fun, because it’s causing a lot of emotional pain. So even the fun isn’t fun. If you can’t think of anything fun, think back to your childhood – what did you enjoy doing as a kid? Is there something you’d like to learn, take a class perhaps? (Please do not consider any kind of weight loss or nutrition classes!) During the holidays is a great time to revisit some of your favorite places or holiday traditions you had as a child.
I’ve been thinking about perfectionism a lot lately. It’s a trait that I’ve let run much of my life. Mainly because I wasn’t aware of what it was doing. Becoming aware of our thoughts, behavior, patterns, and more is an important first step in making peace with food and overcoming emotional overeating. It’s also the first step in overcoming many other obstacles in life, including being a perfectionist.
The reason I’ve been thinking about perfectionism is despite the work I’ve done to release my inner perfectionist, there’s another layer that has recently shown up. I need to uncover what it’s about in order to achieve a couple of goals that currently seem unattainable. But now it’s clear that wanting to achieve these goals “perfectly” is the block, I just need to figure out how to release it – and soon, hopefully!
Back when I was working through my issues with dieting and overeating, and learning intuitive eating, I discovered how much perfectionism kept me from finding peace with food and my body. Wanting to be perfect kept me dieting. Not being perfect led to frustration and overeating. Guilt and shame from overeating and not yet achieving perfection led back to another diet.
Perfectionism got in the way unexpectedly when I was working on awareness with my eating. I had those moments where I just wanted to numb-out with one or two of my favorite binge foods. My goal was to stay aware and make a decision when I would feel one of these urges to overeat. I was tired of sleeping off binge eating sessions, wasting hours at a time.
There were three choices. I could choose to eat (this must be an option, otherwise you’ll stay stuck in the diet-binge cycle). I could choose to identify the emotion (if I knew it was an emotion causing the urge). The third choice was to find something to divert my focus from the overwhelming urge to eat. I wanted to practice this diversion, or distraction, option because it was often easier to do and took less time than dealing with my emotions in that moment (and I could come back to my feelings when I had more time).
The concept of distraction was new to me. In my mind, I had two choices – the first to overeat. Taking the time to identify and process my emotions (a.k.a. feeling your feelings) was the other option I knew about. This one was scary since it was easy enough to overeat, but it felt difficult and time consuming to deal with emotions. However, if I chose to feel my feelings, according to Diet Mentality, I was GOOD and I was making a GOOD choice. The distraction option actually felt like I was “cheating”, because I was doing something other than being GOOD.
Looking back, it’s very clear this was simply another version of my old standby, perfectionism. It said I needed to make the perfect choice, which was the GOOD choice – to feel my feeling. The truth, however, was simply that I had three equally valid options: to eat, to distract or to feel my feelings. In reality, none of these choices made me a better or worse person. It makes sense now, but at the time I couldn’t understand why I kept overeating and never choosing to feel my emotions. Clearly I was stuck in perfectionism and deeply attached to the Diet Mentality. The guilt and shame and relentless noise in my head would never allow the easier, and valid option of distraction.
Perfectionism is actually a part of the Diet Mentality. In Intuitive Eating, we learn that the Diet Mentality is made up of three main components: failure, willpower, and all-or-nothing thinking (a.k.a. black and white thinking). The need to be perfect fits into all-or-nothing thinking. A food is either good or bad. You are either on a diet or binging. Something is either right or wrong. There is no room for the middle of the road, or any grey areas. You are either perfect, or a complete screw-up.
This thinking is so common, you can find it everywhere, not just diets or “eating plans”. And everywhere it exists, it causes problems. In my case, it would not allow me to try distraction, which is a very effective and valid option to help an urge to overeat pass. I eventually learned I could choose distraction, and if the urge came back later on, I could then decide to look at what emotions may be coming up.
Allowing myself to choose distraction (and reject perfectionism) also made the times I chose to overeat not as intense as they were in the past. Because all three options were now equal, I didn’t have that “little voice” telling me to eat as much as possible since this would be the last time I ever ate _________ (fill in the blank).
The next time you have that urge to overeat hit you, consider distraction. Call a friend, turn on some awesome music, go play with the dog, find something enjoyable to do for whatever length of time you need (it’s often not nearly as long as you think). Keep an eye out for perfectionism if you’re feeling stuck – you’ll be surprised how much easier life can be once you’ve moved past it. Just keep an eye out for it – it does have a funny way of showing up when you don’t expect it!
Need help moving past perfectionism? Want to figure out if it is causing your inability to overcome overeating, and even losing weight? Let’s talk about it and get rid of perfection so you can move forward! I invite you to schedule a time to talk about this…just go to www.TalkWithGillian.com to fill out a quick form and pick a date and time on my calendar.
When we get on the phone, we’ll talk about what’s going on and look for the reasons why the perfectionism is hanging on. I really look forward to speaking with you – I’d love to help you find the freedom that I and countless others have found by giving up the need to be perfect and being able to make peace with food and your body!
Do you stuff your feelings down with food? When you get stressed, frustrated, lonely, angry or depressed do you find yourself eating, rather than dealing with the circumstances that are causing these emotions? Ending overeating is absolutely possible, but before we get started…
Please, don’t beat yourself up! You’re certainly not alone. Not only are millions of people doing the same thing, but I’ve been there too.
Overeating is a Learned Behavior
We don’t start out in life eating for emotional reasons. It’s actually something we learn. At an early age, many of us learned that we couldn’t trust our bodies to tell us when to eat. We heard things like, “You can’t be hungry, it’s not dinner time!”
Emotional eating is often taught by our parents or other authority figures. What happened when you fell down and hurt yourself? Did you get a cookie, “to make it better”? This may have taught us to associate love with food.
In our society, we associate holidays, birthdays, and almost any event with food. We eat for almost any reason – stress, anger, sadness, boredom, happiness, excitement, just about anything but physical hunger.
Do you ever crave “comfort food”? We all do at times. However, if you have this craving frequently or it happens often when you’re experiencing a negative emotion, it may be time to pay attention. Food cravings or urges to eat, especially when you aren’t physically hungry could be a sign of trying to avoid painful or uncomfortable feelings.
This is How You’ve Been Taking Care of Yourself
You may not even realize this is what you’re doing. Just like associating food with love or learning you can’t trust your body to tell you when it’s hungry, you may have learned to “stuff down” negative feelings or to “numb out” when emotions are running high.
Sometimes food is used as a distraction, which is similar to stuffing down or numbing out but often has a different motive. It’s not a conscious decision, but when we overeat so much that we feel sick, it creates a distraction from whatever difficult situation or feeling that triggered us to eat. Instead of dealing with the root cause or emotion, we now have a reason to beat ourselves up, start a diet and turn ourselves into a “project” that needs to be “fixed.”
If you can relate to this, again, don’t beat yourself up. You learned to take care of yourself with food.
Does that sound ridiculous? It’s true. Without proper instruction or modeling by parents on how to effectively deal with emotions, we found a coping strategy. I encourage you to see this situation with gratitude that it was food. You could have learned to use drugs, alcohol, shopping, gambling, or any other destructive habit that creates much worse outcomes.
There is a Way Out
There is good and bad news about ending overeating. First, the bad news – you will have to feel your feelings. The good news is as you truly allow yourself to feel your feelings, they will lower in intensity and so will the desire for comfort food.
There’s a good chance you won’t know what you are feeling in the beginning. This is because eating has become your learned response to any intense feeling. Stay aware and notice when a craving hits or you’re triggered to eat. If you aren’t physically hungry, ask what you’re feeling.
This isn’t always easy, especially when you don’t want to face the truth of the issue. Run through a list of emotions – anxious, lonely, bored, tired, angry, hurt, embarrassed? If you can’t identify the feeling, that’s ok. Keep trying and practicing as feelings come up. Journaling thoughts and feelings is a helpful practice for identifying emotions and simply feeling better in general.
If you can determine the emotion, ask yourself, “Am I going to die if I sit with this feeling for five minutes?” (If you get a ‘yes’ then start at 30 seconds, it really doesn’t matter how long, it’s about taking action.) Just sit and feel. It may not feel very good at first, but notice how it gets less intense as you allow yourself to feel it. As you practice this more and more, you’ll find it easier to deal with emotions and find yourself less drawn to food to solve your problems.
Feelings Serve a Purpose
Emotions are messengers – whether positive or negative – they let us know that something is going on. There’s something that we need to pay attention to. But when we eat to temporarily shut down the negative feelings, an unintended consequence shows up. It turns out that we can’t turn off emotions or feelings one by one. When we shut down sadness, we also shut down the ability to feel happy, or any other emotion.
This leads to feeling numb, which is uncomfortable, and we stay stuck in this negative cycle. We go back to our coping mechanism, overeating, in an attempt to feel anything at this point. Then guilt and shame show up for having eaten certain foods or too much food, and the cycle continues, on and on.
Spending a short time feeling unwanted emotions is a better option than staying stuck in a diet-binge cycle. Being stuck not only feels bad but with time it can lead to all kinds of unwanted outcomes. It can even drive someone who has never dieted into a dieting cycle, paired with binging, all due to trying to avoid feelings.
If you notice you’re reaching for food when negative feelings come up, become aware, and at the very least, give yourself a few minutes to sit with the feelings. If you’re already stuck in an emotional overeating or binging cycle, or the dieting/binge cycle, and you want out, honoring and feeling your emotions is a good place to begin.