Why Do We Overeat?
We all do it from time to time. We sit down with a bag of chips, a bowl of ice cream, tub of peanut butter. And we eat… and eat… and eat… until we realize the bag is empty, the ice cream is gone. Sometimes, we’ll go back for more, find a different treat to stuff our face with.
By the end of the binge session, we’re left feeling disgusted with ourselves. Why couldn’t we stop with the first handful, bowl, or spoonful? We told ourselves to stop, that we would feel guilty in the end. But we continued, until we couldn’t possibly eat one more bite.
There are many reasons why we overeat. A majority of the reasons center around some form of emotion. Normally, the emotion is negative: depression, stress, anxiety. Because of the negative emotion, we often attempt to find solace in food. Maybe if we eat enough, it will stifle the emotion, it will make us feel better. The act of eating can be a form of meditation to relieve anxiety.
On the other hand, maybe we overindulged because we had been depriving ourselves. We’ve followed a strict diet, and a taste of that sweet or salty treat we’ve been denied causes us to eat until we can’t anymore.
Unfortunately, in the end, we are still left with the original emotion. It may even be exacerbated with a sense of self-loathing for allowing ourselves to eat as much as we did. We may feel like failures for “ruining” our diet.
So what are we left to do? How do we avoid overeating? And when we do, how do we overcome the negative feelings that come with it? Let’s start by taking a look at how we can avoid overeating.
How to Avoid Overeating
First, it is important to recognize the emotion or the queue that leads to the act of overeating. Do you tend to overeat when you’re feeling depressed? Anxious? Stressed?
After recognizing the emotion, figure out what it is when you are in this state that causes you to overeat. Are you overeating to ignore a feeling? To preoccupy your mind? Or just to have something to do?
Now that you know what state of mind you are in when you overeat, and why you are overeating, formulate a plan to help you curb the next binge session.
Is there something you can do when you’re in a specific state of mind besides eat? Go for a walk, take a bath, write, organize your closet? Find something to occupy your mind that does not involve food, or at least eating food. Maybe baking is therapy for you. Bake a batch of cookies, and bring them to work for coworkers to eat.
If you’re struggling to come up with different ways to distract your minds and avoid a binge, I’ve listed below some suggestions to get you started.
5 Things to Do Instead of Eat
- Read a book – Ok, this is something you’re probably going to hear me mention a lot! Find a quiet place, away from food, where you can sit and get lost in someone else’s world. Chances are, once you get swept up in the book, you won’t feel like mindlessly munching away on empty calories.
- Get some exercise – Whether this be in the form of lifting weights, running, or doing a workout video. In exercising, not only will you distract your mind from food, but you’ll burn calories while releasing feel-good hormones.
- Call a friend – Ok, if you’re like me and don’t much care for talking on the phone, this one may not be great. However, calling a friend can give you someone to sort through your emotions with, and makes binging more difficult.
- Clean – I know, not the funnest thing to do. But, cleaning is a distraction, and there are studies indicating a cleaner environment lessens anxiety and depression. Win-win!
- Write – Writing is a good outlet for emotions. Try this if you feel like binging but don’t know why. Write about how you feel, and see if you can identify any underlying issues.
I know, choosing a different activity besides eating is not easy, and it takes practice. Eating to cope with a feeling becomes habitual, and it takes time (roughly 21 days) to break a habit. But, if you mess up–which you will–be mindful of it, and learn to forgive yourself.
Forgiving After Overeating
Forgiveness after a binge session is one of the most difficult, but perhaps one of the most important steps, in moving past a binge.
It is easy to feel sorry for yourself. To be mad at yourself for overeating. But what is important to remember is, everyone makes mistakes. If you’re trying to lose weight, or to not gain weight, remember that one unhealthy day won’t make you “fat”. Dwelling on the mistake you made only brings more attention to that mistake. If you only focus on what you did wrong, your chances of doing that wrong thing again increases.
Forgive yourself, allow yourself to have some breathing room and to make mistakes. Remind yourself there is more to this life than food, weight, calories, macronutrients, etc. You messed up, but if you don’t forgive yourself, you’ll never get back up again.
What do you do when you feel like overeating? How do you forgive yourself? Do you have any advice to add?