Updated: Sep 7, 2021
Why do we overeat?
It’s simple. We have no control.
Just kidding! That’s totally a lie. Although it might feel that way at times. We’re sitting at the counter and look down, and half the bag of potato chips is gone, half the carton of ice cream has disappeared, or there’s a great big handful of empty Milky Way wrappers (I love me some caramely goodness!). So, what happened?
Maybe we had a long day at work, fought with our kids most of the day, or yelled at our spouse... and we are feeling alllllll the feelings. Am I right? And we think if we could just get the work or kid or spouse situation figured out, then we wouldn’t be so upset and drained and frustrated, and then we wouldn’t overeat. And therefore, we wouldn’t be pulled to the food.
And part of that is true, and part of it isn’t. Because the work and kids and spouse isn’t the problem. The problem is that we think we have to answer our emotions with food. That our emotions are something we have to run away from. That big, scary emotions like depression, irritation, anger, frustration, boredom— they aren’t supposed to be how we are feeling. We want to be happy and peaceful and connected and in love with our lives. If we felt that way, we wouldn’t be turning to food in the first place! Right?
Wrong. Well, partly. Those feelings do feel good and tend to lead us to take action that serves us. That part is true. But guess what, NOTHING has to change in order for you to stop overeating, and therefore lose weight. When we rely on the things and people around us needing to change in order to get our results and live the life we want, we will always live at the mercy of what happens outside of us. We are powerless to change unless the events and people around us change, so we find ourselves trying to control all the things so we can feel good.
But what if we stopped making the goal to feel good? What if we could step into this belief that there are no scary feelings, only feelings, and we can feel them all without any problem. Our brains are wired to avoid pain, and in this modern world filled with every pleasure the mind could think of, our brains have settled on emotions as being the pain we need to run away from. Enter food to dull the pain.
Our brains get a HUGE dopamine hit when we eat concentrated foods like sugar, white flour and anything refined— even things the marketing industry deems as “healthy” can still be concentrated and cause a chemical reaction in your brain that releases a huge load of dopamine, which then signals to your brain that this substance is extremely important and we need as much of it as possible. There’s nothing wrong with this, and enjoying these refined foods isn’t something you necessarily need to give up if you don’t want to. But understanding the mechanics of it all helps us to understand WHY we crave these foods when we are feeling something uncomfortable.
The first step to remind your beautiful brain, this instinctual part that is trying to avoid pain, that nothing has gone wrong because you feel a feeling. It’s a normal part of life to be sad, depressed, angry, frustrated, bored, and feel guilt. It’s all part of our human experience.
Second, get inside your body. What do you feel? Where do you feel it In your body? What does it feel like there? Go from brain, to body. And let yourself feel it. The only big and scary things, are the things you THINK are big and scary.
Third, be willing to be uncomfortable. As our brain begins to down-regulate all the dopamine receptors it created in response to the overload it’s been getting, you’re going to initially feel that discomfort more strongly. But after around 2-3 weeks, when it’s had time to regulate itself due to lack of overeating, that discomfort is going to diminish greatly. And, it’s going to be uncomfortable when you first start allowing your feelings to be there without resisting them (I don’t want to feel this!), reacting to them (yelling etc), or avoiding them (eating this candy bar will make me feel better). You are beyond capable of a little discomfort, and when you use steps one and two above in conjunction with being willing to be uncomfortable, you will be able to feeling your feelings without eating a bunch of food to numb them awayl.
Remember, the goal isn’t to feel good. The goal is the love yourself, feel your feelings, and lose some weight. And part of that is going to be challenging, and it’s supposed to be. And when you inevitably fail (we all do, so plan on it now) love yourself through it. It takes practice and a lot of self-love to learn what I’m teaching you here. You will fail, and it’s ok. It’s not because you don’t have self-control— our brains REALLY hate feeling uncomfortable, and therefore are so freaking good at convincing us to do what feels good aka whatever will give it that dopamine hit.
But I do promise that as you keep working on this, over time, your brain will start to respond accordingly. It will still have urges to eat, those will never fully go away (and it’s normal that they don’t) but you will stop being so uncomfortable. The urges will, however, diminish greatly, and your habits of intuitively eating for your body will grow exponentially.
You got this. This work will change your life. You can make it fun, go easy on yourself, and find the amazing parts of losing weight. You don’t have to white-knuckle through it! You can step into the belief that you can lose all the weight you want to lose by just following those steps above (along with some food planning and intuitive eating and exercise... because it just feels good to move your body and eat a few fruits and veggies along the way. Am I right?) Feel those feelings, get inside your body, and be willing to be uncomfortable. It’s gold my friends, I promise you.
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