“Why do I eat when I’m not even hungry?”
“Once I sit down on the couch, it’s all over, I just keep eating.”
“I really have nothing else to do, so I eat. And it’s not good stuff I’m eating.”
“All of a sudden I realize I’ve eaten the whole bag!”
“I just kept eating and eating. When I woke up in the morning I was exhausted and my whole body ached.”
These are all things I’ve heard lately.
What does it all mean?
How are we expected to be stuck at home worrying or working under high-stress conditions and not eat ourselves into a frenzy?
I know it’s hard. Believe me, I am struggling too.
So, what is at the crux of the issue?
Why are we making poor eating choices? Why are we stress-eating? Why are we eating just out of mindlessness and boredom?
And how do we stop for goodness sake?!
The “why” is not that complicated really.
In most cases, it comes down to two things.
- Hormones are driving you. Sometimes the body is crying out for nourishment because it hasn’t had enough water, vitamins, minerals, protein, fat, and/or protein that day. Often times, insulin, leptin, or other hormones are driving us to eat!
- The pre-frontal cortex (decision-making part of the brain) is “turned off” due to stress, fatigue, overwhelm, alcohol, or some other factor.
Of course, there are other reasons that we make poor choices but in the vast majority of cases, we can narrow down those poor choices to one or both of those factors.
So what do you do about it?
Here are 7 steps you can take to STOP poor eating choices without suffering or feeling deprived:
- Nourish your body properly. Most cravings and poor eating decisions happen later in the day. Make sure you get a good breakfast and/or lunch with plenty of protein, fat, and fiber to reduce those hormonal cravings. Avoid sweets and empty carbs early in the day. Drink small amounts of water or unsweetened herbal tea throughout the day.
- Set up your environment for success. People who make poor choices usually do so because they are tempted. Out of sight, out of mind. Remove temptations. Don’t buy the chips or the ice cream or the healthy nuts you tend to overeat like crazy. Make it really difficult to eat those foods. Shopping when willpower is highest (usually in the morning and when you are not hungry) is key here.
- Find the moment you make the decision. All poor choices are made at one point or another and often NOT when you are engaging in the behavior. When is that decision made? When you start paying attention you may start to notice a pattern. It may be on your way home from work. It may be at 3 in the afternoon that you decide you’re going to eat cookies later. Whenever it is. That is when the work needs to be done.
- Don’t try to change, don’t judge, just notice. The moment you start to judge and try to change, you are working against yourself. We, humans, are pretty simple creatures, once we start to berate ourselves we want to do more bad stuff. Rather, just observe the moment.
- Be curious. What is the story you tell yourself when you are making that decision? Is it true? Do you really NEED to eat that cookie? Are you sure you deserve it? Since when does someone deserve food that is bad for them? Will it really make you feel better? How realistic is it that you will “start tomorrow”? Be skeptical of stories that sound fishy and that go against your basic health goals. That is your animal brain talking to you and it is lying. What is the story you want to hear? “I’m worth the effort.” “I love taking care of my body.” “Tomorrow I’m going to be so happy I chose my health first.” “If I just wait a few moments the urge will pass.”
- Ask yourself what pain you are soothing with food. Are you stressed? Frustrated? Tired? Depleted? Overwhelmed? Sad? Bored? Most of us were taught at an early age that food will soothe. And yes it does. But it doesn’t really take away the pain. And often it makes us feel worse after! By bringing awareness to the “pain”, giving it a name, and accepting the truth of that pain, you will reduce the power it has over you.
- Find something else to soothe that pain. Make sure you don’t replace one bad habit with another. When you are paying attention you can preempt the eating behavior by planning to do some other soothing activity, one that is actually good for you. Some ideas might be taking a hot shower or bath, turning on some great music and dancing, watching your favorite comedian, lighting a candle and burning some incense, calling a friend, or reading a juicy novel. Only you know what will work.
All of these steps are really about mindfulness.
Paying attention to nourishing your body properly and planning to have the good stuff and to NOT have the bad stuff in your house is being mindful.
Noticing those difficult moments or when you decide to indulge is a form of mindfulness.
Listening to those stories and telling yourself a new story is an act of mindfulness.
Focusing on what pain you are feeling and finding something else to soothe your pain requires being mindful.
So…….I guess the root cause of most poor eating comes down to mindlessness. Sometimes we are mindless because we are stressed or tired and we really don’t give a shit. Other times, we talk ourselves into denying the eating is bad.
Either way, it takes some work to plan, to shop when we are at our best, and to bring mindfulness to the conversation.
But the good news is that this is way easier than trying to be a good soldier or depriving ourselves or worse yet, to continue to engage in the behavior and then feel awful afterward.
So, if you really want to change, you CAN!