Despite everything you’ve read in Women’s Health Magazine, overeating is not about food – it’s about something much deeper.
In this masterpost on how to stop overeating, I’ll share my take on weight loss that I WISH I had discovered 5 years ago when I was seriously struggling with body image and yo-yo dieting.
This is how I finally gained control of my endless struggle with overeating. But before we get started, you need to be willing to embrace the idea that overeating is not about food.
I repeat, overeating is not about food.
Learning how to stop overeating has everything to do with learning the psychological reasons why you overeat. It has nothing to do with the size of the plates you’re using or your lack of willpower.
Rather, it has everything to do with learning how to listen to your body, love and accept yourself, and feel all your feelings instead of numbing them with food.
And you might resist these ideas like crazy because dieting is easier.
Let me be extra clear: Dieting is not easy. But it’s easier than diving into all this B.S. and looking at your hard edges.
But sorting through all the psychological reasons why you overeat is the only way to break free from compulsive eating.
So, if you’re ready to embrace the idea that overeating is about much more than food, let’s get into my 9 steps on how to stop overeating.
9. Stop Getting Your Joy from Food
If you took food completely out of your life, how much joy would be left over? Chances are, if you’re reading this article, there isn’t much. And that’s a problem.
When food is our only joy, we will self-sabotage weight loss in order to keep joy in our lives because humans need joy. There’s no way around it. So before you even think about eating less, start by focusing on adding more joy to your life.
Make a list of all the things that bring you joy. Then, look at your schedule and see how often you participate in these things.
If you’re a joy-eater, then you probably don’t spend nearly enough time doing things you enjoy, and thus you overeat in order to get enough joy in your life.
In order to stop overeating, you need to start scheduling joy into your day pronto. No excuses. You have time for this. It’s called self-care, and it comes first.
8. Slow Down Your Eating (It’s a Lifestyle Thing, Not a Food-to-Mouth Speed Thing)
It take the body 20 minutes to register that it’s full. Eating slowly is the best way to stop overeating because you can hear your body’s fullness cue the moment it happens – not when it’s too late.
One way to slow down is with mindful eating, which involves putting your fork down between each bite. But if you’re anything like me, this doesn’t really help. You’re quick to put it down and quick to pick it back up.
This is because the way we do one thing is the way we do everything. If you eat fast, you probably live fast.
In order to slow down my eating, I had to slow down my life. No matter how hard I tried to eat slower without addressing my busy lifestyle, nothing worked. It wasn’t until I started living a slower lifestyle that I was finally able to slow down my eating.
Follow the 25/50 rule: Reduce the amount of things that you do by 25% and then slow yourself down by 50% during everything else. This isn’t sexy, especially in a society that glorifies productivity and busyness, but it’s essential for weight loss.
You cannot run around and live in your head – instead of your body – and achieve your natural weight. Your body requires your attention, and you need to slow down to listen to it.
7. Face the Fear of the “Hunger to Come”
Have you ever eaten when you’re not hungry because you know that you’ll be hungry in a few hours but food won’t be around in a few hours? This is called ‘eating for the hunger to come,’ and it’s a sneaky form of overeating.
This used to happen to me whenever I was on my way out of the house – away from the readily available food in my kitchen. Before heading out the door, I’d always stuff my face, even when I wasn’t hungry.
After completing the Why Weight workbook, I realized that I “ate for the hunger to come” because I always get tired when I’m hungry, and I didn’t want to be tired around other people, otherwise I felt like I was disappointing them… Can you see how convoluted this is?
I was essentially overeating in order to be a people pleaser, and I didn’t even know it!
The next time you find yourself eating for the hunger to come, stop and ask yourself, what’s the worst possible thing that could happen? What consequence do you fear so much that you overeat so that it never happens?
Then, choose to feel that feeling instead of numbing it with food.
6. Figure Out What You’re Actually Stuffing Down (It’s Not Food)
Overeating is a sign that there is discomfort somewhere that you’re avoiding by eating when you’re not hungry. Therefore, choosing to face the discomfort instead of numbing it with food will help you stop overeating.
Again, this idea is far from sexy – it’s much easier to be seduced by 30-seconds abs and 1,400 calorie “flat belly” days. But when you’re tired of yo-yo dieting, try this instead.
The next time you find yourself in the kitchen reaching for something that you aren’t hungry for – FREEZE. Stop and turn inward. Kindly ask yourself, “What am I running from? What’s actually going on?” Then, let the answer come to you and feel that instead of eating.
If you can, go lie on your bed and stare at the ceiling and do absolutely nothing. A-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y n-o-t-h-i-n-g-g-g-g but feel the emotions that are real for you in that moment. Chances are, the feeling will pass, and so will the desire to overeat.
5. Follow the Eating Guidelines
The Eating Guidelines were originally developed by my hero Geneen Roth, the woman who pioneered (from what I know) the idea that weight loss has nothing to do with food, but rather everything to do with what’s going on underneath.
The guidelines are:
- Eat when you are hungry
- Eat sitting down in a calm environment (this does not include the car)
- Eat without distractions (including Netflix, radio, television, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversation, or music)
- Eat what your body wants
- Eat until you are satisfied
- Eat (with the intention of being) in full view of others
- Eat with enjoyment, gusto, and pleasure
The Eating Guidelines will help you achieve your natural weight and – bonus! – upgrade your relationship with yourself because they force you to pay attention to yourself and the feelings you’re trying to escape by watching Netflix while you eat.
Simple… but so damn difficult.
Take a gradual approach to the guidelines. Choose the one that you feel resistance to, and practice that one guideline until you master it. Dedicate yourself to that one guideline.
Then, once you’ve mastered it, move onto the next and keep going until you’ve mastered all 7. (This will take a long time. I’m still getting there, and it’s been over a year. So be kind and patient with yourself.)
4. Allow Yourself to Have Your “Forbidden Foods” (Terrifying, but Necessary)
(This is an expansion of Eating Guideline #4: Eat what your body wants.)
You probably have a list of foods that you aren’t allowed to have (likely because they’re “fattening”). And in order to lose weight, you need to give yourself permission to have these foods as often as you’d like. (Say what?!)
The idea of eating unhealthy food while trying to lose weight might seem batshit crazy, but it’s true. You can eat whatever you want and still maintain your natural weight if you give yourself permission – and you trust yourself with that permission.
When we deny ourselves certain foods, it only gives those foods more power over us. And the truth is that most forbidden foods (like French fries and chocolate) are ridiculously ordinary. But they don’t feel ordinary because we spend so much time and energy actively resisting them.
Give yourself permission to have these foods. It will demystify them. It will make them ordinary and remove the temptation. But you have to give yourself FULL permission and trust yourself.
As a result, you slowly remove the drama around food and stop overeating.
Make a list of all the foods that you don’t allow yourself to have. Then, bring one of those foods into your home each week. ONLY eat it when you’re hungry and ALWAYS stop when you’re full. And enjoy it! These foods are likely on your forbidden list because they’re delicious.
And don’t worry about gaining weight. You’ll be just fine as long as you’re following the Eating Guidelines.
3. Take a Break from Dieting for 6 months (Preferably Forever)
In August 2016, I gave up dieting forever. Although the idea was terrifying, I was so sick of yo-yo dieting that I decided to give myself a break. And so it came as a huge surprise to me that I didn’t even want to overeat.
It blew my mind that NOT dieting could result in LESS eating. But with your newfound self-trust and self-permission, it actually makes a lot of sense.
This isn’t an easy or clean thing to do. I got seduced several times by fancy new diets, and each time I would try to diet, the binges would start again. Every single time.
Learn from my mistakes and make a clean break by giving up dieting for good.
But I get it. It’s really hard to give up the only sense of control that you have over your body and your diet. So if you’re having a hard time accepting this step, then start small.
Try giving up any form of restrictive eating for just 6 months. Watch how it changes your relationship with yourself, with food, with the world.
If you fall in love with your newfound freedom around food, then take the next big step and give it up forever.
2. Realize That Weight Loss Might Just Be a Welcome Distraction
One of Geneen Roth’s clients successfully lost 70 pounds. But instead of feeling better about her body or more relaxed in her life, it made her realize how much her career sucks and her marriage is falling apart. Without weight loss to fixate on, she was forced to deal with these other hard areas of her life.
We’re all guilty of assuming that life will be better/different/easier once we lose the weight. But the truth is that being thin will not fix anything.
And the sooner you admit that there’s something else going on here – something that has nothing to do with food – the sooner you can resolve the REAL issue and stop overeating.
The only way that I was able to uncover the psychological reasons for why I overate was through Geneen Roth’s Why Weight workbook. Man, oh man, that workbook taught me what I could have paid a therapist $5k to discover about myself! It goes deep, ya’ll.
The Why Weight workbook has been FOUNDATIONAL in my weight loss journey, and I can’t recommend it enough.
1. Allow Yourself to Be Uncomfortable (*The Most Important Step)
“Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape — all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”
– Pema Chodron
Overeating is a response to discomfort. We eat more than our body needs because we’re trying to soften our pain – pain that we might not even know is there.
In order to stop overeating, you have to be willing to be uncomfortable and feel all those feelings that you normally pad with food.
Although the process of feeling all your feelings is uncomfortable and, honestly, totally sucks, it is the most rewarding skill you will ever develop, and it’s the best way out of hell.
Start by reading some of Pema Chodron’s work. When Things Fall Apart is a great place to start. She will teach you how to get comfortable with your emotions, especially the bad ones.
Next, spend 15 minutes everyday practicing feeling uncomfortable. Stay on the lookout for feelings of discomfort (and rarely does a day go by without them) and then give yourself 15 minutes to simply allow the feeling to happen. This will help you develop the skill of emotional awareness.
With good practice, there will come a day where you turn to food when you aren’t hungry and ask yourself why. Then, because you’ve been practicing this whole feeling-my-feelings thing, you’ll realize that you’re eating because you’re trying to numb discomfort.
And now that you’ve realized this, you can be with your feelings instead of a snack. And that is how true, lasting weight loss occurs.
9 Ways to Stop Overeating in 9 Short Bullet Points
This is the longest post of my life, but it’s the most important one I’ve ever made.
In order to stop overeating for good, you need to take these steps:
- Find joy outside of food and make it a priority
- Live a slower life so that you can learn to eat slower too
- Stop eating for the hunger to come
- Learn to recognize your pain and feel it instead of numbing it with food
- Follow the eating guidelines, especially the ones you resist the most
- Give yourself permission to have those forbidden foods
- Take a 6 month break from weight loss (that will preferably last forever)
- Recognize that fixating on weight loss might simply be a distraction for you
- Make peace with discomfort instead of constantly seeking the comfort of food
Do all these things – all of these very difficult things – and you will stop overeating.