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’m not even going to mention food. So if you’re looking for conventional advice, this is your chance to leave.
For those who stick with me, I’m going to share my perspective on weight loss that I WISH I had discovered 5 years ago when I was struggling to lose weight.
It was a painful time when I was counting my calories and shaming myself for not doing more cardio instead of looking deep within myself to figure out why I overate in the first place.
And if you’ve been yo-yo dieting for years like I was – then this just might be what you need.
Because this is the advice that worked for me.
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 mental and emotional reasons why you overeat. It has nothing to do with the size of the plates you’re using or your lack of willpower. I mean that.
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 if you’re anything like me, you will resist these ideas like crazy because dieting is easier.
Please 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 real 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 so much more than food, let’s get into the 9 steps you can take to finally stop overeating for good.
9. Foodies Beware: Don’t Let Food Be Your Primary Source of Joy
Do you consider yourself a “foodie?” Do you love spending your days researching the best restaurants on Yelp! and dining out with friends?
If so, that’s totally cool! Or not… Depending on how much of your daily joy comes from eating.
You see, things get dangerous for your health when food is your main source of joy. All humans need joy. And when food is joy, we eat!
When food is our primary source of joy, however, we overeat.
And that’s a problem.
First, ask yourself how much of your daily joy comes from eating. If it’s more than 10%, then this is where you need to start working.
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 in order to stop overeating, you need to fix that. So start scheduling joy into your weeks pronto.
No excuses. You have time for this. It’s called self-care, and it comes first.
8. Master the Art of Eating Slowly by Learning to Live Slowly (This Advice Is Sexier than It Sounds)
It take the body 20 minutes to register that it’s full.
Therefore, 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 down by 50% during everything else.
This idea is not sexy in a society that prizes productivity and business. But you MUST do this if you want to stop overeating.
You cannot continue to be go-go-go and lose weight. Your body (and life) require more of your attention.
7. Face the Fear of the “Hunger to Come”
I used to be soooo guilty of ‘eating for the hunger to come,’ which simply means…
Eating for ‘the hunger to come’ involves eating when you’re not hungry because you know you’ll be hungry later, but food won’t be available later, so you eat now.
As you can see, this leads to lots of overeating, and lots of unnecessary poundage.
For me, this always happened 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. I hated this compulsive behavior, and I didn’t even understand why I did it – until recently.
After doing the Why Weight workbook, I realized that I overeat because I (mistakenly) thought I need the energy; because if I wasn’t giving everyone my 100%, then I (very mistakenly) thought I was letting others down.
So I overate in order to please the people around me… What a horrible reason to disrespect my body!
The next time you find yourself ‘eating for the hunger to come,’ stop and ask yourself what you’re scared of. What negative emotion are you avoiding by stuffing it down with the comfort of food?
Then, feel that feeling instead of numbing it with food.
Hunger cannot kill you (do you still have a roof over your head and a stocked kitchen to come home to every day? If yes, then hunger cannot kill you).
And being hangry is a sorry excuse for eating for the hunger to come.
Be willing to face your feelings and you will experience less and less “hangry” emotions (that’s what happened for me).
You’ll learn how to be out in the world with a hungry stomach and still survive. It’s not as scary as it seems.
Make this part of your daily practice, and you will reap soooo much benefit.
6. Figure Out What You’re Actually Stuffing Down (It’s Not Food)
Ooohhh yes. This is the good stuff. It’s the stuff that many will most likely gloss over, but for the readers who are still with me – it’s the golden little nugget that will help set you free.
Overeating is a sign that there is pain somewhere that you’re avoiding by eating when you’re not hungry. Therefore, by choosing to face the pain instead of numbing it with food, you will stop overeating.
If this is a completely new idea to you, I’m not surprised. Mainstream media doesn’t talk about feeling our pain instead of overeating because discomfort doesn’t sell.
But if you’ve tried mainstream media’s tactics before (paleo, vegan, tabata, 1,400 calorie flat-belly days) and nothing seems to be working, then the next logical thing to do is try something different.
This is different.
The next time you find yourself in the kitchen reaching for something that you aren’t hungry for – stop and ask yourself, “What am I running from? What’s actually going on?” At this point, you probably know the answer but you just won’t want to admit it (at least, that’s how it is for me).
If you feel this resistance, then you NEED to go lay down 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. And chances are, the feeling will pass. That feeling of anger/frustration/loneliness that makes you want to overeat will pass.
OR it will get stronger; in which case, you’ll be a grown up about it and face the emotion instead of running from it.
Tough love, dude.
5. Allow Yourself to Have Your “Forbidden Foods”
The idea of eating unhealthy food while trying to lose weight seems preposterous to many. I used to think it was impossible for a very long time (18 years to be exact).
But it’s true: You can eat whatever you want and not eat the whole thing and maintain your natural weight. It’s absolutely possible with healthy self-trust and self-permission.
When we deny ourselves certain foods (i.e. ‘bad’ foods or ‘forbidden’ foods), it only gives those foods more power over us.
The French fries, the pasta, the chocolate bars… All those treats that we crave but don’t allow ourselves to have…
They’re all ridiculously ordinary!
But they don’t feel ordinary because we spend so much time and energy actively resisting them. And we’re only resisting them because we made up the rule (ourselves!) in the first place.
By giving yourself permission to have whatever foods you want, you take away the power that those foods once had. As a result, you find freedom from 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.
If the idea of doing this absolutely freaks you out – you are not alone. When I did this, it terrified me. I thought I would gain a ton of weight because I wouldn’t be able to control myself.
But that’s not what happened.
Allowing myself to have whatever foods I want – as long as I listened to my body – made it possible for me to stop overeating while enjoying all the foods I like.
4. Take a Break from Weight Loss for 6 months (or Forever, Preferably)
This is where I’ll lose even more people, but please stick with me. This was the final thing that helped me kick overeating for good!
A few months ago, I gave up dieting.
At first, I started by taking a 1 month break from weight loss. And after I saw how much less neurotic I was about food and how I wasn’t even overeating, I decided to stop dieting for 6 months – which ended up being forever.
The old me would have freaked out.
No diets? I’ll eat everything in sight! I don’t have the willpower for that!
But the present-day me understands that by giving myself permission to eat whatever I want, I naturally won’t overeat.
When you stop dieting, you learn how to act and FEEL NORMAL around food again (even the forbidden foods that might be the victim of nightly binges…)
Yes, taking a 6 month break is mandatory for building the habits of self-trust, self-permission, and self-care that are necessary for a life beyond overeating.
Start small like I did. Try giving up any form of restrictive eating for just one month.
If you’re anything like me, you will be normal with food for about 3 weeks. You’ll enjoy the foods you normally wouldn’t allow yourself to have, and life will be great.
Then, during the last week when you realize that this freedom won’t last forever, you’ll start to binge and overeat again. That’s your cue to extend the amount of time that you stop dieting.
3. Own the Body You’re In – Not the One You Want to Have
Have you ever looked through a fitness catalog and become depressed that you didn’t look like that?
Do you wish that you had a body like a fitness model? Do you even maybe use these pictures as a source of motivation?
These habits are very bad for your physical and psychological health. I used to have these habits.
And I’m VERY happy to say that, these days, I can look through a Victoria’s Secret catalog and not even think about wishing that I looked like that. This is crazy miraculous to me!
And it became possible because I gave up dieting for good and decided to own the body I’m in right now – not once I got thin.
You have to own the weight before you can lose the weight.
These are words from the famous eating psychologist Marc David, and you should deeply consider his message.
Because until you are 100% okay with yourself exactly as you are right now, the weight will not come off. Or, you can force it off, but will come back within a few weeks.
Because we cannot hate ourselves thin. We cannot beat/punish/deprive/starve/numb ourselves thin. Your body will not tolerate that kind of behavior.
Your body will only respond to love.
In order to lose weight – and lose it for good – you need to find unconditional self-acceptance first.
And I know what you’re thinking. For me, it seemed really, really, really IMPOSSIBLE to love myself when my body felt so gross and unlovable – but those thoughts were exactly the problem.
Here’s how I started to overcome them.
Aside from talking more kindly to myself, I also accelerate my body-acceptance by reciting the following affirmations daily: I love myself. I approve of myself. I am perfect, whole, and complete.
Don’t underestimate the power of a daily affirmation practice. These affirmations helped me find the self-love and body-acceptance that I desperately needed. They transformed my relationship with myself soooo much.
In fact, these 4 affirmations are at the core of my spiritual practice.
I don’t go a day without them.
2. Realize That Weight Loss Might Be Distracting You from Something Worse
Geneen Roth, who has led thousands of compulsive eating workshops, once told a story of a client who successfully lost 70 pounds.
But instead of feeling better about her body or more relaxed in her life, it forced her to look at the other areas of her life. And 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. That’s the hard truth.
When we overeat, it’s a sign that something else is going on – something that has nothing to do with food. We need to address our true demons first, and the weight loss will naturally follow.
The only way that I was able to uncover the real reasons why I overate was by completing Geneen Roth’s Why Weight workbook.
Man, oh man, completing this workbook taught me SO MUCH about myself and the reasons why I overeat. I could have ended up paying a therapist $5k to discover what I learned through this little book!
It goes deep, ya’ll. It had me digging into painful past memories and reasons for my neurotic behavior, and it uncovered some hard truths! Some very necessary truths.
That book has been FOUNDATIONAL in my weight loss journey, and I highly, highly recommend it.
If I could reach through my screen right now and grab you by the shoulders and shake you and tell you to get that workbook and finish the whole thing cover to cover – I would!!!
So please, freakin’ do it.
1. Allow Yourself to Be Uncomfortable (*The Most Important Dtep)
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 pain. You may not notice it until you start paying close attention to yourself – but this is always the case.
Therefore, in order to stop overeating, we have to be fully connected to ourselves and our emotions – especially the emotions that make us uncomfortable because they’re the ones that drive us to overeat.
Weight loss is uncomfortable. Not overeating is uncomfortable. Allowing ourselves to be uncomfortable instead of ‘taking the edge off’ with food is exactly how you will stop overeating for good.
Our primal brains will always tell us to seek pleasure and avoid pain. But this primal instinct is the reason why we overeat.
(Well that, and the glorification of pleasure on social media which makes you feel like your life should be all about pleasure and no pain, which is simply unrealistic and impossible. But I digress…)
Although the process of getting close to yourself and feeling all your feelings is uncomfortable and honestly totally sucks, it is the path of the warrior.
It will make you strong and whole and complete within yourself. And there’s no gift in the world that could bring you a better life than that.
First off, start 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 your feelings. Give yourself 15 minutes a day to simply feel what’s real for you.
During these times, you could feel good, or you could feel bad. The point is to practice noticing what’s going on within yourself, and practice staying with yourself.
Once these practices become ingrained in you, you’ll be more self-aware the next time you want to overeat.
With good practice, there will come a day where you walk into the kitchen for a snack, and stop dead in your tracks. You’ll realize you aren’t hungry, and you’ll ask yourself why.
You’ll stop and tune into your emotions and realize that you’re eating because you’re avoiding your pain.
And now that you’ve realized this, you can walk away from the kitchen and lie down on the couch and sit with your feelings instead of a snack.
In time, this will help you shed the extra weight for good.
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 address all this non-food-related work:
- Find joy outside of food and schedule it into your day, no excuses
- Live a slower life so that you can learn to eat slower too
- Stop eating for the hunger to come and get comfortable with being “hangry”
- Learn to recognize your pain and feel it instead of numbing it with food
- Allow yourself to have those forbidden foods, goshdangit
- Take a 6 month break from weight loss (that will preferably last forever)
- Own the body you’re in and stop wishing you were in someone else’s body
- Recognize that fixating on weight loss might simply be a distraction for you – and you better figure it out fast or else be trapped in the binge eating cycle forever
- 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.