If you want to stop overeating, I have tons of advice on how to address it from a psychological angle. After all, this is the home of Psycho-Spiritual Wellness: a path to stop overeating rooted in psychology and spirituality, not dieting.
A plea for Feeling Uncomfortable.
Today, I’m digging deeper into the #1 reason why we feel stuck in the binge eating / night eating / overeating cycle:
Avoiding negative emotions.
Today you’ll learn why we use food to numb our emotions, and how facing those emotions will help you lose weight.
The idea isn’t very magnetic, but if you stick with me, it could be the revelation you need to finally reach your natural weight.
So, let’s get nice and uncomfortable.
The Uncomfortable Truth
The reason why we overeat is because we’re using food to numb an emotion that we don’t want to deal with.
(With the exception being hedonic eating.)
We overeat because we’d rather numb our pain than face it — and we have no idea that we’re doing it.
Our brains are so good at avoiding pain (because we’re wired to survive, not thrive). So good, in fact, that negative emotions are avoided on autopilot. We have no idea we’re even doing it.
Since we have no idea that it’s happening, it’s no wonder why we self-sabotage!
If you ever get stuck in the yo-yo dieting cycle of eating really “good” during the day only to binge at night, this exactly why. (This is also why they say that trapped emotions lead to weight gain, because they fester unless we feel them.)
In order to break free from the self-sabotaging cycle, you need to start by generating awareness around the negative emotions that you avoid by overeating.
Here’s my best tool for developing that awareness:
Stop Overeating Tool
The best tool I know to stop overeating is the Stop, Drop, and Feel method. (I talk about it a lot because it’s really important.)
You can use this tool to stop yourself in the middle of a binge, and you can also use it to stop overeating in general. Here’s a video of how it works:
Whenever you feel the desire to eat when you’re not hungry, follow these 3 steps:
- Stop what you’re doing
- Drop into your body and ask yourself, “What am I feeling?”
- Feel the uncomfortable feelings that come up
This sounds really easy, but it’s actually one of the hardest things I’ve ever forced myself to do. But it’s well worth the effort.
Because after you allow space for the uncomfortable feelings, they lose their power — and the desire to overeat loses its power too.
Note that I’m not saying it goes away. This is not magic. But it should lose its power, giving you more access to the boatload of willpower that you already have.
This practice sounds weird, trust me, I know. I have fully embraced how crazy I sound. You could say that I put the “psycho” in Psycho-Spiritual Wellness 😉
But when you finally give it a try, you’ll see that it really does work.
My Personal Experience
In the video above, I talk about a time where I was going through a deep emotional low, and my binge eating returned.
At first, I just thought that I was just stressed out. But after a couple days of binge eating, I knew something else was going on.
So after I found myself reaching for some sour candies again — when I wasn’t hungry (red flag) — I did the Stop, Drop, and Feel…
And I burst into tears.
I was grieving, and I didn’t even know it.
On the outside I seemed just fine. But clearly I wasn’t.
But it wasn’t until I stopped and asked myself how I was feeling that I had any idea that an emotional storm was rumbling around inside me. It’s no wonder I was binge eating!
And once I made space and allowed myself to grieve and heave and sob… the desire for candy completely went away.
And that’s how Feeling Uncomfortable will help you stop overeating.
The Brain Science Behind It All
If Psycho-Spiritual Wellness is too “airy fairy” for you, let me back it up with some science.
Feeling Uncomfortable is a skill that you can develop with time, awareness, and practice — but it’s not easy, especially since your brain is wired to avoid this stuff.
From a biological standpoint, your brain is wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. It’s a natural reaction to avoid discomfort by seeking pleasure — usually from food since it’s an easy buffer.
Although your brain is working against you, you can slowly train it to stop buffering with food. You can do this with repetitive practice.
Repetition is the mother of all skill. This means that doing the Stop, Drop, and Feel on a regular basis will help you get better at Feeling Uncomfortable without reaching for food.
This is simple brain science.
Your brain uses neuroplasticity to rewire itself based on what you repeatedly practice. That’s why mathematicians have more grey matter in the area of their brain that controls arithmetic: neuroplasticity has strengthened that part of the brain.
So when you start to practice Feeling Uncomfortable, you will literally get good at Feeling Uncomfortable. The part of your brain that helps you cope with discomfort (whatever that is) will literally get stronger.
A Plea for “Feeling Uncomfortable”
Feeling Uncomfortable. Yup. I know this concept is far from sexy. But I could not believe that no one told me about it sooner!
As I started making a habit of Feeling My Feelings by practicing the SDF method, my binge eating slowly came to an end.
Try the SDF method for yourself the next time you feel the urge to overeat, and make space for the emotions that come up. Allow yourself to get nice and uncomfortable, and watch how it dissolves the desire to overeat.
Originally published September 9, 2016 // Last updated June 19, 2020