5. The Real Reason You Overeat
Welcome to episode 5 of the Mindful Weight Loss Podcast.
Today we are talking about the real reason you overeat.
And let's start by talking about all the fake reasons we think we overeat.
First off, it's not you. It's not that you lack discipline. It's not your genetics. It's not because you are flawed in any way.
It's also not because you are a sugar or carb addict. I know some people don't want to hear that and don't agree with me and that's their prerogative.
But if you've entertained thoughts like that about yourself, let me ask, have those thoughts helped you? Does it benefit you in any way to think that way? Does it empower you or does it disempower you?
And do you eat sugar the moment you get up? If you are repeatedly downing cookies and cake for breakfast, then I'll grant that you may have an issue, but most of us do not experience intense desire for sugary foods first thing in the morning when our blood sugar is at its lowest point.
The other thing I'd like you to consider is the bag of granulated sugar that you probably have in your pantry. If that holds no sway for you and you are not enticed by the idea of eating straight spoonfuls of sugar, then it would not seem that you are actually addicted to sugar.
I will talk more about the effects of sugar in an upcoming podcast, but let's get back to the topic at hand: why you overeat.
So again, it's not you. You don't lack self-control or power when it comes to food. And it's not specific types of food like fat or carbs. It's not the food period.
And this sort of flies in the face of accepted theories about habits. Most say that the habit begins with the cue, trigger or prompt, which in many cases would be the food.
You're at work and you go to the break room to get a second cup of coffee and then you see the donuts sitting on the counter. You feel a craving to eat the donuts and then engage in that behavior. Most people would say that the donuts are the trigger of your behavior and that if you simply remove the the donuts, you avoid the unwanted behavior.
And while that is technically true, let's consider why donuts are a trigger for some people but not others. What's the difference between someone who really desires a donut and the person who enjoys a donut, but can take it or leave it? The difference is their thoughts. The person who really desires a donut thinks in a way that supports their desire. They think thoughts like "Ooh, I love donuts. They are my favorite. Gosh, but I really shouldn't. Ugh, but they look so delicious."
While the person who can take or leave the donuts probably thinks something more like "Oh, donuts. Yum. Ooh, but I had a big breakfast." and that's the end of it.
If you're not convinced, consider this scenario. Say you love donuts, but you hate raspberry, and I'm in the break room and I tell you that all the donuts are filled with raspberry jelly. So now, instead of thinking "ooh, I love donuts" you're thinking "ugh, I don't like raspberry" and now those donuts no longer hold the allure that they originally did. And that's just because of a thought you hold in your mind. I could be lying. The donuts themselves don't have to change in order to stop your craving. It's your thoughts that create that change in your state.
And psychology backs me up on this. The Cognitive Behavioral Therapy model which has been used successfully to treat depression, substance abuse, overeating, and more teaches that our thoughts generate our emotions which then motivate our actions.
So it's not the donut that gives you the emotion of craving. It's the thought you think about the donut that causes the craving and then that craving causes the behavior, which in this case is eating.
This makes sense too when we consider those of us who get triggered by our emotions. You might have a bad day at work and your first instinct is to head to the pantry. In these cases, the craving begins before food is even present, so clearly then the food can't be the trigger of the behavior. You could say the emotions are the trigger, but then why don't emotions trigger everyone to overeat?
Once again we've got to look at our thought patterns. If you eat for emotional reasons you hold the belief that the food or the act of eating will provide relief from those emotions. You might not consciously think that in the moment but that idea is running through your brain on some level, along with the idea that there is a need to seek relief from those emotions.
And so you might be thinking, we'll great, how does this help me? Now I need to be some kind of thought detective and realize all these thoughts and change them? How do I even change my thoughts, especially if I'm not even aware of them?
And the awesome answer is that you don't. You don't change your thoughts, you change your focus.
It's not possible to delete or change a thought. But what you can do is notice that it's there and choose not to engage with it, not to believe in it. And you can choose to focus on new thoughts that better serve you.
If you are the person in the break room who thinks "ooh, donuts are delicious" it's unrealistic to think that you can suddenly make yourself not have that initial reaction. But you can increase or decrease that initial desire with the thoughts you choose to think afterward. You can increase your desire by thinking of all the delicious donuts you've had in your life and contemplating which flavor might taste the best.
And you can increase your desire even more if you follow that up with thoughts that you shouldn't have it. There is no better way to increase your desire for something than to tell yourself that it's off-limits, or that you don't deserve it, because thoughts like that are BS and you're going to call yourself on that BS and prove them wrong by eating the thing you supposedly shouldn't have or don't deserve.
But you can also decrease your desire - by focusing on thoughts like. Yes, donuts are delicious, but I didn't plan for that today and I'm so proud of myself for sticking to my plan. And you know, I've had a donut before and I'll have a donut again. I'm really not missing out on anything here.
And if you're the person who eats because you've got strong emotions, similarly, you can increase or decrease your desire for food when it hits. Maybe that initial thought is something like "I could really use some chocolate." Again, you could start contemplating the chocolate and how good it will taste and start thinking about other delicious foods you could eat. And you could similarly tell yourself that you shouldn't.
Or you could decrease your desire by thinking something like. Gosh, chocolate would be nice right now, but it's only going to give me relief for a moment and then I'm going to be right back where I started. What I really need is to relax and clear my head. Maybe I could take a walk or do an easy task I don't have to think about to blow off some steam instead.
Now I know that might sound too simple and too easy. And while I will grant that it is simple, I know that refocusing in the moment like this isn't easy. You do need to cultivate that mindfulness so you're aware of what's going on - not so much about the thoughts you are thinking necessarily, but you need to be able to recognize when you're in the grips of an urge to overeat.
And refocusing your thoughts and reframing the situation, those are skills that need to be practiced on a daily basis, not just when you are feeling an urge. So much of what I teach in my course is about thinking with intention because our thinking about food and our weight, it's actually really sloppy. We think we're at the mercy of our desires and we think (notice that now I'm talking about how we think about out thoughts) - we think our thoughts are just true. We don't consider our own power to decide what to believe and what to think on purpose.
So, at your next meal, I challenge you to think on purpose in order to eat the way you want to eat. Maybe you want to eat just until you're satisfied. So then come up with thoughts you can think that will encourage and motivate you to do that. Think about how good satisfied feels and how proud you will be and how amazing it is that getting in the right mindset can be so helpful.
This is an incredibly simple concept, but it's also incredibly powerful. Try it out and let me know what happens.
Until next week. Take care!