Are you finding it tough to stop overeating?
Maybe you’ve struggled with overeating for a long time because of constant stress or boredom. Or, perhaps you’ve never had a problem managing food before and this is all new for you.
Regardless of how long overeating has been a problem for you, the most important thing to understand is that it’s NOT about the food.
You read that correctly. Food has VERY LITTLE to do with your second, third, etc. trip to the fridge.
It’s easy to get confused because the diet world focuses on food by promoting portion control, counting calories or fighting cravings. All of those things can work to reduce overeating but they do not solve the real problem, which is something far deeper.
I’ve overcome years of overeating myself as well as helped many clients to do the same. As a nutrition specialist, many clients come to me for meal plans and food advice but the deeper part of my work is actually helping them to improve their relationship to food itself so that they can start enjoying it and stop judging themselves.
Let me share with you how I worked with a client recently to end overeating and what you can do from home, right now to end it too.
Primary needs and the link with overeating
I recently worked with a client that has been struggling with overeating because her routine has been completely disrupted, her work stress is through the roof and she’s finding it tough to cope with family relationships at home.
All of this emotional chaos and uncertainty has led her straight to the fridge…again and again. She finally came to me for help because all the online advice out there wasn’t stopping her from reaching for yet another bite of food.
The first thing I asked her is, “What is food giving you that you can’t give yourself?”
Not surprisingly, she didn’t know. It’s a question most of us don’t even consider. Instead of examining WHY we feel dependent on food, we judge ourselves and then we keep on doing it.
There is a WHY for you, just as there is for everyone. It has to do with the primary needs that you’re neglecting.
Everyone has basic needs, psychological needs and self-fulfilment needs. If you don’t meet these, your mind and body WILL react.
One of the most common ways your mind and body react to primary needs neglect is to make you want more food. Because food is a quick fix, it delivers endorphins and distracts from inner discomfort, it’s the perfect “solution.”
If you can examine these primary needs and find OTHER ways to fill them then you will stop overeating.
What are primary needs?
Primary needs can be classified as basic, psychological and self-fulfilment. They are different for every single person and change as you grow older.
Your basic needs are what you need to survive and to feel safe. This is where uncertainty can wreak havoc because if you don’t feel secure, safe or in control, you may respond by reaching for another bag of chips.
It seems silly but it isn’t.
Just stop and think the next time you reach for food when you’re not hungry and examine why you’re doing it. I promise it’s not just because you want to eat more.
Beyond basic needs, you have psychological needs. These include your relationship to others (friends, community, etc.) and your relationship to yourself or what you need for your identity (acknowledgement, accomplishment, etc.) When you don’t feel close to others or when you don’t feel like you have purpose, you might try to hide that empty feeling by reaching for food. In fact, when you reach for food out of boredom, you’re likely actually reaching for it because you’re not meeting psychological needs.
Finally, you have your self-fulfilment needs, which are, by far, the most neglected. These needs include reaching your potential, being creative or having a purpose. If you don’t feel good in these areas, it’s very easy to feel discontent and reach for quick solutions that mask your discomfort.
Once you understand WHY you’re overeating, you can start to address those areas. It will be hard, deep work but it is going to END those unneeded trips to the fridge.
Food cravings are your clues
If you’re not sure what primary needs you’re neglecting, look at the food you’re craving.
Do you always want pizza? Maybe it’s because that’s the food that always made you feel full and satisfied. This could be an indication of the need for security.
Do you want the cookies that grandma used to make? This could be a sign that you’re feeling lonely or missing out on close interpersonal connections.
There isn’t always a direct link between the food you crave and the needs you’re trying to satisfy but often there is. If you’re not sure where to start when examining your inner world and needs, your cravings are a really good place to begin.
What to do in the meantime about overeating
Ending overeating is NOT an overnight process. The process of digging deeper into your food dependency is not a pretty or rapid one.
You will likely face a LOT of internal resistance when diving deeper into your relationship with food.
The good news is that you can do a few things to make this process a kinder, more convenient one. Here are the top 3 things to do:
- Do not stock ANY unhealthy food at home. Overeating carrots is much more preferable to overeating ice cream. If you live with someone that refuses to stop buying unhealthy food, then ask them to hide it from you.
- Eat frequently when hungry and do not skip meals. If you have a full belly, you won’t be able to eat as much even if your cravings are ridiculously strong.
- Avoid judgement. Overeating is a natural reaction to stimuli from the world around you and from the world within you. If that reaction must happen, let it happen and then let it go. Judgement can cause you to slip into another binge even faster.
When to seek help
If you’re not able to dig deeper into what’s causing your overeating or you feel that you’re not acknowledging overeating while doing it (writing it off as not a big thing) then you may benefit from getting outside support. The kind of support you need depends on how serious the problem is.
If you are really struggling with overeating to the point that it’s severely affecting your weight and health, then it’s worth going to a doctor or psychologist.
If you overeat occasionally and just need someone for accountability or for an outside perspective then it’s good to work with a nutrition specialist or dietician. Just keep in mind that many in the nutrition field focus on WHAT you eat. You want someone that will help you address HOW you eat as well. Be sure that this is a part of their coaching before you sign on as a client.
Above all, be kind to yourself and take time to address overeating. It’s not so simple as not going to the fridge, having more willpower or getting snack substitutions but all of these strategies CAN help if you first address the deeper needs.