Several years ago when I held my first Losing Weight without Dieting Program teleclass series, one of my clients named Jen came to the call and tearfully asked for help. She said, “Andrea, why can’t I get control of my eating? I’m always falling off the diet wagon And I’m tired of the struggle. I feel so ashamed of my weakness. Why would anyone eat a one pound bag of…chocolate chips? I don’t even like them, and I can’t stop eating them. They’re dry and tasteless. Don’t I deserve better”
As I told Jen“Of course you deserve better. But your body is craving those chocolate chips in that amount for a reason that you don’t yet understand. To really get to the bottom of why this is happening you have to go deeper.
You and Your Thinking Minds: Subconscious vs. Conscious
Just like an iceberg where the largest portion of 80% of it’s mass, lies hidden beneath the water, most of your thoughts that drive your behaviors are unconscious. This means you’re not aware of what you’re thinking most of the time. So if you try to change an unwanted habit that you’ve been doing for awhile, you’re likely to encounter a lot of resistance.
In the case of the iceberg, think of the 80% of the mass that’s exposed as being the part of you that’s in favor of continuing to eat the chocolate chips. And the little 20% bit that’s sticking up out of the water is the much smaller part of you trying desperately to flip the other to win the wrestling match.
For Jen, her challenge was chocolate chips, for someone else it may be their mom’s homemade lasagna, a plate of baklava, granola bars or any other food that satisfies their need. To get leverage on that 80% portion of your unconscious beliefs, so that you can effortlessly flip your thinking and overturn any resistance you may have toward changing your behavior, you have to first set aside all judgment.
Some people take a pretty hard line on overeating and I know in most traditional support programs, overeating is often considered food greed, and dismissed as nothing more than having no sense of self control or discipline around food. But that’s not the case.
Understanding ‘Food Greed’: Why You’re Really So Hungry
It really ticks me off to hear of anyone who struggles with urges of wanting to overeat, being called ‘greedy.’ Besides being downright cruel and an ignorant assumption, it implies so much negativity, shame and guilt. All these emotions become unnecessary burdens, adding to your upset, making you feel absolutely miserable and helpless around food.
Seeking out food and eating in response to feeling hungry is one of our most basic survival instincts. Back in cavewoman days, survival meant being a good hunter and if you were strong, smart and fast enough, you would be rewarded with your next meal. If not, you’d eventually starve to death. But there are no saber tooth tigers waiting ‘round, poised to pounce, looking to wrestle us down to the ground lest we plot to steal their fresh kill. Nonetheless your brain remembers when that fear of starvation and ‘survival of the fittest’ was very real. Here’s how this relates to modern day you.
You’re probably know stranger to stress. So it’s likely that you’ve been in a position of facing a deadline, having to confront someone, sitting down to a meal with tension so thick you could cut it with a knife, or doing something risky. All these situations are read by your body as you being in danger and that sends your stress hormones flowing.
Sometimes these things are really happening, but maybe there are other times when you’re just at home watching a scary movie on TV. Just thinking about danger is enough to get the old adrenaline pumping. And whether your threat is real or imagined, it sends out all the old stress signals to mobilize your body to save yourself.
Your mouth goes dry, your hands get clammy and your heart beats fast, making you feel really nervous and anxious. You may hear a little voice in your head that says, “Do something, quick. You’re in trouble.”
In Jen’s case, she couldn’t stop eating those chocolate chips. And everytime she overeate them, she was more and more disappointed with herself, feeling certain that it was some horrible character flaw that pushed her to eat. Basically her subconscious drive to eat the chocolate chips was stronger than her conscious ability to avoid them. Hence she wound up eating more chocolate chips, feeling completely ashamed of her snacking obsession.
If you’ve noticed that whenever life gets overwhelming and you feel tense, you look for something to eat, your brain interprets the stress signals as being on overload and it will seek out the nearest form of relief in the most familiar packaging. If that’s food, then all of a sudden you get hit with this huge overwhelming wave of hunger that shows up in the form of a food craving that pushes you to eat the next nearest thing within reach just to make the overwhelming feelings go away.
Nowadays for most people, food is everywhere. But if you’re one of those people like Marcia who has a lot of emotional baggage tied to food and feelings about your body, the whole idea of eating food and anything to do with it will carry a lot of extra weight for you. Here’s an example of what they may look like for you:
Perhaps you used to diet, and you couldn’t eat a certain food, and that made you want it more. Whenever we’re deprived or we deprive ourselves of something that’s important to us, we work that much harder to get it. This only makes things more difficult because food becomes more important than it really is. It takes on a bigger role in your life and you lose a sense of perspective. This is what happens when you are an emotional eater. Your survival instinct to eat gets mixed up with a big mash of different and complicated feelings and memories from your past. Feelings of entitlement, fear, guilt, rage, sadness, feeling deprived, and every time you ever wanted to eat but couldn’t or was told you shouldn’t. All this tension adds up to your body getting driven by the unspoken rule in your head pushing you to eat saying, “I better get some food so I can calm myself down.”
Today living in the 21st century, we’re far advanced from cave living. And for most people there’s no reason why they need to fear going without food. There’s no threat of scourge or drought looming over our heads. But to the person living with a lot of mixed messages and rules about eating and food, that only reinforces their internal fear of not having enough and their search for food is on overdrive. Because they don’t have a sense of ease around food, they haven’t yet gotten that ‘food is plentiful’ message. This is why people who eat when they are stressed tend to overeat.
Our survival instincts interpret the physical sense of being full with feeling safe. Before refrigeration or food preservation methods were available, our ancestors could only rely upon eating enough of the food available in hopes of being able to survive the next food shortage. – Survival.
Their survival has become our comfort. When you think about or eat the foods you love, you get an instant sense of satisfaction that reminds you how tasty your favorite food really is. It’s that memory that makes you just want to eat it again and again. Whether or not your body is physically hungry, your hunger kicks in. Why? Think about how you currently respond to food. Have your years of watching your weight and perhaps dieting made the whole idea of eating dangerous for you? Do you get fearful when you think about eating what you want? If you’ve been a dieter, or watched your weight for any length of time, your body has been getting reinforced messages saying,
“Food is scarce.”
“Food is fattening.”
“You can’t be trusted around food.”
In essence your emotions which are connected with your survival instinct are keeping you eating out of control.
The Link Between Stress, Emotions and Your Cravings
Many people tend to connect eating their favorite sweets, wheats and carbohydrate-filled comfort foods like pasta, cookies, breads, chocolates, pies, ‘n cakes with an instant sense of being satisfied. This is because your body responds to eating these foods with an immediate rise in your blood sugar levels, which also triggers a sense of euphoria making you feel so good.
So while you’re happily chompin’ on your donut, the sugar rush that your body experiences triggers that sense of fullness and satisfaction, making the fear of not having enough go away temporarily.
But just like a ball, what goes up, must come down. And that’s when the crash hits, making you want more of whatever made you feel so good in the first place.
Science has discovered that we deal with stress or traumatic events in one of three predictable ways. This has come to be known as the flight, flight or freeze response.
Hard wired to survive, your body’s goal is to protect you from harm. Whenever you feel scared or unsafe your stress response is activated. That causes a chemical overload of stress hormones to enter your bloodstream. Cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline all come to the party and fool you into thinking that danger is everywhere when you add stress to the mix.
Originally called the fight or flight response, it’s been discovered that freezing is another response to how our bodies deal with stress, real or imagined.
Let’s say something stressful happens in your life. You’ll either stick around and fight to the death, flee to safety, or stand frozen, unable to move like a deer in the headlights.
There may not be a dinosauar lurking beneath your bed, but the mortgage that’s due on the first or the new boyfriend that’s acting suspiciously, or the painful memory of the loss of your grandmother can all trigger those same survival instincts telling you that you’re in danger. And without thinking that’s when you might notice that you’re suddenly obsessed with thoughts of food and that makes you just want to eat everything in sight.
That’s because negative emotions send a message to your brain that everything is falling apart in your world and you’re in trouble. This is the body/mind connection at work. Bad feelings triggers those same chemical stress hormones to pour into your blood, clouding your ability to reason, making you fear the very worst.
The 2 Most Important Reasons Why You Can’t Stop Eating
The reason you eat when you’re not really hungry or eat beyond the point of being satisfied, often stems from two things.
1) You are wanting to avoid uncomfortable emotions that you may not even know you have. Unpleasant feelings that you either may or may not be aware of are probably the number one cause of your overeating. These negative feelings signal a red alert telling your body you’re in danger.
2) Eating to relieve your stress has become a habit. Any action that we do repeatedly soon becomes a habit. That could explain why you always go for that second portion or get the urge to eat whenever you see someone else eating. It’s become a habit. The good news is that habits can be broken.
In the next article, I’ll share with you a process called Emotional Freedom Technique. EFT is a powerful do it yourself easy peasy stress relief method derived from the ancient science of acupuncture. But instead of using needles, you’ll learn how to use your fingers to tap on different parts of your face and upper body and combine that with focusing on the problem of whatever is bugging you. By doing this, you will be able to release your negative emotions, neutralize your cravings, boost your confidence, reduce pain in your body and so much more.