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5 Steps to Stop Overeating

February 22, 2012
By Guest Blogger
|34Comments|


Have you ever felt compelled to keep stuffing yourself to the point of discomfort?

Maybe you’ve found yourself reaching for a packet of cookies when you’re home alone, tired and lonely? Perhaps it’s even healthy foods you’ve overeaten, such as a whole bag of raw nuts.

If so, you are one of many who have overeaten for emotional reasons.

Overeating can wreak havoc on your mental, emotional and physical health if left unaddressed, and the talking down to yourself that typically follows flushes a lot of energy and self-love down the toilet. If you are binging regularly and beating yourself up about it, you’ll also have much less time to focus on what really matters to you – your dreams, relationships, contributing, having fun.

Yet despite what your reason and intelligence tells you to do (i.e., stop overeating), you are still unable to close the bag of processed (or raw) chips.

Emotional eating can be a very challenging habit to release as usually:

  • It is a deeply ingrained behavior.
  • You have been doing it for a very long time both consciously and unconsciously.
  • It can be frightening to consider a life where you don’t numb yourself with food, even if it is a conscious choice.
  • Processed foods and junk foods are highly addictive, so even without the emotional component they can be extremely hard to stop eating.

But it can be done.

What is needed is support, compassion, kindness and a safe space without judgment where you can release your fears, and identify your emotions, triggers and real needs. Having a toolbox of strategies is essential to do this.

Here are some tools that you can start using immediately:

1. Identify what’s really going on
Do you stop long enough to see what emotion you are feeling before you stuff them down with food?

One of the most powerful things you can do is to train yourself to stop when you have the urge to eat, and ask yourself “Am I really hungry?” If the answer is no, ask yourself “What emotion am I really feeling?”

This alone can bring so much awareness that small shifts in your eating behavior will occur. You will realize that your heart and soul wants to be heard and fed, but the late-night box of candy isn’t doing it.

2. Find a safe place or person to release to
To heal your relationship with food, you need to safely express yourself and release the emotions you feel. A safe place or person will allow you to do this. There can also be a lot of shame and embarrassment around overeating, particularly binging, so a safe space to release becomes even more important.

Get into a journaling practice where you can write about whatever you are feeling with no talk back, criticism or judgment. Find a person you can speak to about your behavior and what’s really going on for you. Create or find a space where you can go to be quiet, think, cry, laugh, journal, talk, meditate. Having a space that you can always go to will give you a sense of comfort, nourishment, familiarity and a haven as you heal.

3. Create a sacred ritual
One of the best ways to nourish yourself every day is to create a sacred ritual that makes you feel centered, strong and harmonious. When you include this in your routine, you will find that over time you are better able to identify and address thoughts, feelings and stress that contribute to overeating (and other unhelpful habits).

What you include in your ritual is entirely up to you. For most people, one or a combination of the following works well:

  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing
  • Affirmations
  • Setting intentions
  • Nourishing movement
  • Yoga and stretching
  • Journaling
  • Drinking water or herbal tea
  • Reading inspirational material
  • Listening to music
  • Speaking to a loved one
  • Playing with your pets
  • Having a hot bath or shower
  • Resting

4. Understand and appreciate what food gives you
For many people who suffer from disordered eating patterns, food is the enemy. You stuff yourself and make yourself sick with it. You feel compelled to eat copious quantities until you feel heavy, tired, unwell and miserable. It adds the kilos to your body that you despise. It is the enemy you have to avoid at all costs to stay thin because that’s what you see as beautiful, worthy or your way of maintaining a sense of control in your life.

For many of the women I work with, an important step in their healing is helping them to understand what food really is – how it gives life, nourishment, beauty, joy, pleasure, energy, healing and comfort. Nourish yourself with real, high-quality whole foods that are not filled with chemicals, refined sugar, salts and fats, and learn how they produce beauty, health and energy. Respect is built for the role food plays within your body and a respect for your body itself also grows.

5. Unleash your creativity and do something you love every single day
You have endless creativity and passion within you. When you don’t allow yourself to express, create, be and do as you’d like to, you end up repressing yourself. Repression leads to out-of- control binges as a temporary way to numb that undirected energy.

Find a way to build in some time every day to do something you love, that gives you a creative outlet for self-expression, and that allows you to be exactly who you are or takes you a step closer to that.

Before you start using the “no time or energy” excuse, know that you only need five minutes to start doing this. If you have more, that’s great. If you are honoring your needs and desires by acting on them every day, you will be far less likely to look for the answer in cake. Self- satisfaction and happiness comes with nourishing your whole being – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – consistently. This is your way out.

Without the drain of overeating, think about how much time, energy and health will be freed up to focus on what you really want out of your life! As someone who has a long history of emotional and disordered eating, I can tell you that you can overcome it, and the freedom and reward you will feel is truly worth the effort.

Casey Lorraine Thomas, certified detox, health and life coach, shows you how to get radiant health and energy, lose weight and heal naturally so that you can live the life you want in a body you love. Casey conducts phone consultations internationally.

Photo credit: wintersoul1



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34 responses to 5 Steps to Stop Overeating
  1. Beautiful post…. but at the same time heartbreaking as this is exactly what my life is like….

    Thank you. Love
    Tamila

  2. A lovely post. What do you do when compassion and understanding are abscent? I do my best to keep this stuff out of the house, because I know I eat when bored, in pain and/or exhausted. But someone keeps buying the stuff, even if I’ve said not to.

  3. excellent/sad topic – let’s air it out!

    • This kind of topic should be discussed more, especially to us Americans. We have gone so big because most of us are becoming binge eaters without noticing it right away.

      These tips will be very helpful to everybody both for prevention and cure for the bad eating habits.

  4. I was never an over-eater, but I was an emotional eater. Two things changed that. The first was having my children. Once my focus shifted off of myself and my own body image and onto my beautiful gifts, my need to self-comfort lessened. The second was embracing my love for food. I fought food issues for years. Basically, it was a love/hate relationship. When I finally realized that was unnecessary, that food was not the enemy, the fixation all but disappeared. I decided to learn how to cook healthfully and now food is something to nourish my body and it is not a drug! Thanks for the blog!

  5. Great post!! Definitely some note-worthy tips that can be applied into practice right now. Well done, Casey! :)

  6. Thanks all.
    Tamila, there is a way out. I promise you that. One step at a time. Awareness and acknowledgment plus desire to heal comes first.
    Abigale – so true. That was a huge shift for me to and what I work with clients to help them see. Go you!
    Thank you Jia Ni and Regan!

  7. Good way to up your immune system if you feel like you are coming down with a cold or flu:
    Get a whole lemon and squeeze it into 8oz of water….repeat 3 times if you can!

  8. With a life-long (until recently) unhealthy relationship with food and overeating, I set out to learn as much as I could about nutrition and eating behaviors. I studied mindful-eating while completing my masters in nutrition and in the process I discovered a mindful-eating program that changed my life, called Am I Hungry?. I became a program facilitator because I wanted to share these powerful concepts with others. I love the suggestion above to ask “Am I really hungry?” before eating. It’s a deceptively simple question that can greatly impact our relationships with food. Casey, thank you for sharing and spreading the word!

  9. Thank you for these 5 steps. I’ve been struggling with emotional overeating for a while, and have been trying to stop (though not very hard). I love plant based whole food, and my creative expression is cooking.
    Despite my love for food and eating, I know the overeating is not healthy, and I use it to cover up real issues. I’m going to use your steps and try to get out of this pattern. Thanks!

  10. I look forward to rereading this one. I purchased the 12 steps books from OA at the beginning of this year, because my overeating has gotten so significant, but shaping the Friends of Bill W. steps to overeating isn’t quite working for me…how do you make amends when the person you’ve been abusing most is yourself? If I had a handle on self-love, I wouldn’t be in this mess! So I’m encouraged by your post and will be studying your ideas further.

  11. Great post. I still have emotional binges from time to time but compared to where I was at 10 years ago, I’m doing amazing! Learning about and appreciating the beauty of food has really helped me to overcome it. I am also a runner so when I’m tempted to binge, I think about how horrible it will make me feel physically on my run the next day and I’m reminded that a cookie dough binge is not life giving.

    If you’re trapped in a cycle of emotional overeating, there is hope!

  12. Thanks for sharing that Jacqui, very true :)
    Jenne, so glad I can help. I promise you can strike a great balance between loving cooking and eating and not overeating. Enjoy the steps.
    Hi Melnaie,one day at a time with one act of self love and self affirmation at a time. It’s a process and a beautiful one of self discovery. See yourself as the miracle you are and over time your actions will reflect that.
    Melissa,wonderful to hear how you’ve shifted things! Awesome lady! x

  13. Thanks you so much, great post! for me sometimes once I start I can’t stop! I’ll have a great day of raw food portion control, eat a bit too much at dinner then think well already overate tonight feel bad about that might as well have a few more pistachios then I feel even worse. I will use this wonderful advice but need to get that, ‘might as well attitude’ out of my mind. I think so much about my diet and worry so much about bingeing or over eating that I try to avoid being alone in the kitchen at all or around people out to dinner ordering super-sized meals and appetizers it is so difficult for me when the food is in front of me. I’m at a healthy weight now but terrified of maintaining it, with obesity prevalent in my family. They do not eat the way I do (raw vegan) at all and holiday gatherings are very difficult times for me. Thank you again for this lovely post!

    • raw vegan is difficult on a compromised body, and can leave the body and You cold, depressed and low energy/Qi. reference Chinese Medicine for when and why to eat raw. and emotions play a huge role in overeating and do not get fully addressed in Chinese Medicine given the cultural context it was developed in. Don Juan says, “You think you’re so damned important.” Learn not to identify with the emotions/ego (with methods suggested in this article) as well support your body with quality foods, cooked or raw when seasonally and personally appropriate.
      We can do this!

  14. Thank you for talking about this with compassion and kindness. I like the idea of being creative instead of eating half a jar of peanut butter with a spoon…

  15. Learning how food and my emotions were tied together was such a giant part of my weight loss journey. You are right, it is no where near an easy task, but learning to tackle these connections is definitely worth the reward.

  16. Learning how food and my emotions were tied together was such a giant part of my weight loss journey. You are right, it is no where near an easy task, but learning to tackle these connections is definitely worth the reward.

  17. Hey girls, I wanted to share my story and see if anyone can give me some advice. I was diagnosed with a thyroid disease when I was 18. Back then, I was an overweight teenager and ate whatever I wanted. When I got diagnosed, I had to change my eating habits all around, and I lost weight and felt really great. I continued to eat healthy until I got sick again when I was 22, but I didn’t know I had “relapsed”. All of a sudden, I was losing a lot of weight and eating a ton of junk food again, not gaining an ounce (hyperthyroidism). But then I got my test results back and I found out i was sick, so I was put on meds and gained all the weight back, plus more. Now, I’m overweight again but I can’t find the motivation to eat healthy anymore. I stopped eating healthy because I was trying to keep the weight on, and now I can’t stop eating junk food. I try but I slip back down :( I just can’t help but feel that it’s so unfair that I had my eating habits rearrenged and my dream body, and I just had all that taken away from me. I just feel like I work so hard the first time and I don’t know how to do it anymore. I coninue to exercise but my eating is just plain bad :/ I don’t know how to regain my motivation and my good eating habits

  18. Hey girls, I wanted to share my story and see if anyone can give me some advice. I was diagnosed with a thyroid disease when I was 18. Back then, I was an overweight teenager and ate whatever I wanted. When I got diagnosed, I had to change my eating habits all around, and I lost weight and felt really great. I continued to eat healthy until I got sick again when I was 22, but I didn’t know I had “relapsed”. All of a sudden, I was losing a lot of weight and eating a ton of junk food again, not gaining an ounce (hyperthyroidism). But then I got my test results back and I found out i was sick, so I was put on meds and gained all the weight back, plus more. Now, I’m overweight again but I can’t find the motivation to eat healthy anymore. I stopped eating healthy because I was trying to keep the weight on, and now I can’t stop eating junk food. I try but I slip back down :( I just can’t help but feel that it’s so unfair that I had my eating habits rearrenged and my dream body, and I just had all that taken away from me. I just feel like I work so hard the first time and I don’t know how to do it anymore. I coninue to exercise but my eating is just plain bad :/ I don’t know how to regain my motivation and my good eating habits

  19. Freelee says there is no such thing as emotional eating and that instead, it is actually hunger (for healthy, nourishing, species-specific food). xxx

  20. Freelee says there is no such thing as emotional eating and that instead, it is actually hunger (for healthy, nourishing, species-specific food). xxx

  21. Freelee says there is no such thing as emotional eating and that instead, it is actually hunger (for healthy, nourishing, species-specific food). xxx

  22. Casey, thank you so much for writing this blog. It seems, at 44 years of age, I keep peeling away layers of my own onion (no pun intended) around food, fear, and filling a void. I have been using food as my number #1 numbing agent since I was a kid. Yet, thanks to a dedicated exercise schedule, and a whole shitload of vanity, I am thin. And, consciencely asking myself, “Am I hungry? How will I feel when I’m on the other side of this left over ice cream cake?” Nourished? No. Peaceful? No. Connected? No. But…last night, I didn’t give myself time or space to ask this question, just dove right in and let the shame and excess calories weigh me down. But today is a new day. And I feel hopeful and less alone reading everyone’s comments. I will love myself through this. Thanks!

  23. Thank you so much for your words here, that speak to so many of us. I’ve read so much about compulsive overeating, something I’ve struggled with immensely since childhood, that I tend to think I’ve read everything possible… but your post has given me new things to think about.

    One thing I want to mention here is that there is a huge connection with brain chemistry and compulsive overeating and other addictions. It’s usually a lack of serotonin and dopamine. It’s a good idea to look into that and what supplements can help boost serotonin, which if in balance will eliminate the cravings for carbohydrates that most often trigger binges.

    And to remember to not be so hard on ourselves, to be able to forgive ourselves, because a lot of the overeating we do is also for physiological reasons due to imbalances that we most likely were born with (mercury and lead toxicity being the major factor affecting the brain of the fetus) or began in childhood due to diet and toxicity. Also, there is a huge connection between the experience of childhood trauma (usually sexual abuse, so common in women) and brain chemistry, which can set us up for a lifetime of not only emotional addictions (to food or anything else) but physiological addictions. So it is not our fault and while we don’t want to simply act as victims, knowing this we can take steps to restore balance to our gut, which in turn effects our brain chemistry… through diet, supplements, exercise, meditation etc. Also, there is a huge connection between the experience of childhood trauma (usually sexual abuse, so common in women) and brain chemistry.

    The creativity connection is so vital, and I’m very grateful that you mentioned that. How gifting yourself even 5 minutes a day of creative expression can do so much, to move out of the repression. I know that women who use food to numb themselves (like me) are all suppressing their inner light and immense creativity… and if we can think of each other out there and gain strength from the knowledge that we’re taking steps, however tiny, to express our innate creativity… that can be empowering to us.

    Thanks so kindly for all you wrote, which is endlessly inspiring and hopeful!

  24. Ava said on March 6, 2012

    I needed this today. Thank you. Maybe it will put me on the road to healing…

  25. I really related to #4 in your post. When I was emotionally over-eating (or emotionally under-eating for that matter) I would dread eating or even thinking about food. When I ate I never felt nourished. This is when I still lived at home and my whole family were unhealthy eaters. When I moved out my whole relationship with food changed. I began buying less processed foods and much more produce. When I ate these foods I felt like I could eat until I was full and only eat when I was hungry because my body began to understand food as nutrition not as something to fill some emotional hole. Thanks for the great and inspiring post!

  26. I’m 67 and just diagnosed with diabetes. I know lots about what I should and shouldn’t eat. I lost weight on nutrisystem a few years ago. I started at 270 and went down to 240. I’ve stayed there. So now I just went on it again. The big difference is i’m retired and home. So…I’ve eaten the month’s supply of dessert in the first week. I eat several dinners at a time. I’m not hungry. I just eat. My blood sugar is still high. In know if i can get the weight off, I can stay off meds. So far I’m not on anything but as it stands now, if I can’t lose weight I go on insulin. Insulin with take that floating glucose and turn it into fat and I’ll get fatter. The answer is to stop overeating and so far I can’t. It’s depressing. So for me, it’s not just about weight, it’s about going blind or losing a foot. But that’s not enough. I need some help. Going on meds and getting fatter is almost worse for me than complications of diabetes. I’m going to try this. I can see it’s really not about diet, it’s about me.

  27. I’ve been overweight my entire life. I suffered with obesity through out high school. I would eat and eat and eat because of my weight. I was tormented by my peers and had no self worth. I never went on dates, or school dances because I felt ashamed of who I was and didn’t want people to laugh at me in social settings. All I wanted to do was eat because it tasted good and made me feel good. After graduation I moved across country from my home town to get away from the painful memories. Everyone was so quick to move on from high school, but I couldn’t get away from my emotions so I had to get out. I went on a diet and lost almost one hundred pounds. I still from time to time would binge eat, but I would be able to get back on track and for the most part keep it at bay. I finally started feeling happy. I thought I’d get more attention from males, but they still don’t turn their heads when I walk in. I’m starting to get back into my binge eating depression and haven’t been able to stop. I’ve gained 10 pounds in the last month and thats just making it worse. I am so upset that my weight loss didn’t bring me a companion. I really thought because I finally started to be happy with my body that I would find someone I could finally have a relationship with, and be comfortable in my new body. I know that you should love yourself for who you are, but I just can’t. I know confidence is what will attract men to me, but when I finally did feel confident I still had the same result. I’m 28 years of age and have never had a real boyfriend. I look at all my friends who are so happy and in love and it makes me just want to eat more. I really think my eating has gotten out of control. I don’t know if I should go see a therapist about it or read a self help book, I just would like to finally be loved and to truly be happy with my body.

    • Hello Anya,
      I hope you receive this message as I know it’s been several months since you posted your reply. I can relate to your story and wanted to let you know that you are not alone. I am 45 years old and have never been married (don’t let that discourage you ha ha!) Although I have dated it wasn’t until later in life that I gained the self confidence through experiences that were not always associated with men. Through my independence, successful career and accomplishments I developed confidence. When I read your article it was painful to think of what you have been through as I have experienced similar pain. I strongly recommend therapy and seeking support. I found my support through Weight Watchers for many, many years. The support I received from Weight Watchers and eventually reaching my goal weight inspired me to be a Leader which I did until recently. Good luck with your journey ~ you are young and sound like a good person so I know with time you will find happiness and meet the right one, he is worth waiting for trust me, I’m still waiting and haven’t given up!

  28. Such lovely kind words that speak directly to me, I am going to read them when I feel so empty I want to fill myself with junk. I have such an unhealthy relationship with food and have put. On a lot of weight over the Winter, now Spring is here and I hate myself even more for doing this to myself. Things have got to change. Thank you for your help.

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  31. Amazing words of which I sooo need to hear. My journey with junk food has been my friend for most of my life. I have experienced a massive heart attack after giving birth. But I still carry on even though I have a second chance with life. I don’t understand. Some will say I am ungrateful but I truly do not know how to stop. :(