If you overeat, dislike your body, or believe that losing weight will make you happy, I know how you feel. It’s taken me years (um, decades) to forge a healthy relationship with food and my body. Today, I eat a whole foods diet – most of the time. I feel good about my food choices. I no longer obsess about food or thoughts of what I should or shouldn’t eat.
This doesn’t mean I’m perfect. Heck no. (In fact, my pursuit of eating perfection is what kept me stuck in overeating for many years!) But the shame and self loathing and obsessing has softened. Food is just food; not the center of my life. When I make a mistake, I learn and move on.
Dear one, if you’re struggling with overeating, I understand. I’d like to help you find this peace from overeating – and from the shame that accompanies every binge.
First, let me say this: Overeating is not a sign of poor will power, discipline, or a character flaw. Period.
You overeat because you hurt. You overeat because you have an unmet need. You overeat because you have this very tender, very vulnerable, human heart, and you want to protect it from pain. When a painful feeling arises, we may eat to make it go away. We may eat because our true deep needs – our needs for love, for validation, for connection and belonging – aren’t being met. Food becomes the substitute.
This doesn’t make us bad people. It makes us real and human.
To heal from overeating, we befriend our needs, our feelings, and our very tender humanity. We honor our needs and feel our feelings so that we don’t need this escape valve - overeating – to cope, feel better and to feel okay. I appreciate this is much, much easier said than done. (My journey out of overeating has taken decades. So you’re in good company!) And it’s possible. We can find true refuge in our own hearts, in compassion, in self kindness, in self love – so that we don’t need the food to feel better.
For more help, here are 10 tips that helped me stop overeating. I also invite you to explore my support program, Heal Overeating: Untangled, to find the deepest level of emotional healing from overeating. Untangled is the synthesis of everything I’ve learned about healing the root cause of overeating. It’s also a radically different approach than one you may have tried – one where you heal the roots of overeating by healing your relationship with yourself. I’m so passionate about this program – I want everyone to have it!
You can follow the link above to listen to a free sample.
1. Embrace your stuff. Embrace your overeating. Its how you discover your true self. Instead of blaming your overeating for your problems, use it as a pathway to uproot false beliefs. Use your overeating as a way to learn and grow – not as a way to beat yourself up. Accept the pathway of healing as a way to become whole. Overeating was a blessing – because it enabled me to heal.
2. Unravel your overeating hairball. Overeating is never about food. Food is the window to your soul, showing you all your dark sides, the places that scare and shame you. As you expose them, accept them, forgive them, and integrate them, you heal these broken parts of yourself. Healing the food stuff is the natural consequence of healing your deeper pain.
Here are some of the ways I’ve abused food: I overeat for comfort; to feel nurtured; to soothe my anxiety, anger and other “bad” feelings. I overeat as a way of keeping me from my life purpose (eating as insulation.) I overeat because I’m afraid – I feel like I don’t belong, like I don’t fit in, as if I’m a stranger in this world. I overeat because I take care of others at my own expense. I overeat because I push myself too hard, eating when I should be resting. I overeat because I crave downtime. I overeat because I’m sensitive, and food grounds me, protecting me from other people’s negative energy. I overeat because it’s easy – a bag of tortilla chips feels really good in the short term.
For more support, I cover this problem in more detail in sessions 5 and 6 of Heal Overeating: Untangled.
What about you? What are your food traps?
3. Ask for help. I believe we live in a benevolent universe, and that if you ask for help, resources will come to your aid. Study different approaches. Join a support group. Reach out to others. Follow your intuition.
Many of us carry internal voices that shame us for needing help; we feel foolish and embarrassed about our inability to stop overeating. We feel like we should know better and do better – after all, isn’t it just a matter of eating less? But this kind of thinking is judgmental and counterproductive.
What would it take to accept that you need help, to be okay with being a beginner in this area of your life? Once you accept where you are, you drop the shame about needing help. Of course you need help – you’re in pain! We are human beings, designed to help one another. Believe you are worthy of support, love and care. Drop the false belief that you should have all the answers – and that you should change on your own.
4. You are not your thoughts. A thought is just a thought. It doesnt mean its true. It’s so easy to become attached to them, to define ourselves by them, to let our thoughts control our behavior. But if your mind tells you that you cant live without a cookie, you dont have to believe it.
Question your thoughts. When my thinking goes haywire (like trying to justify eating raisins, my favorite binge food, because they’re “healthier” than candy), I talk back to myself. I’ll say, “not helpful.” When I feel an intense desire to overeat, I sit with it. I ask, “What do you need right now?” Questioning my self talk quiets my fears and helps me separate from the mind talk that leads to overeating.
5. Examine your fear. Your fears and overeating are good friends. As the Reverend Ed Bacon eloquently said: “You’re either living in the house of fear, or in the house of love.” When we care for ourselves from a place of love, it’s as natural as a mother caring for a baby. When we’re hungry, we eat. When we’re full, we stop. When we’re tired, we rest. We move to enjoy the delight of our physical bodies – not as penance for eating too much.
When we’re living in the house of fear, we eat to feel better, calling it comfort, self-soothing and nurturing. The difference is in how we feel. Love always brings its own reward, the fruits of the spirit: peace, compassion, self-discipline, kindness. Fear brings jealousy, resentment, frustration, criticism, judgment, and control. Fear brings shame. Fear brings only temporary relief, because unless we feel, embrace and release the fears underneath our eating, they’ll pop up over and over and over again until we finally face them.
6. Honor your limits. Accepting my limits was a challenge for me. Beyond healing from overeating, what I really wanted was to be able to eat candy, pastries, fried foods, and junk and not gain weight. I wanted to be free from the consequences of my actions.
But we don’t get away with anything. All choices have effects. If I eat too much, I get a stomachache. If I eat sugar, I become obsessive about food. If I eat late at night, I don’t feel good the next morning. If I’m eating mindlessly, I will eat more than feels good.
I have to honor my limits if I want to reap the rewards of healthy eating. That means sometimes saying no to food when I want to say yes; keeping trigger foods out of my house; and setting limits on nighttime eating. These limits help me stick to my intention to honor my body with food.
What limits help you support your intention? Support yourself by recognizing your triggers, and by being honest: are you trying to get away with something?
7. Plan for your success. If I don’t have healthy food options in my house, I will eat junk. That means doing the work of shopping for and preparing whole foods – something that takes time and planning. The alternative is overeating or eating junk because I don’t have healthy options. I had to make peace with structure and routine; of the repetitive nature of self-care.
Sometimes we’re hesitant to care for ourselves because we think it will make us look “high maintenance,” neurotic, or fixated on food. In the beginning, changing our eating patterns is an intensive process. We may appear out of balance as we direct much of our thoughts, time and energy to healing. But this shifts over time, and our new patterns become automatic. As our new way of eating and caring for ourselves becomes integrated into our daily life, we lessen our intensity, lose our fear (Will I know what to eat at the party? Can I make kind food choices while traveling?) and trust ourselves. We are grounded. Our attention shifts. We don’t have to think about healthy eating all the time.
Honor this ebb and flow. Honor where you are – knowing that there are times in your life where you’ll need more structure and routine, and times when you won’t have to think about it as much.
8. Start where you are. You can start over, at any time. Did you just gorge yourself on chocolate ice cream? Okay, start over, right now. Put down the spoon. Just because you ate too much ice cream doesnt mean that you have to add brownies, potato chips, and french fries to your plate. Every moment is a fresh opportunity.
If you overate yesterday, be kind to yourself. Eat when you’re hungry. If you fast in a misguided attempt to save calories, youll only end up starving at dinner and prime yourself for another binge.
You may need to “snap yourself” out of a binge. It’s like being in a trance. So leave the kitchen or even your house if you need to; take a bath or a shower, a cleansing ritual in itself; pray, meditate, listen to peaceful music; take a walk (moving helps remove the energy from your body), call a support person or friend; brew yourself a pot of tea (Celestial Seasoning’s Tummy Mint is wonderful for a bloated digestive system,) cry, vent, do deep breathing. Then plan for how you’ll care for yourself the next day, because you may be feeling regretful, sad, ashamed, bloated and gassy, frustrated, angry, or any number of mixed emotions. The day after a binge, I always schedule a workout to help cleanse my body of intense emotions. I cook simple foods with protein and vegetables as a kindness to my digestive system. I meditate or pray and offer myself compassion with self-talk: I love you so much. Even though you binged last night, I love you. I will care for you today. Soothe yourself as a mother would a child.
9. Practice self-care. If youre denying your deep, true needs in your daily life, you’ll fulfill those needs sideways, destructively, with food. Spend some time in quiet to uncover what you need. Is it more time for rest? Is it to honor your creativity? Is it love or feeling a part of the community? Nourish your needs, and your bodys hungers wont be so demanding.
Many of us live energy draining lives. We neglect our “burning yesses” at the expense of the urgent – the laundry, the cleaning, our children, all the ways we give to others but don’t give to ourselves. No, we don’t want to ignore our responsibilities. But we may need to come into greater balance. Ask yourself: what can I let go of? What can I delegate? How can I support myself so that my life has more purpose, power, joy and passion? Feed your passion and your energy will expand. When you give yourself the leftovers of your time and energy, you are starved for love and attention – which you fill with an insatiable appetite for food.
10. Eat. This last tip sounds almost comical. You might say, Thats the least of my problems! But much of my overeating stemmed from real physical hunger. I was trying to eat as little as possible throughout the day, because I was always trying to lose 10, 15, or 20 pounds. By dinnertime, I was famished and would eat three meals instead of one. I overate not from a lack of willpower, but because I was simply hungry.
You can’t fight biology. You are an animal: you have to eat. Our bodies need healthy fuel. Eat enough and regularly enough so that you feel satisfied.
Most overeaters want to lose weight – the extra pounds from their habit. It’s normal to want to fix this. But I found it much easier to focus on one goal at a time. First focus on eating to your balance point – where you are comfortably full. As you consistently abstain from overeating, then work on losing weight.
The irony is that by feeding yourself regularly and by overeating less youll probably lose weight: the natural, organic consequence of self-care, self compassion, and self kindness.
I’d love to offer you 3 kinds of support from First Ourselves to help with overeating:
- Join our Support Forum to get support, talk with others, and to feel less alone on your journey.
- The in-depth Heal Overeating: Untangled support program can transform your relationship with food.
- Listen to these free audio blogs on how to unplug from food: Trusting your needs, navigating transitions without food, help for I cant handle this! moments, removing the barriers to love, and trusting in the growth you may not see.