Are you someone who eats unconsciously? Do you pick bites off of other people’s plates? Pop goldfish and munch cheese sticks when your kids are eating their snack? Finish the large size popcorn at the movie theater by yourself? Do you eat food out of the pot while cooking?
Do you eat all day long and not even know you are eating?
Compulsive eating happens when we go unconscious. It’s the act of eating on automatic pilot. It’s the kind of eating that may feel good in the moment, but soon leads to feelings of discomfort, guilt, shame, or upset over not being in alignment with our true appetite and needs. It’s perfectly normal to overeat occasionally to the point of feeling full, or even beyond.
We’ve all been there and experienced the discomfort of overdoing it. But eating compulsively differs in that we find ourselves eating when we’re not even hungry, and doing so on a regular basis. Here at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating we believe that our experience with food is really an experience with ourselves.
If you are distracted and eating compulsively, consider the fact that your experience with food may be mirroring your life. What are you distracting yourself from? Where else in your life are you in a fog? The good news is that there are certain steps you can begin to take to stop compulsive eating. Here are four tips to get you started:
Observe Your Eating Patterns
Take a look at how you eat throughout the day. Are you being careful to eat breakfast? Do you skip meals? Are you eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full?
Settling into a consistent eating pattern is crucial for helping us make good food choices throughout the day. Eating at consistent times according to our hunger cues and finding foods that fuel us can reduce cravings and minimize compulsive eating.
When eating meals, include lean proteins, essential fats, complex carbs and fiber. Choose nutrient dense snacks such as fruit and raw nuts to fill you up. Use healthy fats when cooking, such as olive or coconut oil, to help curb cravings.
Learning to eat meals and snacks at consistent times through the day will help you to feel confident that you have fueled yourself properly and additional grazing is unnecessary. If you find yourself reaching for food after establishing regular eating patterns, then it’s time to take a deeper look.
Ditch the Diet Mentality
A strong diet mentality is directly correlated with compulsive eating.
When we live with a diet mentality, we are setting ourselves up for frustration. Over 98% of all dieting efforts end in failure. With a diet mentality, we believe there is always another, better diet around the corner, and restricting food becomes a way of life.
The challenge is, when we consistently deprive ourselves of food, we invariably set ourselves up for overeating soon after. The body simply cannot be denied the nutrition that it needs, and so our appetite will naturally scream “hungry.” Resolve to let go of the diet mentality and begin connecting with your body to eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. Putting food restriction behind you is a powerful tool in your toolkit to transform compulsive eating.
Connect With Your Thoughts
If you still find yourself compulsively eating after establishing regular eating patterns and leaving the diet mentality behind, then it’s to dig even deeper.
Perhaps we’re using food to distract ourselves from unwanted thoughts and stresses of the day? Or maybe there are feelings that we don’t want to feel?
The good news is, we can use compulsive eating as an opportunity to deepen our relationships with food, body and self. Each time you reach for food, ask yourself: What am I thinking right now? What am I feeling? Use a food-mood journal to track your food intake and your thoughts and feelings when you eat. Observe the journal over a few days for insights into how your thoughts and moods may be impacting your eating.
Pay particular attention to times when you are reaching for food shortly after eating a full meal. This is a great opportunity to learn wonderful information about yourself that will help you grow as an eater and as a person.
Often compulsive eating occurs when we are chronically stressed. We’re moving through life so quickly that we’re always eating too fast and in a rush. We are eating in our cars, at our desk while working, or on the run. One of the most powerful tools for stopping compulsive eating in its tracks is to slow down and be present with your food. Enjoy each bite and savor the taste. Slow down. Get out of your head. Celebrate. The simple act of being mindful and present will allow your brain to register that you have eaten and will help you find your natural and easy appetite.
Getting to the bottom of compulsive eating requires our attention. But a few minor changes can result in a whole new you.
So this week slow down, stay present with your food, and begin to think about you, the eater. Connect with the thoughts and the feelings that may be keeping you distracted. It is here that you will find the greatest opportunity for growth and a deepening of your relationship with food.
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