A Simple Tip to Stop Compulsive Overeating

Not all emotional eating comes from the expectation of future deprivation, but some of it does. How many people, for example, decide to start a diet on June 1, and then spend May 22 to May 31 overeating — getting while the getting is good? A lot!

Even if you’ve sworn off dieting, a sense of deprivation can keep you eating after your body has had enough. Your conscious thought may be, “This is so good — I’m full but I can’t stop.” But what’s driving the compulsion, under the surface, is the feeling that not eating it now would be a flat-out loss because there likely won’t be another chance.

There is a very simple but effective solution.

First of all, you must swear off dieting. As long as you’re threatening yourself with deprivation, you will be vulnerable to rebellion eating. Promise yourself that you will never do this to yourself again, and mean it. Then come up with a short phrase you can say to yourself when you’re struggling with compulsion that reminds you there is no deprivation.

What I used to say to myself was, “There are a million cookies in the world.” I would say this to myself even if it wasn’t a cookie I was thinking of eating. It was a shorthand way of reminding myself that I didn’t have to eat this cookie (or whatever it was) right at this moment because there were an infinite number of them available to me, and I could have them at any time. I was living in a world of plenty.

I thought of this recently because someone in the Normal Eating Support Group posted something similar:

I’d like to share something I thought of that really helps me when am feeling nervous that won’t be fed – I remind myself that I will continue to feel hunger for the rest of my days, that I will continue to eat for the rest of my days and that there will always be food for me. Somehow part of me seems to think that at some point the food will stop, or that I need to get what I can while it is there, or to try and get to a place when I am “above” hunger (and will never need to eat again, how bizarre is that!!). Anyway, I just thought I would share this as it really helps and relaxes me, and it might for you, too.

Repeating something like this to yourself can seem like a small thing, but it’s actually quite powerful and effective. Give it a try!

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them.

8 thoughts on “A Simple Tip to Stop Compulsive Overeating

  1. When I was a teenager, a friend of mine told me that she had realized she overate when she thought she wouldn’t be able to have “that thing” again. So she took to freezing a bit of whatever it was, and that did the trick for her. She knew it was in the freezer and she could have it whenever she wanted. I kind of see the above tip as a “mental freezer method.” Yes, for people in the US of A, there are a million cookies in the world. We are blessed.

  2. I like that, “mental freezer method”. 🙂

    Yes, the abundance that most people in the U.S. enjoy is a gift that not everyone has. There have been a few members of the Normal Eating Support Group who grew up in poverty and have written at length about how it affected their eating. There’s deprivation, and there’s deprivation.

  3. Great post! I developed my catchphrase: “ENOUGH!” followed by a deep breath. More than having anything to do with food or eating, this word and action were my cue to disengage from the should/shouldn’t/must/mustnot/can/can’t/will/won’t mental battle that accompany a pre-emotional eating event. It stops the planning, the rev-up and the oh-so-familiar mental train that takes me to the place I’ve been a million times before. The train that takes me to the place of feeling empty and angry at myself.

    Funny enough, I’m able to now use “ENOUGH!” (:::followed by long deep breath:::) when I get riled up by thoughts. It’s my choice to stop the thoughts, and ultimately it’s part of self-care.

  4. That’s good! The main thing is to have a phrase that’s short and sweet but carries a lot of meaning for you. And it carries that meaning because at one point you sat down and really thought it through. So when you say the phrase to yourself, you are reminding yourself of the whole thought process in a quick, shorthand way.

    I hope others chime in with phrases they use and what they mean to them. This is interesting!

  5. I have a new message that helps stop me from eating my daughters left-overs. “I’m not a rubbish bin”. I know that affirmations are supposed to be in the positive but this works for me – taps into my feminist side : )

  6. I tried saying that to myself at one time, but it made me feel a little chided and cricized, so I switched. But if it works for you, that is good!

  7. I have been thinking about breaking up with my best friend. We have been together since I was a kid. I look back on our relationship and now realize that I put our relationship ahead of everything else in my life including me. Thats because my friend was always there for me when I felt sad, unwanted and alone and just needed a companion.

    My friend got me through a lot of tough times over the years, especially when I was a kid. When I diet it seemes to create bad feelings between my friend and I. I quit dieting and we get back together and our relationship grows stronger.

    I want to still have a healthy relationship with my friend but not like its been. I know that my friend is still going to be hanging around but will not solve my problems. In fact, my friend has actually made some of my problems worse. We need to have a different and not as close relationship.

    My friend “food” will just have to get over it.

  8. Hi Mike,

    That’s like a little poem you wrote there. I totally understand. I’ve heard sober alcoholics refer to alcohol as their best friend, too.

    It’s important to recognize that compulsive eating can (and does) serve to meet needs that you don’t know how to fill otherwise – it’s not just a crazy thing you’re doing for no reason.

    The premise of Normal Eating is that the needs you’re filling with food are important, and you can’t stop emotional eating until you learn new and more genuine ways to fill the needs that eating is filling.

    Emotional eating is an attempt at self-care. It’s not the best way to take care of yourself, but that is the underlying motivation. Through Normal Eating, you learn better and more effective ways to take care of yourself, and then the compulsive urges dissolve. You don’t have to white-knuckle with a diet to not overeat if you address the underlying issues.

    – Sheryl

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