Tag Archives: compulsive overeating

Sugar: Physical Addiction, Emotional Craving?

This is Part 4 in a 4-part series on Sugar and Other Sweeteners.

(1) Sugar Is Toxic: Heart Disease, Cancer & More
(2) Sugar: How Much Is Too Much?
(3) Artificial Sweeteners Make You Fat (3a: Health Risks of No-Calorie Sweeteners)
(4) Sugar: Physical Addiction or Emotional Craving?


One of the most frequent questions in the Normal Eating Support Forum is whether to cut out sugar in the early stages of recovery. For most emotional eaters, sugar is a two-edged sword: They feel out of control with it so cutting it out completely seems like the only solution. But when they cut it out completely, they eventually end up bingeing on it.

Is this apparent addiction physical or emotional, and what is the way out? Is it possible for an emotional eater to become a normal eater who eats sugar occasionally, as described in Part 2 of this series?

Continue reading Sugar: Physical Addiction, Emotional Craving?

2 Key Principles in Creating New Habits

This is Part 3 in a 3-part series on Habit Eating.

(1) How Habits Can Control Your Eating
(2) 3 Proven Strategies for Breaking Habits
(3) 2 Key Principles in Creating New Habits


Habits are automatic behavior cued by context (where you are, what you’re doing), performed without intention, and with minimal thought. In Part 1 of this series I described how they’re created and why. In Part 2, I described three strategies for blocking or interrupting habits that have already been cued. In this third and last article in the series, I will describe the most effective way to break a habit – avoiding the cue – and how to create new, positive habits.

There are thousands of blog posts about how to break habits and create new ones. My advice will be a little different. As with the previous articles in this series, the strategies I recommend are based on controlled studies written by psychologists and published in refereed professional journals.

Continue reading 2 Key Principles in Creating New Habits

3 Proven Strategies for Breaking Habits

This is Part 2 in a 3-part series on Habit Eating.

(1) How Habits Can Control Your Eating
(2) 3 Proven Strategies for Breaking Habits
(3) 2 Key Principles in Creating New Habits


In Part 1 of this series, I described what habits are, how they are created, and how you can tell the difference between emotional eating and habit eating. It takes many rewarded repetitions for a habit to be created and that’s good, because once habits are created they are extremely hard to break. Habits are automatic behavior cued by context (where you are, what you’re doing), performed without intention, and with minimal thought. When performing a habit your mind is not engaged, and that’s a huge obstacle to change. Resolving to do better, an effective strategy for non-habits, doesn’t help with habits, though thousands of blog posts offer this type of advice.

In researching this article, I read controlled studies written by psychologists and published in refereed professional journals to find out what really works. There are two general strategies: (1) avoid the context that cues the habit routine, or (2) block or interrupt the habit routine after it’s been cued. Avoiding cues is most effective, but not always practical. I’ll talk about that in Part 3 since it’s related to creating new habits. In this article I’ll describe three strategies for blocking or interrupting habit routines after they’ve been cued.

Continue reading 3 Proven Strategies for Breaking Habits

How Habits Can Control Your Eating

This is Part 1 in a 3-part series on Habit Eating.

(1) How Habits Can Control Your Eating
(2) 3 Proven Strategies for Breaking Habits
(3) 2 Key Principles in Creating New Habits


Sometimes you eat because you’re hungry and the food tastes good. But often you eat because it’s noon and you always eat at noon. Or you just got home and you always eat when you first get home. You may not be hungry and the food may not be tasty, but you eat it anyway. Then afterwards you think, "Why did I eat that? Next time I won’t!" But next time, you do it again.

This is habit eating. Habits are overlearned behaviors that are cued by something in your environment (for example, time of day or just arriving home), and performed automatically with little attention or thought. Habits are not goal-directed – you’re not eating to satisfy hunger or experience taste. So why are you eating??

Continue reading How Habits Can Control Your Eating

Are you a fast eater? Slow down naturally.

A lot of emotional eaters eat fast – not just a little bit fast, but extremely fast, minimally chewing their food, and raising the next bite to their mouth before the bite they’re chewing is swallowed. Everybody knows the reasons not to do this:

  • You barely taste your food or experience having eaten it, and thus need more to feel satisfied.
  • Your body doesn’t have time to give you physical cues of satiation, so you eat painfully past full.
  • Insufficient chewing causes problems with digestion that are uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.

Slowing down is desirable, but the tricks people use to do this – eat with the opposite hand, count your chews, or (most bizarre) use an iPhone app that rings a bell when you’re allowed to take the next bite – are as “tail wagging the dog” and doomed to failure as dieting to control emotional eating.

If you want to stop emotional eating, you need to understand why you’re doing it and address the underlying issues. If you want to stop fast eating, you need to understand why you’re doing it and address those issues. So why do you do eat so fast?

Continue reading Are you a fast eater? Slow down naturally.

Stopping When Full

There are many reasons that people continue eating after they are no longer hungry. Here’s the short list:

  • You don’t recognize satiation cues. You don’t recognize that you’re no longer hungry until you are past full.
  • It bothers you to leave food on your plate. The reasons for this can run deep, as you’ll soon see.
  • The food tastes good and you want to continue experiencing that. But what aren’t you paying attention to?
  • You are in the grip of compulsion. You don’t want it, it doesn’t taste good, but you can’t stop.

Continue reading Stopping When Full

5 Main Triggers for Emotional Eating

When you’re in the moment of craving – wanting to eat, though you’re not hungry – it doesn’t help to have abstract knowledge of why you eat. If you know that you eat when you’re angry, for example, that doesn’t help much in the moment that you’re angry. You’re still angry and you still want to eat.

The only way to dissolve the craving is to figure out the true need underneath the emotion, and take action to address the true need. Simply recognizing that you’re angry doesn’t help. You need to uncover the reasons below the anger – the unfilled needs or boundary violations that triggered the anger.

Connecting with yourself on this deeper level is hard when you’ve spent years ignoring your own needs, but it’s necessary. If all you know is that you’re unhappy, the only way out is a comfort behavior like eating. If you know the underlying need, then you can work on meeting it.

Over the years of working with emotional eaters, I’ve noticed five main themes:

Continue reading 5 Main Triggers for Emotional Eating

How to Stop Emotional Eating in the Evening

Do you eat in the evening – and eat and eat? If so, you are not alone! Here is a sampling of the many posts about this in the forum:

“Night eating has been my number one curse. When I initiated that terrible habit then the pounds really started a rampant escalation. I have found that this is the time of night I’m fatigued, anxious, lonely and bored. Sadly to say, that an infusion of sugars actually temporarily reduces the anxiousness I feel.”

“Evenings have always been my time to graze, binge, overeat and numb out. There isn’t one simple reason for it with me, it happens for a variety of reasons but one of the primary reasons is that at the end of the day I feel “empty” and I am seeking something to fill the void with.”

“One of my issued is I am a perfectionist and would do well all day and then in the evening eat everything sweet in sight because “I was not perfect today” so I’ll eat as much as I can and surely tomorrow I will be perfect. Never happened.”

“I’ve been fine each morning and early afternoon, but once evening hits, so does my eating. I eat from early evening until I go to bed. I don’t know why, and I’m not sure how to stop it, but I need to.”

“Evenings make me anxious because of their frustrating, ambivalent nature. Is it my time of rest and relaxation, or is it the time to be productive around home, after the whole day of being productive at work? If I sit and relax, I feel guilty at the housework piling up. If I apply myself to housework, I feel resentful. The push to munch serves the purpose of dodging the issue.”

You can break out of this! Here’s how.

Continue reading How to Stop Emotional Eating in the Evening

How to Stop Overeating Sugar, Fat, and Salt

In my previous post, I talked about how eating processed food can make people fat. Processed foods are fabricated in labs, specifically and deliberately to use our body wisdom against us. The weapons they use are fat, sugar, and salt, which trick us into overeating. From the chapter on Stage 4 in Normal Eating® for Normal Weight:

“Humans enjoy sweetness because in nature, sweetness is a sign that fruits and vegetables are at their peak of ripeness, and when they’re at their peak of ripeness, they’re also at their peak nutritionally.”

“People love salt because it’s required for life, but was hard to come by for early humans living inland from the ocean. Those who had a taste for salt and sought it out stayed alive to reproduce; those who didn’t take the time to find salt got sick and died.”

“People have a natural liking for fat because it’s energy-dense – that is, it’s high in calories for its weight. For most of human evolution, the food supply was unreliable and going hungry was common. A taste for energy-dense food evolved to keep us from starving when food was scarce.”

Stage 4 of Normal Eating®, Choosing, is about making healthy food choices once you have overcome the compulsive urges that take away your ability to choose. But what if you’re not yet at Stage 4? How do you free yourself from the addictive effects of sugar, fat, and salt?

Continue reading How to Stop Overeating Sugar, Fat, and Salt

The Original “Body Wisdom” Study

What makes people fat are the two main factors that interfere with body wisdom:

  • Emotional Eating and Compulsive Overeating – Eating when you’re not hungry, to meet emotional needs and cravings.
  • Processed Food – Processed foods are engineered to pervert body wisdom so people eat more.

Body wisdom is an inborn attraction to the foods that our body needs for nutrition. It tells us exactly what, when, and how much to eat. We know that humans have this instinct, just as animals in the wild do, thanks to a study presented 70 years ago today.

Continue reading The Original “Body Wisdom” Study