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Struggling with overeating: Brainstorming session!

June 19, 2009

And the winner of The End of Overeating is… Mary of A Merry Life! I was planning on doing the random number generator. But after Mary (who writes a fantastic blog which you should all check out) sent me the following email, I knew that the winner was picked for me:

When I saw that phrase “you feel as though you’ve been beating your head against a wall with your struggle with overeating and have yet to find a solution” on your blog I knew I had to e-mail you.  That is me!!  My head hurts from trying to figure it out and constantly failing.

As you know, some days I am fine.  I will eat a healthy amount and come in under my daily calorie allowance.  The temptation to keep eating is always there in the back of my mind though.  On other days I feel like I am not able to control myself and say no to extra food.  I will think about food so much that it almost feels like I have to eat something, I have to eat more.  I can easily consume double my daily calories if I am not paying attention.

The worst part is that even while I am overeating I am well aware of what I am doing.  For instance I will see a cake left in the kitchen.  I see the cake, I smell the cake, I know it is there and I can eat some of it.  I may resist for a while but I always end up standing over the cake eating a slice or two.  While I am eating the cake I am thinking to myself “I don’t need this.  I’m not even hungry right now.  I am going to be so disappointed when I weigh in this week.  I shouldn’t be doing this.  But it tastes good!  What is one little bit more?  Screw the restrictions and diets.  Cake is good.  This will soothe whatever hurt you are feeling right now.  You might think it’s the wrong decision, but NO – it is the right choice.  Eat the cake.”  And I do.  And I always eat more than I should.

I also eat more than I should at most meals.  Even staying under for my calories for the day I overeat.  I eat until I feel uncomfortable full.  I always eat until I hit that sick, stuffed feeling even though in my mind I know I don’t need to.  I am aware of my hunger and when I’ve reach that stopping point but I usually go way past it.  Just like the internal battle over consuming sweets I have a similar dialogue running through my head during meals encouraging me to stop and also keep going until I’ve hit that overly full feeling.

Even though I know how to eat healthy, and what to eat, I still end up eating the wrong things but worse overeating.  If I could eat things in moderation I wouldn’t feel bad about eating cake or other treats occasionally.  But I can’t.  I have no idea how to stop overeating and practice moderation.  I’ve tried different things, heard a bunch of well-intentioned tips that haven’t helped… it feels like I will never conquer this problem.  I know I need to beat it but I don’t know how.

Maybe you have answers/solutions/suggestions?  I’m open to anything.

When I first read this, I felt as though I’d written it myself. During the holiday season I became so used to having a cookie or two (or three or four…) for dessert that it took me months to control the incessant and overpowering need for something sweet after I’d eaten a meal. Our body adapts to habits pretty quick, and once it has adapted it is hard to undo what we have created.

Thinking about what has worked for me in the past, and what I still hold on to on the days when the going gets rough, my advice boils down to two concepts:

Do one thing different: just this once

The cake is there, I know. And it’s impossible to avoid. And every time it comes around you just know that you’re going to give in and have a slice, which turns into multiple slices. Rather than telling yourself not to have the cake, tell yourself that just this once you’ll go without it. Just this once, you’ll go to bed without an after-dinner snack. Just this once, you will dust the living room rather than moseying on over to the fridge.

The idea with the “just this once” notion is that once you’ve made the change the one time, it feels really fantastic. Waking up a little bit early and going for a walk isn’t so bad when you’ve done it once. You realize that you do have control, you can beat the problems, and you will do it again, even if it’s just once more.

When I’m in a rut of, for example, eating dessert every night, if I can stop doing it one night then I know that I’m capable of doing it again. The next night, yes, I might have dessert. I might even have dessert every night for a week after that. But at least I know that I did go without dessert once and I can do it again and, lo and behold, that “just this once” really does turn into multiple occasions!

Change your routine

Unless there’s someone else around, I don’t trust myself to make popcorn. When I’m alone, I will make a big batch (half a cup of kernels), eat that, and then make another batch and eat all of that too. When someone else is around, I’m less inclined to have quite so much because, frankly, it’s embarrassing (and completely unnecessary). These days I try to make a point of not making popcorn when I’m by myself. Otherwise I know that I’m likely to spin out of control and reach that point of being uncomfortably over-stuffed.

I also have a total infatuation with banana bread. In fact, only a few short hours after I had written the review for Kessler’s book, one of our clients came in with half a loaf of freshly baked banana bread for my mother dear and I to share (and I mean really freshly baked- it was still warm and everything!). I promptly cut it in half to save half of it for the mother dear, and then ate my entire portion within the hour. It really was that delicious (thank you Ivy!!). A few days later, when the cravings hit and I made my own loaf of banana bread, this time I was a little bit smarter: I made plans with friends immediately after making the bread so that I only had time to eat one piece before I had to head out the door. If you can’t control yourself, do what you can to get away from the temptation!

The same applies if you tend to eat a snack immediately after coming home from work. Don’t give yourself time to start mindlessly munching: get out of the house, run some errands, go for a walk. Since starting up my rhetoric blog and gathering ideas for it, I find that I’m so preoccupied with writing that it serves as an excellent distraction from my lunch/dinner waiting for me in the fridge.

Sometimes, it takes a million tries before we have the breakthrough. To prevent myself from overeating every day, I find that setting aside half an hour each night to decide what I will eat for breakfast and lunch tomorrow is incredibly helpful. I write it all down, but you don’t even have to go to that length- just prepping the food so it’s all ready to go in the morning can be enough. This also gives you some extra time in the morning to go for a walk or do a few crunches if you’re feeling it! When the decision is already made, and the food is already prepared, it makes it a little easier to stay on track with healthy options. Overeating is a really big problem, but I believe that if we can make healthier choices, it’s a good start. If you can make the move from Kessler’s fat on sugar on salt on fat on fat on salt on sugar on fat to the wholesome nutrients of eating real food, that’s a lot of progress- the overeating problem, and issue of moderation, can be dealt with on a whole other level when your eats are nutritious ones.

What do you all think? How do you deal with these problems? Let’s get some ideas out on the table! Share your tips, tricks, and woes. I know that Mary and I are not the only ones who often feel this way. It’s one thing to have an understanding of health and what we should or should not do, but it’s a whole other thing to put it into practice and resist the temptation of overeating. What do you do?

26 comments

  1. Hi! I’ve been reading your blog before but this is my first time to comment. I can never trust myself with banana bread! 😀 That’s why the past two weekends, I’ve baked BB and brought them over to friends’ place and shared with everybody. I got to satisfy my BB craving (with a single serving!) and even had a nice afternoon with the girls.


  2. Mary is indeed a worthy winner! I hope this book helps her!

    I take it one day at a time. Literally, I will tell myself that I can resist this whatever-it-may-be TODAY! Not tomorrow, not for the whole week, not for the rest of my life. But today I can. And it works 95% of the time. Of course, every day is today!


  3. Awww yay I won!!!!! I love your advice and can’t wait to read the book and see what your readers have to say. (Side note: the lack of paragraph breaks in my “email” is killing me. Is that how it looked when you got it? Oh me oh my!)


  4. Those are great tips, Sagan! I completely agree about changing your routine. Sometimes we have to try 10 different things before we find something that works….and we might have to change it up now and again!

    For me, one of the most helpful things is to not keep “trigger” foods at my house. I’ll have them from time to time at a friend’s house or a party, but if I have them on hand at all times, I CONSTANTLY think about them. This can be hard when you have roommates, but my roommate and I only eat our own food – so I know better than to eat all of his cookies or ice cream. 🙂

    Another thing I do is drink LOTS of water. I mean tons! Just a little bit ago I was eating breakfast and wanted to keep dipping in the PB jar. I knew I’d had a couple tablespoons already, so I chugged my 24 oz. of water and sat for a few minutes. Now I really am stuffed! Water does work wonders.

    I think, too, it’s really helped me to tell myself, “This is not the last time you’ll have ___ around you!” Sometimes I get it in the back of my head that I better eat ALL of the cookies, because who knows when I’ll have them again! But I WILL have them again. I don’t need to eat 10…just one to satisfy that craving. Sometimes that is really helpful to me.


  5. I still struggle with eating a bit too much at times. But I what have found helpful is having a plan, knowing what I am going to eat. It’s also good to keep busy. I tend to eat more when I have nothing to do. And I try to not start eating my trigger foods in the first place – if I start, I know I will have trouble starting. Some people can have just a few bites and be satisfied, but that doesn’t work so well for me. I know this, and I act accordingly.

    I also will ask myself if I am truly hungry – and if I am then I allow myself to eat, but I make sure it’s healthy foods that I know I will be able to control myself with. I know if I get too hungry I’ll make a bad choice so I try to keep myself satisfied.

    There are certain foods I just won’t buy now. And I try to avoid them. I’m aware of what causes me a problem – and that is half the battle.


  6. Mia- I’m so glad that you decided to comment! Sharing is a good idea- I can do that for just about everything I bake except for banana bread. Not going to lie, I actually hide it at the back of the fridge so that no one else can get to it. I really like banana bread 🙂

    Hanlie- Exactly. Living in the moment, right?

    Mary- oops, that was my fault! Copy and pasting tends to screw things up. Problem fixed.

    Holly- that’s definitely the nice thing about buying your own groceries and not having a family to feed; you get to choose exactly what YOU want. Tea works the same as water, I find, in filling you up (and then there’s some flavor as well). Trying out a bunch of different things to see what will work helps a lot; even if the first few backfire horribly, we know that we’ll be able to find SOMETHING that works.

    Trish- You took the words right out of my mouth. GREAT ideas.


  7. I seem to only overeat when i’m behind on food for the day. As of late no matter how busy i am i make sure not to skip a meal even if it means drinking a slim fast, or putting 20 almonds and a dark chocolate square in my purse. I’ve also been drinking a talk glass of water before my meal. Not only helping with hydration but giving me that “full” feeling sooner =)


  8. Great advice! I love the “just this once” idea; I do the same thing with running. During “impossible” workouts, I’ll tell myself just complete this mile, or lap, or whatever, then you can quit. And I almost never do. I’m sure it works exactly the same way with food.


  9. I have found for me, I can’t keep things in the house that are trigger foods. I used to buy all these chips my kids liked, twinkies, hostess ho ho’s, peanut butter sandwich cookies to put in their lunches. BUT, just knowing they were in my house, I couldn’t resist. I talked with my family. I now buy healthier chips, pretzels, (that I won’t go crazy with!) and instead of the cookies/icecream, I’ve been buying them popsicles, (20 calories!) and gummy bears (which I hate) and making them jello-o for desert. They don’t even know they are missing anything. I do make muffins alot, but they are healthy, so no going overboard there.

    Good luck! I know its hard!!


  10. the biggest mistake people that abuse food make (and thats exactly what you are doing- if your rational brain knows its not good for you- not just the food choice, but the way you are eating it, you are abusing food) is thinking that adjucting the way you are eating is going to fix it.

    ITS NOT ABOUT THE FOOD.

    Just like no one that abuses alcohol does it because they really like alcohol. There is a deeper issue that is causing you to sabotage yourself.

    You start your day with so much motivation to eat right, but something somewhere makes you turn to the food and eat it until you become sick and uncomfortable. you are sabotaging yourself. Until you find out what that trigger is (fear of success, fear of failure, self consciousness, or something traumatic that has happened to you- it could be anything) you arent going to be able to stop.

    You have to find the root of the problem. Talk to someone- seriously, you have no idea how much it will help. If i didnt seek help, I would be dead. Dont waste time being unhappy- fgure out why you are doing this and tackle it head on.

    and it has nothing to do with what food is in your house or how much will power you have. It has nothing to do with food whatsoever.


  11. I’m glad Mary won 🙂

    Sagan, I love your tip “just this once” to resist… usually I use the “this one last time” excuse and it turns out a different way!


  12. Fitness Surfer- the water SO helps with recognizing fullness! I find that I overcompensate the day after if I don’t eat enough one day… mega overcompensate. A good lesson to fuel ourselves properly.

    Nomeatathlete- you’re right, it DOES work the same with exercise! As I’ve learned from the run-a-race challenge.

    Jenn- homemade stuff can always be healthified, thank goodness. And buying them stuff that YOU don’t like is also handy.

    Kelly- THANK YOU for your input and for saying that- something I completely neglected to include. I really like that you’re talking about food as a drug, because it really can be and often is.

    Healthy Ashley- we just need to put a little positive twist on everything 😉


  13. Those are all very good suggestions, Sagan. There is a lot of power in success, even one time. Too many people feel that motivation, willpower and self esteem are things that either one is given, or just show up. Once one learns that these are things that are built like a muscle, it gives us hope and the direction to become stronger.


  14. Definitely a one-day-at-a-time girl here. When I do mess up, I put it behind me and move on to the next day. Joining WW online helps enourmously – having to log your food really keeps on in line!


  15. love these tips — my sweet tooth is always in full force, so I’m definitely a ‘play things by ear and adapt’-type person! I just always try to think of body as a palce where I only want to put the best, most healthful foods, so that helps!


  16. I agree with the “limiting temptation” idea. If my occasional treats start to escalate into frequent ones, then I don’t get to keep them in the house anymore until I break the habit.

    It also helps me to get specific about what the calorie/exercise consequences are.

    If a rich dessert is 500 calories, do I really feel like adding another 5 or 6 miles to what I already do for exercise in order to make up for it? If I’m really honest with myself, the answer is rarely “yes.”


  17. I, too, really like the “just this once” concept. I think it causes less resistance (if you’re like me and fight with yourself). I think the small successes are motivators, and enough “just this once”s may eventually lead to a new normal. For example, I usually throw in an extra meal or large snack when I’ve been drinking, because it just tastes good. Last night, I had my maximum two drinks (really) and walked the 2 miles home, smelling and seeing all kinds of good stuff. I thought about eating something, maybe a brownie, but was still full from a veggie burrito 7 hours earlier. I still came home and ate an ear of corn and some english peas, but that may be 150 calories in all that fiber. I don’t begrudge myself the occasional unnecessary eating of veggies and fruits. I don’t begrudge myself a brownie if I really want it either, but not just because it’s there.


  18. I think she deserves to be the winner too! Her concerns and issues are universal and genuine, and we can all learn from them.
    I especially like your “just this once” advice. I think it’s a fantastic way to strengthen your will of power (which, apparently, is like a muscle: needs training, strengthening and resting) and break the habit of doing something unhealthy.
    Congratulations on the new blog!!! I’ll follow it, since I can always use more reading in proper English to improve my ESL status!


  19. Dr. J- once we’ve achieved success once, we can realize just how capable we are.

    Missicat- I agree about the food log. I love keeping my food diary right now; it helps so much!

    Shannon- always good to be able to adapt 🙂

    Crabby- thinking about it in terms of miles is a great idea for staying on track.

    Julie- loved the last part especially. We shouldn’t begrudge ourselves our treats, but we should still keep a level head about them.

    Marta- thanks so much! And I like your notion of willpower as a muscle.


  20. This is so hard. Some days I am really good other days not so much. I try and control my eating by being fairly strict all week and the weekends splurge a little guilt free.


  21. Aw, thank you guys so much for the comments. There are a lot of great suggestions here and I am def going to try some of them out. Hopefully I can get this overeating thing under control. 🙂


  22. wow this is such my problem right now… especialy when i’m home by myself (i do live alone in my apt) after work and on the weekends. blogging doesn’t give me enough of a distraction, since i’ll sit there with something at my computer. having meals planned definitely helps, and I’ve stopped alot of my baking so that I don’t eat 3 muffins warm out of the oven. i may eat healthy things, but the amounts i’m eating are certainly not! one day at a time, for sure. and i’m thinking i’ll have to try to think about “just this once” in a different way now–thanks!


  23. I like your suggestions Sagan as well as what Kelly points out – the root cause behind your eating is critical. The other thing that has helped me is to repeatedly praise myself when I do the right thing, like leave the table not stuffed or turning down dessert. That way I associate not overeating with feeling good about myself so I am more likely do not overeat again. Good luck Mary.


  24. Wow. I felt like you were inside my head with your ideas on how to improve overeating/disordered habits!

    I agree with so many things everyone has said. I feel that Kelly’s comment was mostly true. Ultimately, it is a deeper issue than food. However, separating yourself from the food of these food obsessions can give you the distance you need to find the problem and give you the time to deal with the problem.

    I think it does have to do with food! I mean after all, you didn’t turn to alcohol or cigarettes or some other self-destructive behavior- for whatever reason- the resolution to dealing became food, specifically , binge eating/overconsumption.

    So along with figuring out WHY you “must have cake” to make yourself feel better, it is only helpful to remove the cake from your house. Remove those tubs of ice cream, fill your place with healthy foods that you enjoy binge-free.

    This won’t stop you from going to buy trigger foods but it will deter the consumption so that you just might be able to make that “one small change” to lead into larger scale changing while learning how to appropriate “feel” and “deal”

    I often find the less I concern myself with the meal, the better off I am and the less of an issue it becomes. I often remind myself (even if I don’t fully believe it at that second ) that I DO have the power to stop at ANY moment and that stopping at ANY moment will be better than continuing. If for some reason it wasn’t enough food, I can come back in a few hours and eat again.


  25. […] 2009 Last week I received a really touching email from a fellow blogger about how the notion of “just this once” (which we discussed when brainstorming about overeating) made a big difference in her life. I […]


  26. I’m waaay late on this one. But. I have learned to curb overeating by drinking coffee. Appetite suppressant = never hungry any more. And have forced myself not to eat when I’m not hungry. Although actually I am hungry right now, so I’m going to go do that…



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