I Finally Taught Myself to Stop Overeating—Here's How
Confession: I've been prone to overeating ever since I can remember. I grew up in a household that equated food with love. Where "eat everything on your plate" was an order, not a suggestion. My dad, even now, has a habit of super-sizing my meals as if I'm prepping to join a sumo training school. I eat when I'm bored (usually after dinner, when I am most definitely not hungry), and I eat "because it's there". Also? I have terrible self control when it comes to snacking. On the odd occasion I open a bag of salt and vinegar Kettle chips (*insert Homer Simpson-esque "mmm..." here), there's a good chance I'll finish them in one go. This isn't too frequent an occurrence (I have anxiety which means I tend to avoid simple carbs and sugar simply because they turn my brain into a bushfire), but it does happen. For me, overeating is more about stuffing my stomach to the brim with regular food at, and after, meal times. I'd more likely go ham on my turkey stir-fry lunch than I would a block of Dairy Milk.
Up to one-third of young Australian women experience episodes of binge or overeating.
Here's the thing: Overeating isn't abnormal. In fact, studies show that up to one-third of young Australian women experience episodes of binge or overeating. What it IS, is problematic. Especially if it leaves you consumed with shame. (*raises hand*) It would be remiss of me not to mention binge eating disorder here, a mental health condition characterised by frequent incidences of eating an extreme amount of food in a short amount of time. To be clear, that's not what I'm talking about. For me, the most worrying episodes are times where, after dinner, I'll continue eating whatever I can find even though I know I'm not hungry. When this happens, I go into a trance-like state that continues with me munching until I feel physically sick. I do this most when I'm having a tough time emotionally, and have learned that the feeling of self-loathing that follows effectively crowds out whatever else it is I don't want to feel. So, I can practically hear you asking, if I can acknowledge all this, why can't I just stop? The truth is, I've tried. I've adopted (and given up on) dozens of strategies meant to correct overeating. None have stuck...until now.
THE EUREKA MOMENT
Just before the end of last year, I had surgery. For the first few days afterward, my brain was awash with codeine and there wasn't much to do but sleep. But then, once I had watched all of Netflix, I got bored. REALLY bored. I couldn't get out of bed which meant I was left with an unprecedented amount of reflection time. What followed was an epiphany of sorts. Somewhere between planning my 2018 New Year's resolutions and over-ordering on Uber Eats, I recognised the roadblock that stood between me and the ability to stop using food as medication. It struck me that it was stupidly simple. But now, after three weeks of following my new game plan, I think I've finally figured it out.
Keep scrolling to discover how I finally taught myself to stop overeating.
So what made all the difference? What I'm coining "self-conditioned mindfulness". If you just rolled your eyes, stay with me. I promise I'm not about to suggest you meditate until the desire to eat miraculously disappears. Instead, I'll share the one simple mind trick that has helped me where zillions of other suggestions have failed. Ready? Before I eat, I ask myself this question: "Will this [insert food or drink here] nourish me?" Depending on the answer, I eat or walk away. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but it works. The act of taking a moment to be present forces me to make a thoughtful decision rather than surrender to an overeating episode. A few things to note: My idea of "nourishment" includes both red wine and chicken schnitzel. There are moments in which a delicious Shiraz does my mind good. I'm not suggesting you use this technique as a restrictive diet. (Remember, those don't work.)
If your problems with overeating (like mine) stem from a learned habit of switching to autopilot wherever food is involved, you might want to give this simple trick a try. I’m not claiming that it's a cure-all for everyone, but I am saying this—it's free, and it doesn't rely on willpower (which has never worked long-term for me). After three weeks of practice, I can honestly say the hardest part is remembering to ask myself the question before any food or drink passes my lips. Additionally, I've found that keeping on top of my water intake goes a long way towards preventing the impulse to stuff my face to begin with. As we know, thirst is often confused with hunger. Drinking three litres in a day keeps me well hydrated, and less likely to eat when I'm not genuinely famished. (I am never more than arm's reach away from a BKR bottle, $66.)