Can’t Stop Overeating? It May be Time to Change How You Think of Food

The reason you’re overeating has nothing to do with food. When it comes to overeating, there is so much more going on beneath the surface. Like drug addiction, overeating can become addictive and stem from genetics, cultural influences, and mental health. If your relationship with food is taking you down a road you don’t want to take; then it’s time to change the way to think about food.

The nitty-gritty of overeating

Overeating occasionally is normal. Who hasn’t had too much turkey or dessert on holidays or special occasions? Even overeating during an emotional crisis can be normal. After all, feeding yourself is a basic way of nurturing your body. Since the day you were born, food has been linked to feelings of love and nurturing. But when overeating gets out of hand — a weakness you can no longer control — there’s something else feeding your hunger. If you continually overeat, you may be using food as your only way of coping with negative emotions — and you may not even realize it.  As a result, you think about food all the time and feel ashamed, guilty, or depressed about your lack of control. 

Is overeating on the same page as drug or alcohol addiction?

Some people who can’t stop overeating have a binge eating disorder (BED). If you have BED, it means you’re compulsively eating large amounts of food in a short amount of time. Generally, feelings of guilt or shame follow. And you do it often — at least once a week for a period of three months suggests WebMD.

A study published in the journal EMBO Reports, suggests that overeating could even be a neurological disorder, like drug addiction. It seems that when it comes to overeating and drug addiction, they both stem from the same imbalance in certain neural pathways. These pathways control urges and also motivate you to eat certain foods or to take drugs. And of course, dopamine, which plays a role in how we feel pleasure, is involved in both overeating and drug use. Each time you overeat, dopamine signals that this activity is worth repeating. The problem is, the more you overeat regularly, the more it messes with your head (so to speak) to the point where overeating dominates your behavior. But it’s important to note, not everyone who overeats is a binger.  For instance, some people overeat because of cultural habits, upbringing, or genetics. Either way, to break the overeating habit, you need to change the way you think of food.

Mindful eating

There’s something you can do to prevent overeating, and the inevitable weight gain that follows, suggests the Cleveland Clinic. It’s called “mindful eating.” It’s not a diet, but a practice that can help you be mindful of your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations when you eat, such as monitoring your hunger levels and making yourself more aware of what you’re eating. Mindful eating evolved from “mindfulness,” the practice of using all of your senses to be fully aware in the present moment. Mindful eating takes the experience of eating to a higher level. It helps you become better aware of your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations connected to eating. As a result, you’ll reconnect with your innate awareness regarding hunger and cues of feeling satiated. Research suggests that mindful eating can decrease episodes of binging, while also improving your sense of self-control regarding food. It also helps contribute to weight loss, diabetes, and depression.  

Mindful eating changes the way you think about food

According to Harvard Health, mindful eating is an ancient practice that can transform the way you think about food and helps prepare you for a lifetime of healthy eating. The best mindful-eating food choices include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils. However, the technique itself can be used even on a cheeseburger and fries. It’s the mere act of paying absolute attention to the food you eat that allows you to indulge in junk food, albeit, less often. In simple terms, mindful eating means learning to be fully attentive to your food — buying it, preparing it, serving it, and eating it. Author, Dr. Lilian Cheung, and co-author, Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist and spiritual leader suggest in their book Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life several practices for mindful eating, including the ones below.

  • When creating your weekly shopping list, reflect on the health benefits of each item on your list. Stick strictly to your list when grocery shopping. Fill your cart with produce and avoid foods, heavily processed foods like candies, chips, and cookies.
  • It’s ok to be hungry when you sit down to a meal, but not ravenous. Don’t skip meals. Doing so will make filling your stomach the priority rather than enjoying your food.
  • Apply portion control and begin with a small portion. Reduce your plate size if necessary.
  • Learn to appreciate your food by pausing for a minute or two before eating to reflect on everyone and everything it took to bring the meal to your table. In your mind, be grateful for the opportunity to enjoy the tasty food and the family and friends you’re enjoying it with.
  • Take small bites and savor your food completely. Try identifying all the ingredients, especially seasonings. Between bites, put down your utensil.
  • When you chew, chew until you can taste the true flavor of the food. That could mean chewing for 20 to 40 chews depending on the food.
  • Eat slowly and dedicate at least five minutes to the act of mindful eating before you talk with your friends and family.

The bottom line: Although you may feel in control in other areas of your life, you may not when it comes to food. If the way you eat and think about food feels wrong, then maybe it’s time to change your thinking and try mindful eating.

-Katherine Marko

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