If you overeat, hate your body, or believe that losing ten pounds will make you happy, I know how you feel. I’ve been bulimic, an overeater, an overexerciser, a chronic dieter, a health food nut, and have tried every eating plan out there.
The motivation behind my habits was a desire for peace: acceptance of my body, and a healthy relationship with food. I eventually found it, but not from a diet book. Here are my ten tips for overcoming overeating:
1. Embrace your stuff.
Overeating and body hatred are some of my issues. If you’re reading this, it’s also probably one of yours. Embrace it. It’s God’s way of waking you up to your true self: your spirit. Don’t be envious of other women who don’t have food issues. (They have their stuff, too; it’s just in a different form.) For whatever reason, overeating is your issue. Embrace it. It can be your greatest teacher.
2. Unravel your overeating hairball.
Overeating is never about food. I have spent years unraveling my hairball, and have learned so much about myself in the process. I overeat for comfort; to feel nurtured; to escape anxiety, anger and other "bad" feelings. I overeat as a way of keeping me from my life purpose (eating as insulation.) I overeat because I don’t feel worthy of being beautiful. I overeat because I take care of others at my own expense.
Why do you overeat? Are you willing to dig deep?
3. Ask for help.
There is a world of help out there: so many fabulous authors and books. I believe we live in a benevolent universe, and that if you ask for help, all kinds of resources will come to your aid.
While you’re at it, ask other women for help, too. Do you have a friend you can call when you’re feeling a need to binge? Do you have another friend who will be your exercise accountability partner? Do you know someone who will grocery shop with you? Ask.
4. You are not your thoughts.
If your mind tells you you’re fat, you don’t have to believe it. If your mind tells you that you can’t live without a cookie, you don’t have to believe it, either. A thought is just a thought. It doesn’t mean it’s true. Question your thoughts—-they are like clouds in the sky. Your true self, my dear, is the sun.
5. Examine your fear.
Try this exercise: Put your hand on your heart, close your eyes, and breathe deeply for several breaths. Now ask yourself this question: What would I do if I was not afraid? I’ve asked myself this question consistently for several weeks, and have been amazed at the answers. Many are connected to my overeating. I realized I was afraid of being beautiful. I was afraid of embracing my life purpose (it’s scary to share your heart with the world.) I was afraid of scarcity, of there not being enough to go around. What are your fears? I guarantee that your fears and your overeating are good friends.
6. Accept your limitations.
This was a toughie for me. When I was working on healing my overeating, I realized that I didn’t really want to stop overeating. What I really wanted was to be able to eat candy, pastries, ice cream, fried foods, and all sorts of junk and not gain weight. However, accepting myself – I’m sugar sensitive, which means that once I eat a bite of cake I will eat the whole thing – meant accepting that I couldn’t eat sugar.
I have spent several years going off and on sugar. I had to come to the point where I realized that abstaining from sugar isn’t depriving myself, but nurturing myself. What are your limitations? Support yourself by recognizing your triggers.
7. Plan for your success.
Here’s how I plan for my success:
I eat three meals a day, everyday. I do my best to get a good night’s sleep (it’s hard to make healthy food choices when you’re exhausted.) I make time for exercise. I plan my meals and grocery store outings. When I’m going out to dinner, I choose a restaurant that has something healthy for me to eat. At times, I’ve asked my family to hide certain foods from me, to not bring certain foods into the house, and to abstain from certain foods when I’m in the same room. I don’t buy Halloween candy or do Christmas baking. I bring healthy dishes to potlucks so that I know I’ll have something there to eat. I carry food with me when I run errands or will be gone for the day.
Does my list sound too difficult? No, what’s difficult is looking in the mirror and not liking what I see; not being able to fit into my clothes because I’ve been diving into the tortilla chips; hiding myself from the world because I’m depressed. That is hard. Supporting myself is easy.
8. Start where you are.
You can start over, at any time. Did you just gorge yourself on chocolate ice cream? Okay, start over, right now. Put down the spoon. Just because you ate too much ice cream doesn’t mean that you have to add brownies, potato chips, and french fries to your plate. Every moment is a fresh opportunity. Did you overeat yesterday? Start over today: eat a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you fast in a misguided attempt to save calories, you’ll only end up starving at dinner. And guess what? You’ll be primed for another binge.
9. Practice exquisite self care.
If you’re denying your needs for comfort, love, sustenance, joy, and beauty, you will fulfill those needs, somehow. But instead of a pampering bath or a few hours with a novel, you’ll overeat, overspend, drink excessively, gamble, or smoke. Pamper yourself like a queen. Buy yourself flowers. Groom yourself impeccably. Paint your nails. Do whatever makes your heart sing, but do it regularly. Feed your spirit with self care, and your body’s hungers won’t be so demanding.
This last tip sounds almost comical. You might say, “That’s the least of my problems!” But, I realized much of my overeating stemmed from real physical hunger. I was trying to eat as little as possible throughout the day, because I was always on a diet, and so I was starving by dinnertime. Then I’d overeat, not because I had no willpower, but because I was simply hungry.
Here’s the thing: most overeaters want to lose weight. But you may need to focus on one goal at a time. First focus on eating to your balance point. Then, when you’re eating three solid meals a day, on a regular basis, work on losing the weight. It’s very, very hard to stop overeating when you’re starving. Put the weight loss goal aside, just temporarily, while you work on balancing your eating. The irony is that by feeding yourself regularly you will be less inclined to overeat. And guess what? You’ll probably lose weight.
Karly Randolph Pitman is the founder of First Ourselves, helping women love their bodies, feel beautiful, and make self care a priority.