- Eat only when physiologically hungry. Compulsive overeating is often caused by an attempt to fill or suppress some emotional need or state by stuffing the feelings down with an excess amount of food. It is important to be able to differentiate between actual physiological hunger and emotional appetite. In order to do this, one must pay close attention to the desire to eat at the time it arises in order to see if there is an actual need for food or if there is some feeling arising that one doesn’t want to experience. If it is found that the latter is the case, it would be good to pay attention to the feeling that is seeking to be known and to get to know it. Stay with the feeling for as long as is possible – ideally, long enough for it to be fully experienced and resolved internally without needing to resort to food as a palliative. This is a skill that one becomes increasingly proficient at with practice over time. It is part of your therapist’s job to help you learn this skill, so don’t hesitate to ask for help. When one can see into and work through the underlying emotional issues that drive one to overeat, the problem is healed at its source. This is why most diets don’t work – they never get to the heart of the matter.
- Stop eating when satiated. There’s a saying: “Three-fifths of a full stomach sustain the person; the other two-fifths sustain the doctor.” Pay close attention to your food consumption so you can become aware of when you have reached the point of satiety – where you have satisfied your physiological need for food intake. This means you will have to eat more consciously than you have probably been used to. Make eating a kind of meditation: don’t distract yourself with television, reading, conversation, or anything else. If you are distracted, you will not notice when you have reached the point of satiety. If you notice that you still have a desire to eat more food beyond this point, see if there’s an emotional basis for this desire and, once again, work with the feeling to get to know it and work it through internally. Some “tricks” that people have found helpful to accomplish this task follow:
– Put aside (or away) ½ of what you dish out for yourself, eating the first half, then waiting 20 minutes for the food to reach the stomach/satiety center before you decide whether or not to eat more.
– Put your fork down between bites.
– Journal before and after you eat to gain awareness.
- Chew your food thoroughly. Some people say to chew each bite of food 50 times. What I would like to suggest to you is that you chew your food until you notice a change in the taste. This means that the digestive enzymes in your saliva have done their work, the food has been acted upon and is now ready to go into the stomach where the stomach enzymes can do their work. If you don’t digest your food properly in this way, it cannot be assimilated and your body will not get the nutrients it needs from the food you eat. Your body will continue to experience physiological hunger because it still needs the nutrients it craved to begin with.
- Eat healthy food. It is highly advisable to work with a like-minded nutritionist for advice on what to eat, how to eat, what portion sizes are reasonable, keeping a food/eating diary that includes emotional states, etc. Take a good quality (preferably natural) multi-vitamin/mineral supplement daily to ensure that you are getting all the vitamins and minerals your body requires. If you’re not sure about a high-quality daily supplement, ask a knowledgeable health food store owner for recommendations.
- Exercise is a must – an absolute must! Diets, by themselves, don’t work because lowering caloric intake without increasing metabolic rate sets the body into starvation mode (i.e. high fat-storage mode). Some authorities say you have to start with exercise and do it for a while before even changing how you eat. If you are not in good physical condition, you will need to consult with a personal trainer at least, or an exercise physiologist to help you plan an exercise program. Get with the program! by Bob Greene is a good starting point.
6. For one week, experiment with the following to see what effect each may have on your overeating:
- Graze: Instead of eating two or three big meals each day, break meals down into smaller portions and eat more often – six or seven very small meals.
- Completely eliminate sugar from your diet. You will have to read labels very carefully to make sure you are not eating foods with “hidden” sugars (of any kind – sucrose, dextrose, maltose, lactose, etc.) in them. Many people are sugar addicted (ref: Sugar Blues, by William F. Dufty) and this exercise can help break that addiction.
- Significantly decrease the amount of carbohydrates you eat, especially refined carbohydrates (i.e., most breads, pastas, etc.).
- Increase your protein consumption. Eat a lot of eggs, dairy, soy, seeds and nuts, and meat.
- Eat as many vegetables (esp.) and fruits as you like.
- Drink as much water (purified or spring water) as you can.
7. Read any of Geneen Roth’s books on the emotional causes of overeating. Also, Overcoming Overeating by Hirschmann and Munter is an excellent book on the topic.
- If it is useful (reduces vs. increases anxiety, increases confidence), weigh yourself weekly.