Overcoming The One Craving That’s Really Hurting Your Health (That Stuffed Feeling)
We all overeat sometimes. Sometimes we don’t mind it, and other times we really don’t want to — we know it’s not good for us, we want to stop, but for some reason we can’t rid ourselves of our addiction to that stuffed feeling.
Naive individuals would ask why? Why don’t you just stop overeating, because is the solution not that simple?
It’s Not About Information Deficit. It’s Not About Self-Will.
How we currently discuss overeating addictions is incredibly ineffective, if not flat-out harmful. Public policy makers and healthcare professionals, although with the best intentions, will often treat the issue as an information deficit:
Teach the young about healthy eating habits. Encourage adults to read nutritional labelling.
Other professionals will call out the individuals themselves, criticizing them for poor self-will.
They could help themselves if they wanted to, but they don’t have self discipline.
But is this really the case?
To someone who has struggled with their own health and eating habits, for such a painful experience to be defined in such blunt, blaming terms is not just unproductive, but also feels quite cruel. No one who is reaching for a donut is under the impression that it is good for them, least of all someone who is already struggling with their health and has been spending months or years pouring over the latest health information trying to understand a strategy that will help them overcome their self-sabotaging behavior.
Tali Sharot, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, studies human behavior and how we can work with it to make decisions that are better for our wellbeing. Her work is focused on human optimism bias, and how people are more receptive to positive information about themselves — you can read more here — and given this, she gives three main strategies for effective behavior change:
- Social Incentive — when we have social proof of good behavior it motivates us to make better decisions
- Immediate Reward — when good behavior is instantly gratified we are more likely to continue it
- Progress Monitoring — when we can concretely see the benefits of good behavior we are more like to engage in it
The Strategies That Worked For Me
Applying her research and my own experience, I outline to you three actually effective strategies for helping curb mindless overeating habits.
1) Social Incentive: Eat with like-minded people
Something that has personally helped me was just eating with people who also ate healthily. Not necessarily ketogenic carb-free health nuts, but with people who ate like I wanted to — they chose whole foods-based meals, ate in moderate quantities, and treated themselves to delicious looking meals.
This could mean eating with friends, eating with co-workers, or anyone else who you look up to for their healthy eating habits.
2) Immediate Reward: After eating, reward yourself with something you enjoy
I’m not talking about rewarding yourself with food or money, but rewarding yourself with a special activity. For example, I would often put on my favorite Netflix show and set aside time to watercolor. My hands were busy, I couldn’t eat and paint at the same time, and most importantly my mind was engaged with something that brought me joy.
Other activities include walks outside, online window shopping, reading, knitting, and working on my side business. These were activities that I genuinely enjoyed engaging in but didn’t have time to pursue during the day. So instead of reaching for seconds or a large dessert that I didn’t even really want, I would put away my dishes and look forward to these special activities.
3) Progress Monitoring: Write it down!
You don’t need to announce your accomplishments to the world, but keeping a private journal or notebook where you track your eating habits is not a bad place to start. Having something like this to track is a great start:
You can download this chart for free from my website if you’d like. Just navigate to the downloads page.
Over the days, you get to see how you’re doing, and if you’re doing a better job at eating at harahachi-bunme (8/10s your stomach, or 80% full — you can read more about the importance of harahachi-bunme in my other article!). It’s a seemingly small accountability habit, but human desire for consistency is actually a great motivator to maintain daily health habits.
I Want to Leave You With Tools to Help Yourself
If you are struggling with overeating, I recommend that...
- You download the above photo to your phone.
- Share it on Facebook or keep it on your phone in your screenshots or Favorites album, and refer to it when you find yourself without direction.
- Just somewhere where you can keep the reminder in your back pocket!
The important thing to remember is food is not “good” or “bad”, and in the oddest way, if you admonish yourself for very human behavior, you exacerbate the self-perpetuating cycle of: “I did a regretful thing, I am disappointed in myself, and so I am going to engage in that self-sabotaging behavior more.” — Just keep moving forward, keep working on it, and keep helpful resources and reminders where it’s most accessible to you.
Work with human nature rather than against it, and treat yourself with kindness and care. I hope that I have inspired you toward a more balanced way of eating and healthier relationship with food.
If you enjoyed this article or found it useful, please let me know by reaching out at firstname.lastname@example.org! I would love to hear from you, and would like to support your own health journey in any way possible. We all have our roadblocks, but I hope to empower you with the belief that you can control your own well-being.