Many people who find themselves battling overeating patterns think that they just need to try harder. They just need to have more willpower, stop being lazy, shame themselves into change. These strategies rarely work for more than a few weeks. To understand patterns of overeating, it is important to know why these patterns start to form in the first place.
- Deprivation- Our brain is hardwired to prevent us from starving. Over time, some of the wiring gets off course and we think that not allowing ourselves to have certain foods feels like starvation on some level. On top of that, most of us have a defiant streak and as soon as we are told no, we want it more. Depriving ourselves of certain foods like carbs sets our brain to famine mode and as soon as we do allow ourselves to eat the forbidden food, we overeat.
- Too long since last meal. Waiting too long between meals really sets our famine brain on fire. If you allow your blood sugar to get too low, you will most likely overeat because your brain feels like it is starving. It doesn’t trust that the next opportunity to eat will come, so it wants you to take in as much food as possible when it is available. The other downside to this pattern is the impact on your metabolism. When you chronically engage in this cycle, your body lowers your metabolism just in case you don’t feed it as much or as often as it needs. Not only do you overeat, but you gain weight to ensure survival.
- I’ve been “good” all day. People tend to eat in a pretty balanced way throughout the day due to the structure work provides for meals. Often people can also under eat which sets up the pattern mentioned above. So, let’s assume you haven’t overeaten throughout the day, but you have been “good” by eating the foods you know you “should”. This sets up two patterns. 1) You feel the need to reward yourself and or 2) you struggle with the defiance mentioned above. Either way, it will probably throw you into a shame cycle where you find yourself overeating and shaming yourself only to eat more because you’ve already “blown” it.
- Avoiding emotions. I still don’t quite understand why our culture is so fearful of emotion. Why are we scared to feel our feelings? The chemical reaction that takes place in our brain when we have an emotion lasts 90 seconds. If we acknowledge the emotion, the experience generally lasts a few minutes. The trouble comes when we avoid the emotion. We shove it down with food and ignore it. When we do that, the intensity increases exponentially and doesn’t truly go away until we deal with it.
Understanding these patterns associated with overeating can be incredibly helpful in allowing you to overcome your emotional connections to food. The key is always balance!