It can be really easy to feel stuck in a cycle of restricting and overeating. Old habits. Old beliefs. Old stories. In this blog I delve into how you can get unstuck from your unhealthy eating and stop overeating habits.
How to stop overeating habits
Over the years, through behavioural patterns you repeat, you have created a neural pathway in your brain that has created these habits with food and eating.
If you instinctively reach for a coffee the moment you wake up in the morning, you have a habit. By the same token, if you feel inclined to lace up your running shoes and go for a run as soon as you get home from work, you have a habit.
Old habits die hard, and creating healthy eating habits that last more than a couple of weeks can often be harder to develop than we would all like.
However, the good news is, through repetition, it’s possible to form—and maintain—new healthy eating habits that last and stop the overeating cycle. Even long-term habits that are detrimental to your health, wellbeing, and happiness can be tamed and stopped with enough practice and a smart approach.
Maybe you find yourself having the same conversations in your head over and over:
“It’s Monday, I’m going to be good today and start my diet”.
“It’s Monday, I better weigh myself and get back on track”.
Perhaps you retreat towards the same patterns of eating behaviour when you feel stressed, overloaded and overwhelmed:
“I know I shouldn’t eat this, but I deserve a treat!”.
“She/he made me angry. I need chocolate and/or a glass of wine!”.
But feeling stuck is just that – a feeling. No matter how many times you fall into old ruts with eating, you can change your overeating habits. Knowing that is the first step to getting “unstuck” with unhealthy and unwanted overeating habits.
Changing your overeating habits may require professional help, but understanding the basic principles of behaviour change can give you a head start on the process.
How to stop overeating habits
1. Decide if you really want to change
This might sound like a really stupid question…of course, you want to change your eating habits and behaviours, right?
But many people say that want to change their relationship with food and their bodies, and then never do what it takes to actually, permanently change it. I’m not saying it’s easy. It can be a little scary, to begin with. But you have to really want to change it. You have to hit rock bottom, be fed up and done with the restrict-binge-guilt cycle. No more dieting. Commit to trying another way.
Additionally, all psychological models of change emphasise the importance of commitment as a necessary first step. If you don’t see a problem, you won’t work on changing your behaviour. The more honest you are with yourself about the nature and destruction of your eating habits on yourself and others, the more likely you will be to start on the path toward change.
2. Gain insight into what is causing the habit
Once you figure out your inner motives and the incentives that are driving your habits, it will help you change them and stop the overeating cycle.
Slow down and take a good honest look at the situations and experiences that lead up to you acting out your habits. It’s possible (I’ve seen it with clients) that your behaviour is motivated by an unconscious, self-defeating need to sabotage yourself.
Do you unconsciously try to thwart your own success because you don’t feel you deserve to do well in life?
Do you fail to engage in healthy habits because you don’t think your body deserves to be treated well?
Everyone responds to reinforcements (the rewards that strengthen our habits). Some unwanted habits like emotional eating feel good, so we keep repeating them. Eating may also make other problems such as stress, loneliness, and boredom temporarily go away, and this instant relief becomes yet another source of reinforcement.
3. Set realistic goals
Your habits have taken years to establish themselves. So please understand, you’re not going to change them overnight. As much as we love a quick-fix, they just don’t work long-term. You want a permanent solution. Not an exhausting cycle of victory and failure.
So, decide on what you would like to achieve and HOW YOU WOULD LIKE TO FEEL (super important) and set realistic and flexible goals and a schedule that will work for you based on your values, available time and resources, etc.
Getting your body moving and overcoming a sedentary lifestyle is a great example of how you can proceed through this step.
Don’t set yourself up to fail. Saying you’re going to go to the gym five days a week when you’re currently not going at all won’t work. You will likely not achieve that and then use your failure as proof that you can’t change or the process doesn’t work.
Start off slow (two or three times a week), and gradually increase if you want to. Doing something is always better than doing nothing.
4. Be mindful of your progress and don’t be discouraged by slip-ups
If you’re going to reach your ultimate goal, you will need to know how well you’re traveling. Achieving your smaller goals you’ve set as first steps is a good way to see if what you’re trying to achieve is happening for you. This means that you may want to keep a diary or journal. Keeping a journal is hard evidence of what is working and what is not. It’s something that you can look back on with curiosity and make the necessary changes if needed.
Your motivation to change will be fired up in part by the rewards you get from your new behaviours.
However, even the most dedicated and determined people experience slip-ups. Lady, you’re human after all and the road to food and body peace is rarely linear. So please do not beat yourself up. If you use that slip as “proof” that you can never change, you will in indeed, never change.
It’s important to get back on the horse so-to-speak and learn from the experience. What can that experience teach you for next time? How can you approach things differently?
Additionally, sometimes the pleasure of engaging in the habit outweighs the frustration of changing the habit. This will certainly happen in the beginning. Don’t give up! Note these experiences in your journal, but if they keep happening and you just can’t make the change, you may need to adjust your reward system or move to Step 5.
5. Seek support if your habits are proving hard to change
One of the best ways to build your inner resilience is by looking outward for support. If you’re having trouble making these changes on your own consistently and long-term, reach out to your friends, family, or perhaps an eating behaviour and body image professional.
Group exercise programs may be more motivating and fun than going on your own if you’re wanting to be more active. Zumba is SO much fun (don’t worry if you’re uncoordinated, you won’t be the only one!). Having fun is the key to sustainable physical activity and making it a habit.
If you’re afraid that reaching out to an eating behaviour and body image professional will be time-consuming, expensive, or just not worth it, you may be surprised to learn that many of my clients have changed decade-long habits in as little as 4 or 5 sessions (3 months).
They were just like you when they started. Doubting they could change. Believing it would be just like another diet they would fail at. But they did it and their lives have transformed because of it.
Furthermore, needing help doesn’t mean you’ve failed.
It just means the change you desire is going to require more resources than you initially anticipated. And that’s totally normal. You’re not alone in that.
The next time you find yourself on autopilot, take a moment to (gently) knock yourself off that well-worn path you’ve walked for years and begin a new one. Step outside of unhealthy or tired routines and try something new. We create new neural pathways every time we experience something new and different.
Remember, your past might set a precedent, but it need not be your present. There are other ways to feel good about eating, body, weight, and self. They might be unconventional and require an open mind, but if you’re still reading, I think this is just the thing you need.
Open yourself up to change and get “unstuck” from an unhealthy eating mindset and stop overeating habits. I promise you it will be worth it.
If this is a problem you’re currently experiencing, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me here>>