6 Counterintuitive Reasons Why You Can’t Stop Eating

\You’ve done it again: you’ve just finished off the whole row of cookies when you swore you were only going to have 2.

That was after you’d already finished the left-over birthday cake in the refrigerator.

One round cake-and-cookie filled belly later, you are left now to deal with the emotions that follow after you eat more than you wanted to.

Because I have lived that reality all too many times, I’ve also learned what drives those moments.

Here’s my list of 5 Counterintuitive Reasons Why You Can’t Stop Eating:

1. You’re not starting out eating what you really want.

It’s late afternoon and you’re feeling like you want something sweet…just a little something to take the edge off. You’re not necessarily hungry, but lunch wore off awhile ago. You rationalize that you should go with a piece of fruit, since that’s sweet and basically healthy, rather than what you really want (the icing off the cupcakes sitting in the lunchroom refrigerator).

You wander towards the lunchroom, but pass the vending machine on the way. Ah, pretzels! Those might help curb your craving. It’s not fruit, but it’s still relatively healthy. You get a small bag, open and eat them on the way to the lunchroom.

In the lunchroom, you see the fruitbowl with bananas, oranges and apples. You grab and orange, peel and eat it rather quickly. Still not satisfied. You go for a banana. Nope, that wasn’t it either. Maybe you should just open the ‘fridge and see if those cupcakes are still there…oh, yes. They are.

Damn, they look good, too. The icing looks so fresh and fluffy. Geez, if they sit there for another day, they’ll get stale. They won’t be as good. You might as well eat one, so it doesn’t go to waste.

That was delicious! Well, now that you already ate one…you might as well have another.

Now there’s only one left. Shoot, makes no sense to just leave one there to go to waste. You eat that one, too.

A bag of pretzels, an orange, a banana and 3 cupcakes later, you finally go back to your desk.

Now, if you’d just gone straight for only the icing on the cupcakes (because that’s the part you like best anyway), tossed the rest, you’d have had about 6 tablespoons of icing and that would’ve been it. So you would’ve ended up consuming much less but have been totally satisfied.

2. You check out while you eat.

You’ve had a big day of work and you’re finally unwinding. You put together a healthy meal and cooked a double batch so you’d have left-overs. You sit down to eat and prop your iPad in front of you to flip around through emails and news while you eat. In what seems like only a minute or two, your plate is empty.

You still feel a little hungry. Hmm…there’s still more left on the stove. Maybe just a little more. You get up and get  a second plateful. After you scoop out half of what was left, it looks like such a small amount left that it wouldn’t really make a full meal, anyway. So you scoop the rest and finish it off.

Because your mind didn’t have a chance to focus on what you were eating–what it tasted like, the temperature, the texture–it hasn’t yet caught up with your body. Since you didn’t wait in between helpings, the body wasn’t able to digest fast enough to tell your mind it was satisfied, so your mind still was hungering for more.

3. You get way too hungry before you eat.

27 emails in your inbox, 4 text messages to reply to, a few voicemails and a pile of papers on your desk left from yesterday that you didn’t deal with yet. And your morning is just starting.

Off you go into your day, giving it your all. Taking time to stop at lunch seems like a luxury. You can push through, you’ll be fine. You have too many other things to think about, anyway. Maybe you’ll get something around 3PM. The afternoon rolls on, and suddenly you’re wrapping up your workday and preparing to leave. And you’re famished. The last time you ate was 8AM.

You decide to grab something on the way home instead of waiting to prepare the salad you’d planned for dinner. You pick up the first thing you see when you walk in the local sandwich shop–those yummy pepperoni rolls baked fresh and still warm from the oven. Amazing. You pick up another one for the ride home. Then you come home and make the salad. Still feeling like you’re munchy, you get out the half-pint of ice cream from the freezer to finish. After all, you went the whole day – you only had a smoothie at breakfast. So you had some calories saved up.

When you’re starving, your primal brain takes over–literally, your animal instincts kick in. Your brain is wired to feed you, because it’s job is to keep you alive. So when you get to a depleted state, the primal urges will override the logical thoughts to eat healthy. By nature’s law, you won’t be able to resist your favorite tempting foods when you’re starved. (This happens with sex, too…but that’s another topic.)

4. You’re filling up on empty.

You know you like something sweet after dinner, but you don’t want to eat junk. You’ve found an expanding variety of sugar free candies available at your local grocery store. They have chocolate truffles, Reece cups, Hershey’s chocolates, chocolate peanut clusters, mint patties…almost any candy delight you’d want now in sugar free.

Sugar free has all those strange chemicals. But the candies do suprisingly taste okay. Not as good as the real thing, true. But still not bad. And at 1/2 the calories! And no sugar! It’s a win/win. So you decide to eat 5-6 chocolate peanut clusters after dinner. Yum. Then you go ahead and have some chocolate with caramel, because–after all–they’re sugar free. So not nearly as harmless as the real stuff. 12 pieces of candy later, you call it a night.

The faux candies play weird tricks on your primal brain. You get filled, but it’s not exactly the real thing. So your primal brain, the inner animal that was craving the real thing, is perplexed. Your logical brain rationalizes that it’s less calories, and keeps feeding your primal animal. However, at the end, your animal is left pseudo-satiated.

5. You whole-heartedly believe that you have no control around food.

As many times as you’ve tried to be “normal” and have your favorite foods in the house without eating them all at once, you know that you always cave in after a day or two. You think about the food sitting there..so easily available. It’s your favorite. It feels like every time in the past when you’ve tried to resist and eat only a small portion, it doesn’t work. You can’t maintain your willpower. So, you simply have stopped having your favorite foods around. Now you only have foods you should eat.

When this happens, you are basically badgering yourself at every meal. You’re not giving yourself permission to have what you’d really like, because you tell yourself you don’t have control. So you won’t have control. You can’t act in a way that is directly in opposition of what you believe.

As you start to make it okay to have exactly what you want–no matter how indulgent–your initial urges for whatever junk food you crave most will become satiated. Over time, by checking in with your body to see what it is you really want and how you feel as you eat the food, very naturally your body starts to want the things that makes it feel most alive: whole foods, vegetables, fruits, etc.

But the critical part is going through allowing yourself to have the junk food first. It’s like passing through “Go” in Monopoly. When you allow yourself to have it, you must really embrace it: stay present, savor every bite, really go for it.

6. You’ve made a habit out of one of (or all of) the above.

Regardless of how you got to this situation, now you’ve gotten here…and it was what also happened to you a couple days ago, and a couple days before that. You recognize this familiar situation and know it’s not the first time you’ve responded by eating more than you intended.

Your brain has gotten used to the beliefs or triggers and responses that have led you to overeating.

Once you repeat a series of thoughts and/or behaviors, they become ingrained in your brain. Your brain literally reshapes around the new neural connections you’re making. So it gets easier and easier to do the same thing. So, you may not be overeating today as a response to “avoiding emotions” or “childhood trauma” or whatever conventional therapy suggests. You might be dealing with a very well-ingrained habit. Your behaviors are on autopilot, doing what they’ve gotten used to doing.

It’s going to require serious effort and questioning yourself when you have thoughts to keep eating or to check out.

But it is possible, and probable if you stay committed to getting through it and forming a new habit. Our brains are super efficient, so each time you do it, it gets easier.

If you want to learn how to break through your habit of overeating or binge eating, my Binge Eating Breakthrough ebook is for you. You'll learn powerful tools and distinctions to be able to understand and overcome your urges to eat more than you want. You'll also learn step-by-step strategies for managing your cravings and feeling control with food.

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