Ep #105: Habits, Overeating, and Your Brain: What You Need to Know

Strong is a Mindset with Carrie Holland | Habits, Overeating, and Your Brain: What You Need to Know
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A habit is made up of three essential parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward. If your habit is overeating, your cue could be any kind of trigger, whether that’s a time of day, encountering a person, or feeling an emotion. If you eat chocolate after dinner, dinner being cleared is your trigger, regardless of whether or not you’re hungry. The routine is eating the chocolate. And the reward is the feeling you get when you eat chocolate.

When it comes to habits, your brain is on autopilot. It’s a predictable routine that you get some pleasure from. The tricky thing is, we don’t continue with habits that don’t make us feel better in some way. So, while overeating causes us pain in the long run, we keep doing it because it feels good in the moment. So, how can you break these kinds of habitual patterns that may feel amazing in the moment but leave you feeling negatively about yourself?

Tune in this week to discover one powerful question to break the cycle of the bad habits that make you feel terrible about yourself. Whether you want to eat better, exercise more, or change anything in your life, this episode will help you develop and stick with the habits that will make your dreams a reality.

Are you ready to eat, move, and think in a way that gets you strong both physically and mentally? You deserve to have both no matter how busy you are, and I can help. I’m opening up my one-on-one coaching program for new clients, and I would love to work with you. Click here to learn more about working with me.

Get access to my collection of books that changed my life here! Check it out and find your next great read.

What You Will Discover:

  • How to understand the cycle of your habits.
  • What it means to be stuck in miserable comfort.
  • How limiting beliefs about ourselves become a habit.
  • Why we don’t stick with habits that don’t bring us pleasure and make us feel good in the moment.
  • How your primitive brain kicks in when you’re under stress, and why your primitive brain doesn’t have the same long-term goals you do.
  • A powerful question to disrupt the current cycle of your bad habits.
  • How to reward yourself for sticking with good habits instead of falling into bad ones, balancing instant and delayed gratification.

Listen to the Full Episode:

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Full Episode Transcript:

This is the Strong Is a Mindset podcast, Episode #105. If you’re trying to break a habit, let’s talk about an essential question to ask yourself in order to do it.

This is the Strong Is a Mindset podcast, where you’ll learn how to build both a strong body and a strong mind by eating, moving, and thinking. I’m your host Physician, Personal Trainer, Certified Health Coach and Certified Life Coach, Carrie Holland.

Hey, how are you? What’s new, what’s good? So, what’s good here, we are going to talk about habits today. Now, if you’ve been around here at all, you know that I’m a huge habit nerd. And I love pulling apart your behaviors and tendencies, finding the subtleties in your habits, and then discovering how you can leverage your brain to change your actions and create new behaviors.

I mean, that’s really a lot of what I get to do all day. I get to talk with women about their behaviors, whether those behaviors are related to eating, moving or thinking, and we find their patterns. And I really do think of habits as patterns. We all have them. I’ve said it plenty of times already, but remember that even your thoughts are a habit.

So, think about that. What are some of the things that you say or believe about yourself that are on repeat? What are the sentences that you say or think to yourself that you don’t even really think about, they just come out of your mouth, or they play like soundtracks in your brain?

Those sentences are habit. Remember, thoughts are habit too. I know I have a number of them. For example, I have shared it before on the podcast and I’ll share it again here, but I don’t cook, I burn. So, that is my thought. It’s most definitely a thought habit.

And while I think it’s mostly the truth for me, and probably my family would agree, if I’m really honest, there are times that I actually don’t burn dinner. There are meals that I make that don’t taste like burned, charred stuff; not many, but I don’t always ruin dinner. But I have a long-held belief about myself that I am just not great in the kitchen. I say it all the time, “I don’t cook, I burn.” It’s a thought habit.

So then, when I turn up charred burritos for the 100th time, or when Adam walks through the door and says, “Hmm, it smells burn-y in here,” or my kids are shaking their heads as they scrape the char off their grilled cheese that I burned, it all syncs up. I’ve proven that I don’t cook, I burn. What I believe, I will go and find the evidence to prove correct. And then, the habit reinforces itself.

That’s just one small example. But on a deeper level, there may be other thoughts that are not as innocuous, that are causing you more harm than good. For me, mine was, and admittedly still is sometimes, “I am broken. I come from broken, therefore I am broken.” That was my thought habit. And while I didn’t go and say that out loud to people, it was most definitely the soundtrack playing in my head.

It was the sentence that came up in my brain anytime anything went wrong in my life or relationships. So, the answer was always the same. “Of course, I wasn’t in the ‘in crowd’ in high school, I’m broken. Of course, communicating with my husband is hard for me, I’m broken. Of course, I can’t leave my job and start a business, I am broken.”

If you have a similar sentence that you’re telling yourself, if you have a thought that you have practiced long enough that it has become your belief, I get you. I hear you. But if that thought is keeping you from growing and evolving, or if it’s keeping you from living as your highest self, then maybe it’s worth the time to explore it.

To do that, to explore the thoughts that you’ve turned into limiting beliefs about yourself, I would encourage you to ask a couple of questions about that belief.

One, is that sentence that you’re telling yourself, is it the absolute truth? How does believing that sentence help you? What do you get by holding on to that sentence? What do you get by holding on to that belief about yourself? And this last one is an interesting one. We hold on to beliefs that hurt us, but why? If we can control our thoughts and control our beliefs, why do we choose to hold on to beliefs that do not help us?

It comes back to miserable comfort. That’s my term, “miserable comfort”. So, miserable comfort… Again, if you haven’t heard it before, it’s exactly as it sounds… it doesn’t feel good. In fact, it can be very painful to hold on to limiting beliefs, but it’s comfortable, so your brain accepts it as safe. And over time, it’s what your brain knows and looks for. Because even though it’s painful, it’s what you know, so it’s safe. It’s a miserable comfort.

I’ll be the first to admit, pulling apart your limiting beliefs, those sentences that are not helping you, pulling them apart is not easy. Those questions I gave you, those questions are not easy questions to answer. But it’s only when you’re willing to dive in and ask those sometimes hard but curious questions that you get insight. That’s how you get inner wisdom. That’s how you learn more about yourself.

I would encourage you to not accept “That’s just how I am. That’s the way I’ve always been.” No, don’t accept that as fact. Be willing to have a little internal debate with yourself. Be willing to question that. Do not let your past predict your future, that is entirely selling yourself short. Okay? Ask for more of yourself. Do not just accept “That’s just how I am.” That is stopping the conversation very prematurely.

And I know when I suggest that you go to bat and debate with yourself over your limiting beliefs, that might sound funny. But honestly, it’s essential. Pulling apart and questioning your limiting beliefs will help you dismantle them, and it will make room in your brain for new beliefs about yourself.

Because, and this is a key takeaway here, changing your beliefs about yourself is not going to come from outside. It is not going to come from your partner telling you how awesome you are. It’s not going to come from your boss giving you a high-five and saying, “Good job.” It’s not going to come from your in-laws giving you a nod of approval. Trust me, I have tried this approach, looking for it from the outside, and it does not work. Okay?

Changing your thought habits is not just going to come from me telling you, “Hey, you are not broken.” I can certainly give you the tools, I can cheer you on, I can coach you, and I can offer you alternative thoughts to practice that might feel better than some of the current thoughts you have about yourself. But the real change, that’s going to come from within. It’s going to come from you being willing to do a deeper dive and unraveling the beliefs that you have about yourself.

So, that’s something to consider going forward. What are the thought habits that you’ve got on repeat in your head? What are the sentences you say to yourself, or say about yourself, that are not helping you or that are keeping you totally stuck where you are? Are you willing to pull them apart? Are you willing to let them go in exchange for different thought habits that lead to better results in your life?

That’s it. In all honesty, it starts by being willing. You want to change how you think about yourself? Start by being willing to see yourself in a different way. And I know that may sound completely obvious to you, but I think it bears spelling out. You’ve got to be willing to accept that what you’ve always believed about yourself may not be the absolute truth. You have to be willing to let go of your long-held, tightly held beliefs about yourself. You have to be willing to prove yourself wrong. Ew, I know.

That’s when this personal development stuff gets hard. Because who likes to be wrong? Who likes to be wrong about themselves? And that’s exactly what I’m asking you to do. I’m asking you to be willing to be wrong about your tightly held stories. I’m asking you to prove to yourself that you are not broken.

You’ve got to be willing to let go. You’ve got to be willing to let go of the limiting beliefs that are keeping you right where you are. And that feels uncomfortable. I’m still working on it myself, and I will probably continue to work on it for as long as I want to grow and evolve and stretch myself. But I will take that discomfort, the discomfort of trying new beliefs that maybe might serve me better, I will take that discomfort over miserable comfort any day, hands down.

I don’t want to hold on to the tired belief that I’m broken. I don’t want to keep coming back to the same old story I keep telling myself; it’s old, it’s tired, and I know what it gets me. I want more. So, I am done being broken. But to do that, I have to grow up. I have to swallow my pride. I have to admit to myself, and sometimes even to other people, that I am wrong. I have to be willing to feel all of that.

And I am, I’m willing, most of the time anyway. This isn’t easy. I’ll be the first to say it. But this work is most definitely worth it. Now that I’m doing it and I’m in it, and I’m willing to try something different, I can wholeheartedly say it’s worth it. It’s worth it to practice believing new and different things about yourself. And it feels so much better than being stuck in the limiting bubble of

“I am broken”, or whatever sentence it is that’s holding you back. That was a much longer introduction to habit and limiting beliefs than I intended, but I’m just going to run with it. I feel so strongly about this, and this is such a key foundational step to changing the way you think, that I think it’s worth it to dive in. This really is the key to changing how you think about, and in turn, how you talk to yourself. It’s being willing to dissect your beliefs about yourself in exchange for newer, better beliefs that you can practice thinking and turn into habits. Okay?

Now, let’s totally switch direction here and talk about another important concept related to habit. We’re going to pick apart a key question for you to consider when you’re trying to break a habit. I work with a lot of women who are trying to break the habit of emotional eating. So, I’m going to put it in the context of that. But really, what we’re talking about today applies to any habit you’re trying to stop.

First, let me set this up for you. Remember what we know about habits. Depending on what books you’ve read, you’ll learn that a habit is made up of a few different parts. I’m giving you what I learned from reading Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit. But there are numerous iterations of this depending on which book you read.

So, habits are made up of three essential parts: the cue, a routine and a reward. The cue, which is also sometimes called a “trigger”, that’s the thing that tells you, “Hey, go into the habit.” Your cue can be anything; a time, location, a person, an emotion, or even a preceding event.

For example, for many of you, you have a habit of having chocolate or something sweet after dinner. So, when the table is cleared, everything is put away, and dishes are in the dishwasher, that’s your trigger to head to the pantry for something like, a piece of chocolate, a cookie, some candy.

Often, you’re not even hungry, but you eat the chocolate anyway because that’s just what you always do. Dinner’s done, everything’s cleaned up, and you get your piece of chocolate. It’s a habit. The trigger is the end of dinner cleanup; once everything is put away, there’s your cue to head to the pantry.

And then, eating the chocolate, there’s your routine. So, the routine is pretty straightforward. The routine, that’s the habit or the behavior itself. There’s usually little to no thought involved when you’re actually doing the habit. And that’s by design, because your brain has put the behavior on autopilot; dinner, dishes, shut down the kitchen, chocolate. You don’t think, you just do. You head to the pantry and pull up the chocolate; it’s predictable, it’s automated, it’s a routine.

And then, that routine results in some sort of reward. So, the reward is what you get from executing the habit. We could spend quite a while talking about the reward you get from your habits, but I’m going to keep it very simple. The reward that you get from executing your habit is that you feel better. Whether that’s drowning out the noise of your kids screaming with a big spoonful of ice cream. Or escaping the hurt after an argument with your partner. Or calming the stress of a very long day at work.

The idea is, the habit makes you feel better. So, this is where it gets tricky and interesting. We generally don’t do habits that don’t make us feel better, right? Your brain, I’ve said it many times, is super smart. Its three main goals are to seek pleasure, avoid pain, and exert as little energy as possible.

So, if our brain wants to seek pleasure, why do we repeatedly do certain habits that ultimately cause pain? As an example, let’s go back to stress eating. Right here and now, at this very moment, I’m assuming you’re not stressed. You’re not in the middle of an argument with your partner. You’re not having to discipline any small humans or animals running amok, right?

Assuming all of that is true for you, right in this moment as you’re listening to this podcast, you can tell yourself and me that you know stress or emotional eating does not help you. You can say with clarity that emotional eating doesn’t help you, because it can lead to weight gain, it can lead you to feel shame, have all kinds of other negative feelings about yourself, and it can harm your relationship with yourself and with food.

I think we can all agree on that for right now, while everything is calm. But then, what happens when you’ve had the worst day ever? What happens when your kids are screaming their heads off? Or they’re complaining they’re bored and can’t entertain themselves for even five minutes and resort to making all kinds of sounds with their bodies ‘just because’?

Or what happens when you’ve had a huge fight with your spouse, or you’ve just come out of a meeting where your boss gave you negative feedback, or your in-laws are driving you crazy? What happens when any one of those situations arises and your usual response to those situations is to eat, then what?

Well, your rational brain knows that stress eating does not help you in the long term. Your logical, thinking, planning brain, it knows that. Your evolved brain can think ahead and know that stress eating after an argument with your spouse or your boss is not going to help you in the long run. But your logical, evolved brain, it is not driving the bus when you’re stressed or sad or scared or anxious.

When you have negative emotions to deal with, especially stressful ones, your logical brain basically taps out and turns off. So, remember this, when emotion is high, cognition is low. Your evolved brain is not performing at its best when you’re having a strong emotion. I think of it like the adult evolved brain is basically snoring, it goes to sleep.

So, what happens when your evolved, logical thinking brain goes offline because you’re stressed? That’s when your primitive brain takes over. And your primitive brain doesn’t care about a month from now, when you want to fit into that dress for an event. It doesn’t care what the scale will say three days from now. Your primitive brain only cares about right now. It cares about feeling good right now, in the moment.

That’s the survival part of your brain talking, and it’s not thinking ahead to two weeks from now. So, that means when you’re stressed, your primitive brain and its desires take over. That part of your brain really does not give a hoot about what the scale will say in a few days, or whether or not you can fit into that dress a month from now. Your brain is simply telling you, “Hey, we need to feel better and we need to do it stat.”

Then all of your rational thinking goes out the window and you’re headed to the pantry in no time. And once you eat the chocolate, or once you turn on Facebook and zone out, or once you go to Amazon and start loading your cart, you feel better. That behavior gives you the hit of dopamine your brain is looking for. Then your brain calms down, you breathe a sigh of relief, and there’s your reward, you feel better.

So, you can think of it as a habit recipe: “When I feel stressed, I eat chocolate.” There’s your habit loop. “When I feel sad, I shop and spend money on stuff I don’t need.” There’s your loop. You’ve named the trigger, and you’ve named the routine. Invariably, the reward boils down to the same thing, “I feel better.” In the short term anyway.

And that’s just it, that’s the sticky part. Your primitive brain only cares about the here and now, it’s all about instant gratification. Your brain is wired to want it. It goes back to survival. Your brain is telling you, “When I feel good, then I am safe. You can worry about the consequences of stress eating tomorrow, or maybe next week. But as long as you’ve alleviated the stress, now you’re good. You’re safe.”

So, that’s the challenge. Most of the habits that do not help you, you know that they do not help you. The problem is trying to tell that to your brain when you’re stressed out. So, let’s put this back into context. You recognize that eating in response to stress is not helping you, and you want to break that habit. But at the same time, knowing what we know about habit, you know that habits result in some sort of reward. And that reward is that you feel better.

Here’s my question, how do you reward yourself for not doing the habit? How do you reward yourself for not doing something? Can you see the challenge this creates? Going back to our stress eating example, when stress is your trigger, and your routine is to eat in order to numb it, you feel better. There’s your habit loop. The cue is stress. The routine is to eat a cookie. The reward is you feel better and you get rid of the stress, at least for the moment.

Now, what do you do when you want to break that habit? There is still going to be stress in your life, that is a given. Removing the cue, especially when it’s something like stress, which is inevitable, that can be hard to do. So, that trigger is still going to be there. But you’re trying to undo the habit, and you’re trying to break the routine of eating in response to that stress.

So, you can take out the routine. And by nature of taking out the routine, you also just took out your reward. You’ve disrupted your habit loop, and your brain, your brain is not going to love that. Your brain is going to have some thoughts and opinions about that. In fact, it’s going to start freaking out on you.

Because if you decide to go all-in and commit to undoing your stress eating, that means you no longer have “eating” as a response to stress. And while that’s great, your brain still wants to feel better right now.

This is key. Even though you know from an intellectual standpoint that skipping out on stress-eating the cookies will help you lose weight, and it may get you closer to your weight goals and fitting into that outfit, that’s all delayed gratification. Your brain, when it’s stressed, wants to know how it’s supposed to feel better right now. Your brain is still searching for relief. Your brain still wants the reward.

So, how do you reward yourself for not eating? What do you do? Let’s talk about this. Because I see the answer to this question through two different lenses. First, the coaching, logical side of me says, “You reward yourself for not eating by managing your emotions,” right? There’s your reward. It’s the reward of owning your emotions and processing them instead of eating them. And there is surely pride in that. When you feel the stress and actually process that emotion of stress at the end of a long day, and it’s driving you to reach for cookies and you don’t do it, that’s huge. That’s where the growth is. My own coach says it all the time.

When you remove overeating as an option in response to stress, what are you left with? You’re left with stress. So, what do you do with that stress? You process it. You feel it. You name it. You acknowledge it. You give it space in your brain and in your body. And you let it be with you for as long as it needs to in order to lessen. You neither identify with it, nor over identify with it. You’re feeling it all the way through until it lightens.

That is processing an emotion, in a nutshell. And when you do that, when you actually feel your emotion instead of eating it, there is your reward. So, that is what the logical coach says, okay? You use your evolved thinking brain to process your emotion instead of eating it, and you find the reward in that. That’s getting to the root cause.

When you address the root cause of emotional eating, you address the emotion that’s causing you to want to eat. And that is the logical, coach side of the response to the question of how you reward yourself for not doing something.

At the same time, the scientific side of me, the side that understands our brain and how we are neurologically wired says something a little different. While, yes, managing our emotions is essential, we also need some instant gratification. I don’t know how hard we can fight biology and expect to win. Your brain is wired for instant gratification, and it’s really, really hard to fight that out. And this is not to be defeatist. I’m not encouraging you to give up and forget about the delayed gratification of processing your emotions in favor of eating them. I want to make sure I make that really clear.

But the scientific analytical side of me recognizes that your brain is insanely powerful. And fighting the need for instant gratification may be a serious challenge, like enough of a challenge that it keeps you from moving forward. So, what do we do about that? I’m going to go back to my original question: How do you reward yourself for not doing something?

The simple answer is, you find a different instant reward. You find a different way to reward yourself that is supportive and keeps you on track towards your goal. Because here’s the thing, let’s go back to what we know about habits and behavior. We need to send a message to your brain that whatever you’re doing to eliminate overeating is positive.

When you choose to feel your emotion instead of buffering it with food, we need to send a message to your brain that says, “Hey, that was good. I liked that. Let’s do that again. Keep that up.” But then the question remains, how do you do that when you’re not giving yourself a cookie? How do you reinforce your brain that not eating the cookie is a good choice? Where is the reward in that?

Because before, the reward would be the cookie. But now you don’t even have that, you took the cookie out of the picture. So, we need to find something else that will send a message to your brain that gets that message across.

So, go back to the habit loop. If we want to change the outcome, we need to change the habit loop. You’ve got your cue, stress. For most of us, like I said, that’s not going anywhere. So, now you have a choice. You can choose a new routine or you can choose a new reward.

Let’s talk through this. Before we even get to the reward, let me take it one step back and let’s talk about your routine. That routine, that’s your behavior, or that’s the habit that you execute in response to stress. That means, if we’re talking about eating in response to the cue of stress, you can replace that routine with something else.

You replace the routine of eating with something else, like five deep breaths, or drinking a glass of water, or doing a short stretch, or walking away, or closing your eyes and counting to five. Those are just a few examples of things you can do instead of eating a cookie in response to stress. You change the routine. There are certainly many other things you can do, this is not an all-inclusive, right?

So, I would encourage you to brainstorm and think about what things you can see yourself doing in response to stress instead of eating. And I would encourage you to be super, super realistic with yourself when you go to implement this. Here’s what I mean. I have had some clients that have said, “Okay, I’ll just meditate instead. I’ll pull out a piece of paper, and I’ll journal or listen to music.”

Those all sound good in theory, but again, I’m going to be very straight here and I’m not going to sugarcoat; you need to make it doable. Make it simple, make it fast, make it easy, and make it accessible. Be very honest with yourself and decide whether in the heat of the moment, and at the peak of your stress, if you’re really going to pull out a piece of paper and journal.

If you’re committed to that and you do it, then by all means, go for it. But what I’ve seen more often than not, is that the more complicated you make the behavior, the less likely you are to actually implement it. And this goes straight back to habit science here. The more steps you put between you and a habit, the harder it is to do. You can make this work for you, or you can make it work against you.

Remember, when emotion is high, cognition is low. So, when you’re stressed to all stink, you may not want to think so hard about pulling on a piece of paper, finding a pen, finding a flat surface and then writing. You may not want to go to the trouble of asking Alexa to turn on your favorite playlist. Your brain may not be on board with a multistep, complicated process, even if it’s seemingly something as simple as writing.

For many of you, that’s too many steps and it’s not going to work. Your brain wants something fast. So, if you’re going to replace your routine, be super realistic with yourself and decide on the simplest, easiest thing you can do instead of eating. Remember that in order for your habit to be effective, a few things need to be in place all at once. One,

the behaviors should have an impact. Meaning, the habit will get you closer to your goals. So, drinking water instead of eating a cookie when you feel stressed, yes, that will most definitely have an impact if your goal is to stop emotional eating and lose weight.

Two, you have to want to do the behavior. You have to want to drink the water instead of eating the cookie. There has to be at least some desire to do the behavior if you’re going to follow through on it.

Three, and I would argue this is probably the most important thing to consider, is that you have to be able to get yourself to do the behavior. That is essential. When push comes to shove, and you are in the thick of feeling stressed or sad or angry, you have to be able to get yourself to do whatever routine you have chosen to replace the routine of eating. You’ve got to get yourself to do it.

That is why I will make such a big stink about choosing something as simple and quick and easy as possible. Are you going to be able to get yourself to pull out pen and paper and write? Are you going to be able to find Alexa, or turn on your music and pull out your headphones? Are you going to be able to pull out your Sudoku book and a pen instead of pulling out a cookie? These are all examples my clients have tried but have not worked. I’ve got many more.

But I want to give you an idea of some of the things that haven’t worked for them, and encourage you to think about what will work for you. So, replacing your routine with something else, that requires some trial and error. That requires some experimentation.

And I would encourage you to think of it that way. Experiment with different routines and see what works. See what gives you the reward of feeling better, because that is what we’re looking for. We’re looking for a routine that ultimately gives you the reward of feeling better. Okay?

Beyond replacing the routine, or replacing your habit with something else, you can also consider replacing your reward. Again, this gets back to my original million dollar question of, how do you reward yourself for not doing something? So, if you’re trying to undo the habit of overeating, where the reward is the food that makes you feel better in the short term, what do you do when you no longer have that?

What is the reward when you take food out of the equation? Here are some ideas. First, you can use a visual reward. I talked about this with one client who had a beaded bracelet. And we talked about moving a bead over on her bracelet every time she allowed an urge without responding to it. That visual, of physically moving a bead over every time she succeeded in not eating, was a reminder to her of her goal and how much progress she was making towards it.

You can do the same thing. Or you can use some other tally system, like with a note card or a piece of paper. Or if money motivates you, you can designate an amount for each time you work through an urge, and put that amount in a jar every time you allow your urge without answering it. You can also use an app, because there truly is an app for everything.

Some that I’m familiar with are Habit Tracker, Eat Right Now, and Calm Urge. There are many, many more, but they all have similar principles of keeping track of your progress and providing yourself with a visual tally that you can go to in real time. Okay?

If visuals don’t do it for you, or if you want something even simpler than a jar or an app, you can give yourself a verbal affirmation. I don’t mean you shout out “good job” to yourself after you avoid overeating when you’ve had an argument with your partner. No. It could be something that you say to yourself. And you can decide, it can be something simple like, “Way to go. You did that. Nice work,” or whatever it is that will motivate you and be enough of a reward for you to keep going.

Because here’s the thing, you have to really feel into it. This cannot just be a fleeting, half-baked “good job”, as you half-heartedly acknowledged yourself. It should be real, it should be sincere, and it needs to be genuine. And here’s why. We are trying to find a reward that is going to be good enough to keep you from going back to the habit you’re trying to get away from in the first place.

In the case of overeating, we’re trying to find a reward that is enough to keep you from reaching for food. And that, admittedly, can be a challenge. We’re comparing a chocolate cookie, or a spoonful of ice cream, or your favorite candy, to moving a bead on a bracelet, or a positive affirmation of “nice work”. And that is a big difference.

But part of your work and undoing this habit is changing the reward value of your behaviors. It’s deciding that the instant gratification of not overeating, and the instant gratification of your verbal praise, or your visual or your tally, it’s deciding that that is enough. It’s deciding that it’s even better than the cookie you didn’t have.

And that, admittedly, is going to take some work. This is where instant and delayed gratification collide. It’s a little of both here. It’s deciding in the moment that the reward you’ve chosen instead of eating is good enough; keyword “enough”. And at the same time, it’s reminding yourself of the even bigger gratification that comes later. The gratification of following through on what you said you’re going to do; of creating self-discipline, self-trust and self-efficacy.

Those don’t happen immediately, but they will happen as a compounding effect of the multiple small episodes of instant gratification that you give yourself over time. So, it’s both. We’re looking for what will give you enough immediate gratification to keep you from reverting to the behavior you want to give up while you’re practicing delayed gratification. It’s not one or the other, it’s both. Alright?

Just one other thing I want to add here. Some of you, when we’ve worked through this, have suggested some sort of incentive for yourself. As an example, “If I get through a week without over eating, I’ll do something nice for myself. Like, get a manicure, buy myself a new workout outfit,” or something to that effect.

Here’s the thing. That is an incentive. And I think of incentives as something that you work towards, that comes later. You avoid over-eating for seven days, and at the end of seven days, you treat yourself to a manicure, or a new book, or a new outfit. But you have to wait a certain amount of time before you get it.

I think of rewards, on the flip side, as something that you get in the moment, right away. You don’t have to wait for it. And that’s exactly the point. So, let’s bring this full circle. Your brain wants instant gratification, it does not want to wait. It wants a reward, and it wants it now. So, while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with incentivizing yourself, that’s more of a delayed gratification and may not be enough in the moment to keep you from eating in response to stress.

You could easily decide, “Well, forget it. I can aim for the new outfit next week,” because that delayed gratification is too far off and may not be compelling enough for you to say no, right here, right now. So, I encourage you to think about that, and come back to what will give you enough instant gratification to reward yourself in the moment. Okay?

Leverage what you know about your brain and habit and reward, and find what it is that’s going to be enough for you to not eat in response to your emotions. Again, think of this as an experiment, taking into account what you’ve learned about habits. You can experiment with changing your routine. That means, instead of overeating, you do something else.

Like, take some deep breaths, or drink a glass of water, or take a few steps. That’s changing your routine. You can also experiment with different rewards, whether that’s a visual like beads on a bracelet, or some other tally system, or a verbal affirmation or praise that you give yourself like “nice work”.

You can combine these immediate rewards with an incentive that you offer yourself in the future. All the while, you’re still working on the underlying root cause, feeling your emotions instead of eating them.

So, to bring this all home, I will be 100% honest, there is no escaping this if you really want to stop emotionally eating. Again, it is not one or the other, it’s both. If you want to stop emotionally eating, two things are true. Stopping your emotional eating means both, working on the habit of emotionally eating itself, while you do the work of managing your emotions. It’s both pieces. This is where eating and thinking intersect. Okay?

This work is absolutely worth it, because it will change your relationship with yourself and it will most definitely change your relationship with food.

If you want help with this, let’s go. This is the work we do when you coach with me. You will get super clear on your habits, like emotional eating, and we’ll work on both, managing your emotions and changing your habits. And the result is more peace with yourself and more peace with food.

So, check out my website, go to www.CarrieHollandMD.com/contact, and let’s get started. Alright? Thank you again for hanging out with me, and I’ll catch you again next week.

Hey, if you’re looking for your next great read, I’ve got you covered. Head over to CarrieHollandMD.com/books and download my list of most favorite reads. I’ve got two collections waiting for you. One is all about work-life balance. The other is a collection of books that have changed my life. I’ve referenced many of these books in the podcast, and now you can access those titles all in one place.

Again, that’s CarrieHollandMD.com/books. Check it out and find your next great read. Thank you for listening to the Strong Is a Mindset podcast. If you want to learn more about how to build both a strong mind and a strong body by eating, moving, and most importantly, thinking, check out CarrieHollandMD.com.

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