Ep #48: How to Manage Your Urge to Overeat

Strong as a Working Mom with Carrie Holland | How to Manage Your Urge to Overeat
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Why do you overeat, and how do you stop? If you think all you need to lose weight is willpower, listen in to discover an alternative. This episode is all about managing your urges. Now, this doesn’t sound fun, but the truth is, the ability to manage your urges is one of the most essential skills to stop overeating and emotional eating.

If you’re an emotional eater, this episode is for you. When we get an urge that we don’t respond to, it’s uncomfortable. However, when you can allow urges to be there without answering them, this is the secret to changing your eating habits, especially emotional eating.

Tune in this week to discover what an urge is and where it comes from. I’m discussing the role urges play in emotional eating, why urges present a unique challenge, and most importantly, I’m giving you practical tips and ideas you can use to manage your urges when you feel them coming on.

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.

Be sure to tag me on Instagram or Facebook so I can follow along and engage with you!

What You Will Discover:

  • What an urge is, and where your urges come from.
  • How to recognize your urge to emotionally eat.
  • Why food has no control over you, unless you let it.
  • How your powerful mind is creating a desire for specific foods.
  • 3 options you have when you start feeling an urge.
  • How to start allowing your urges when you feel them, instead of responding to them.

Listen to the Full Episode:

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Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast, Episode #48. If you think all you need is willpower to lose weight, let me tell you about an alternative.

Welcome to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. If you’re balancing career, family, wellness, and some days sanity, you are in the right place. This is where high-achieving, busy, working moms get the tools they need to eat, move, and think. I’m your host, physician, personal trainer, and Certified Life Coach, Carrie Holland. Let’s do this.

Hey, how are you? What’s new, what’s good? So, what’s good here, we are going to talk about managing urges. As I was preparing for this podcast, I was trying to come up with a more jazzy, fun name or title, or come up with a more fancy way of presenting this. But then, I took a step back and thought about what I do and what I’m about, and I left it as is.

So sure, managing urges does not sound sexy, like at all. But the truth is managing your urges is one of the most essential skills you need in order to stop overeating and stop emotional eating. If you’ve been around here for a while, and if you’ve listened to any of my other episodes, hopefully, you’re seeing that I like to keep things simple.

I also don’t like to sugarcoat things; I like to pare things down to what you need to know. And I don’t want to paint any unrealistic pictures about what it means to change your habits. You know this already, but changing your habits, it’s not easy. It takes work. It can be difficult. There’s usually a number of stumbles along the way. And it can take some time to be successful, depending on how consistent you are.

Part of what I want to blow out of the water is the idea that you need to rely on willpower to make your habits stick. Or that you need willpower to stop overeating. No, I don’t like willpower. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again here, willpower is fickle. It’s an unreliable frenemy, meaning it’s nice when willpower is on your side but it really stinks when it’s not. It’s 50/50, and to me, those are pretty stinky odds.

So, when you tell me, and many of you have told me this, when you tell me, “I just need more willpower,” my answer to that will be, “Actually, we should work on discipline.” Because discipline will last you far longer, and is way more reliable and much more durable than willpower will ever be. As a reminder, discipline means you make your decisions ahead of time. And then you follow through on that decision, even when you don’t want to.

You’re making that decision ahead of time, knowing that when the time comes to execute that decision, you’re likely not going to want to do what you decided to do. And here’s the kicker, you do it anyway. This part, doing it anyway, that is huge. You’ve made that decision ahead of time for this precise, exact moment. For that exact moment when you don’t want to do what you’ve planned. And then, you go and do it anyway.

On a practical level, that means when the breakroom cupcakes are out, and your coworker encourages you to have one, but you decided in advance you aren’t having any more breakroom food because it doesn’t match up with your health and fitness goals, it means you skip the cupcakes. You planned ahead for this precise moment and you declined the cupcake. That is discipline.

And if you need a reminder about this, go back and check out Episode 16, where I get into all the details about discipline and willpower. But beyond discipline, beyond making your decisions ahead of time, let’s go deeper into this. Because for as nice as discipline sounds, and I would argue that it’s essential for any big change you want to make, it’s not the whole story. That’s only part of making meaningful change to your habits.

And the other part is managing your urges. It means having the urge to eat the cupcake, and feeling what that urge feels like without responding to it. That’s big. Allowing the urge to be there with you without answering to it, that is a huge part of your success, especially if you are an emotional eater.

So, if you are an emotional eater, you know what it feels like when an urge comes on. That hunger is usually sudden, strong, and specific for something, like chocolate or tortilla chips. And I would argue that in order to get control over your emotional eating, it will require you to manage the urge to eat when you’re feeling a sudden strong emotion. It will require you to sit through the urge of wanting to dive into the pantry and pull out your kid’s candy and eat it, just to take the edge off the really bad day you’re having. That’s what we’re going to talk about today.

We are going to talk about what an urge is and where it comes from. And then, we’re going to talk about why they’re tricky. And then, we’re going to talk about how to handle an urge when it comes on. My goal today is to give you practical tips and ideas that you can start putting into practice now, so that you’re relying less on willpower and more on your own very powerful brain and thoughts. So, that you ultimately walk away empowered.

Remember, you are not under the control of food. Food does not have power over you, unless you let it. When you manage your urges, you are taking control. You are reclaiming your emotional authority over food and you’re telling willpower, it’s unnecessary. All right? So, let’s go.

When I went to go look this up, I found that an urge is defined as a continuous impulse toward an activity or goal. It’s a strong desire or impulse. And the key word I took from all the definitions I read was impulse. When I think of an impulse, I think of something that is sudden and unplanned.

So, when you’ve got an urge, you’re dealing with a sudden, strong, unplanned desire or force. And that is going to take some energy from your brain to manage. So, where exactly does your urge come from? Your urge comes from the feeling of desire. Think about it.

Think about the way we talked about chocolate, as an example. Okay? Phrases like, “I need chocolate. I can’t not have chocolate. I must have chocolate. I can’t live without chocolate.” I’m sure you can think of others. But the point here is that you create desire for food and other things like alcohol, shopping, social media, name your buffer of choice. You create desire with your very powerful mind.

Let’s dive into this even further because there’s some really important distinctions to make here. Your desire for certain foods is based on multiple factors. We’re going to take the comparison of broccoli and a hot fudge sundae to illustrate these. I know, I always go back to broccoli, but just run with me on this, okay?

As humans, we all desire food to some extent, because it’s part of survival. You need food to live. Part of your desire for food is based on the satisfaction of hunger, which is necessary to thrive. So, going back to my comparison, both broccoli and the hot fudge sundae will satisfy your hunger. But most of us don’t desire broccoli in the same way that we desire ice cream, right?

So, beyond the simple biology of satisfying hunger, we have the societal impact on our food decisions that is most definitely throwing a wrench in the system and leading to unnatural desire. There is societal conditioning that tells us food is pleasure, food is excitement, food is supposed to wow you. I went over this in Episode 46, when I talked about food thought errors, and you can go back to that episode if you want to know more.

But we’re taught that food is comfort. Food can solve your problems. Food is marketed to you as a way to bring happiness. And what this adds up to, is an expectation that food should bring us joy. So again, going back to our example, broccoli, I don’t think of that as comfort. Broccoli, not going to solve my stressful day. You don’t curl up on the couch after a bad day with Netflix and a bowl of broccoli.

The ice cream? That is a different story. That’s what people do, and it’s been normalized. Think about TV or movies, advertisements, social media, it is normal to use food, and especially ice cream, sweets, chips, and other hyper palatable foods, for excitement or for comfort. In fact, according to most marketing campaigns, it’s not only normal to rely on food for excitement, you’re supposed to use food in that way.

And then, let’s also talk about the neurophysiologic impact that certain foods have on you. When I say that, I’m talking specifically about dopamine. So, dopamine is a feel-good neurotransmitter. Your brain will see a release of dopamine when you eat, simply because you’re satisfying hunger. But what’s important to note here, is that your brain does not release the same amount of dopamine when you eat a bowl of broccoli as it does when you eat the hot fudge sundae.

The sundae has so much sugar, and who knows what other ingredients, that have been chemically designed to light up the reward centers in your brain. And that sends a message to your brain that says, “Hey, this is good. Give me more of that. And let’s do that again.” The ice cream causes a reward sensation in your brain that is much stronger than the broccoli.

And what’s crazy is, over time, with repeated exposure to foods like ice cream that cause that dopamine surge, your brain will then develop more dopamine receptors. So, you’re essentially messing with your brain when you eat artificial foods that are highly concentrated in sugar and flour; things like ice cream or chips.

I think of it this way, the more concentrated the sugar and flour content in your food, the more concentrated your brain’s response will be to it. And the end result of that, is that it fuels heightened desire for those foods. So, when you eat foods that cause an unnatural release of dopamine in your brain, you get a subsequent unnatural desire for that food. You can think of it as an over desire, and that over desire is what will fuel your urge to eat the food.

So, if you’ve ever felt like you’re eating foods against your will, you know what I’m talking about. I’ve had clients tell me that they felt out of control around things like potato chips, M&M’s, or Ben & Jerry’s. And it makes sense. When you eat those foods regularly, you’re creating a reward circuit in your brain. And it will feel as though, once you’ve got those foods in hand, it’s really hard to stop eating them. It’s because your brain is responding to those foods so strongly. Okay?

To review so far, an urge is a sudden, strong impulse that’s unplanned. Urges come from the feeling of desire. That feeling of desire in your brain, it’s based on a number of factors; satisfying hunger, societal conditioning that tells you food is excitement and will solve your problems. And last, and probably most important, the reward that food causes in your brain.

Okay, so now that you know what an urge is and where it comes from, let’s talk about some of the tricky parts. I’ve said it before, I will say it again here, your brain is very powerful. And because of this, your brain will feed you all kinds of thoughts when you’re dealing with desire and urges.

As an example, when you’re out to dinner with your friends, and a big, fancy dessert, like a big piece of chocolate cake lands at your table, but you’ve decided ahead of time that you’re not having dessert tonight, you now have a situation to deal with. I don’t say that to mean you blow it up and blow it out of proportion and make a big deal about it. But it simply means that you have to decide how you’re going to deal with that cake that’s sitting in front of you, right here and now.

Often, what happens is your brain will play all kinds of games with you to make you think that that piece of chocolate cake must make it into your mouth, or else you will spontaneously combust. Not really. But if you’ve been there, you know what I mean? When you’re dealing with a sudden urge, your brain will make you think if you do not answer it immediately, something awful is going to happen. You will melt down.

If you don’t eat those last bites of chicken finger from your kid’s plate, you will lose your mind. If you don’t eat that doughnut, it will go in the trash and you will burst. And I know I’m overdramatizing here, but I say this because, in the moment, that’s what your brain is telling you. Your brain is saying, “Eat this food or you will explode.” But you won’t. It’s not that dire. It’s not that drastic, it really isn’t.

It’s just your brain trying to fool you. Your brain is creating an urgency around the chocolate cake, or those remaining bites of chicken fingers, or that plate of French fries. Your brain is responding to an over desire for those hyper palatable foods by creating urgency; “Eat this and eat it now, or else.”

I want you to understand this, because this is essential for getting past it. If you want to manage your urges and not rely on willpower, I want you to understand that this is all coming from thought errors that you’ve created in your brain. So, things like, “I have to have that. One bite of chicken finger is no big deal. This cake looks so good, there’s no way I can’t have any. It’s just a few French fries. I really shouldn’t, but I’m going to anyway.”

Think of what you’ve told yourself in the past. Because remember, the feeling of desire, it’s a feeling, right? And where do feelings come from? Your thoughts. You cannot have a feeling without a thought first. The feeling of desire, it comes from your thoughts. So, when you’re at dinner and that chocolate cake shows up, and you think to yourself, “That cake looks delicious. I need to have some,” there it is. There’s your thought.

And then, ask yourself another one of my favorite questions: How does it feel when you think that way? How does it feel when you think, “I need to have some of that cake?” And quite often when you think that way, it generates the feeling of desire, of over desire. And there’s your urge.

So, what do you do with it? What do you do with your urge? Typically, from the experience I’ve had coaching, I find that it goes down one of a couple of ways. When you’re experiencing an urge, you can answer it, you can try to resist it, or you can allow it. Let’s talk through each of these. Okay?

For many of you, when you have the urge, if you haven’t thought it through, and if you haven’t made any decisions ahead of time, it’s game over. If you haven’t decided ahead of time, “I’m not having dessert tonight,” and then the cake shows up, it’s done. Your brain will see the cake and all kinds of thoughts will come up. Like, “Just a few bites. I’ll be good the rest of this weekend. Everyone else is eating the cake, why shouldn’t I?” Or something else. And then, you answer the urge and eat the cake.

That’s responding to the primitive, unevolved part of your brain that wants what it wants, and wanted it yesterday. Remember, your brain is super lazy. And its goals are to seek pleasure, avoid pain, and exert the least amount of energy possible.

So, when you’re staring at that piece of chocolate cake, and you haven’t thought through how you will respond to it, your brain will take over and offer you a number of justifications to get you on the path of least resistance. And before you know it, you’ve done more than half of that cake.

What do you do if you have a plan, and the cake shows up and you still feel the urge to have it? Because this happens all the time, too. I talk through this exact situation with my clients all the time. You’ll tell me, “I decided I’m not going to eat cake this weekend.” But then, the weekend comes and goes and you have the chocolate cake. And you tell me, “I just need more willpower.” Or you tell me that you couldn’t resist it.

And it makes total sense. If you’re relying on willpower, you will try and resist that urge. When I think of using willpower, I think of trying to strongarm your way through an urge; gritted teeth, sweating, and steam coming out of your ears. It’s like hanging from a cliff. You’re hanging on with all your might, until you tire out and your willpower runs out and then you have the cake. That’s how willpower operates. It’s not reliable, it’s unpredictable, and it fatigues.

So, when it comes to managing urges through willpower, I think of these phrases, ‘I can’t, and I shouldn’t’. Those are two very disempowering phrases, especially when you’re dealing with a strong urge, fueled by desire. Think about it. When you respond to the offer of the piece of chocolate cake with, I can’t, or I shouldn’t, again, ask yourself: How does it feel to think that way?

And here’s what I want to point out, can’t and shouldn’t, implies that there’s an outside force telling you not to do something. That the decision to not have the cake is outside of you. But that’s not it, at all. The goal is to make a decision from a place of power, and be able to confidently say, “I am choosing not to have the chocolate cake.” Do you see the difference here?

Willpower is often laced with restriction, deprivation, avoidance, and it will manifest as loads of can’ts and shouldn’ts. And not only is that very disempowering, it will only last you for so long; willpower is finite. And if that’s what you’re relying on to get through dessert, you could be in trouble once it runs out. It will often end with something like, “Well, I really shouldn’t, but one bite won’t hurt.”

Okay, so now let’s talk about receiving, or allowing your urge. And if the thought of that sounds icky to you, I got you. Because what I’m asking you to do is “walk through it”; that’s what I call it. That is my term for what you do with the hard stuff. You don’t resist it, you don’t react to it, you don’t retreat from it. You receive it, you allow the urge, and walk right through it.

So, I’m asking you to allow it to be uncomfortable. And if this sounds familiar to you, good. Because what this boils down to, is feeling your feelings. I’m asking you to feel your feelings. Yes, there it is again. It always comes back to your thoughts and feelings, always.

Remember, at the outset we talked about how an urge is fueled by the feeling of desire. So, I’m asking you to feel it. Allow the feeling of desire to be there with you. Allow the feeling of urge, desire, and urgency to sit with you. Do not turn away from it. Do not answer to it and eat the chocolate cake. Do not overreact to it and freak out. Instead, allow it. Let that feeling be there with you.

To be clear, and I’ve said this many times before, this is not about wearing it across your chest, right? You don’t have a sign on your chest that says, “I’m having an urge right now.” No. Instead, you’re simply feeling the urge. You’re processing it, that’s it. And so, how do you do that? You name it. Again, not out loud, you don’t make a big show of it. You don’t make a big hairy deal of it.

You just recognize, acknowledge, and name it for yourself. “This is what an urge feels like.” I know this sounds a little out there, but I’m really encouraging you to name it for yourself. Use the word, in your head; say it and own it. And then, get into your brain and look at the thoughts that you’re saying to yourself.

Once you’ve recognized this is what an urge feels like. What are your sentences? What are you saying? Is it, “I really want that, one bite won’t kill me. I earned this cake; it’s been a hard week. I won’t be able to eat this cake ever again?” Whatever it is, find your sentences and then question them. Is it true? Is it true that you won’t be able to get this cake ever again? No. Is it true that you’ve earned cake because of the day you had? Really?

And then, on top of asking if it’s true, follow it up by asking: Is this thought helpful? Is it helpful to think I really want that? Is it helpful when you tell yourself one bite won’t kill you? How does that help you? I know that as I’m describing this, it sounds like a lot of work to do in the heat of the moment.

It sounds like it would take forever, when you have a chunk of chocolate cake sitting right in front of you and you feel like everything is moving so fast. And if you don’t move fast enough, that cake will disintegrate. And you’re about to lose it. And why don’t you just eat the cake already? You know what I’m talking about? But that’s exactly it.

It does not have to be fast and furious. It doesn’t have to feel frantic. This isn’t life or death, it’s chocolate cake. Remember, your brain is trying to make you think if you don’t hurry up and eat the cake the world is going to end. But you know better. You have time, there is no rush. You can absolutely slow down your brain and talk through your urge with yourself.

What this means is staying present. So, this is key. I’m asking you to stay in the game. Stay focused, and stay with yourself. Stay inside yourself. Keep walking through it. Let it feel uncomfortable. Name the urge. Find your thoughts. Feel what is going on in your body. Feel what the over desire for chocolate cake feels like. Ask questions about those thoughts to see what is really true and helpful.

And most importantly, allow the urge to sit with you without responding to it. You don’t answer the urge. You don’t walk away from the urge either. You don’t strongarm yourself through the urge. You allow it, you feel it, and you let it sit there with you for as long as it takes to go away. And it will go away.

An urge is a feeling, so just like any feeling, what is the worst thing that happens when you have it? You feel it, you feel something. And the sooner you do this, and the sooner you realize that you felt a feeling and it didn’t kill you, that it didn’t destroy you, then you’re on to something.

Often, you’re free to allow an urge without responding to it. That it feels too hard to feel an urge. When we talk through this, as I have with many clients, often you’ll tell me that when you have an urge and you don’t answer it, you feel deprived. But here’s an important thing to note, and this is key. Where does deprivation come from? Where does the feeling of deprivation come from?

It comes from desire. When your brain over desires something, as in the chocolate cake, and you practice not having dessert, you tell me you feel deprived. But you can only feel deprived of something if you overly desire it.

That’s just it. Feeling desire is optional. And just as feeling desire for the chocolate cake is optional, so too is the feeling of deprivation. Do you see this connection here? This is so cool and so important. And I want to make sure you understand this.

Just as desire causes an urge, it also causes deprivation. It goes both ways. Deprivation is a feeling you create that is fueled by desire. The more you desire something, or the more you over desire that chocolate cake sitting in front of you, the more you will feel an urge to have the chocolate cake. And the more deprived you’ll feel when you don’t have it. Do you see that?

The whole point here is to decrease your desire for the chocolate cake. What would it feel like to genuinely not want to devour the chocolate cake? What would it feel like to truly not want to eat those last few fries on your kid’s plate? Imagine what that would be like for you, because that is entirely possible. It comes from feeling your urge without responding to it, and decreasing your desire for it in the process.

When you feel an urge without answering it, you walk away knowing that you are stronger and more powerful than a piece of chocolate cake. Okay? You are more empowered than chocolate frosting, really. And that is a really, really awesome feeling, when you know that you can be around food and know that it does not have control over you. And here’s a good self-check: You will know that the process of allowing your urges is working when you stop feeling deprived. So, really think about that.

When you allow your urges and don’t answer them, and see that you come out on the other side just fine, you will stop feeling deprived. That is huge. And I want to come back to something. When we were talking about relying on willpower to manage your urges, that’s when the can’ts and shouldn’ts come up, right? That’s when you’re strong-arming yourself. “I would love that chocolate cake, but I can’t. It looks so good, but I really shouldn’t.”

In contrast, when you allow an urge, and you actively practice what it feels like to sit with an urge, your self-talk will shift. It will transition from, “I can’t or I shouldn’t,” to, “I am choosing not to have this.” I know it’s subtle; it’s just a few words. But I say all the time, your words matter. Your words are the best representation of your thoughts and your beliefs and what you believe to be true.

So, when you can come into an urge from a place of, I am choosing not to have this, and you really believe it to be true for you, that you’re making a choice from a place of power, things will start to change and your urges will become less. If you want to stop overeating, if you want to stop emotionally eating, one of the key pieces to success is reducing your over desire for food. Your urges cannot drive the bus.

Instead, your evolved brain that you use to plan ahead, make decisions, and most importantly follow through on them, that’s the part of your brain that we’re calling on here. And that’s the part of the brain that you can engage to say, “I am choosing not to have this today.” It’s making a decision, in advance, from a place of authority. And then, allowing the urge that arises, to come and go in its entirety without answering to it.

Here’s the coolest part about this. When you do this, when you see an urge through, all the way to the end without responding to it, and you realize that you were just fine and that you survived and the world didn’t end, you can do it again. You get good at what you practice.

And what at first seems super difficult or even impossible, becomes no big deal. And you can say no to the chocolate cake, or throw away the soggy french fries from your kid’s plate, or skip the chicken fingers, or say no to the glass of wine, and feel really, really good about it. No deprivation required. All right?

So, there it is. We just talked through what an urge is, where it comes from, why it’s tricky, and then how you manage them. This skill that we just went over, this is essential. This is not about going on a diet. This is not about gritting your way through meals. This is not relying on willpower; it is quite the opposite. A diet is not the solution here, it generally never is.

Instead, the solution to overeating and emotional eating, is to have a plan, make your decisions ahead of time, and practice following through on that plan while managing your urges that arise along the way. And you manage your urges by practicing your thinking.

Remember, your thoughts create the feeling of desire. Your thoughts create urges. And when you answer them, it generally leads to overeating and decisions you’re not proud of. So, if you want to change this, you have to practice your thinking, feel your urge, and not respond to it. In that process, when you come out on the other side and see that you are just fine without the chocolate cake, you will reduce your desire. You will reduce your urges.

You have the power to change your thinking. You have the power to create a different result around food. You have the authority to stop overeating, always. And if you want help with this, let’s talk.

I help my clients get over overeating without relying on willpower. When you coach with me, you will practice feeling urges without responding to them. You will learn to feel an urge all the way through, and see for yourself how powerful you are. You will see that you are in control of your food decisions, not the other way around.

So, send me a message. Go to www.CarrieHollandMD.com/contact and tell me how you struggle with urges. And then, let’s change it. All right? Thank you again for hanging out with me. I’ll catch you again next week.

If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. I would love to get your feedback and ideas. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make the show better for you. And share this podcast with a friend, text a show link, share a screenshot, or post a link to the show on your social media. Be sure to tag me @CarrieHollandMD on either Instagram or Facebook, so I can follow along and engage with you.

This is how we get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong, inside and out. If you know someone who wants to feel better or eat and move differently but she is too tired or too busy, it is time to change things up. And you know, making that change starts with how you think. And that is what we do here on the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. I’ll see you next week.

Thanks for listening to Strong as a Working Mom. If you want more information on how to eat, move, and think, so you can live in the body you want, with the mind to match, visit me at CarrieHollandMD.com.

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