Ep #103: Why You Overeat and How to Stop

Strong is a Mindset with Carrie Holland | Why You Overeat and How to Stop
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If you habitually overeat, it’s easy to feel like you’re stuck in this hardwired habit. However, even if you’ve been overeating for years and it feels like you’ll never be able to stop, you are not powerless here. Sure, it takes work, but there are simple things you can do to begin managing your overeating, and you can get started right now. 

Why do you overeat? When you know the reasons for your overeating habit, doing something about it becomes way easier. There are some common patterns I’ve picked up over the years, so if you feel like you’ve tried everything and nothing has worked, this episode is here to set you off in the right direction.

Tune in this week to discover not only why you overeat, but what you can do about it. I share how overeating becomes a habit that feels impossible to quit, how to bring awareness to this habit, and you’ll learn how to stop trying to chase your negative emotions away with cookies and chips that you’re not even hungry for in the first place.

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:

  • Why creating changes to your body always starts with awareness.
  • How overeating becomes a habit and how to bring attention to this habit.
  • The stressors and noise that you are using food as an escape from.
  • What you’re left with when you stop using food to chase away your negative emotions.
  • How to stop using food as an emotional buffer.

Listen to the Full Episode:

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Full Episode Transcript:

This is the Strong Is a Mindset podcast, Episode #103. If you overeat let’s talk about why, and let’s talk about what to do about 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 reasons you overeat today. I’m pulling apart common patterns that I’ve picked up coaching women around this, and we’re going to talk through them. If you’re listening, and you struggle with overeating, please know that you are not stuck.

Even if you’ve been overeating for years, or if you feel like you’ve tried everything, or if you believe that it is a hardwired habit, please know that you’re not resigned to overeating for the rest of your life. It is possible to change it. It takes work to stop overeating, for sure, but there are, most definitely, things that you can do to manage it.

But in order to do that, in order to stop overeating, we need to figure out why you’re doing it in the first place. If we want to solve a problem, we have to get to the underlying root cause, and that goes back to awareness. Right? It always goes back to awareness.

So, the more I coach, the more I realize that most everything we do to be successful at change boils down to awareness. I am reminded of it in nearly every single coaching call. And that is, awareness is essential, absolutely essential. Too many of us are just not paying attention.

And when I say that, I mean we’re not paying attention to what we’re eating. We’re not paying attention to whether or not, and how, we’re moving our bodies. We’re not paying attention to our relationships. And we’re not paying attention to our brains. We’re not really thinking or feeling, we’re just doing. And that’s where we can run into trouble.

So, let me explain this. This was a huge realization for me, and I think the more you can understand this, the more you can leverage this connection to change your habits. It’s the connection between your brain, thinking, doing, awareness, and habit.

Think about what a habit is. A habit is something you do, really, without thinking. It’s a behavior that is essentially automatic. I think of habits as your brain’s way of conserving energy. For example, if you have a habit of having something sweet after dinner, instead of wasting valuable brain energy thinking about saying no to a cookie once you finished dinner, you just have it.

Even though you’re stuffed, your stomach is already full, and you’re no longer hungry. You don’t think twice and you eat the cookie, because you always have something sweet after dinner, always. It’s not even a question, it’s just a straight up habit.

Habits are your brain’s way of going on autopilot; you’re acting, you’re doing, but there is little to no thinking involved. And because there’s no thinking involved, there is also little to no awareness involved. And that is by design.

Think about all of the energy that would be required by your brain if it had to be aware of everything. Think of all the inputs that your brain encounters in a day, even just in your home. For example, consider what you do just to get yourself out the door in the morning; turning off the alarm, making your bed, getting your contacts in, even showering.

Think of all the inputs your brain has to manage. It’s a lot. And think of all the decisions your brain has to make just to get yourself showered and out the door for your day. That is a lot of energy. But your brain is lazy, and it doesn’t want to spend that much energy. So instead, you have habits.

Habits are your brain’s way of being economical with its energy. If you think about your morning routine, again, it’s probably pretty mechanized. There may be mornings where you might not even remember going through the process. But still, somehow, you emerge from your house dressed and put together ready for the day.

And that’s because of habit. You don’t need awareness when you have a habit. And that’s because the more thoughts and behaviors that your brain makes, the more energy it saves. Those habits go on autopilot and your brain conserves energy; there’s no thinking involved and no energy spent.

You don’t have to be aware, because you just act, you just do. And that is great for habits that are helpful, like getting your clothes on or brushing your teeth. But it’s not so great for habits like overeating, that ultimately harm you.

So, in order to change a habit like overeating, we have to reverse the process here. Meaning, you have to take something that you generally run on autopilot, with little thinking or awareness, and you have to turn that upside down. You’re taking something that you normally are not even aware of, or don’t pay any real attention to, and now you’re paying a whole lot of attention to it. That’s the work.

When I walk through this with clients, admittedly, they are surprised by how much work it is. And they’re right because awareness takes work. It takes energy. And that’s exactly why your brain will fight you tooth and nail to change your habits. Because your brain doesn’t want to spend that energy on something that it’s already automated into a habit.

But this is where your planning, thinking brain knows better. This is where you call on your very powerful planning brain to remind you that you do not have to execute a habit if it does not help you. And this is where, when you are equipped with tools and concepts to put into practice in real time, you are prepared. It’s unraveling your habits.

If you want a reminder of exactly how to do this, go back to Episode #66. This is where I get into super specific detail about how you stay inside your brain, see yourself through, and unwind your habits without reverting to behaviors that do not help you. It is one of the most essential concepts I can teach you about habits. So, go back to that episode and check that one out. Okay?

The underlying theme in all of this, and really the underlying theme to any habit change, whether that’s overeating, overdrinking, over Facebooking, overspending, over-anything, is awareness. And that’s what we’re going to draw upon today.

Let’s talk about the habit of overeating. And as I’m talking through some of the most common reasons you’re overeating, see if any of these apply to you. I’m encouraging you to be really honest with yourself and take a hard look to see if any of these reasons for overeating apply. And then, most importantly, let’s talk about what to do about it. Okay?

This is a big one. I am excited to pull this apart for you. You’re ready? Let’s go. Okay, so first, one of the most common reasons for overeating is when food becomes your escape. That can be an escape from a number of things. It can be escape from the noise, and that can be the noise of screaming kids or fighting.

As an example, I’ve had multiple clients describe to me that weekends are hard for them to stay on track with their health and fitness goals. And that’s for a number of reasons. But one of the things that comes up time and again, is the noise related to the kids being home. And maybe this is true for you, too.

Maybe in your house weekends are when everyone is at home, everyone’s together, and for better or worse, there’s just more noise. And sometimes that noise is unpleasant. It can be the noise of arguing, or whining, or really loud talking, or screeching or crying. And some of you have mentioned to me that with summer coming, you are already anticipating that noise and it’s stressing you out.

Or if it’s not your kids fighting, it’s the noise filling your brain. It may be the noise from whatever stress is taking up space in your brain. It can be the stress of anxiety, causing your brain to run at 100 mi/hour with all kinds of thought and worry. Or the stress of an unresolved argument playing on repeat in your head. The stress of work emails and messages that you know are waiting for you the next time you open up your computer.

It’s all noise, and food becomes your escape. Food becomes your way of drowning out the noise. Whether it’s real noise from your family shouting, or figurative noise of overthinking and stress crowding your brain. So, when your brain is full, you will be triggered to look for an escape, something, anything, to turn it down.

Your brain starts ringing the alarm telling you to hurry up and do something already. And for many people, that hurry up and do something means a bag of chips, or a cookie, or a huge spoonful of ice cream straight from the container. Food is that escape, it gives you something else to focus on. It quiets the thoughts swirling in your brain. It takes up your attention.

That spoonful of ice cream gives you something else to focus on. And what this amounts to, is that when you use food to escape, this really is a shade of emotional eating. But it’s a fairly specific one. So, I want to draw your attention to it. This type of escape eating comes up frequently. It’s using food to buffer and avoid whatever negative emotions you’re facing.

Zoning in on food keeps you from having to deal with your junk, from having to deal with the noise. And when you use food as an escape, you may very easily overeat. Because the longer you eat, and the more you eat, the more you can avoid whatever it is you’re escaping. The longer you draw it out, the more bites you take, the more spoonfuls of ice cream or peanut butter you eat. The longer you stay in your escape bubble, the longer you stay away.

I did it in 2020. Pandemic aside, there were some really unpleasant things going on at home, and I started having a regular nightly glass of wine as big as my face. My kids would be screaming or arguing. I don’t know where Adam would be, probably on a work call. I would be chopping veggies with one hand, and pouring myself a huge glass of wine with the other. I don’t even like the taste of wine, but it was my escape.

I could stare at the bottom of that huge class, see that deep red purple color, nothing more, and everything around me got a little less loud. My kids’ screaming got quieter. The stress of what was going on at home faded out to the background, and it was just me and that huge glass. Looking back on it, it was almost like some ridiculous scene in a TV show where you’re just oblivious.

Like a pot of pasta is boiling over, or the dog is chasing the cat and knocking over furniture. The sink is running but it hasn’t been turned off. The TV’s blaring and no one’s watching. And then, it’s just you and your ice cream. Or in my case, it was me and that huge honkin’ glass of wine.

In that solitary moment, nothing else existed. Nothing else mattered. It’s a total escape. And food will do that for you. When food is your habit for escape, it will calm you down when you’re stressed. It can lead you to overeat because the longer you eat that food, or the longer you sip on that huge glass of wine, the longer you escape whatever it is you’re trying to avoid.

So, what do you do about this? If you use food as an escape, that’s your buffer. Meaning, instead of feeling the frustration of your kids wigging out and screaming, or instead of feeling the stress of a very long and crazy workday, or instead of feeling the pain of an argument, you eat. You buffer your emotions with food.

If this is you, and if you find that you use food as a buffer instead of feeling whatever emotion you don’t want to feel, the answer is learning how to process your emotions instead of eating to escape them. It’s learning how to allow the feeling of frustration to be with you, instead of chasing it away with cookies or chips that you’re not even hungry for in the first place.

I’ve gone over many, many times on the podcast how you process emotion. You give it space. You allow it to rise in your body and be with you. You recognize it, and you don’t try to force it away. And you might be surprised at how quickly the emotion subsides when you’re willing to feel it.

What I’m describing, feeling and processing your emotions, this truly is the key to getting past overeating as an escape. There is no easy fix here. There is no hack. The hack is doing the work. The work of feeling instead of numbing. And this is where awareness is essential.

When you process an emotion, start by naming it. Name your emotion. If your kids are driving you absolutely crazy and you feel frustrated, call it out. You’re not shouting it out in the middle of your living room. No, you’re declaring it to yourself. “I feel frustrated.” Say it, name it.

And if you’re wondering, “Why bother?” Why bother declaring that you feel frustrated? It’s because it wakes you up. When you go inside and mine your brain to find what’s really going on, and you find that you feel frustrated, then you can observe it. You can pay attention to it. You can give it space. You can allow it to sit with you as you chop veggies for dinner.

That’s going to feel very different from simply ignoring it and reaching for the chips in your pantry. Naming what you feel like will take you off autopilot. And then, you can practice being with that feeling. And if you need more details on how to do this, go back to Episode 84. This episode is where I talk about how to slow down your brain and how to stay in the game when you notice yourself going on autopilot with habits like overeating. This one is an essential tool.

But the takeaway here is that in order to stop overeating to escape a negative emotion, you have to practice feeling your emotions instead. When you take away overeating as an option for buffering your negative emotion. What are you left with? You’re left with an emotion. So, you practice feeling it and processing it instead of reaching for food. And when you do this, you no longer need food as an escape. Alright?

Next, the next reason you may be overeating is because you find that it brings you pleasure. I put this separately from using food as an escape, because this is a bit different. So, rather than using food to escape a negative emotion, a negative situation or a negative stressor, instead, you simply use food as a source of pleasure.

Let me clarify what I mean by this, because I will be the first to say that I get pleasure from food. When I caught a fish off a boat in Iceland and ate that same fish an hour later, that was pretty awesome. It tasted amazing. When I had a piece of cake from Meijer after I did my first Natural Bodybuilding show, that cake was amazing. The buttercream, out of control. The pizza that Adam makes every Friday night, because Friday night is pizza night here, that pizza brings me pleasure.

And there are, likely, foods that bring you pleasure, too. I’m sure you can think of them. And there is nothing inherently wrong with getting pleasure from food. I’ve said it before, I’ll stand by it. I recognize that food is more than fuel. Okay? I get that. There is tradition and culture and family and connection, and food is often part of that. I don’t aim to take that away from you.

But the problem happens when you rely on food to be your source of pleasure. Or when you don’t have enough pleasure or joy or connection in your life, so food becomes the focal point. Okay? There is a big difference between using food as a source of pleasure, versus having an experience that brings you pleasure and is complemented by food. Do you see that? That is a big difference.

When we rely on food in and of itself to be a source of pleasure, that’s when we can run into trouble and run the risk of overeating. I use this example all the time to illustrate this. So, I had a client who ate out and went to restaurants for dinner seven nights a week. It was a real challenge for her to give that up. She felt serious resistance to it, even though she knew that eating out all the time was a major contributor to her weight problem.

So, when we dug into this, she realized that part of her reason for going out, and for overeating when she was out, was because it was her one source of pleasure. This client worked super long hours, and had a demanding job in a law office. And then, she would come home and her teenage kids would be arguing, her husband was depressed and withdrawn, and the only way she found pleasure in the swirl of her day was food.

And she described it. She described what was going on in her life. She said, “When we’re out, we’re in public, so everyone’s behaving. There’s less fighting. My husband is there, he’s more engaged.” As a result, food became the centerpiece. It was how she found pleasure in an otherwise unpleasant home situation.

It made sense that this client ordered appetizers and drinks and had bread from the breadbasket or chips and salsa, and a main dish, and dessert. It meant she stayed at that restaurant longer, so she avoided whatever dysfunction awaited her when she got home and everyone unraveled. She got to enjoy more pleasure in the form of food.

She knew what was coming when they got home from that restaurant, and she wanted to prolong that as much as possible. So, it makes total sense that she had a very, very hard time changing this habit. She even said it outright. She said that eating out was one of the few things she looked forward to. But she used the pleasure of eating food from a restaurant to replace the pleasure and joy that she wasn’t getting in her own life, that she wasn’t getting from being around her family.

I had another client who had a very stressful job as a surgeon, and she worked insane hours and had a ton of responsibility at work. And then, she’d come home to her second job as a parent. Over time, her days became very routine and she felt like a machine. I’ve talked about what it’s like to be “a machine” before on this podcast. And when I think of being “a machine”, I think of going numb.

This client, she was most definitely numb. The combination of work, chasing her kids, trying to sustain a relationship with her partner, maintain friendships, volunteer at her kids’ school, and be all the things to all the people, it left her numb. And she ultimately realized that she didn’t have much joy or pleasure in her life, so she turned to food.

She would come home from work, hurry up and get the kids taken care of, shovel down dinner, talk to her husband for a hot minute, and then she’d go to the pantry and eat and eat and eat. And when we dove into this, she explained that the cookies and the candy and the chocolate that she was overeating, that was her source of pleasure. That was what she looked forward to at the end of the day.

The food? It didn’t talk to her. It didn’t make demands of her. It placed no expectations on her, it was just there for her to eat. The food was her source of pleasure. And it makes sense that if food is your one source of pleasure, especially at the end of a very long and stressful day, it would make sense that you overeat and overdo it.

Because why would you want that short blip of pleasure to end? Your brain is telling you, “Hey, this feels good. This bag of cookies brings you happiness. Don’t let it go away. Let’s have more, don’t stop yet.” Even if it’s just the instant gratification of food, which ultimately does not give you real lasting pleasure, it’s still a short burst of pleasure.

And when you finally have it, your brain is not going to want to let go because it knows there’s no other pleasure to be found. Once you have it, your brain will tell you to keep going. So, what do you do if food is your one source of pleasure and that’s what’s leading you to overeat? Okay, well, this is a hard one to unpack. The simple answer, we need to work on finding other sources of pleasure in your life besides food. That’s the quick and dirty. But if only it were that easy.

On a deeper level, it means looking at the various parts of your life that are not bringing you joy, and figuring out how we bring that joy back. And that, well, that’s a much harder question to answer. But that is where the real work is.

If you’re dealing with a difficult work environment, if your career is sucking you dry, if you’re having problems with your family, if you’re having trouble in your marriage, if any or all of those scenarios apply to you, there’s your answer.

It’s not the food, no surprise there. It’s not about the food. Instead, we have to get to the root cause, and answer where joy and pleasure are lacking in your life and solve for that. So, if your marriage is in trouble, if you absolutely despise your job, if your family is a hot mess and the definition of dysfunctional, there it is. That’s what we need to work on.

And to do this, it may mean that you spend some time and energy getting super clear on your priorities. That alone can be a hard thing to do. It may feel like everything in your life is important. It may feel like everything matters and that you have to do it all, and there is not a single ball you can drop or else the floor will fall out from under you. This has come up numerous times for so many of my clients. If that’s you, please hear me. We have to find a way to prioritize. You can only grind for so long.

Because when everything is a priority, ultimately nothing is a priority. It’s often when you’re overstretched, overcommitted, and running on autopilot that you go numb, you lose your sense of purpose, you lose pleasure in the things that used to bring you joy, and then food becomes your go-to. But if you want to change that, something in your life needs to change. We need to get clear on what matters most to you and focus on bringing that to the forefront, and focus on finding joy in those things so that the default is not to go and look for food. So, I would really encourage you to think about your priorities.

And when you do that, you’ll likely face some hard decisions about how you spend your time and energy. It may mean saying no to things, and disappointing other people in favor of taking care of you, so that you stop disappointing yourself. And while those decisions might be hard, ultimately, it’s those hard decisions that will help you live more in alignment with your priorities and make your life easier.

This is what I help my clients do. I help them get clear on their priorities. And then, we strategize how to make their lives simpler. We simplify and find what truly matters to you so you can focus on finding the joy in those parts of your life. And when that happens, food becomes less important. Food stops being the focus of your life. I’ll be the first to admit, this takes time. This is a serious life shift we’re talking about here. But it’s a much needed shift for many of you.

So, another reason you may find yourself overeating is because you’re overly restricting yourself. This is a big one, and this can play out in a few different ways. First, you may be overly restricting how much food you’re eating. This is likely a remnant of previous dieting experience. So many of you are accustomed to eating way too little food; that is simply what you’re used to. It’s what you know. So, you tell yourself, “The only way I’m going to lose weight is if I hardly eat anything.” And then, you cut your food intake, and you cut your calories so low that you’re in restriction mode and it feels awful. Then you’re running on nearly empty for days or weeks, and eventually it becomes unsustainable so you can’t hold it out any longer and you overeat.

I think of it as hitting your tipping point. You’ve been hanging on and hanging on, but you’re hungry. And you think that’s how it has to be. You think you have to be hungry in order for this to work. That you have to be overly restrictive with yourself, and that’s the only way it’s going to move the needle. Until you reach your breaking point and totally overdo it. You hit the proverbial wall and go off the rails and overeat.

It’s because you’ve been restricting yourself so hard for so long, and it is just not sustainable. And this is why cutting your calories too low from the outset is a setup for disaster. Okay? So, that’s one way of restricting yourself, eating way too little to the point you eventually break and overeat. Now, the other way I see you overly restricting is when you cut out all the foods you like eating. That’s when you try to strongarm yourself into giving up all kinds of foods that you enjoy, but you haven’t figured out how to moderate yourself around those foods yet.

So, let’s talk about carbs. I will see so many women swear off carbs. I will listen to them tell me that they don’t do well with carbs. I hear that all the time. And what I have learned, is that unless you have a true medical condition like celiac disease, for most of the women who tell me, “I don’t do well with carbs,” I’ve learned that’s actually code for, “I don’t know how to moderate or handle myself around carbs and I overeat them, so I can’t tolerate them.”

Admittedly, I am generalizing here. But I have seen it, I’ve heard it, and I have witnessed it enough times, so many times, that I think there’s something to it. So, let me make it clear. There is a difference between a true medical condition like celiac disease, which is considered an autoimmune disease, and not being able to moderate yourself around carbs.

There are other medical conditions, like non-celiac gluten sensitivity and true gluten allergy. Those are both true medical conditions that, like celiac disease, are very different from simply not being able to moderate yourself around carbs. There’s a big, big difference. Regardless, I will often see a client trying to give up most every carb altogether.

But then what inevitably happens is that she rebounds, the restriction becomes too much and eventually it doesn’t work. Because restricting the stink out of yourself does not work. Okay? It’s kind of like when I tell you don’t think about pink elephants. What happens? You think about pink elephants. It’s the same thing here.

When you tell yourself, “I cannot have carbs, I cannot have chocolate, I cannot have pasta,” Think about what happens, you’ve created resistance. When you decide that a food is off limits and you cannot have it, and if you haven’t done your mind work, you will find that it’s going to be a challenge to stay away from that food.

When you create those food rules and declare that something is not allowed, you often end up desiring that food that much more. And then, once you are in front of that food, you may find that it’s very easy to overeat it. I see this happen all the time. I have had clients tell me they binge on bread when no one is around. Or that they go and eat an entire bag of snack cookies when they’re home alone.

They’ve restricted themselves for so long until they reach a point where they just could not hold out any longer, and that’s when overeating happens. And when we dive into this, what I will find over and over is that she has told herself, “This food is bad. I cannot have this. I should not have this.” But what happens when you tell yourself you can’t have food, you create a desire for it. We want what we can’t have, right?

This especially applies when we decide we can’t have carbs or chocolate. So then, when you’ve hit a tipping point and you finally do have the piece of bread or a piece of chocolate, you don’t just have one; you eat the whole thing. You go overboard. Because your brain goes into hoarder mode and thinks, “Well shoot, this is the one time in the last month I’ve been in front of cookies. So, I need to take advantage of this and go all out.” So you do, and you overeat them.

If this is you, and you tend to overeat in response to overly restricting yourself, we need to address that. And this is another big one, because it means unpacking and dismantling what, for some of you, are long-held food rules.

So for those of you who have sworn that the only way you can lose weight is by eating 1,100 calories, for example, we’ve got to dive into that. Because if your approach, every time you try to lose weight, is to cut your calories so drastically low, we’ve got to talk. Because your body is going to fight you tooth and nail and scream at you to feed it.

And when you finally do feed it, after restricting yourself so low, your body is not only going to want food, it’s going to want a lot of food. The impact on your brain, and on your body, of this up and down cyclic dieting and cyclic weight loss is real.

And for those of you who tend to rip the band aid off and cut out carbs… chocolate, pizza, and all the foods you enjoy… only to rebound, there’s your answer. We have to find a way for you to eat the foods you enjoy without it becoming a free-for-all.

So remember, there are no foods that are off limits. The intent is not that you forgo chocolate and carbs for the rest of your life. For most people, that is just not going to work. Instead, we have to work on how you manage yourself around those foods. There are no bad foods. There are no foods that you cannot or should not have.

We have to unravel the food rules you’ve created for yourself. Because as soon as you impose those rules, the resistance comes up. That means learning to trust yourself around all foods. When you know, and when you truly believe, that no food is bad and that no food is off limits, and you can have a piece of bread or a piece of chocolate and all hell will not break loose, that is when you’re onto something. But that takes practice. It takes legit awareness, and it takes patience. And it takes proving to yourself that you can, in fact, control yourself around foods that used to make you feel powerless. This shift is possible. And I cannot tell you how essential this is to breaking free of your food rules. This is key.

When you let your food rules go, your world opens up and you will stop restricting yourself. And when you stop restricting yourself, you will stop rebound overeating. It all goes together. Alright, so let’s talk about one other reason that may lead you to overeat. And this happens, ironically, when you’ve been following your plan and not overeating for a while. So, let me explain this, because this one comes up all the time.

When I get started with a client who’s working with me on weight loss, I will encourage her to make decisions in advance about how she’s going to eat. It’s one of the first things we do. She’ll devise a plan for herself, along with my help, and then she’ll have a plan for how she’s going to eat. And then, she’ll go and execute the plan.

She’s usually pretty motivated at the outset and follows through on her decisions. She’ll stick to her plan pretty hardcore, and as a result, she’ll see success. She feels better, she’s eating better, and the weight starts to come off. Things are working.

And then, she’ll get to a day or an event or a milestone, and she’ll be faced with a food decision. She’ll think to herself, “I earned this. This is my reward. I’ve been following my plan. I’m losing weight. I earned this.” And that’s when overeating starts; you gave yourself a justification. It’s so interesting how this shakes out. I will most often see this happen after a client has been in a steady stream of weight loss, or after she’s been following along on her plan for a while and has lost a good amount of weight. And maybe you can relate to this.

There’s a story in your brain that starts creeping in and telling you, “Hey, you earned this. You’ve been at this for a long time. You’ve lost weight. You’re good. You earned this huge piece of chocolate cake.” Or another common justification I’ll hear is, “This isn’t a big deal.” This cookie, this bowl of ice cream, this glass of wine, or whatever it is, “this one,” fill in the blank, “is not going to hurt. It’s no big deal.” And then, you have it.

It’s really interesting, and it’s totally common. You go along, you’re following your plan, losing weight, you’re in a groove. And that success, while it is totally awesome, can also lead you to justify overeating. You tell yourself, “It’s fine, you can bounce back. You know what to do to lose weight. You can tighten up tomorrow. You can get back on it come Monday, no problem.”

What you’re doing, essentially, is rewarding yourself with food for losing weight. Or you justify your overeating by reminding yourself that you’ve lost weight. It’s fascinating. The irony is most definitely there, and it is totally common. You reward yourself for losing weight by eating. But you justify it because you’ve lost weight, you know what to do, and you can bounce back. It’s so interesting.

I find that for some people, the longer you go, and the longer you diet without really making your changes into a lifestyle, the more often this happens. So, if this is you, and your pattern is to overeat, as a reward or justification for sticking to your plan, your work is to pull apart your justifications.

That means when your brain offers you a justification like ‘I earned this,’ don’t stop there. Engage in the conversation happening in your head. I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the essential skills to learn if you want to get past your justification is this, don’t stop. Don’t stop at your justification. Meaning, if your brain is offering you the justification of ‘you’ve earned this,’ don’t just accept it. Don’t agree with yourself and say, “Yeah, you know what? I did earn this cookie.” No, because once you stop your justification, you’re done. Your brain is going to win out and the cookie will be in your mouth and no time.

Instead, this is your opportunity to pull apart your justifications and go to bat with yourself. Really, that’s how I think of it. You go to bat with yourself, for yourself. So, when your brain gives you a justification, you don’t just accept it as fact. “You earned this,” is not a fact. So, argue with yourself a little.

And when I say that, I mean you do it in a kind way. You offer yourself a counter argument. Something like, “Yes, you’ve done a really great job following your plan, and this is not the time to start rewarding yourself with food. There is no ‘earning’ food.”

Or another approach is to ask yourself, “Okay, if I reward myself and accept this justification and eat this cookie, how am I going to feel later?” The whole idea here is to continue the conversation. The idea is to go beyond your justification and pick it apart, and see the other side of it before you put hand to mouth and eat something you’re not going to feel good about later.

It means being aware of your justifications and talking yourself through them without accepting them. Okay? So, there it is. I just went over four super common reasons that you may be overeating, and what to do about them. To summarize, you may overeat because it’s an escape from real noise, or figurative noise, that is filling up your brain. Or you may overeat because it’s your one source of pleasure. because you lack joy in other parts of your life.

You may also overeat because you’re used to overly restricting yourself, either by eating way too little calories, or by cutting out too many of the foods that you enjoy eating, like carbs and chocolate. And you may overeat because you’ve justified it with your weight loss. You reward yourself for losing weight by eating. This is justification.

So, if one or any of these apply to you, again, the key is awareness. I’ve gone over what to do if any of these causes of overeating apply to you. And at the end of the day, it’s really going to come down to you recognizing it and then making a very conscientious, deliberate attempt at changing your outcome. You’re changing the default.

Remember, in order for your life to change, you have to change something. If you want to finally be done overeating, it means doing something different than you’ve always done. It will mean processing your emotions instead of eating them. Or reprioritizing your life and simplifying in order to find joy in things other than food.

Or practicing self-trust around foods you think you have no control over. Or it may mean going to bat with yourself to break down your justifications, when normally you would just accept those justifications without question and eat.

These are your tools. These are your keys to undoing overeating, okay? It’s not trying to strongarm yourself into never eating carbs again. It is not hiding in your pantry with a bag of cookies while your kids scream at each other. It’s not telling yourself you’ve earned food as a reward. Okay? And if this sounds hard to you, I hear you. I’ve got you. You do not have to do this alone. These are huge shifts in your habit, shifts in your awareness, and shifts in your thinking. And once you’ve got those, overeating will no longer be an issue. You will have freedom around food. Alright?

And if you want help with this, let’s go. When you coach with me, we will identify the reasons you’re overeating and then you’ll practice tools to overcome it. In that process, you’ll change your relationship with yourself and change your relationship with food.

So, head to my website, go to www. CarrieHollandMD.com/contact and let’s get going. 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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