The Most Common Cause for Overeating and How to Overcome It

Woman with Cookie

“When we run from our feelings, they follow us. Everywhere.” ~Martha Beck, Ph.D

I’ve tried Paleo, The 4-Hour Body, even Body for Life.

I’ve tried intermittent fasting. (That was no fun.)

I’ve tried low-carb, carb-cycling, and carb-binging. (While I don’t think that’s a diet strategy, it was what I experienced.)

Sure, I lost weight temporarily, but I never felt like I “arrived.” I never felt…good.

Ironically, it took me gaining weight to learn the secret.

How Will I Know When I’ve “Arrived”?

Is there an image inside your head of what you “should” look like?

I was haunted by those “before” and “after” pictures.

I could certainly identify with the “before” picture, and I wanted to look like the “after” picture. But no matter how disciplined I ate, no matter how many fitness classes I did, I never felt like I reached the “after” picture.

Eventually, my husband’s job changed, and stress decided to make itself a nice and comfy spot on the internal couch in my mind.

I found myself eating in front of the TV after dinner. I would sneak squares of chocolate when no one was looking. I had an extra glass of wine at night.

Pretty soon, my clothes didn’t fit quite right.

“Well, I lost the weight before. I can do it again, right?” But this time, my old tricks were not working.

Not Good Enough

Early in our lives (especially as women), the world teaches us that we need to have the perfect body in order to be worthy. Worthy of love, attention, validation, you name it. And we learn that lesson well.

We may not like it, but deep down, how our bodies look really matters.

And no matter how we look, we don’t look good enough.

Just spend thirty minutes watching TV and all the commercials will tell you. Nearly every ad campaign is telling us something to the effect of:

  • We are not attractive enough (unless we buy their product)
  • We are not slim enough (unless we buy their product)
  • We are not happy enough (but we will be, if we buy their product)

Naturally, not being (fill in the blank) enough feels bad.

What do we turn to in order to help ourselves feel better?

The commercials have an answer for that too. Their ads perpetuate the lie that food will make us feel better.

For so many of us, eating is an unconscious way of avoiding pain. The pain of worry, fear, anger, stress, doubt—all of which are normal feelings that are universal to us as humans.

The thing is, these feelings are signals from our bodies. They are flashing signs with a message that we fail to read because we have our blinders on.

We end up creating a layer of armor (otherwise known as fat) that protects us from our pain.

The problem is that running from our pain creates new stresses, like weight gain and health problems, which are more painful than the original painful feelings we tried to escape from.

You Are Not Broken, There Is No Need to Fix It

So how do we fix the pain that was caused by avoiding the pain?

We can remove the armor of fat by letting down our defenses and allowing ourselves to not fix our pain, worry, fear, or anger.

When we make these feelings okay, we honor ourselves and our bodies.

We have these feelings for a reason; they are not meant to be ignored.

If we let ourselves really feel those painful emotions, we can then start the process of letting them go instead of stuffing them down our throats. Once we no longer have to protect ourselves from our pain, then we are able to let go of our excess weight as well.

“So even if the hot loneliness is there, and for 1.6 seconds we sit with that restlessness when yesterday we couldn’t sit for even one, that’s the journey of the warrior.” ~Pema Chödrön

I was finally able to simply acknowledge my fear of the unknown. Just naming it helped me to be still with it.

I began to realize that it was not my extra weight that was the problem. My fear of the unknown was the disease that caused the symptom of gaining weight.

Gradually, I began (and am still learning) to appreciate my body for showing up for me. If I want to stand up, my legs work. If I want to eat, my insides digest my food. If I wanted to see, I open my eyes.

For me, acknowledging my feelings is the key to loving my body and letting go of unhealthy weight.

Letting Go Practice

Try this quick visualization technique to practice honoring your feelings and letting them go.

Take a deep breath. Try to name what it is that you are feeling. Just naming it helps.

Feel where that feeling resides in your body. Is it creating tension in your shoulders; a feeling in the pit of your stomach?

Imagine this feeling as a gas. Give it a color like yellow, green, grey, or black.

Pretend that you are able to reach into your body and compress this feeling like a snowball. Make it smaller and smaller until you could hold it in your hand.

Now imagine that you are able to put a glass sphere around this gas/feeling. See the gas inside of the glass ball.

Mentally reach into your body and remove the ball of gas. Hold it in your hand and extend your arm.

Loosen your fingers a little and notice your fingerprints on the glass. You have held it inside your body for so long that it almost felt like it was part of you. But it is separate and you can let it go.

Imagine opening your fingers and slowly letting the ball drop to the floor. You may feel an irrational desire to scoop it up as it is falling. This is normal because the pain is so familiar that it almost feels scary to lose it.

Let the ball drop all the way to the floor and shatter. See the gas escape and disappear, washed away in the clean air.

This may take some practice since we are often good at letting go, and then grabbing our fears back so we can dwell on them. Stick with it.

You just might find that releasing strong emotions lightens your physical body as well as your spiritual one.

Woman with cookie image via Shutterstock

About Lizzie Merritt

Lizzie Merritt, M.Ed. uses her experience as a former science teacher and a fitness professional to write about weight loss psychology and positive psychology on her blog www.lizziemerritt.com. She is the author of 7 Ways to Willpower (available on Amazon, or click here to get your FREE copy.)

See a typo or inaccuracy? Please contact us so we can fix it!