This is how you get conscious and aware of your triggers so that you can understand what actually starts the habit, what exactly causes the urges. It’s different for everyone, so it’s unique to you, and you can get the awareness you need to identify the thought that is creating your urges to overeat.
Now, don’t do what so many other people do when they notice what their triggers are. They decide they’re either going to hide from those triggers or remove them from their house. This is when people remove all the “bad” food from their fridge and pantry, or they say “no” to friends and family when asked to go out to a restaurant or party where there will be food.
Don’t do this—there’s no need to. Remember, the trigger is never what causes the desire, or the urge, to overeat. It’s your thoughts about those triggers that are creating the urge.
And this is the greatest news I ever got and that I am SO incredibly excited and honored to share with you if you didn’t already know it at this level of understanding!
You don’t have to remove yourself socially and you don’t have to remove the food from your house… otherwise, you’re left with nothing and no one, and that’s not fun at all! You can’t avoid your triggers forever, that’s unrealistic and not the length you want to go to just to lose some fat. These triggers will always be around, you can count on them either never going away or changing over time. You will never win if you try to control the uncontrollable.
So, before I go on to explain how to not give in to the urge to overeat, I want to ask you some questions that will help you identify your own triggers and the way you’re thinking about them.
Think back and identify when you tend to overeat. Whether it’s at a football game and tailgating, or at home after work, or at a family member’s house for the holidays. List those events out on paper. Then, within those moments, think about how you’re feeling and how you think you would feel if you didn’t overeat, or didn’t give in to the urge to nibble and eat past fullness or satiety. Then, be inquisitive and without judging yourself, ask yourself what it is you’re thinking that is bringing up those emotions for you. What is going through your mind?
NOW that you know exactly why you, specifically, are overeating, it’s time to find out the answer to the biggest question: Why?
This is the question that needs to be considered the most and that most people never even bother to think about, which is why they stay stuck. The reason is because so many people already assume that negative emotions are wrong, they’re terrible, they’re incorrect just for being an emotion that isn’t related to happiness.
This makes it really easy to desire avoiding them, right? These emotions are being associated as painful on some level in your brain. But why? I really suggest you question that, otherwise you will never know how to undo an urge without fighting. But what I want you to really start to ask yourself is what is so terrible about a negative emotion that you need to not feel it? That you seek food to get relief from feeling it?
What is an emotion?
It’s really important to know what an emotion actually is.
An emotion is the word chosen to describe the state that your body is in when it’s feeling something.
So, when you’re sad, for example, your body expresses that sadness in several ways, either through releasing tears, or lowering your lips and cheeks into a frown, or through slow movements, like you don’t get up off the couch very quickly.
Every single emotion is expressed in your body at one point or another. And what I want to ask you is, what do you notice you physically do when you’re feeling joyful?
Or when you’re feeling frustrated? When you’re frustrated, do you notice temperature changes, like, you feel your body heat up in certain places, like around your neck and face?
When you’re feeling lonely, where do you feel the feeling of lonely? For some people, loneliness is felt between their stomach and their chest, like a light tightness.
An emotion is how you’re describing a physical state that your body is in, or a feeling state, and each emotion is expressed differently throughout your body.
In short, negative emotions tend to increase tension in your body, meaning you can feel your muscles tense up. With positive emotions, you don’t feel the same kind of tenseness. Take joyfulness for example; you may feel a pleasant lightness in your chest. Or excitement… those can be those “good” butterflies fluttering around your chest that you love experiencing.
How an emotion fuels you
Many of us are aware of physical changes in our body when we experience emotions, but we kind of stop there. We don’t think about the effect our emotions actually have on us, meaning the actions that we’re inclined to take following how we’re feeling, because no one taught us how to actually identify and actually experience, or feel, a feeling.
And it’s not a hard thing to do… frustration may create a heated face, sadness may produce a frown… these are just sensations in our body that are just as normal as moving our arm to the side or crossing one leg over the other.
We’re not taught this with all emotions growing up, though, and our parents didn’t teach it to us because no one taught it to them. But it’s true—every emotion shows up differently in our body and some we’re more familiar with and accepting of than others, even though they are all the same insofar as they are only physical vibrations or sensations in our body.
The more you practice feeling an emotion and letting it come and go in your body, you’ll notice that it’s not as hard as you thought and that it’s a completely normal thing for a human body to do.
So, knowing that emotions are just physical sensations in your body and mean only that, if you’re overeating because you’re giving in to urges to avoid feeling an emotion, then what emotions are you aware of that you’re avoiding? What physical sensation are you avoiding experiencing?
The reason you need to know what your emotions feel like is because overeating has been your way of avoiding feeling a feeling.
You overeat to feel less awkward at parties, to feel less boring at dinners, to feel less insecure or judged around your peers or family members. For me, I overate because I had urges to avoid feeling judged. It may be different for you, so it’s important to know how to feel your emotions so that you know what physical sensations you’re trying to avoid when you overeat.
Remember how we talked about an emotion being a trigger? A habit won’t be brought up unless there’s a trigger to get it going. Well, a negative emotion may be a trigger for you. An emotion like boredom, doubt, shame, or confusion… any time you feel even a second of it in your body, you nibble on some cheese, or grab an apple, or grab an extra cookie or half a donut in the break room. You do these in order to change how you feel. And when you do this, you make the urges stronger because you’re teaching your brain that a negative emotion is bad, and needs to be solved.
Your brain learns to reinforce this habit.
But the thing is… there is no problem.
Negative emotions are not bad because all they are, are physical sensations in your body. We’re supposed to have them and feel them! That’s part of the package of being a human being. Animals have emotions too and they don’t judge themselves for experiencing any of them. They just feel them and move on. We do that too as human beings, but we’ve taught ourselves to use food to move on for some of our emotions, and that has created a habit of overeating that has resulted in weight gain that isn’t how you imagined your life would be.
And the beautiful thing about actually feeling your emotions is that, the more you do it, the more aware you will become of what you’re thinking. And your thoughts create your emotions.
Learning how to actually feel a feeling solves a lot for many people. It may not completely get rid of a craving, but when an urge comes up, you have some reprieve, or real relief, and time to pause, and ask yourself what is it that you’re unwilling to physically feel?
Feeling your emotions—from the positive ones to the negative ones—can decrease the intensity of the urge by a significant amount, and when the intense desire is lowered, then it no longer is urgent, and you’ll be making decisions consciously instead of unconsciously.
Emotions don’t last forever
Another thing to keep in mind is that emotions don’t last forever; each and every single one passes.
Most of us don’t actually let an emotion just run its course, or come and go. Instead, we fight it. We resist it. We try to outrun it or outsmart or avoid it. That just makes things more frightful and reinforces the habit of resisting or fighting it.
You can lose weight this way, but the journey to weight loss will be so painful and miserable for you that you’ll even associate your results with pain, so you’ll return to overeating because that’s how you’ve remembered makes you feel better.
Feeling your emotions is so important for loving your body no matter what size or shape you’re in. It’s something I focus on with my clients a lot because the more you allow certain feelings like love and acceptance in your body, the more you’ll want to re-experience those emotions in your body, which makes the whole weight loss journey so much more wonderful, loving, and worthwhile, so there’s nothing to run away from or hide from when you actually have lost all the weight.
Experiencing your emotions in your body all the way through is the key to undoing your urges, which is the key to never gaining excess fat ever again.
Do the work
Ok, so let’s practice this. Let’s bring it all together. Think about and write down when you notice you tend to overeat. Find those moments in your day and list them out. And in those moments, think about how you’re feeling and how you think you would feel if you didn’t eat anything, or didn’t give in to the urge to snack or nibble and eat past fullness or satiety. Then, when you notice the feeling, ask yourself, “What is going through my mind?”
Now, when you’re doing this and you notice that one of the emotions you’re feeling is a difficult emotion, start writing down what you notice you are physically feeling in your body. Pay attention to your whole body and locate where there is tension in your muscles, or temperature changes, or a twisting feeling in your stomach, or perspiration building up in the palms of your hands… Do you feel anything in your nose, on your nose, around your ears, on the back of your neck, along your back?
The reason this is so important to do, and why it’s such a crucial skill to develop, is because you will start to train your brain to learn that difficult emotions are not bad, that they don’t need to be solved by eating.
Definitely do this work—it will change so, so much for you. This is the work that will be the most transformative for you.
And don’t judge yourself or doubt your ability to try this. It’s not the way you’ve been taught to handle urges, so trying a new way will feel awkward and different at first, but this is the only way to lower the intensity of your urges so that you are ultimately in control of what you eat, and in the end, you’re in control of the weight and shape of your body.
This practice that you develop will be something that you can use for the rest of your life. And I am so happy that you have this tool now.
As always, if you have any questions about how to move forward with anything I share and how it can help you, please don’t hesitate to ask. I want to make sure you have everything you need to make the progress you want. I answer any and all questions about undoing urges to overeat in the Undoing Urges Facebook group. I hope you join us!