Posts tagged Overeating
I’m Doing This Intuitive Eating Thing — So Why Do I Keep Overeating?

“I’ve been doing this intuitive eating thing, but…I keep overeating. You said I would feel sane around food if I gave myself permission to eat whatever I wanted, so what gives?”

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As an intuitive eating counsellor and nutritionist — someone who helps women all over the world to stop bingeing, make peace with food, and feel at ease in whatever body they happen to find themselves in — one of the chief concerns I encounter involves “overeating.”

Because “overeating” isn’t as clear a term as you’d think, let’s start there.

Eating more than you did when you were dieting is not “overeating.”

Eating more than what your fitness tracker recommends is not “overeating.”

Eating what you feel is a large volume of food is not “overeating.”

Eating beyond the “portion” on the label is not “overeating.”

Eating more than what’s on your meal plan is not necessarily “overeating.”


Quite “simply” (ha — is anything ever simple when it comes to food and body?!) — “overeating” means eating beyond fullness. It can occur at any time (during a scheduled meal, over the holidays, or while snacking), and for any reason (by accident, because you’re recovering from an eating disorder and you need to overeat, because you’re trying to mitigate anxiety or uncomfortable feelings, and so on.)


Intuitive eaters seldom overeat. Not because we’re a superior brand of species, but because we know we can eat what we want, when we want, and in the amount that we want. Truly. Madly. Deeply.

But if you’re perpetually overeating, does it mean you’re “failing” at intuitive eating?

It’s one thing to logically give yourself unconditional permission to eat.

It’s another to live it

Here’s a few reasons why you’re still overeating:

  1. You’re judging what you eat, the amount you eat, or when you eat.

Darling, judging is another word for restriction — and is the furthest thing from unconditional permission. In my experience, this judgment usually stems from a fear of what your “intuitive eating experiments” will do to your body. When you’re panicked about how much weight you’ll gain or how your shape will change from not dieting, you’ll resort to your primary and most comforting coping mechanism: food.

This is why I feel intuitive eating (or recovery from diet culture or an eating disorder) works most effectively when combined with body image work, self-compassion, self-care, and psychotherapy. 

I’m blue in the face from saying it, but truly: restriction always leads to “eating issues.”

I cover this extensively in my coaching practice, but this gives you a head start.


2. You’re worried about your weight. 

This concern feels very real and I have a ton of empathy for it. But honestly? This worry is never about the weight exclusively. Thinness doesn’t live in a vacuum. 

Why do you care about becoming or staying thin?

…Maybe you believe it will help your chances of meeting the love of your life.

…Or help you to feel more confident sporting that string bikini on the beach.

…Help you to make friends and feel a sense of belonging.

…Allow you to finally accept your body so you stop killing yourself at the gym. 

…Get your [parental figure] off your back and finally experience their acceptance. 

Yes, being thin comes with specific privileges (“thin privilege” is real), but we also carry a number of convictions about thinness (and fatness) and its symbolism that inform our eating choices and how we view our relationship with food.

3. It’s your only coping mechanism.

“Emotional eating” isn’t pathological; I’m a big believer in legalizing emotional eating. 
But as you dive deeper into intuitive eating, you’ll find 1) food no longer offers the comfort it once did 2) you may wish to process your feelings a little differently.


Some things I recommend implementing that were personally helpful: 

  1. Being extremely diligent about your self-care. This may mean having standard sleep and wake times, taking an evening bath, trying a skincare routine, participating in joyful movement (if this is available to you at this time), spending time with friends or family, taking regular breaks, eating regularly and adequately, keeping hydrated, diffusing essential oils, limiting caffeine and/or alcohol, and so on. It needs to be personally meaningful and something you can do without much effort. Also: it doesn’t have to cost anything.

  2. Finding a therapist — ideally a weight-neutral, eating disorder-informed one.

  3. Actively try other coping mechanisms, like journalling, calling a friend, going for a walk, meditating, listening to music, etc. It takes time to foster new habits, so be patient with this.

  4. Meet yourself with self-compassion. I highly recommend Dr. Kirstin Neff’s Self-Compassion.


Is this something you struggle (or struggled) with while starting intuitive eating? Let me know in the comments!

WHY DO I STILL FEEL OUT OF CONTROL AROUND FOOD?: DEEP DIVING INTO RESTRICTION

When coaching clients through the intuitive eating process, many people find unconditional permission a super tough act to integrate. 

If you’re relatively new to intuitive eating and slowly working through the intuitive eating principles, you may feel ready to throw in the towel. You’re eating all the things! You’re eating the cake! You’re honouring your hunger and fullness cues! 

You’re eating with attunement! You’re enjoying dessert, feeling comfortable around potato chips, and going out for ice cream with friends. All experiences and pleasures you previously denied yourself. 

But regardless of what you tell yourself, you still feel out of control. You worry you’ll never stop eating. You worry you’ll never stop gaining. You find you can’t not eat an entire pint of ice cream in one go. If there’s cake in the house, you’ll find it. Cheeseboards? Game over. 

Intuitive eating, body positivity, health at every size, eating disorder recovery.

 

But before you decide that you’re not cut out for intuitive eating — that intuitive eating may work for some people, but not you — we need to dig deep into restriction. 

I’ve never, ever seen binge eating operate without some level of restriction.

I’ve never, ever seen out of control eating without some level of restriction. 

Because the reality is, even if you’re giving yourself “permission,” restriction is often so deeply ingrained that we aren’t even aware of when it's operating. 

I liken restriction to a volcano. Everyone can see when a volcano is erupting. I mean, there’s lava. That’s some very obvious restriction: “I’m on a diet,” “I’m not allowed to eat anything good,” “I don’t buy that stuff,” I would never eat x.” This is lava restriction. You’re fully aware of what you’re doing. 

But what about the kind bubbling beneath the surface? The kind that you’ve never not lived with? We call it “the diet mentality” in intuitive eating because so many people are dieting — even if they’re not on a diet. 

And sometimes it helps to have a coach on your side to identify those areas for you — to point out where you’re still restricting so you can fully make peace with food and body. 

We have to tease out the stories. 

The story your mother taught you about what you need to look like to be loved.

The shame you carry from what your father said to you when you were six. 

The terrible things kids said to you when you were twelve, just as you were trying to make sense of your changing body.

The beliefs you hold about sugar — that you are inherently addicted

…Or the beliefs you hold about carbs — that they make you gain weight.

The belief that weight gain is "bad."

…Or the beliefs you hold about fat — that fat makes you fat. 

The belief that fat is "bad."

The stories magazines and billboards tell you about your worth. 

The story that you should always be on a diet. 

The story your friends repeat about how you should always be on a diet.

The story products marketed to you — the yogurts, the cereals, the snack packs — repeat about how you should always be on a diet. 

The story that there will be a diet that works this time.

The story that we can change our lives by changing our bodies. 

The story that our bodies are wrong, not enough, and we should always be aiming to lose weight, shape up, or ship out. 

The story that women should not weigh. 

Which parts— which stories — of your life are begging you to be smaller? And how can you grow outside of them? What’s included in the next chapter? Who gets to write your book? 

If you are restricting in any way, intuitive eating will reveal it. Today I’d like to dive deeper into the way restriction shows up in our lives and how to begin unpacking it by looking at physical restriction vs. psychological restriction. 

Physical restriction is exactly what it sounds like: where the lack of food is apparent to the naked eye. 

Not all physical restriction creates issues, but I think it’s important to be aware of the way it informs our eating decisions. 

Some forms of physical restriction include:

Seasonal availability. Not all foods are available year-round. I live in Toronto, so let’s use strawberries and asparagus as examples. I experience a greater “emotional charge” with these foods than, say, potatoes and cabbage, because they’re only available for a limited time. 

Ask any business coach: few things move us to action like scarcity. During May and June, I’m loading up on these because I know it’ll be another year until I get them again. And sure, I can eat imported berries and asparagus, but because “it’s not the same,” I can’t help but feel enamoured by these foods. 

Consider this for yourself. How do you feel about sweet potatoes vs. watermelon? Apples freshly picked from the orchard vs. eating those from cold storage months later? 

Travel. Whether you’re enjoying pasta and gelato in Italy or guacamole and margaritas in Mexico, there’s an element of scarcity — restriction — here. Think of the stories you’re told: 1) it’s not the same at home 2) you don’t know when you’ll get to eat quite like this again.

Often, these foods are less expensive — wine is cheaper in Europe than it is in Canada, for example. If you’re someone who “always overdoes it” on vacation or views this as your one chance to go all-out, this can add fuel to the fire. Because you don’t have access to these foods all the time, you may feel compelled to eat more than usual.

By the way: there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a vacation. That’s part of the experience. But your trip may also not be as enjoyable if you’re uncomfortably full the entire time. 

Moving away from home. Nothing tastes as good as mom’s home cooked meals, right? Or Dad’s. Or someone else’s. The point is, when we return home (or to our neighbour’s) after a long hiatus, it’s totally natural to eat more than we normally would. 

We haven’t had access to these foods for a while, which has left us feeling deprived. There’s also the limited-time-offer thing (must get our fill in now!) If you find you eat a bit more whenever you visit family, this may have something to do with this. 

Food insecurity and food deserts. If food was scarce when you were growing up — you never had enough — this may follow you into adulthood. The same can be said for survivors of war, refugees, and those facing excruciating economic conditions. 

What about those struggling in food deserts? Yes — the same. Being denied food, a basic human right, can incite feelings of deprivation and lead to overeating and binge-like behaviours to compensate for that deprivation. 

Food allergies or sensitivities. Allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities can be tricky to navigate (I have Celiac’s disease and understand what it’s like firsthand.) I used to feel out of control around gluten-free donuts, cookies, pizza, and other foods because I so rarely got to enjoy them. I think the biggest takeaway here is to approach your allergy/sensitivity from a place of choice (empowerment) vs. circumstance (disempowerment.) 

For example, you could eat [x food], but you probably wouldn’t feel very well. This might be a more helpful way to frame your eating decisions, as opposed to stating how you “can’t” eat something. I could eat gluten; no one will arrest me. But I’ll feel like shit, so I choose not to. 

Psychological restriction can overlap with physical restriction, but it’s generally self-imposed vs. situationally-imposed. 

For example, believing a food, ingredient, or macronutrient is inherently “bad” for you. This form of restriction can lead you to deny your cravings for favourite foods and to feel deprived, leading to binge-like behaviours and compulsive eating, either to compensate for the deprivation (“stuffing it”) or when in the presence of off-limits foods. Carrying negative beliefs about food the have little basis in science is a form of restriction. 

Denying cravings because you feel the craving is inherently unhealthy — or denying your experience. Believing your body is “wrong” for its cravings, rather than validating those cravings as natural and life-affirming. For example, believing something is off because you’re craving carbohydrates (an oft-demonized macronutrient), or for wanting a cookie. Denying an experience is a form of restriction. 

Not eating something for fear it will lead to weight/fat gain. This is in line with the previous forms of restriction, but it’s important to acknowledge separately. Avoiding “fattening” foods is a form of restriction. Why? Fat isn’t bad — it isn’t a problem to solve — and secondly, when a food caries a higher energy load, we’ll probably fill up on less. Our bodies can self-regulate. If you eat a lot of rich foods, you may naturally crave lighter fare. You could eat more, but you’d probably feel uncomfortably full. 

Not eating something for fear it will give you X or lead to Y. Again, this folds into the other forms of restriction, but has less to do with weight gain/fat phobia and more to do with believing [X food] will give you cancer. While certain foods may help to prevent or support disease, illness has to do with far more than what we put (or don’t) in our mouths. This choice has more to do with fear-mongering than it does with science. 

Being on a diet with “yes” and “no” lists. Same deal. When you’re on a diet, you have lists for which foods are acceptable — and which aren’t. This is an obvious form of restriction that gets dealt with during the first stage of the intuitive eating process. 

Naming foods or eating styles (including slightly more subtle, insidious labels such as “clean eating” and “real food”.) Let’s get one thing out of the way: all food is “real” food. All food is made of chemicals. What makes a food “real”? Most foods are at least minimally processed — it’s what makes them edible and digestible. It also doesn’t matter what these foods are. “Clean” implies some foods are dirty, while others are good and virtuous. Food hierarchies are a kind of restriction, where some foods are better than others (which means the “others” should be avoided.)

If you’re engaging in overeating or binge-like behaviours, there’s a good chance you’re restricting in some way. Which point resonates most with you? Did you experience any “aha” moments while running though these lists?

Can't Stop Overeating at Night?: 5 Steps to Stop Feeling Like a Post-Dinner Food Junkie

Hey loves! This post is part of a 4-part series designed to boost your body image and improve your relationship with food so you can let go of dieting. I know so many of you believe diets don't work, yet simultaneously also believe the next diet will work for you. Or, you're done with diets, but intuitive eating feels so overwhelming (so many principles!) and you aren't sure how you'll ever shake the diet mentality. That's okay! Over the next five weeks, we're covering:

  • Can't Stop Overeating at Night?: 5 Steps to Stop Feeling Like a Post-Dinner Food Junkie

  • Where "Feeling Fat" Comes From and How to Start Feeling Comfortable in Your Own Skin

  • 10 Reasons You Still Hate Your Body (And What To Do About It)

  • Owning What We Eat: Why all Diets and Eating Styles Make Us Crazy Around Food

Let's set the scene.

You make sure to sit down to a nourishing breakfast. Maybe it’s a green smoothie made with Granny Smith apple, celery, cucumber, Romaine lettuce, watercress, and the juice of a lime and lemon. Lunch is always a salad topped with some kind of protein or a bowl of soup. You snack on hummus and vegetables. But come nighttime, you can't stop eating to the point of overeating. You find yourself compulsively raiding the cupboards, eating whatever you can get your hands on. Crackers, half-empty bags of potato chips, that lone pint of ice cream, chocolates your friend Suzy brought over on the weekend. You can’t stop and more significantly, you feel totally out of control. You don’t feel satisfied, and worse, you feel crazy. If I could just control the mindless snacking, you’ve said. If only I could stop bingeing, I’d be able to maintain my weight, you've said. 

It’s not you, darling. It’s the diet or the restriction. 

Body positive, intuitive eating, emotional eating, late night snacking, holistic nutrition, health at every size. 5 steps to stop feeling like a post-dinner food junkie when you can't stop eating at night.

 

We’ve been programmed to think of food as the enemy. Sugar is a drug, right? Not so much; science hasn’t proven that. I would argue “sugar addiction” is way less about sugar than it is about our relationship to sugar. I can eat a pack of gummy bears and not eat candy for weeks, so claiming it’s on par with cocaine is probably not all that apt. 

Others claim we burn through glucose (carbohydrates) before fat because sugar’s toxic to our bodies, but if it’s so toxic, why is it that our bodies convert excess amino acids (protein) into glucose? You can't look anywhere without being warned of dramatic food-related dangers. Salt is bad for our kidneys and blood pressure, steak is bad for our hearts -- oh wait, just deli meat!, milk gives us acne, eggs elevate cholesterol, and bread makes us fat. Am I missing anything? Hyper caloric foods, like pizza and cheeseburgers, are blamed for “the obesity epidemic”. We live in an obsegenic environment! crusaders cry out. 

But we don’t only overeat when there’s an abundance of food. We also overeat in response to perceived or real food scarcity. I mean, just check out the Ancel Keys starvation study in Minnesota between 1944-45. Are we eating more “junk foods” because we have easy access to them, or are we eating more because we’re not suppose to? Because we live in a Puritanical society hyper fixated on “clean eating”, cleanses, detoxification, and the general holiness or lack thereof of foods?

Is a child more likely to eat all the cookies because they’re there, or because you’ve said, “Hey, look at all those cookies! But don’t eat any”?

If “thin” is the crack we’re all after, then diets are the dealers. 

Now, my fridge doesn’t work. The third shelf freezes everything and the first shelf remains at room temperature. We’ve spent over $600 on repairs and no one can fix it. Is this my fault? No. The fridge is clearly a lemon. Someone probably knew it was a lemon when it was sold to us at a heavily discounted price. We suspected it was a lemon the first time we needed it repaired. No amount of work will not make the fridge a lemon. But I can either accept that it’s a lemon and get myself a new fridge — one that makes good on its promises — or I can keep trying to get this thing to work by pouring more money into it, trying to make lemonade out of something that has no juice. 

So what does this have to do with your inability to stop eating at night? Everything, my love, because through your actions — trying to “be good” all day in accordance with standards set by diet culture — you’re creating the framework to support disordered eating, over-eating, and late night, eat-everything-in-sight binges. 

In other words, by not eating what you want, when you want — restricting and depriving — you are setting yourself up for late night binge eating. You can’t stop the binge eating at night because you haven’t quit the very behaviours that cause it. 

So how do you quit? 

1 | Let go of the pressure to “be good” during the day. 

Release the pressure to “be good” at all. Does eating Doritos make you a mean person? Is having a slice of pizza at lunch on the same level as burning down an orphanage? Part of developing an awesome relationship with food requires you to stop giving food so much power over your identity. You are not your food choices. You are not better for eating a kale salad or worse for eating ice cream; you are not more beautiful, accepted, successful, loved, intelligent, or brave for having a green smoothie, and not uglier, less acceptable, a failure, a loser, or stupid for eating an egg sandwich with cheese and bacon. 

I know health is more or less marketed this way (look at that gorgeous blonde with the green smoothie cycling on the beach!) and pizza’s image isn’t nearly as sexy, but it’s important to distinguish between what is advertising and what is reality. Between what is health and what is weight obsession. Between what is fact and what is fiction

When you stop trying to control and police your food choices and allow your eating decisions to arise naturally, you’ll find you instinctively choose a variety of foods. And about “pizza Friday”, cheat meals, and cheat days? They're other forms of restriction. Sometimes you’ll want a cheeseburger on a Wednesday and a chicken salad on a Saturday. Sometimes you’ll crave carrot sticks when others are eating cake. Sometimes you’ll want two slices of cake when others crave carrots. This is all part of normal eating. This is step one to stop overeating at night or feeling like you have no ownership over your food intake. 

2 | Allow the satisfaction factor to take the lead. I also want you to consider how satisfying your food choices currently are. Do you eat foods you enjoy, or do you choose them based exclusively on their alleged health properties? Do you allow magazines to determine your meal plan, or do you make recipes that sound good to you? This is a big part of making peace with compulsive, intense nighttime eating. 

Years ago, I would agonize over my lunch choices. I limited myself to approved foods for a long time (the list was pretty short at one point.) Now I genuinely eat what sounds the most satisfying to me. This question actually leads me to eat all kinds of foods. Now, I don’t necessarily eat exactly what I want all the time due to things like availability and — let’s face it — budget, but I find keeping ingredients I love around the house helps a lot. You can make a pot of lentil soup a bit more satisfying by topping it with feta’s cheese, avocado, or adding in a couple sausage links; a can of chickpeas can be rinsed, plated, and adorned with Kalamata olives, pickled onions, arugula, and a bright salad dressing. Instead of focusing on whether something is healthy or unhealthy, ask yourself: is this what I want? Does this meal look delicious? It requires a bit of a shift in thinking, but by prioritizing satisfaction over fat burning properties/etc, you’ll be less ravenous and unsatisfied in the evening because you ate delicious foods all day long

3 | Question why you feel some foods are off-limits and ‘forbidden’. Which foods make you feel like you’re “being bad”? Where do these beliefs originate? What fears are they masking? Maybe you associate “clean” foods, like salads, smoothies, and fish as “being good”, and ice cream, cookies, and potato chips as “being bad.” Chances are good that you eat your “good” foods during the day and can’t resist “bad” foods in the evening. 

Why can’t you eat pizza during the day?

What’s wrong with having a cheeseburger for lunch?

What’s wrong with eating a big plate of carbs?

Why do you believe red meat is unhealthy?

Where did you learn these things from?

A big part of the reason you are emotionally eating at night is because you are emotionally eating during the day. Usually we associate “emotional eating” with an empty bag of potato chips or pint of ice cream, but emotional eating has nothing to do with your food choices and everything to do with your habits and behaviours around your food choices. You are eating to “be good.” You are eating to satisfy the rules. You are eating for weight loss or weight maintenance. You are following your diet to a T. You are completing the steps your “health guidelines” ask of you to manifest the unspoken promise of all diets: that if you just follow the rules like a good student, everything will be better. You’ll have an amazing relationship, look stellar in all of your clothes, have better friendships, and be more interesting. Except none of this will be true, because defying your natural programming — your physiology — requires you to focus only on your exercise and food consumption to the exclusion of all the other facets of your life. Diets don’t make you interesting; a word where the first three letters spell “die” should be your first clue. 

4 | Eat enough during the day. Whenever someone tells me they can’t stop overeating at night, I immediately suspect they’re under-eating during the day. I know you’ve been taught to “watch what you eat”, to control your portions, show some class A “willpower” (still not sure what this is), and avoid overeating during the day. But you know what? Your body needs calories, otherwise known as energy! And chances are good that it will find a way to get what it needs even if you don’t freely offer it up. 

All of this means that if you don’t eat enough during the day, the kitchen will be totally irresistible. Those crackers that once looked pretty benign now sound damn good. You won’t just want one or two cookies; you’ll want the whole box. You’ll feel like maybe you need a kitchen that works a bit like Netflix and offers up food on demand (actually, this sounds kind of awesome…). 

Back to our regularly scheduled programming. 

Eat! How much? Try to tune in to when you’re hungry. Understand your hunger has many different manifestations not limited to stomach growling. Eat. This is difficult for a lot of people and takes some time, especially if you’ve been chronic dieting or restricting, so go easy on yourself. Be patient. But the most important takeaway here is this: eating is vital to life. Food is vital to life. Eat throughout the day. Practice eating until it feels like second nature, until your intuition kicks in and says, hey, enough of that, or hey, I need more

5 | Ask yourself what you need to feel calm.

Without realizing it, sometimes we eat to calm ourselves. We feel anxious about something or other, and eat for comfort. Of course, food can’t really comfort us — not in the way we probably need, deep down. 

I don’t see anything wrong with eating pizza (or whatever you love!) after a stressful day. Food is an easy, immediate coping mechanism, and frankly, part of what it means to be a human being living in the real world. But that said, you’re going to want to find ways to cope with stress and anxiety — any negative, "out of your comfort zone" feelings — outside of food. 

What do you need to feel calm? Part of releasing my attachment to food and body obsession meant I had a lot more time for hobbies and interests, like book club, reading, writing, and watching Sex and the City on repeat. I’m someone who loves yoga on a Sunday, looks forward to morning workouts, enjoys chilling in bed at night watching a movie, and having wine with friends. It has all meant being more present and engaged. That will look different for you, but I encourage you to seek it out. What can you add to your life? How much time will leading an intuitive lifestyle free up for other things? 

There is so much more to life than food. I'm hoping through this series that I can help you to explore and enjoy all of it. 

Did you experience an "aha" moment reading this? Which tip resonates with you the most?

If you'd like help normalizing your night eating, I offer a special service -- the Habits & Behaviours Audit -- to help you to make peace with food and neutralize attachments to power and fear foods. Check it out by clicking here