By:Dr. Rachael E. Schindler
When I was asked to write this article about some pervasive health issue in our society, I thought to myself, “Where should I begin? (Seriously.) I decided to address the question that has plagued me in my quest to help clients for almost two decades. namely, ”Why do we overeat once we have decided not to?” People tend to eat when they are hungry. But they also tend to eat when they are NOT hungry, for a variety of reasons. You can only imagine the gamut of responses I have received over the years to that seemingly simple question! (Some of you may be able to resonate….) “Oh, the lasagna called to me”, or, “I just to finished the leftovers”. “My friend cooked and I didn’t want to disappoint her”, or “I have to eat a second dinner with my husband when he gets home”. “I only live once,” or “I was bored/lonely/hurt/depressed.” I wondered why people do this. They may diet all day/ week, or exercise so hard, only to eat back all the progress they made thus far and be back to square one, or even gain a few pounds!
I believe the trick in resolving some of these overeating issues lies not only with controlling yourself from eating too much, but understanding the POWERLESSNESS that people felt to overrule their conscious intent NOT to eat. Simply put, there was not only an urge to eat, but, there was an actual conflict occurring between two parts of your mind fighting over who was going to take control, that same moment, when your hand moved toward the chocolate cake.
So then, why do some people still go for the chocolate cake? It’s simple. The old adage that goes something like, people either eat to live or live to eat, still rings true. When you feel hunger, you may be the type of person that remains IN CONTROL of the situation and “physically” eat to live. In this case you pretty much won’t overeat or sabotage your eating plan. (Only when the control gets extreme is this a problem.) Or, you may be the type of person that feels the need to eat in order to ESCAPE. This person eats because everything else in their lives seems so stuck or controlled that he/she needs to let loose somewhere and feel good. Let’s face it, eating is relatively speaking an easy, pleasurable, quick-fix, that is socially accepted.
Therefore, there are many causes and triggers to this kind of “emotional” eating. Emotional eating occurs when food becomes so closely linked with feelings that the two overlap and become one. Usually the foundation for this starts in childhood. I hear my clients tell me, “When I fell down I was offered a cookie”; “When I was good I got candy”; or “When I misbehaved, dessert was withheld.” Food was transformed from a simple source of nourishment to a reward, punishment, love object, or friend. Once that happened, food became a way to control your emotions – to deal with your feelings of powerlessness and therefore not look for other ways to handle the situations. You then fall back into the trap of eating to cope with those unresolved feelings. Simply put, when something happens to bother you, (ie: situations, places, events, and people), you feel bad or anxious and you have the uncontrollable urge to eat. Then, when you eat more than you know you should, it’s always followed by feelings of regret, self-hatred and of course extra pounds!
So many of us are not settled emotionally. We will try to learn how to deal with these real issues over the coming weeks. But what are you to do in the meantime? I’ll let you in on a little secret. It may be hard to not to use food as an escape but what if that food itself also controls you! That’s right. You may be in general someone who is in control of what they eat but can’t resist certain foods once they begin eating them (Remember those fries, or bags of chips?), or someone, who when triggered, will only eat a particular indulgence (ie: “good” cake, chocolate, etc..) that will seem appealing enough to stuff into his/her mouth, mindlessly. You know what I am talking about, simple carbs or sugars. That yo-yo high effect inducing, serotonin or happy mood enhancing food group! For some, just a little goes a long way. Those are probably the “calorie-sensitive” types. But for the “carb-sensitive” bunch, they are dangerous! Sure you feel good as you eat it, because sugars are digested in the mouth, instantaneously. You get that sugar rush asap. But once you’re finished eating (that’s if you finish eating), and the numb feel-better trance is done, you crash, only to need more. Therefore, the nature of certain foods makes you crave them, no matter what else is going on! So when you are eating to fill that vacuum, you are really making a bigger one! As one of my clients always says, “Yes, cake gorreret cake”.
So, now you feel doomed. Don’t. I’m here to help. Here’s what you can do, and how to stop overeating. First, stay in control, eat something protein-rich and then wait for the feeling of satiety to kick in. Yes, wait. Simple hunger CAN wait. Just remember how you feel like on a fast day. Hunger passes. You survive it. It’s the emotional hunger that can’t wait. So, even if you want to eat for other reasons besides that it has been a few hours since you last ate and you need to refuel; don’t fall in to the simple-carb trap. It will get you and not let you go until your bloodstream gets over it with time, kind of like a hangover. So if it’s snacktime and you want to eat for whatever reason, have a small handful of nuts, lowfat cheese, or carrots with chummus (my all time favorite food). Or if it’s mealtime already, drink some water, have your veggies, or soup, protein and then if you need it, carbs; in that order. You may be full by the time you get to the starches or if not, you’ll definitely eat less of the carbs than if you started eating them first. While complex carbohydrates are a better choice than simple ones, it still takes a while for that feeling of fullness to kick in and you may run with it. Only when you take care of the immediate, almost primal need to eat can you begin to address the underlying issues responsible for your need to comfort yourself with food and explore the different methods to do so.
At this point, some people may be thinking,”This is all nice, but I am so busy/ need to work/have kids/ don’t have time…”, as are most of my clients, b”h. So, the thing to do is plan your snacks AND meals and take something along with you just in case you get tied up, (which is more often the case than not). That is to say; grab a fruit, a Shmerling lowfat cheese triangle or two, or an edamame snack pack along with your water bottle BEFORE you step out of the house. I know most women do the same for their kids, so go ahead and pack a ziploc for yourselves as well!
Last but not least, the missing link in this recipe for success is no small cheese. It’s exercise! It gives you all those feel good hormones without all the calories, it boosts your metabolism so you burn more calories at rest, and it gives you a great, fun escape from whatever is on your mind! Your eating plan is also statistically more apt to succeed in conjunction with exercise, as well as feelings of being in control of emotions and releasing of them; AT THE SAME TIME! A bargain! I love it!
So, to wrap things up, 1. Try to figure out why you may overeat, either on your own, with a friend or therapist. 2. Work on dealing with the hunger itself with a sound nutritional plan that includes exercise, and 3. Explore other ways to deal with emotional topics aside from eating. And, congratulations, you are now on your way to a healthier you, in all senses of the word!
Rachael E. Schindler, PhD, MA, MS, CAI, CPT. Over 18 years experience in exercise physiology, nutritional counseling and teaching, as well as multiple degrees in forensic and developmental psychology, come together to offer you the best of both body and mind. Specializing in food and behavioral "issues" for both children and adults, you get the right combination of diet, exercise and support all in one stop! As many Five Towners can testify, "Rachael's brew" really works. What I offer is unique because what most people need is a nutritional counselor, trainer, pilates and yoga master trainer, therapist, personal shopper and more. I provide all of these programs in ONE plan that gets results quickly and can be done in the comfort of your own home! Kids and parents alike! Insurance is accepted. I can be reached at Teichbergr@aol.com, or (917)690-5097.