It’s my experience that people with emotion-driven overeating issues don’t like being told what to do.
Maybe a work colleague asks “should you really be eating that?”
Maybe your partner is putting pressure on you to lose weight.
Maybe a “well-meaning” friend is always suggesting a new fad diet.
Maybe your parent says “don’t you think you’ve had enough?”
Understandably, your reaction in any of these situations might be shame, anger and frustration. The next thing you experience is likely to be rebellion.
We’re not meant to eat according to someone else’s rules about which foods we’re allowed and which we’re not. Or how many calories or carbs we should have. Or what size portion is right for us. We’re supposed to eat according to our own preferences. This is one of the reasons why dieting doesn’t work – you can only stick to it for so long before part of you starts to rebel.
We’re designed to be autonomous individuals who determine for ourselves when we’re hungry, what we want to eat and when we’ve had enough.
And a part of us will fight for that autonomy.
So, someone telling you what to eat or that you should lose weight is not only deeply offensive, it’s highly ineffective because it gives you something to rebel against.
And not only do we not like being told what to do by other people, we don’t like being told what to do even by ourselves.
Even now, with my bingeing days well behind me, if I hear a voice in my head saying “I really shouldn’t be eating this”, I guarantee I’ll hear another voice soon afterwards shouting “don’t tell me what to do! Now I’m going to eat it all, quickly and probably lots of other things too”. I’ll then have to have a conversation with both parts of me to smooth things over and get them back on the same page and working together.
However, if I ask myself “is this really what I want?”, “am I enjoying this?”, “have I had enough?” I’m more likely to get a reasoned response because I’m listening to myself, rather than giving myself an order.
How you speak to yourself is crucial, so be careful with the language you use. “I should”, “I must”, “I have to”, “I need to”, “I ought to” mean there’s something you’re attempting to impose on yourself and, therefore, something to rebel against. For example, “I need to eat more healthily”, “I have to lose weight”, “I must stop overeating”.
However, phrases like “I want”, “I would like”, “I would love” express desires that come from within: “I would really like to eat food that not only tastes good but also feels good in my body”, “I would love to feel fitter”, “I want to pay attention to how I’m eating so I don’t overeat”.
One way means you’re working against yourself, the other means you’re working with yourself. And if you want to resolve your issues with food, it’s imperative that you start working with yourself.
Try it and see if you feel any difference.
Try eliminating the should, need, must and ought from your vocabulary. And start asking yourself: “what do I want?”
It’s not a question my clients ask themselves very often, if at all. They’re more likely to be highly attuned to other people’s wants and needs, rather than their own. They’re also very familiar with what they should do (“I should just stick to a diet”) rather than with what they really want (“Actually, I generally enjoy eating healthy food but I don’t want to deny myself other foods I really like”).
It can be hard to hear your own voice amidst the cacophony of information about food and weight loss but it’s really worth tuning into yourself and tuning out everyone else. The more you can do that, the more likely you are to find an authentic and satisfying way to eat for the rest of your life.
Then you can step off the dieting/bingeing merry-go-round, forget the rebellion rollercoaster and take an enjoyable stroll down Autonomy Avenue.