How do I overcome urges to eat?
To answer this question, we first need to understand why we eat in the first place. It’s probably safe to say, you likely already know the answers to that question. We eat for energy. We eat to stay alive. We eat to nourish our bodies. And, we eat to preserve our health. There are social reasons too—such as a business lunch or a dinner party with friends. There are cultural reasons—such as the Fourth of July BBQ and Thanksgiving dinner. And, of course, we can never forget to eat a piece (or two) of the traditional birthday cake during a celebration. Eating is even focused around religious observations—like Easter dinner, Passover, or a Bar-mitzvah. And, for some of us, eating plays a role in our romantic activities as well—the infamous late night dinner date or breakfast in bed.
But why do we sometimes feel the overwhelming magnetic attraction to stop by the local fast-food joint and grab a double-cheeseburger and fries? Why do we feel the need to super size our meals when we’re depressed or have had a bad day? Where does the desire to gulp down every last bite of a restaurant meal—whose portions are grossly oversized—come from? Why do we feel the sudden urge to raid the refrigerator late at night—looking for anything fattening or sweet? And why do we feel the need to mindlessly munch on “snack-foods” from the nearby vending machine during the middle of a workday… when we’re not even really hungry?
If you’ve ever experienced any of these common scenarios, you’re not alone.
Thousands of people every day, including me, battle with these sudden “urges” to eat. The truth is, in most cases, these desires are driven primarily by our emotions and, in some instances, physiologically, by our brain chemicals. Either way, the two are intertwined more closely than some people and scientists think.
Typically, “urges” to eat are first driven by our emotions. Emotions so strong, they can easily override our common sense or desire to do the “right thing”—that is, to eat healthy, nutritious, moderately low-fat foods. So, why, when we are working so hard to improve ourselves and striving to build a better body do we allow ourselves to fall into these “mindless” eating traps? Eating like we are… well… out of control. We are supposed to be different than that, aren’t we? We’re supposed to be perfect, right? We’re supposed to be healthy and always eating only what’s on our prescribed list of “approved” foods, isn’t that correct? Well, I’ve got some news for you…
“Once we can accept that we are not perfect and determine how to overcome those emotional “urges” when they do arise… we can keep ourselves on the right path to a lean, strong, healthy body.”We are not perfect. We’re not always going to eat the right foods! We are going to make mistakes. You know it, and I know it. The good news is, once we’ve become aware of that fact, we can begin to accept that we are not perfect and determine how to overcome those emotional “urges” when they do arise… and keep ourselves on the right path to a lean, strong, healthy body.
Eating Success Strategies
Now, let me share with you what I believe is the most powerful strategy you can use to help overcome any challenges that typically arise or are associated with “emotional eating.”
From here on out, I will refer to these as “Eating for Success strategies.” Here are the strategies to help you overcome your emotional urges to eat:
THE PSYCHOLOGY FACTOR—RECOGNIZE THE EMOTION(S) THAT DRIVES YOU TO EAT
We eat for a range of different reasons, besides trying to build muscle and slash body fat.
Of course, we already know the importance of eating smart. So why do we sometimes crave “bad” foods? Overeat? Or eat when we’re not even hungry? The answer to those questions is not so simple. However, as the latest science has shown, unless you’re one of the small percentages of people who have a genetic tendency to produce higher-than-normal amounts of the “hunger” hormone, ghrelin (or the newest appetite-stimulating gene, recently discovered in France, called GAD2), there’s an overwhelming amount of evidence to support the fact that your personal psychology plays a prominent role in determining when, and how much, you “feel” the need to eat.
See, our ability to control our eating has a great deal to do with our emotions—our personal psychology. Or, what I call “emotional triggers.” It can be extremely helpful to become very aware of the psychological factors that may be negatively influencing your eating habits. Awareness is the first and most important step. Maybe we eat in response to different emotions. We get upset or angry at our spouse or have a dispute with a co-worker. We get depressed when a loved one passes or a cherished relationship ends. We’re bored at night or during the weekends or lonely and living alone (and it’s just you and the fridge!). It’s as if food is supposed to suddenly “fix” these feelings or solve your problems.
Not a FAT chance! As you know, if you’ve experienced any one of these emotional triggers, eating food in response to them DOES NOT make you feel any better afterward. In fact, oftentimes you feel downright guilty because you know you’re more “in control” than what you displayed by eating so mindlessly. And more often than not, you’re angry at yourself too, because you likely ate an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk ice cream, topped it off with a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats, and set yourself back on your course to your new body.
AWARENESS IS THE KEY
To minimize emotional triggers that cause you to crave unhealthy foods, I suggest you keep a food journal, writing down everything you eat each day for about one week. When you eat uncontrollably, or mindlessly, simply write down how you were feeling when the urge to eat hit.
“To minimize emotional triggers that cause you to crave unhealthy foods, I suggest you keep a food journal…”Once you become aware of an emotional issue that repeatedly causes you to go into a tailspin of eating mindlessly, you can actually turn that awareness into action to control the issue. See, every personal insight you can collect then becomes an opportunity for a careful choice in the future. And a mindful, careful choice is the key to gaining control over your urges to eat, and thus, instead of eating “comfort foods,” you can make the right decisions—smarter decisions—when it comes to maintaining balanced, healthy food choices.
By understanding that awareness of when and how your particular emotional responses are triggered, you’ll quickly discover the reasons for many of your choices in the past. And possibly, more importantly, you’ll gain an appreciation for how your past choices may have led to current, sometimes careless eating habits. In other words, you’ll learn when poor eating habits derailed your progress in achieving your physique development goals and how they may have been better dealt with, more wisely and more consciously.
HOW TO OVERCOME EMOTIONAL EATING
So, now we’ve come to the $64,000 question: How should you respond to those sudden, uncontrollable urges to eat? Well, let’s start with some very effective preventative measures… strategies I’ve used for some 15 years now to keep me on the right path to a better body.
Eat smart. Not less. Try to consume five to six protein- and carbohydrate-balanced meals each day. It amazes me how many times I’ve given out this advice, yet at the same time, I find it’s continually overlooked. Besides the scientific fact that by eating small meals throughout the day, you can keep brain chemicals (i.e., hunger hormones) and insulin (along with blood sugar) levels even, in doing so, you will undoubtedly suppress those uncontrollable emotional hunger cravings.
Also, cutting calories, or eliminating food groups altogether, such as all carbohydrates or all fats (recommendations often found in traditional diets), is the absolute WORST thing you can do. Limiting calories and/or food tells your mind that you’re depriving yourself… and shortly thereafter, your body will crave those forbidden foods. In essence, you’re more likely to psychologically “want” to eat them and, consequently, more likely to binge on them. That’s beside the fact that once you reintroduce them into your diet, you’ll easily put back any pounds you lost.
“…cutting calories, or eliminating food groups altogether, such as all carbohydrates or all fats (recommendations often found in traditional diets), is the absolute WORST thing you can do.”Research shows that by consuming five to six protein- and carbohydrate-balanced meals each day—eating every two to three hours while you’re awake—is the optimal way to keep your body in a fat-burning mode, supply your muscle tissue with plenty of the nutrients it needs to rebuild itself and defer any hunger cravings that could otherwise arise. One great way to achieve this is by using a meal replacement. These powders are convenient and provide your body with all of the essential nutrients of a whole-food meal without all of the hassle of shopping, preparing, cooking, eating, and cleaning up after a regular meal. Think of meal-replacement protein shakes as fast food for the 21st century. They are extremely convenient and work exceptionally well to fulfill your daily nutritional needs.
Make better bad choices (if it comes to that!)
Here’s an example: whenever you get caught on a three-hour plane flight, and you weren’t prepared (leaving your protein/nutrition bar or RTD at home)—hey! I’m just as guilty—and your only choice is the airline’s mystery meat sandwich… as crazy as it sounds, eat what the airplane serves you. Now, before you think I’m crazy, here’s what I mean by making a “better bad choice”…
In the above scenario, you’re faced with literally NOTHING in your stomach for three or maybe four hours. Then, there’s the strong likelihood that once you land and retrieve your luggage, you’ll make a B-line for the nearest fast-food joint and gobble down EVERYTHING in sight.
That’s clearly not what you want!
So, to keep this from happening, simply eat what the airlines offers you; however, here’s what I’d suggest to make it truly a “better” bad choice: drink water or a diet soda, take half the bread off of the sandwich, don’t spread on the mayonnaise, and don’t even look at that little slice of cheesecake or cookie served on the side. Now, believe it or not, in that instance, by at least eating SOMETHING (halfway nutritious), you’ve just made a better choice. This goes for having a night out (e.g., dinner and drinks with your friends). Instead of gulping down two or three beers, have a glass a wine. Instead of chomping down on the bowl of deep-fried tortilla chips in front of you, ask the server for some plain corn tortillas, and dip them in the salsa. Instead of allowing the restaurant cooks to douse your vegetables in butter, tell the server you want them steamed (with no butter!). And last, go for the low-fat or nonfat dressings if you can when you order your salad.
Making “better bad choices” like these is really as simple as that. And, once you begin to put this strategy into practice, you’ll quickly see how easy it is to follow through, no matter what your circumstances. Plus, you’ll feel much more in control.
Plan and prepare your meals in advance.
If you fail to plan, you might as well plan to fail. Seriously. While I recognize that most of us are too busy to prepare healthy, low-fat, nutrient-rich foods every day—six times a day (I’m included here!)—don’t make the mistake so many others make, which is to plan their workouts but eat “accidentally.” If you fail to follow a proven nutrition strategy, your chances of building a better body are pretty much slim to none.
One possible solution I’ve used over the years with great success is for my wife and me to prepare our meals for the week on Sunday night and then store them and freeze the rest. Cooking in larger quantities will take the pressure off of you having to shop, cook, prepare, and clean-up after several meals throughout the week. Plus, as a bonus, by shopping like this, you’ll likely save more money on groceries too.
In addition, by being more prepared throughout the week, you won’t have to “think” about what you’re going to eat or how you’re going to get your food… you only have to consider when to eat it. It’s a simple solution to a complex problem that many, many people suffer from each and every day. It’s a shame to see so many people put in such hard work at the gym and then follow a haphazard eating pattern. Being prepared with healthy, nutritious meals will ensure you’re not the guy you see every day standing by the break-room vending machine, slamming in 50 cents to get his daily lunchtime candy bar. Following this strategy, you won’t look and feel like him either.
PUTTING THEM INTO PRACTICE
Now it’s time for you to get to work. That means it’s time for you to take these THREE success strategies I’ve described and put them into your daily practice.
Remember, all successes and failures in life are based on habit. Those who are unsuccessful have the EXACT same biological make-up as those who are successful. The only difference is, successful people, follow successful habits, and unsuccessful people follow unsuccessful habits. It’s really as simple as that.
My hope is this exercise has enabled you to identify a number of useful, actionable, and motivating strategies for creating your own success… so you can now overcome any emotional eating habits you might have had and stay on the right path to building your absolute best body!