Food For Thought

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How to Stop Compulsive Eating

Coach Caroline, 04/20/2016

Do you sometimes eat when you’re not hungry? Do you frequently make less-than-wholesome food choices? Have you defaulted to the widespread and highly popular “See Food Diet” (when you see food, eat it)? If you answered yes to any of these questions—or if you regularly eat food that’s not in alignment with your health values—you might benefit from this blog post, in which I attempt to answer a question as yet unanswered by science in 500 words or less.

How do you stop compulsive eating?

Avoid bad food.

Your environment largely controls what you put in your mouth (thus, the ubiquitous See Food Diet), and you are never gonna wake up one day having magically lost your interest in greasy pizza and Cherry Garcia. Thus, one of the best strategies for decreasing your consumption of that stuff is keeping yourself as far away from it as possible.

Consider that you are not unlike an ex-smoker or former cocaine snorter—if they want to stay on the wagon, people in recovery don’t go anywhere near the substance of their near demise. They don’t keep it in the house for special occasions, and over time, as they recreate a life without recreational chemicals, they discover and attend drug-free events and activities.

My Dear Reader, I know this is not easy—after all, food, unlike cocaine, is legal and cheap, and everybody’s doing it. You can’t even escape from it in the safety of a church or AA meeting! However, the more you avoid the sights and smells of standard American fare and seek out like-minded eaters, the easier it will be to stick to a nutrient-dense diet.

Put your health first.

Plan the rest of your life around healthy meals, exercise, and meditation (or other health practices), not the other way around. Don’t just try to squeeze in a 15-minute scarf-down between meetings and stop by the gym on the way home from work “if” you have time. If you don’t make healthy eating a priority, you won’t stop making unhealthy food choices. It makes sense to put habits that support your health first on the to-do list.

Eat with regularity.

Plan to have your meals at about the same time every day, whether you’re eating pastrami on rye and a bag of Lay’s or a gianormous salad with beans. This creates space for more calmness and consistency around food, making it easier to choose health-supporting meals. Eating willy nilly, on the other hand—as your schedule allows or whenever you feel like eating—promotes willy nilly eating. In an ideal world, you’d listen to your body and eat only nutrient-dense food and only when you’re really hungry. But we don’t live in that world, and most of us won’t be able to consistently resist the relentless pull of salt, sugar, and fat and make healthy food choices without maintaining a supportive structure around food.

Put it to the test

Start chipping away at your compulsive eating tendency right now by giving tomorrow’s meals an official, non negotiable time slot. While you’re at it, organize a non-food related activity for you and friends as a first step towards creating an environment that supports your healthy eating goals. Try these new strategies consistently for at least two weeks. Remember, you can always go back to the old way of doing things after the trial period is up. 


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