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How to Stop Compulsive Eating

written by: LotusSnow • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 3/15/2011

Compulsive eaters are often overwhelmed with the urge to consume large quantities of food even when they are not hungry. Food appears to help them manage painful emotions. In order to heal, they have to change the way they approach food and learn how to stop compulsive eating.

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    Some of us have a more intimate relationship with food than others. We can “hear” the left over cheesecake calling to us in the fridge. Whenever we go to the movies, we just have to get that big cup of soda and bucket of popcorn. It seems like we can’t stop at just a few potato chips or bar of chocolate.

    The impulse to overeat is similar to a drug addict's craving for drugs. It is not as if we do not know how harmful overeating and obesity is to our health and well-being. However, in spite of this knowledge, we would still happily sit on the sofa and devour a huge plate of carne asada fries smothered with melted cheese, guacamole, and sour cream, while watching The Biggest Loser on TV.

    What makes us unable to resist? To be able to stop compulsive eating, we first have to know what is driving us to overeat.

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    Tips: How to Stop Compulsive Eating

    • Keep a food journal: Record your emotions – how you feel while consuming food. What time do you normally overeat? How frequent are your food binges and how often do you have your meals and snacks? Record all of these. It is also important to note down your surroundings when you eat. Do you tend to binge alone and in secret or do you overeat when you are around people, or doing a certain activity such as watching TV? Review your journal weekly to find patterns to your compulsive eating behavior. This will help you to understand it.

    • Establish new eating patterns and structure your eating: Once you have reviewed and identified the possible triggers of your compulsive eating behavior, you can plan when and how you are going to eat. Having a plan will help you avoid mindless eating situations and foods that might trigger overeating.

    • Replace destructive overeating behaviors with healthy activity: Take part in activities such as going for a short walk, reading a book or even calling a friend instead of eating another chocolate cake. Take a pottery class, or drawing class; something enjoyable that will keep your mind occupied and your hands busy so they do not reach out for food. You can also consider looking for volunteering opportunities, find ways to give back to your community. This is a win-win situation; the people in need get to benefit from your help and you benefit because you are distracted from your destructive overeating behavior.

    • The power of positive thoughts: When we give to society (volunteer) it does wonders for our self-esteem, self-satisfaction and sense of confidence. Our outlook in life becomes more positive and this feel-good feeling spreads and boosts our morale. Soon we may find ourselves focusing more on our good qualities instead of our bad ones; we may be motivated to get a new hairstyle, dress better, and take more care of our appearance since we have to interact with others when we volunteer.

    • Changing your thoughts about food: Instead of looking at a huge bowl of ice cream sundae and thinking about how good it will make you feel, try to think in terms of how unnecessary the food is, and how bad it will make you feel after you have consumed it. If you still feel you are unable to control your urge to eat it, perhaps you should plan to keep these types of food out of the house. Additionally, you can rehearse how you will respond to cues that lead you to overeat.

    • Try to avoid buffets: Going to a buffet for people who have the tendency to overeat is like an alcoholic going to a party where lots of booze is easily available. Try not to subject yourself to this unnecessary stress. You always have choices, but if the situation is unavoidable and you have to attend then your best bet is to plan how and what you are going to eat once you are there.

    • If you slip up, do not dwell on it: Do not spend time beating yourself up when you make a mistake and overeat. Be positive, people make poor choices occasionally, so just plan for the next meal or the next day. Food is a hard “drug” to battle with, and an even harder habit to break, because we NEED to eat food daily. There is no way we can avoid it totally and not be tempted.

    • Join a support group: Our final how to stop compulsive eating tip is to join a support group such as Overeaters Anonymous. That way you know you are not alone in your struggles and will be supported and helped to beat this disorder by others in the same situation as you.
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    References

    1. Compulsive overeating and how to stop it http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/compulsive-overeating-and-how-to-stop-it
    2. National Institute of Mental Health - http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders/complete-index.shtml