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Overeating: The New American Pastime

If you’re like the majority of Americans, you weigh more than you want to.  You also spend much of your time focused on food, eating, dieting, getting off your diet, and guilt over the exercise you’re not doing. 
 
The fact that this affects the majority of us (65%, and climbing) suggests there is something more than individual weakness at work.  Our culture has become increasingly organized around food and eating, as our food supply has become more highly modified (meaning: more tempting and available, yet less nutritionally useful).  These and other factors have come together to create the “perfect storm” for overeating problems.  The bad news is, this isn’t going to change in the immediate future.  The good news is that this distorted and intense food environment can be navigated, provided you keep some basic ideas in mind.
 
It is essential to eat mindfully.  That is, pay full attention to what you are eating, and why.  Are you actually hungry?  Are you really enjoying what you’re eating?  Are you eating because of restlessness, anger, sadness, frustration, or some other emotion rather than because of hunger? 
 
Learn what consequences arise from your eating, other than weight.  If weight problems were enough to motivate healthier eating, none of us would be overweight.  Overeating costs you dearly in terms of your emotional well-being, your ability to enjoy life, and your ability to develop your full, special, unique self.  Until you recognize this, you’ll keep chasing that red herring of overweight, and you’ll keep getting heavier.
  
Seek out food and eating patterns that you enjoy more than your current ones.  That is, keep everything you genuinely like about the way you eat now, and replace just those aspects of it that have only caused you pain anyway.  When you evaluate this honestly, you will be surprised at how much of your eating you have never actually enjoyed.  Recognizing this makes change more inviting.
 
Develop a specific, behavioral game plan for dealing with urges to eat unnecessarily.  You will always have these urges, but with effective strategies, they need no longer control your life.
 
Set your environment up for success.  Clear out the foods that only torment you anyway, and keep yourself well-stocked with quality, enjoyable, convenient options. 
 
Befriend your body, and care for it accordingly.  Feed it what it needs (maximize whole, natural foods; minimize processed foods), and move it around more.  Your body is a naturally athletic creation that suffers badly when forced to live in a sedentary manner.  If your body is suffering, your life experience deteriorates with it.
  
Explore and practice non-food methods for calming your emotions.  There are many options that are far more effective than food ever was, and they come with no negative consequences.  One way to open your thoughts in this direction is to ask yourself, when you are having unhealthy urges to eat, "What else could I do right now to make myself feel better if food was not an option?"
  
These shifts in behavior and thinking are simple, but not easy.  Knowledgeable therapeutic support can mean the difference between getting off the diet-rollercoaster forever, or just having another failure that leaves you hopeless and demoralized.   If you haven’t been able to find and keep the focus that you want with food, the help is here for the asking. 
 
Copyright © 2005, Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW.  All rights reserved.
 
 
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Your Weight May Not be the Problem
 
When is It Time to Consider Psychotherapy? 
 

Depression Series, Part One: Depression -- Myths and Facts 

 

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