Do you sometimes feel like you have these weird lingering habits, almost animal instinct-like compulsions that take over even though you may otherwise be eating quite healthy?
Good news – there is nothing wrong with you! Nada! You’re not out of control. You’re just experiencing first-hand what a well-oiled evolutionary machine that we humans are.
The Habit Loop
This entire compulsive eating cycle is giving you something positive, making you feel good in some way, which is why you keep doing it over and over again. We humans were built to seek pleasure and stay away from pain. So, when you get something positive out of overeating for example, you do it over and over again. Until it becomes a habit. Unfortunately, this isn’t a very good habit and bad habits, as you know, are hard to break.
This phenomenon is called a habit loop, and it’s important to understand it so you can learn to break out of it.
There are three aspects to a habit loop – the cue which comes first, followed by the routine (in this case bingeing) in response to the cue and finally the reward which is the result of the binge.
The cue is the first step in that process that triggers your overeating – what is this for you? Is it sitting in front of the TV after dinner? Is it driving back from work and passing McDonald’s on the way? Is it feeling tired and lonely at the end of a long day?
If you can identify the cue that triggers your overeating episode, you can anticipate what’s coming. And just knowing what’s coming means that YOU can be prepared for it instead of being taken aback and feeling out of control.
Next comes the routine or the actual overeating and binge eating. This is what you do today in response to the cue. Tomorrow, you can try a different routine in response to the cue – for many of us, these are the coping strategies we can use to deal with our emotions.
Before you change up your routine though, it’s important to understand the last part of the habit loop – the reward.
At the end of your overeating (i.e., routine), you feel better than you did before you started eating – either you feel numb enough to ignore your sad emotions or your overfull belly finally makes you feel warm and comforted – it’s this feeling of avoiding pain or getting pleasure that makes your body feel like the entire overeating habit is a great one to have. The fact that you ate is an additional bonus – food stimulates our reward hormones which makes this cycle so addictive.
Breaking out of the habit loop with ‘why’ visualization
To successfully break out of the habit loop, you need to find a routine that gives you the same dose of reward that your overeating cycle does.
This is why coping by keeping ourselves busy or going for a walk or taking a hot bath doesn’t really work because none of it is as good as using food to deal with our emotions.
A better routine to have is to visualize your why – why do you want to have better eating habits? Why is this so important to you? Is it to set a good example for your kids? Is it to be a better partner? Is it to finally start dating again or stop holding yourself back?
The next time you are triggered by a cue, visualize your why so it can trigger the same kind of reward in your brain that eating does.
The best way to do this is by a technique called visualized motivation using these 4 steps:
#1- WRITE DOWN YOUR “WHY”
As you write down your “why”, be specific.
Write it in the format of – “I want to stop overeating so that _________”
- I want to stop overeating so that I can set a good example for my daughter. I don’t want her growing up with eating disorders or body image issues.
- I want to stop overeating so that I can finally go out there and chase my dreams instead of holding myself back.
#2- VISUALIZE ACHIEVING YOUR “WHY”
Close your eyes and imagine that you’ve stopped overeating and have a perfectly healthy life.
- What are you able to do?
- How do you feel differently?
- Do you see yourself sitting down to a beautiful dinner with your husband on date night without worrying about what you are eating?
- Do you see your daughter developing healthier habits instead of worrying about fitting into a dress?
- Do you see yourself having the time and energy to pursue your passions instead of having food as the only thing you look forward to?What do you see?Hold the image in your mind.
#3 – MAKE IT REAL, FEEL IT
This step is crucial.
Imagine your dream really happening. Imagine yourself in a movie and actually playing this role. Play it in your mind second by second.
For example, I walk in after work and don’t feel the need to walk into the kitchen as soon as possible. Instead, I spend some time playing with my kids and drinking a cup of hot tea. An hour later, I prepare a healthy meal and the entire family sits down to dinner. If I feel like having dessert, I have a few bites until I’m satisfied and pop the rest back into the fridge. Then. I spend an hour working on a side project before putting the kids to bed.
Use all your senses – what do you see? What do you smell? Do you hear anything? Do you feel or touch anything? Are you holding your head up higher? Are you running around with your kids at 9pm? Are you a confident kickass lady boss?
How do you feel? Accomplished? Laughing, confident and ah-mazing? Relieved? Happy? Satisfied with life? Peaceful?
Stick with it, tweak it until it feels real to you. Stay with the image and the emotions until you can recall them easily, until you feel like the feelings have imprinted themselves on you.
#4 – USE THIS AS THE ROUTINE THE NEXT TIME YOU ARE TRIGGERED WITH THOUGHTS OF FOOD.
The next time you are tempted by food or cravings, recall how this felt – the emotions, the step by step movie scene, all of it.
Remember your mind is seeking pleasure – it’s your choice how to find this pleasure – either using food or this future awesome version of yourself.
This habit loop is just one aspect of breaking out of the binge habit. In my free guide, I share an even more powerful tip that makes breaking out of your habit loop automatic, along with three other strategies to break out of the binge and emotional eating cycle.