Why do I overeat? If you struggle to control impulsive overeating or binging then you may have asked yourself this question. What’s at the root of these behaviours? Why do you do it? Binge eating can feel like a particularly challenging problem, but if you understand it then you can find your solution.
Why Do I Overeat When I Know I Shouldn’t?
Okay, honestly, how many times have you found yourself covered in the salty dust of your chips, looking down into an empty packet and wondering: “what just happened?”.
- Did you ever find yourself in a McDonald’s drive-thru ordering a meal but suddenly recalling that you are on your way home to have dinner?
- Have you entered a meeting room and made a beeline for a plate of muffins because you needed one immediately… followed by another one straight after, before you could concentrate – though the funny thing is you had just eaten lunch.
- Do you often eat without even being hungry, just because you ‘had’ to have something?
- Have you tried to eat wisely, only to find that somehow chocolate found its way into your mouth?
- Do you eat, then feel bloated and disgusted, promise to be good, yet find yourself opening the door of the fridge repeatedly?
- Why do you experience this anguish again and again?
It is especially frustrating if you have achieved good results in other aspects of your life – established a great career, raised kind and clever kids, started your PhD, sustained loving relationships, volunteered to change the world for the better and maybe even saved lives. And yet, you still struggle with self-control around food.
It’s important to know that you’re not alone. Lots of people struggle with binge eating or similar impulsive behaviours.
And there are also some common reasons behind overeating too. When most people ask themselves ‘why do I overeat’ they usually come up with one of 5 main reasons. These are at the root of impulsive behaviour problems and need to be dealt with in order to get your life back.
#1 – I will eat my difficult emotions!
Some of us engage in emotional eating. We use food to manage difficult emotions, such as anxiety, worry or nervousness. According to the theory of Emotional Eating, when we eat, it changes how we feel, so this motivates us to continue eating as a way of coping with difficult emotions. I know that anxiety feels uncomfortable, but just relying on food to combat anxiety will bring on other issues. So, why not try a different strategy.
Next time you face something difficult, try this approach… For a few weeks, opt for relaxation, body scans, breathing techniques, mindfulness techniques, and exercises to help you to deal with your difficult emotions. Seek professional help but also learn how to self-soothe and to cope with your emotions in an adaptive way.
#2 – I expect it to make me feel happy!
Another theory that helps us to understand how we might end up bingeing is the Theory of Expectancy. For example, one day you might have eaten a bag of chips and discovered that you became more cheerful and felt better than before you ate them. So, now you expect that chips will make you feel good.
If this sounds like you, think really hard about what else can make you feel good – but will actually be good for you. Of course, stay away from binge drinking, overspending, or other impulsive behaviours that can lead to more troubles. Learn a new sport, do yoga, call your best friend, have a nap, sing, dance, learn a language, solve the world’s problems, and be proud of yourself. But, more than that, understand what the real issue is. Is it your self-esteem, your confidence, or the pressure of a toxic relationship? Once you know what it is, address the real issue.
#3 – Your impulsivity makes you binge!
Why do I overeat? Could it be down to impulsivity? This has been found to be an important trait in the development and maintenance of eating problems associated with binge eating. People who have difficulties controlling their impulsivity not only put on weight and struggle with losing it – they struggle with their weight management across their lifespan. So, if you don’t learn how to manage your impulsivity and impulsive behaviour well, then you might continue struggling to resist those muffins. Or you might suddenly wake up to find you’ve demolished a pack of cakes.
#4 – Your need for immediate gratification makes you eat!
It’s like this: when presented with a choice, we choose whatever is in front of us and yummy at the same time. Such as choosing either a cookie now or being fit and healthy in the long run. We choose an ice cream now over fitting into that dress later. Indulging in impulsive binge eating simply means choosing to binge over staying fit and healthy.
So, you need to focus more on the negative consequences to help you say no to bingeing. Every time you look at that cookie, or packet of chips, think about the pain of being unfit. Think about how hard it is for you to take a flight of stairs, or how you dread going for a walk with your friends because you get out of breath within minutes. Think about how you are embarrassed by your bingeing and no longer want to live a lie. Focus on how you want to be in control.
#5 – You need to eat – you can’t quit food.
Asking ‘why do I overeat’ can bring up complex emotions. When battling any other substance addiction, many people simply choose to completely give it up. Some choose to never drink again, or stay away from drugs for good, or even stop gambling. Unfortunately, you can’t do the same with food, because you need food to survive. You can’t quit food, even for a short while.
Instead, you have to look at the types of food you binge on. Usually binging involves tasty, sweet, creamy, fatty, and salty heavenly delights – chocolate or chips rather than kale and celery. But as complete abstinence does not work, the lifelong management of all the different types of tempting food presents challenges. The shift that needs to happen for you is a mental one. Instead of overly focusing on the taste of your food, start thinking about how good it is for you. Of course, don’t force yourself – maybe kale will never be your best friend and that’s okay. But there are plenty of other types of food you can discover and enjoy. Yes, you do need food to survive, but it does not have to be deep fried or covered in chocolate.
I know that it’s not easy and that many of us struggle with impulsive binge eating, but it can be done. If you’re tired of asking yourself ‘why do I overeat’ and are finally ready to face this issue, then ask for help. We can support you in dealing with the issues of managing difficult emotions using alternatives to impulsive overeating. Check out our Beat the Binge Online Program which was developed for people just like you. It’ll help you to deal with the real issue and get your life under control. Learn more here.