#006: Get to the bottom of, “Why do I eat like this?”

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Understand where to start to create meaningful and lasting change

Listen in for the six reasons that commonly lead to overeating and binge eating.

The combination—or layering—of those reasons looks different for different people. It’s through understanding which are relevant for you that you’ll know where to start to make meaningful and lasting change to your eating patterns.

Gain access to a quick and simple tool to help you uncover the “Why” behind your eating.

Click here for your free Super-quick Insight Diary.

View the full episode transcript

In the past, I’ve heard food referred to as “the good girls addiction.” 

That rings so true for me when I work with clients as it’s really common for women to feel they have to look after or deliver to all the other people in their lives—children, parents, friends, relatives, work colleagues, clients and bosses—before they take any time or care of themselves.

Welcome to the YoYo Freedom Podcast.

This is the place to learn actionable, step-by-step tools and strategies to help you stop bingeing or overeating and start feeling relaxed and confident around food, 

so that you can show up for your life on your terms.

I’m Gemma Keys and I know first hand what it’s like to feel out-of-control around food and trapped in the pain of binge eating and body-shame.

There is a way out. 

Keep listening to discover your path to food freedom.

Hello and welcome. I’m always so delighted that you’re here.

In today’s episode we’re going to begin to answer the question, “Why am I eating like this?” 

“What on earth is going on?”

“Why can’t I stop”

And from there, you’ll know where to focus to make long-lasting changes.

So far in this podcast, we’ve been laying the groundwork so that you have the greatest likelihood of really making the most of the tools you’ll learn about in future episodes—each of which will take you another step closer to releasing the hold binge eating or overeating has on you.

And there’s so much more to come!

You’ve already heard why it’s so important to shift away from being really mean & critical to yourself (in episode #3),

The data that will be super-valuable as you map your progress (in episode #4), 

And, in episode #5, how to uncover the foods that feel good in your body so will guide you to eating in a way that works for you.

Now we’re going to turn toward the WHY beneath the food.

Why am I eating in a way I hate so much?

Why can’t I stop bingeing?

Why isn’t this stopping, after everything I’ve tried?

As I offer those questions, I want to make it absolutely clear that it’s with zero judgement. I’m 100% convinced that eating like that has been a way of trying to support yourself in some way—a way that may well be subconscious and has been trying to help you get through life in whatever way that might be.

And I’ve been in that place myself, so I know it very well first hand. I binged on food that I desperately wanted to stop eating for nearly 30 years, but I just couldn’t seem to resist it. I’ve almost certainly done and felt many, many of the things you do. And, even I haven’t, I can promise you I get it.

So back to the Why.

Noticing what feels good in your body and mind—before, during and after you eat—is key to finding a way of eating that’s right for you.

It doesn’t mean the overeating, bingeing or excessive focus on food will resolve immediately, but it does offer you a much clearer road map.

And knowing what feels good in your body makes it easier to identify what doesn’t feel good, so that you can spot it more easily and earlier.

Now, if eating has been a struggle, especially a long term struggle, you’re likely to need more than a cognitive understanding of what you should be eating or how you’ll feel better. There’s so much information and advice out there that you may well already have a pretty clear idea of how you’d like to be eating.

So uncovering the Why behind the eating that isn’t serving you will really, really help you understand how you can begin to make changes.

One way you might like to think of overeating or bingeing is that it’s like a searchlight or spotlight—it’s a way of highlighting something that needs your attention. The food is filling the place of something else.

Sometimes it can be something fairly straight forward.

For example, for some people, tuning into their body and recognising the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger is enough to allow them to stop overeating.

For other people, understanding how to treat an urge or craving and applying that knowledge is enough to stop the bingeing.

But sometimes, there’s more to unpack. For example, by challenging long-held beliefs about yourself and your place in the world.

In the past, I’ve heard food referred to as “the good girls addiction.” 

That rings so true for me when I work with clients as it’s really common for women to feel they have to look after or deliver to all the other people in their lives—children, parents, friends, relatives, work colleagues, clients and bosses—before they take any time or care of themselves.

It makes complete sense that eating becomes a support, a “little-something-just-for-me”—a moment to take a break or create solitude, or to be part of something, to feel at ease and connected with a group of people.

So it may well be that there are some really deep rooted beliefs around worthiness and relationships that need to be identified and probed before the eating can change.

Those are just a couple of examples of why different people may struggle with food and so where they need to direct their attention to make a change that will last, rather than just being a short term fix.

But let’s get a bit more into the nitty-gritty.

Binge eating and overeating are affected by a number of different things and the scientific literature reflects that.

As a recap, these are the 6 likely reasons that you might be binge eating or overeating that I first referred to in episode 3:

The first is the interpretation of hunger and fullness signals, which includes those signals being disguised completely—as is often the case in cycles of yo-yo dieting where food restriction is followed by overeating or bingeing. 

It’s as if the volume’s turned down and there’s a fear or mistrust around our bodies and the messages they might be sending so we kinda try to override them or ignore them.

The second is a physiological drive caused by hormones. Now, I’m not a doctor—although I did get a nutrition and dietetics degree back in the day—but I’m deeply interested and have read up on the impact of hormones on appetite and on the type of fuel the body utilises.

In other words, whether it prefers a constant top-up supply of sugar or whether it’s able to use fat sources and body-fat stores.

And there are all sorts of influences on hormonal balance, which include different types of food but also include, for example, sleep and levels of stress.

The third reason is that desire and reward pathways in the brain have become skewed. You’ll especially recognise this one if you’ve experienced cravings to eat that can seem uncontrollable—as if you’ve got blinkers on and there is only one thing you must do and that is to get the food you’re craving and to eat it as quickly as possible. 

The fourth reason is our social conditioning. The world has changed so much over the last few decades. We’re fish swimming in water where the expectation of eating certain foods at certain times is simply part of our environment. Get a coffee, there’s a pastry. Watch a movie, jumbo popcorn. Go to a sports game, drink beer and eat burgers. You get the idea. 

Another aspect of that is that food is often used as an outward sign of love. And to accept that love you need to be seen to eat what has been prepared for you.

The fifth and sixth reasons are somewhat entwined and involve emotions and emotional responses.

What we do is driven by how we feel. And if there’s some discomfort around those feelings, food is a way to dampen them down or numb them out. If you’re a Bridget Jones fan like me, you probably remember the scene when she’s feeling terrible and wants to eat to feel better—even where the only food available is cheese she has to scrape the mould off and a bowl of dry cereal. How I love Bridget!

But emotions can run even deeper and include feelings that have been with you for so long they just feel part of who you are. Maybe not good enough, or unlovable, or being a square peg in a round hole—not fitting in somehow. And that’s where the Internal Family Systems approach can be so powerful in the healing process.

Probably, more than one of those factors is impacting your eating, as if they might be layered one on top of another. 

That’s ok too. Over time you’ll notice that by focusing on just one part of your experience and making small changes as you go—those changes will add up until you experience truly significant shifts.

We’re gonna cover each of these areas as this podcast continues and I’ll show you how to navigate them so that, if they’re relevant to you, you’ll know the key support strategies you need. 

Kind’ve like one of those quizzes where you answer all the questions A–B–C–or–D and come out with knowing something more about yourself. 

So, how to notice?

It sounds as if it should be so easy, right? But I guess the fact there’re so many classes and courses on mindfulness is an indication that being present in our experience is easier said than done.

Well, the good news is that, as you begin, it’s ok to reflect on experiences that have already happened. With eating, especially if it feels as if it’s out of control or happening on autopilot, it can exist in a haze of unawareness. So it’s good to know that thinking back to what’s happened earlier in the day or week continues to hold really valuable information.

I’ve prepared a resources for this so you don’t have to write all this down, and you can download that in the show notes if you’d like to.

This is how to notice. As you’re eating or after you’ve eaten or even at the end of the day if that’s easier, take a few minutes to reflect on what was happening for you.

I’ve designed these steps to be as quick and easy as possible so you don’t feel you’re spending ages journaling if that’s something you don’t much like to do.

First of all, think back to the time you ate and ask yourself, “What was going on for me around that time?”

You might describe what was happening around you, where you’d just been, what you were about to do, who you were with. Try and keep it to the bare-bone facts.

Secondly, ask yourself, “What was on my mind?” In other words, where was your focus and what were you thinking?

Thirdly, how did you feel? You might describe physical sensations here, like fatigue, but also include the emotions that were with you at the time. Were you happy, excited, stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, inspired? Jot down a couple of words about what you remember.

The next question just needs a tick to reflect the type of food and reason you were eating it.

There are 5 options here. One I’m looking at and think it’s mis-named, so I’ll change that at some point, but for now these are still useful.

So, were you eating for fuel? Because you were hungry and wanted to feel satiated. This is likely to be the type of eating that isn’t overeating and is responsive to your physiological signals.

Were you eating for pleasure. In other words, eating so that you felt good. Maybe it was a slice of cake you relished and really enjoyed.

Or maybe it was expectation. A family dinner where you were eating because you were expected to rather than because you genuinely wanted to. Or you went out for coffee with your friends and everyone else had a pastry so you really wanted to as well, to feel included and part of the group.

This next one is the one I want to change the name of. So I’ll describe it first. Were you eating to somehow ease an emotion you were feeling. Examples might be loneliness, sadness, or anger. It’s as if by eating there’s temporary respite from the feeling—like you’ve escaped it for a moment. Now in the resource I’m offering you, I’ve named that category “Avoidance” but suddenly that feels a bit harsh. So I’d love it if you renamed it “Easing” or maybe “Numbing” which sound a little more of an accurate description.

And the last category is Craving. Did you feel an urge to eat the food. You wanted it and you wanted it now. That scenario of almost having blinkers so that you could only focus on getting that food. Cravings are most likely to be for refined or processed foods like crisps, chocolate, ice-cream, cakes, cookies, bread, chips and stuff like that.

And the very final question is a simple yes/no response — were you happy with your reason for eating?

This exercise in reflection does two things.

It increases your awareness around what and when you’re eating

And it gives you much clearer insight into the reasons why you might be eating in a way you want to change.

As you continue to watch your eating you’ll become more and more tuned into your experience. Over time, you’ll find you can do it in the moment, and you won’t necessarily need to write notes. But for now, notes are a really good tool that enables you to reflect back on what happened.

This exercise does take courage. Courage to look at something you’d rather wasn’t a part of your life but that is. And courage to look at something that may run deeper than the eating.

But I know for sure you can do it because I’ve stood alongside other people who didn’t think they could go there, but the information they gathered was absolutely key to making the changes they wanted.

You can find all the questions in an eBooklet I created called the Super-quick Insight Diary. You don’t need to print out the whole thing—a couple of pages to record what you notice will be enough.

I’ll link to the Insight Diary in the show notes for this episode at https://yoyofreedom.com/6

To sum up today’s episodes, there are all sorts of reasons for overeating or binge eating or having a much greater focus on food than you’d like to. Those reasons aren’t the same for everyone, and it might be the case that there’s a layering of multiple reasons.

And, it’s through understanding more about what’s underlying your eating patterns that you gain the information—the data—that you can use to make meaningful, profound and lasting change.

That’s it for today’s episode. Thank you for listening.

I hope you’ve found this episode helpful. Subscribe to The YoYo Freedom Podcast for more insight, tools and support as you pull back from bingeing, overeating or yoyo-dieting and step into your most authentic, vibrant life.

And, if you liked what you heard, it would be wonderful if you’d take a moment to rate this podcast on whichever platform you listen on.

Thank you so much! And Bye-bye for now.

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Disclaimer: The content in the podcast and on this webpage is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or psychological condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have heard on the podcast or on my website.

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