5 reasons why you can't stop eating5 Reasons Why You Can’t Stop Eating

Today, I tell you why it’s so hard to stop eating.

Hi. This is the Stress, Anxiety & Binge-Eating Recovery Podcast, with Shelley Treacher. I help you to recover from binge-eating.

If you’re a regular listener, welcome back! You’ll find that this is my annual update of my first podcast. I’m producing an online programme. This is helping me update my work, so, I will gradually update all of my podcasts. You will find lots of new material here, and a good reminder of all the things you may have forgotten about comfort eating recovery.

If you are brand new here today, welcome! I am so glad to have you here because I hope you’ll resonate with what I’m saying, and feel that there IS help out here.

 

Can you identify with this?

Are you someone who feels utterly frustrated? Because you cannot stop overeating but wish that you could? Or maybe you know that emotions drive your eating, but you have no idea what to do about it.

In these podcasts, I talk about the side of overeating that nobody seems to talk about. The emotional and the psychological side. There are many reasons why you can’t stop eating, and that’s what I’m talking about here.

But these podcasts are so much more than just about binge eating.

Often when I tell people that I do a podcast, and they hear that it’s about overeating, they think,

“Oh, that’s not relevant to me.”

But you know what? It often is.

If you’ve got any anxiety, any relationship difficulties, any mental health concern or worry, these podcasts are going to relate to you in some way. These podcasts are about what makes us human and need comfort in the first place. So the things I talk about here could apply to any addiction or many emotional or relational difficulties.

I help you to find your inner strength and confidence because that is bound up with binge-eating. I know you’ve got it inside you, so it’s my job to help you find confidence. Maybe you are someone who nobody knows how you feel, and so you eat in secret. Or maybe you feel alone, and maybe you get angry sometimes. Maybe work is stressful. There could be a myriad of different emotional reasons triggering you to eat.

These podcasts will help you. I can help you understand what you’re doing, and what’s going on for you. Then I can help you to recover or address it. And I can also help you find other people who feel the same way as you do, who are going through the same.

Today, I’ll help you to understand why it’s so hard to stop eating.

 

Binge-Eating is Not Hunger

But first, I’ll tell you what binge-eating isn’t. It isn’t a response to hunger. You probably know that. Biologically, we’re supposed to eat when we’re hungry. So the rest of the time, if we’re not responding to hunger, we’re doing something else, and we’re responding to something else.

Eating junk food is comforting. It gives you a chemical response in your brain and your body that makes you feel soothed, blissed out, calm, numb or it might even give you a hit or a high.

 

Stopping Binge-Eating Is Not Easy

In our society, as with many cultures around the world, we have an assumption that people who are overweight could stop eating and do some exercise. People come into my office with frustration, unhappiness, or irritation. They have stories of how their doctors, personal trainers, and sometimes their family and friends have told them to cut down on sugar, try this-or-that diet, or take up running, swimming, or some other form of exercise.

This is not likely to be a total revelation to someone who overeats. People who overeat, people who comfort eat, know that this is what it takes, but can’t do it for the reasons that I’m going to tell you. They feel a huge amount of shame for not being able to stop eating, and a giant amount of frustration.

In these podcasts and all of my work, I hope to explode the myth that just saying ‘no’ to everything is enough. It’s not just about finding willpower. It’s a lot more than that. Compassion is your secret weapon against comfort eating, and this is where it starts; by giving yourself a break for not being able to stop eating. There are so many different reasons why losing weight or being unable to stop eating is not just a matter of willpower.

 

Why is it that When I Eat I can’t stop?

1. The structure of addiction

Let’s talk about the structure of addiction first.

There are chemicals in the brain that contribute to addiction. It doesn’t take much for us to get hooked on dopamine. Every time we taste something we like, we get a fake dopamine hit, and the brain wants to repeat that process.

So, when you eat chocolate for the first time, you get a fake dopamine hit. If you had chocolate when you were feeling depressed, and that chocolate, (that hit), made you feel better, (which it usually would), this will set up a new association in your brain. Your brain will crave that dopamine hit whenever you feel miserable.

It’s like the brain thinks, “Oh, I know what I can do. I like that. Let’s do that. That’s going to make me feel better!”

Your brain works on overdrive, trying to get that fake dopamine hit. The more you do this, the more you repeat this fake dopamine hit, the more you only produce fake dopamine. This reduces the production of your real dopamine!

Eating junk food, the food that isn’t very good for us, IS comforting. The association of pleasure is what becomes a chemical addiction when dopamine strikes.

 

2. Geneology & Physiology

Whilst chemical addiction is compelling, it’s not enough to make a full-on addiction. It’s not enough alone to make it impossible for you to resist that craving. Or else all of us would be the same. So let’s talk about our inheritance and environment and how these might affect your choices.

One of the things that we inherit is a predisposition to eat as much as we can when food is available, and to store weight rather than lose it. This is to survive for longer. Starvation was an issue until very recently in our history as a species.

That’s a big enough reason! But apart from chemical dependency and our genealogy, we also have other physiological or biological reasons why it’s hard to stop eating and lose weight. One of the biological reasons is that we don’t register fullness until quite a long way after the fact that we are. Also, falling blood sugar makes us want to eat. The feeling of satiety, the feeling of being satisfied with food, can easily be overridden. Our digestive tracts can also expand, to keep on storing food.

Those are all massive reasons why you can’t stop binge-eating.

 

3. Environment

We also have these things:

The availability of food. Food has become available everywhere from the checkout counter at H&M to the twenty-four all-night petrol station.

Junk food, (the food that’s probably not going to be good for our bodies), is cheap, looks good, smells good, and is everywhere. Think about the way that food is marketed. Psychologically, people know how to make it look and smell amazing. Don’t adverts look tempting, interesting, or colourful? Like your life is going to be better if you use this product. Like everybody is having such a great time when they’re eating and drinking!

It’s clever, and it takes quite a push to rise above these things.

But we’ve also stopped being so active. We’re on screens all the time. We drive everywhere and we’re so busy getting everything done, getting money in, taking care of, and responding to everything and everyone that it is quite hard to be proactive in scheduling exercise or preparing food.

So there are many pragmatic reasons why it’s hard for anyone to stop overeating.

 

4. Habits

But now let’s talk about habits and association. The way we eat is habitual for all of us, and we don’t like things to change. We don’t volunteer to change. We have to think about it if we want to change something. Then we have to work it out and practice it for quite a while.

When people move to a different country one of the last things they change is their eating habits. Food is a comfort to us. It’s nurture, it’s safety. It’s familiarity and it is just part of being human.

Habits are based on a Cue and Reward system. Our habits build just like the dopamine hit, in response to something that feels good. We are pleasure-seeking creatures. We only veer towards pleasure and survival. Food can be classed as both of these things. So if we have a reward, we do it again. Comfort eating feels good, so we get into a habit of it fast.

Think about how easily we associate social occasions with food and drink, and maybe even rest times or holidays. How many times have you said to yourself?

“I’m on holiday. It doesn’t count.”

I know I say this. I think we can all relate.

 

5. Emotional Management

The final factor in not being able to stop binge-eating is the use of food for emotional management. Without this one, none of the others would make any lifelong difference to us, and we would all be the same. But we’re not.

Zoey Lavallee in her article ‘Why we crave’ specifies that,

“Adverse childhood experiences, mental health issues, stigma, prejudice, discrimination and social exclusion may also contribute to addiction.”

In a nutshell, food is emotionally comforting. We use it to cope with these experiences and so much more. At some point, we just got stuck in a groove. Most of us do this at some point. Who hasn’t soothed themselves with biscuits, cookies, cake, crisps, pizza, and takeaways when frustrated, stressed, or lonely?

The term ‘comfort food’ is a widely used term. The occasional use of food for comfort won’t make much difference. However, if it’s frequently used, it leads to overriding signs of hunger, health problems, obsession and, of course, weight gain.

Other coaches and therapists will help you with the practical side of overeating, nutrition, and some things I’ve mentioned today. My work helps you with the emotional side of eating.

The people who come to me and my groups have tried different ways and approaches to weight loss, but it hasn’t worked. Those approaches may have made it harder.

I know that you know what you should be doing. I know that you feel powerless to do it.

This is not a lack of willpower. It’s also not being lazy.

Food is something that we use habitually to escape the perceived discomfort of life.

I’m going to help you with every single piece of that sentence. So I’m going to break it down:

  • ‘Food is something we use habitually’- I will help you to break old habits and form new healthy habits.
  • ‘to escape’ – My podcast will help you understand and heal dissociation.
  • ‘the perceived’ – I will help you challenge your perceptions and beliefs.
  • ‘discomfort of life’ – My podcast will help you work out what your discomfort is, and learn to manage difficult feelings.

 

When I start talking about the emotion behind binge eating, one of the things that people often ask me is,

“Isn’t it just a habit? Does it have to be something emotional?”

The answer of course is yes, it is a deeply ingrained habit. But there is also often something uncomfortable behind it, hence the label ‘comfort eating’.

But whatever you call it, whether you call it stress eating, sugar addiction, binge-eating, or just plain overeating; whether you do this a little bit, a medium amount,  in response to something specific, or whether you eat for most of the day, (recently I heard from somebody who gets up during the night to eat every hour) – whichever one of these people you are, this podcast is going to help you feel better.

 

Summary

Today I’ve talked about the various causes of binge-eating, (other than willpower.) From the chemicals involved to the powerful ancestral genetic, physiological, and biological influences.

I also talked you through the effects of food availability, marketing, society, culture and the formation of habits.

And finally, I mentioned that there are emotional reasons why it’s hard to stop eating.

That’s what these podcasts are about; the complexity of being human and emotional. That’s why these podcasts are not only relevant to you if you’re frustrated with eating. They are also relevant to anyone who ever had trouble with being human and emotional. I think that’s all of us!

If you are a binge-eater, this puts you in the category of ‘normal’. This is the first thing that I want to educate you on. If you are a comfort eater, what you’re going through doesn’t make you annoying, wrong, or embarrassing. It means you’re human.

Culturally, we have shame and negativity around being a binge-eater, and also shame for being emotional and having feelings. You can’t be expected to have the right skill set to cope with emotion, but you can learn this. That’s why I’m here.

I cannot underestimate the power of learning to cope with emotion. To stop comfort eating, you need to understand what’s going on for you and to find a place of compassion for that. This takes education and practice. It begins with recognising that there is emotion behind your eating. So that’s what I’ll help you to understand in the next podcast.

In the next podcast, we’ll explore how you’ve managed your emotions with food.

If you’d like to be informed when the next podcast is coming out and help with the emotional side of comfort eating, please subscribe to my blog.

If you want further help addressing this personally, read about my programme. Or you can work with me individually. 

This is Shelley Treacher from Stress, Anxiety & Binge-Eating Recovery Podcast (formerly Underground Confidence) Thank you so much for listening. I’ll see you again very soon.