Struggling with overeating? Cool–you’re not alone. Read Part One: Habit and Part Two: Emotional Eating and then head back over here to find out some strategies for getting past the compulsive eating roadblocks.
ROADBLOCK #3: What’s Satiety?
In my own personal research, I’ve come across plenty of information on emotional eating and stress, and I’ve even read a fair amount of information on leptin and other biochemical reasons why “full” never seems to happen.
But something kept bothering me about those two explanations–even in tandem, with the effects of one compounding the other–I was pretty sure I should have had my overeating under control. I’ve had plenty of practice eating mindfully, and I finally have a normal amount of body fat.* And while I’ve been under a ton of stress for the last several months, that only explained the desire to bury my face in a bag of chocolate chips…but brussels sprouts?**
And that’s when I realized: it’s not that I’m not full, it’s that I don’t remember what full feels like–and there’s a good reason.
This is more than just breaking a habit or filling a craving. This is time for a reset, “etch-a-sketch end of the world”,*** let’s break down this problem and fix it from the inside out.
Let’s step back and take a look at our daily diets, shall we? (I’m going to do it too, because we’re all in this together.)
When you stop restricting food, you’re faced with the ridiculously scary question: what am I supposed to eat? (I say ridiculous, because we should not feel so much despair over the fact that we’re finally allowing ourselves the choice to enjoy whatever we want in whatever quantity we want it…and yet, here we are, cringing over the fact that we have options.)
To make things easier, I found my “safe” foods, and I ate them in the same quantities and the same rotations on a daily basis. So even though I was eating more and eating better, I was still getting the same nutrients, both micro and macro, over and over again without variety.
There’s nothing wrong with making brussels sprouts your comfort food, per se, but there’s something that happens to you when you eat the same things over and over again, even if they’re covered in coconut oil or butter: without a varied diet, your body becomes or remains nutrient deficient.
Think about it: if you are only eating green veggies, you’re missing out on different micronutrients and antioxidants in the red, yellow, orange, purple, etc. vegetables. If you’re only eating lean meats, you’re missing out on the incredible nutrients in liver and marrow and all of the other incredibly nourishing and healthful parts of whatever animal you’re eating.
The point is: without variety, you cannot have satiety.
On a recent episode of Livin’ La Vida Low Carb, J. Stanton of Gnolls.org called satiety “the chemical and hormonal response to absorbing nutrients from food.” In other words, if you’re not eating the nutrients your body is craving (because you’re restricting, because you’re only eating certain “safe” foods, because you’re eating the same things over and over), then your body is going to keep craving food even when you’re already full.
Moreover, if you’re eating the same foods over and over again, you lose your ability to enjoy them, in the same way you might build up a tolerance to drugs or alcohol after repeated use. So not only are you not reaching nutritional satiety, but you’re not feeling satiated (which Stanton differentiates from satiety as “our body’s attempt to estimate future satiety via sensory input,” or, put simply, how your five senses tell you to stop eating when you’re full.) A recent Scientific American article calls it “sensory-specific satiety:” that moment after the first few bites when the flavor and texture of whatever you’re eating stops feeling satisfactory. While eating the same thing over and over again in the short term can actually curb overeating, over time, says the author,
“The familiar banality of the food[…]seems to prevent it from becoming unpalatable. As a result, people robotically consume it. So although it may be wise to stick to one or two foods at every meal, do not eat the same foods day in and day out, or you may gradually eat more, perhaps without knowing it.”
In other words, if you want to get your hands out of the potato chip bag (or in my case, the spoon out of the coconut butter), it might be time to take a break and switch it up. Even if you’re over-nourishing yourself with volume–even if it’s two pounds of brussels sprouts or grapes–you may actually be under-nourishing yourself in terms of vital micronutrients.
So here’s how we deal with this one, and it’s not as simple as taking a multivitamin and calling it a day:
You have to take a chance.
You have to stop eating the same things every day.
You have to be brave and try meats, veggies, fruits, fats, and even spices with different nutritional and chemical makeups.
I know that giving up the safety of consistent foods or meals or timings can be overwhelming, if not downright scary as hell. But I guarantee that by compulsively eating (and eating and eating), you’re already in one kind of hell. What if it turns out the devil you know is worse than the devil you don’t?
I’m making this recommendation as much for you as I am making it for me. I need to get the courage to break out of my food hell–because as much as I love brussels sprouts and coconut butter (not necessarily at the same time), I’m using them to hurt myself. And it’s really time to stop hurting ourselves with food.
So what are some ways you can ease yourself into mixing up your diet? Try:
- Changing just one meal at a time. You don’t have to overhaul your life completely, but maybe just trying something different every day at lunch time (or breakfast time or dinner time) will help you gain the courage to explore new cuisines.
- Finding a book with a one month meal plan, like Practical Paleo (it’s a good all-purpose go-to with a lot of variations and options). This way you don’t have to start from scratch with a full refrigerator and no idea what to eat. Just PLEASE don’t use this as an excuse to measure/restrict/only eat what’s in the book. It’s a guideline and not a hard-and-fast rule book.
- Enlist a friend and go out to eat. This is probably advice you won’t hear in many health circles, but sometimes letting go of control over your meal (and living through it!) can give you the positive reinforcement to help you loosen the reins when you get back home. Take a friend with you for moral support so you’re not forced to be brave on your own.
- Bookmarking websites with good recipes or using a resource like Pinterest to find inspiration once you’re feeling comfortable enough to start branching out and away from meal plans. Get excited about using new ingredients or spending time in the kitchen–when your meals are more about enjoyment (cooking, experimentation, presentation) than utility (must eat this thing or else something bad will happen to my body because ED told me so), it will get easier to break the compulsive cycles. (Just don’t use this as an excuse for “What I Ate Wednesday” syndrome. Plan on making the foods you find…and then make them and eat them. They’re not doing you any good Pinned to a board on the internet.)
I’m going to use the month of November to put this into practice and to break my bad habits, get my neurotransmitters back in order, and re-learn how to feel full–mind-full and body-full–again.
How about you? If you’re suffering with compulsive eating, what steps are you ready or willing to take in order to stop punishing yourself with and start enjoying food again? And if you’ve begun mixing up your diet, feel free to share some of your favorite new recipes/ingredients below!
*For more on why leptin, the hunger/satiety hormone, gets out of whack when you’re too thin, check out this post from Wellness Mama.
**Seriously. I go through several pounds a week. And once I start eating them, I can’t stop. Roasted in olive oil with garlic and rosemary, they are more addictive than chocolate. …Trust me on this one.
***“The Etch-a-Sketch End of the World” basically, God going, “No, no, no! Don’t know what that is, don’t recognize that anymore.”-–Eddie Izzard, Glorious