Tackling emotional or habit eating: the secret sauce to permanent weight loss

Dr. Jen Kerns

Dr. Jen Kerns

This past month I’ve been focusing on the 3 main things driving us to overeat:

  1. Overhunger
  2. Overdesire
  3. Eating for emotional reasons (whether consciously, in response to a craving, or on autopilot)

As I’ve mentioned previously, the solution to your overeating has to address all 3 of these components, or it won’t work in the long term. The diet & weight loss industry and even most doctors (including obesity medicine specialists) focus on the WHAT of eating — types of foods to eat or not eat, when to eat, how much to eat. No one seems to be focusing on the WHY of eating, which is the true underlying cause of overweight. So that’s what I’ve been doing with you here: helping you understand why you are overeating, and addressing each component so that you can lose body fat in a healthy way, for good.

Since late May we have talked about various things that promote overhunger and overdesire. When your body is physically hungry all the time, you will naturally want to eat more food and more often, whether it’s “healthy” food or junk food. There are countless things that might impact hunger levels, but we focused on what I view as the highest impact things: limiting sugars and refined grains, adding in more proteinavoiding liquid caloriessleeping better, eating foods rich in fiber and water, and minimizing medications that drive appetite. We then briefly touched on overdesire, and how combinations of macronutrients (usually in the form of processed or human-made foods not naturally-occurring in nature) drive desire via an abnormally strong stimulation in the brain’s reward centers, and that visual food cues drive desire. Ever walk by a bakery and find yourself hypnotized by the smell of freshly baking bread or pastries? Olfactory food cues drive desire in a similar way to visual ones! Managing these cues as best you can by avoiding super-stimuli (like sugars and processed foods), unsubscribing from that email you get from your favorite ice cream shop (the one that describes all the new flavors available this month), and opting for Bridgerton in place of The Great British Baking Show can help limit overdesire.

Over the coming weeks I want to shift to the third main reason why we overeat: emotional eating, or habit. Tackling this third bucket of overeating is the secret sauce (no pun intended) to permanent weight loss. And it’s where most diets fail. I do believe that many people would naturally lose weight if they simply cut out added sugars and processed foods (especially refined grains), but you can still overeat “healthy” foods (think nut butter or nuts, fruit, cheese, etc.) and remain overweight. You could also eat sugars and processed foods and maintain a healthy body weight if you only ate them when you were physically hungry and stopped eating them as soon as you were physically sated, but that’s not how most humans react to those foods. Instead, we reach for them when we aren’t physically hungry, or we eat them until we are overfull for various reasons. In my next few posts, we will get into why this happens, and what to do about it. Eating naturally-curing foods devoid of added sugars and refined grains will go a long way in making it easier to lose weight, and I highly recommend eating that way — but the real work (and the real results) come with tackling our minds and the mindless habit-based eating that we all do so frequently. Next up: why habits are actually helpful and how they form.

Until then –
xo Jen

{{To learn more about working with me one-on-one to tackle your own thinking and help your evolved human brain outsmart your primitive brain, email me at [email protected] to set up a free mini coaching session!}}

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