Is It Really Just Willpower?

We can plan ahead, have the best intentions and still find ourselves in a food rampage.

“I’m weak.”

“I have no willpower.”

“I’ll start over on Monday.”

How many times have you said these things to yourself?

There are a few reasons we find ourselves eating out of control and it’s not as simple as having no willpower.

We’re starving….for nutrition

It could be as simple as we are just hungry.

Not hungry for calories, hungry for nutrients. Our body does not crave calories- it craves nutrient dense foods. That’s why it’s so easy to overdo it when eating things that are low-calorie, fat-free, full of empty-calories and processed. Or when we aren’t eating balanced meals with the right amount of fat, protein and carbs.

Processed foods confuse our body. Our brains associate flavor with the nutrients it should be receiving when we eat a certain food.

When you eat foods with fake flavors the body thinks it is getting the nutrition from the food associated with the flavor. So when no nutrition comes in, the body calls out for more food. And more, and more.

Think about it. How much more likely are you to overeat Doritos that have tomato flavoring than actual tomatoes? That’s because tomatoes are delivering actual nutrients where Doritos are delivering ….?

It’s also completely possible to overdo it with healthy foods too. Eating too much, is eating too much. No matter what it is.

Personal story. I used to binge on cauliflower.

Now before you roll your eyes and think, “Whatever Colleen… it’s friggin’ cauliflower. Who cares?”, you need to understand that if food is controlling you and you are eating in a way that makes you feel defeated and out of control, there is a problem, and there is a reason. .

It affected me emotionally and physically, because after inhaling several heads of cauliflower I was left feeling bloated, miserable but still CRAVING more.

I remember going to my therapist and telling her how I had been binging on cauliflower. I expected her to blow me off like everyone else, but instead she held my hand, looked me in the eye and said “Colleen, maybe you are just hungry”.

Hungry? I had just eaten 5 lbs of cauliflower!

But she was right. 

You see, this was a time in my life when I neglected to listen to what MY body needed, and was eating a raw, vegetarian diet pretty much void of protein and fat. I WAS hungry…for more nutrition.

I wish I could say I started listening to my body right after that session…but I didn’t. My binges eventually moved on to things a lot less healthy than cauliflower but, eventually,  I did start tuning in. And when I did a miracle happened… the feeling to eat and eat and eat went away.

Years of therapy and guilt could all have been avoided if I had just put some damn butter on that cauliflower! But ya know…live and learn:)

Basically, it’s amazing how much your cravings and your portions will decrease when you eat in a way that completely nourishes YOU.

Chemical reactions are causing feel-good sensations

Food also triggers chemical reactions, and different foods will bring on different sensations.

There are certain foods that we find ourselves overeating more than others. 

Casomorphins in dairy have a calming effect. See that “morphins” in there. Look familiar? Yep, they calm the body just like morphine does.

Sugar stimulates the release of dopamine in our brain which brings on feelings of pleasure. There’s a reason we down a tub of Cherry Garcia when we get dumped.

Of course the body is going to call out for more and more of these!

We are trying to bury emotions that we don’t know how to deal with

Our emotions play a huge role in overeating too. Modern society’s GO-GO-GO mentality leaves little time for mindfulness and emotion processing. 

When emotions come up that we don’t know how to handle it’s very easy to just bury them with food. Anxiety, sadness, loneliness, feelings of nostalgia…these are all uncomfortable for many people.

I’ve actually had many clients bury feelings of happiness too. They reach a weight loss or health goal and suddenly find themselves knee deep in chips.  

Recognizing that this is happening and starting to recognize your emotional triggers is a great first step in getting emotional eating under control.

By slowing down, and really focusing in on WHY you have cravings, desires to binge eat, or just eat when you are not physically hungry, you will develop the capacity to stop the downward spiral of eating before it starts.

I highly recommend keeping a food journal and noting how you feel emotionally and physically before and after you eat. There is power in writing things down, and keeping a daily journal allows you look for patterns in your eating habits.

Every moment is a chance to start tuning in to what you body really needs; to start cutting out the processed foods with fake flavors (these include most “natural flavors” too); to feed your body nutrient dense, REAL food; and to recognize your triggers. You may not see the huge shifts overnight, but small shifts are happening with each effort and will lead to great things- no willpower necessary. 




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