Is "Why" You Eat Causing Weight Gain? Here's what to do:
Note: This article is a bit longer than my normal ones, so—like an average Canadian—sorry about that... But this important topic includes a confession, an educational component, and will give you the right tools to overcome the common reasons "why" you eat—reasons that contribute to weight gain.
I remember it clear as a bell. It was curling night with the boys, the late draw and already past my bedtime. It was the final end and I have the last shot to win the game. Not only that, it’s a shot I have actually practiced the most. I lunge out and release the curling stone and watch… and yell, there is lots of yelling “HURRY HARD!” My heart starts racing, I see the stone curl more and more and my stomach falls to the floor, with a quarter of the way to go before the rock arrives at its destination I know I missed the shot horribly.
And with the game in my hand I lost. Feeling defeated in yet another loss in my first year of curling in the mixed “fun league” I was furious with myself.
A quick hand shake and I got out of dodge in about 3 seconds flat. Angry with myself for letting my team down, on my way home I was bound and determined to do some damage. My aim was the Dairy Queen close by and a Peanut Buster Parfait. Sadly the DQ was already closed, but did that stop me from my “quest?” Oh heck no, I hit the brakes hard, cut across a lane and drove into the parking lot of the gas station convenience store.
It was there I purchased 4 king sized chocolate bars. In the 800 meter drive from there to my house I had already eaten one of them. The other three had no chance either and in about 10 minutes from time of purchase I had consumed all 4 king size chocolate bars. That’s nearly 1700 calories.
Moments later I had calmed down and was “ok” with what I had just done and got back to healthier eating the next morning. Lucky for me.
But if this had been several years ago I would have not been “ok” I would have (on top of being angry with myself) been disappointed that I did that and felt really guilty. I would also only known how to deal with that guilt by…. You guessed it, eating more chocolate. And the cycle would have continued beyond just one eating episode.
I’m sure you have been there in some form or another. Eating food that you didn’t really need to eat, or overeating meals not because you were hungry but because of some other reason that has nothing to do with nourishment.
We’ve all been there.
We will all be there again at some point.
But why does this happen? And what can we do about it?
Well let me first start off by guessing you are a smart person. You basically know what to eat, the problem isn’t that. The problem you have to deal with is “WHY” you eat.
You see knowing what to eat and even how much to eat won’t make a lick of difference if you don’t address why you eat.
I have a nice little acronym for common reasons why we eat that cause many of us to gain weight.
It’s called B.E.A.S.T. eating.
And if the “BEAST” is getting you more than twice per week, it’s something I recommend you deal with if you want to be healthier. The great part about dealing with it isn’t just weight loss, it’s also a way of improving your stress management skills, and who wouldn’t want that?
B.E.A.S.T. stands for
Are any (or all) of these reasons above causing you to overeat or buy 4 king sized chocolate bars to crush in the blink of an eye? Then it’s time to put an end to that habit and take control… most of the time.
Why You Do This … It’s The Elephants Fault
When addressing “why” you eat. It’s important to recognize and understand what is going on with your brain at the time. There is no better way to talk about it than to use the way Dan and Chip Heath talk about it in their book “Switch”.
Think of your brain as two parts. The first part is your very large instinctual brain. It is emotional, irrational and has no capacity for language or foresight. Think of it as a large elephant.
The second part is a jockey on top of the elephant. This jockey represents your logical brain. The jockey is the one who has capacity for language, can rationalize things and has foresight.
When everything is content the little jockey can steer the elephant wherever it wants to go. But when the elephant is stressed enough to stampede, the logical thinking jockey has no hope of stopping this enormous animal. It’s just along for the ride.
Have you ever eaten too much or you keep eating chips at night while watching TV knowing you shouldn’t be doing that and yet it’s rewarding in the moment, and yet feel like you just can’t help yourself only to feel guilty about it after the moment is over?
When I purchased and rapidly consumed 4 king sized chocolate bars can you guess what part of my brain was in control at the time?
That whole cycle can be damaging. When these things happen you can now recognize that it’s the elephant that is in control. It’s also why you feel guilty afterwards, the logical brain knows better but just isn’t strong enough to stop it.
Here’s the real kick in the pants. When the jockey realizes that what just happened and starts to feel guilty, that guilt is an emotion, which can put the elephant right back in control and the cycle continues and your waist line continues to grow with each cycle.
The key is to first become aware of what part of your brain is taking control. The second key is the learn how to calm the elephant down just before the stampede occurs and keep the jockey in control.
Of course this is going to take practice, which means you won’t be good at it right away, and that’s ok. You will also not be able to control the elephant all the time, that’s ok too. I’m going to give you some battle tested solutions to practice if you are a consistent “BEAST” eater.
Hint: willpower alone won’t work, the elephant is too strong for that.
Solutions To “Why” You Eat—Battle Tested
With everything mentioned so far you’ve learned about common reasons why you eat that cause weight gain (BEAST) and how your brain works around stress which makes it very hard to control. (Elephant & The Jockey)
Here are key solutions in order:
Step 1: Record
Start keeping a record of times you overeat or eat foods when you are not physically hungry. Write down why you did that. Write a B for boredom, E for emotional A for anxious etc. Notice any patterns and triggers that set you off.
Step 2: 3D Effect
The first physiological response in your body to stress is a change in your breathing. It sets off a cascade of muscle tension and heart rate changes that signal the brain to activate your adrenal glands. This is how the elephant brain knows how to take over. Among the hormones that get secreted in this process is Cortisol and it also aids in fat storing (BOO!). Great for our stone age ancestors… not so great for you who wants to fit into a smaller size pair of jeans.
To stop this cascade effect you want to practice catching that breath change and follow the 3D effect which is:
Deep Breathe - STOP! Take 5 deep belly breaths and calm that elephant down.
Drink Water - Practice making your next action to drink water, an action that has no ill-effects
Distract - Distract yourself with something that will make you smile or stimulate you logical brain with an activity that requires focus.
The last 2 “D’s” actually create a nice time gap between an initial stressful thought and taking action which stops the elephant and puts the jockey in control.
For me I practice this every time before I check my email because the thought of checking my email makes me anxious which in the past has caused my to reach for a chocolate bar or overeat at lunch if I’m thinking about it as it’s my first task after lunch typically.
Step 3: Test The Jockey
Finally test the jockey using the 5-5-5-5 method and F.O.G.
5-5-5-5 method is a simple one that often reduces the severity of why you eat.
Simply ask yourself “is what ever bothering me going to matter…”
5 minutes from now
5 hours from now
5 days from now
5 month from now
You might find the level of severity be within the first 3 “5’s” and something you can laugh off and take a different action that your logical mind can come up with instead of eating.
F.O.G. is a simple acronym that is particularly effective at what’s causing you to want to stress eat.
Is what’s causing me stress based on a:
I make it a practice not to get worked up about anything until I have established the facts. It’s easy to create an irrational and fearful mindset with guess’s or opinions without the actual facts. That allows the elephant to take control.
So I hope this article provides actionable steps for you to take control of why you eat and help you to stop gaining weight for reasons that are now in your control.
If you want more help you are welcome to contact me firstname.lastname@example.org and I am happy to learn more about you and help you in any way I can.
- Robin Mungall NSCA CPT
Results One Habit At A Time
Robin Mungall Fitness