When I was training for my first marathon in the late 90s, I experimented with eating different foods to see how they would affect my running. I gradually (and not on purpose) became a vegetarian.
However, even though I switched to a plant-based diet and was running anywhere from 5 to 20 miles a day, I didn’t lose weight.
I remember clearly being at the end of my runs and thinking about all the food I was going to binge on because I “deserved it” and because the food was healthy. I would get back from a long run, shower and dress, and head to a Mexican restaurant for a veggie burrito that could have easily fed four people. I inhaled the food in front of me, leaving the restaurant so full that I almost felt sick.
It does matter what you eat, but what matters more is the way that you eat it.
It’s obvious that what you eat is critically important; after all, your diet is a reliable indicator of your chances for developing chronic illnesses and how long you will live. But focusing on the food rather than how you eat it keeps you stuck in the same place.
We get a ton of mixed messages from “experts,” who give all kinds of conflicting advice on what you should eat. You should eliminate carbs and eat a high-protein diet. You should eliminate meat and eat a vegetarian diet. You should juice for a week to cleanse. Always eat this, never eat that.
All of this is just a bunch of noise that distracts you from the real problem: you’re using food to fill an emotional void.
If you tend to eat past the point of fullness, eat really fast, or look forward to eating (I don’t mean looking forward to eating a certain meal . . . I mean looking forward to eating), you are eating to make yourself feel better.
If you’re eating emotionally, it’s absolutely pointless to keep manipulating the foods you’re eating. You have to first figure out what’s causing you to eat this way.
Eating emotionally is like having a hole in your gas tank. It doesn’t matter if you fill it with premium fuel or regular fuel; until you repair the hole, you will never be able to fill the tank. If you are eating to fill an emotional void, it doesn’t matter if the food you eat is healthy or not — you will continue to overeat until you fix what’s causing you to eat this way.
It’s usually the act of eating, and not the food itself, that is what fills the void. It’s quite literally the shoving down of painful emotions by stuffing yourself with food. Over time, eating this way becomes a habit.
So if you don’t deal with the painful experiences that began this pattern in the first place, you will continue to eat to make yourself feel better.
When you stop trying to fix yourself from the outside in, how you think changes. This change in thinking helps you see that an all-or-nothing approach where you drastically alter your diet (what you eat) is far less effective than slowly changing your habits (how you eat).
And when you combine a change in thinking with a change in habits, you get tons of momentum — because each makes doing the other easier.
If you change how you think, it’s easier to modify your habits. Modifying your habits makes you think in a different way, which then makes it even easier to continue changing your habits.
As long as you keep trying to change what you eat (in other words, dieting) without changing the way that you eat, you will stay stuck in the same place. You have to figure out why you are binge eating in the first place rather than changing what kinds of foods you binge on.
Yes, what you eat is important, but changing how you eat is more important. In fact, changing how you eat makes changing what you eat a whole lot easier.
Change How You Think This Week
Notice how you feel before and after you binge eat. What were you thinking before you did? How did you feel after? Noticing rather than judging is an important shift in thinking; it helps you change the voice in your head from critical to supportive.
Change What You Do This Week
- Think of one habit you want to change
- Write down what the opposite habit is/looks like
- Think of five to ten incremental steps that you could take to get from A to B
- Order the steps from easiest to hardest
- Start working on the easiest step this week