Counterintuitive Advice to Stop Overeating | TMOHP Episode 122

What if I told you that sometimes trusting your intuition won’t help you break overeating habits? In fact, there are ways that your brain as well as your thoughts and beliefs will actually mislead you - even when you’re determined to stop emotional eating or end a habit of eating too much junk food or using food for self-care. You can retrain your brain. You can build new habits. You CAN create peace with food and freedom from overeating. Sometimes it requires counterintuitive steps and approaches. In this episode I’m sharing some unexpected advice on how to make ending overeating easier and how to create new habits that last with some counterintuitive advice.

In this episode:

  • Focusing beyond what to eat and when
  • Starting small
  • How your brain resists what works (and why)
  • The problem with habit stacking
  • Accountability isn’t always helpful
  • Avoiding fake positivity


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Resources mentioned in this episode:

  • The Freedom from Overeating Workshop Series for Smart, Busy Women: If you’re a smart woman who secretly wonders whether it’s really possible to change your overeating or emotional eating habits, the Freedom from Overeating Workshop Series is for you. Join psychologist Dr. Melissa McCreery for this live, online event and learn powerful strategies to take your power back from food, from cravings, and from that urge to wander into the kitchen and mindlessly eat all the snacks. You can stop fighting with food. You can end the cycle of running out of willpower, blaming yourself, and endlessly “starting over” on Monday. Take advantage of this special invitation and reserve your free seat at

    **Yes, I know you’re busy. There WILL be replays if you can’t join the event live!

  • Private Coaching for Emotional Eating and Overeating: I have openings in my schedule to work with about twelve women a year and openings are filled as space becomes available. Private coaching meetings are scheduled via Zoom or phone and we can connect from anywhere in the world. Private coaching is customized to you and your goals and we'll work together for a minimum of six months. Learn more and apply here.
  • Your Missing Peace  is the program for women ready to stop overeating and emotional eating for good. Enrollment is open and NOW is the perfect time to join us! Go here to learn more
  • Visit for more tips and resources to create peace with food and overcome overeating and emotional eating

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Full episode transcript:

Hey everybody welcome back to the podcast. Today I want to talk about counterintuitive advice or counterintuitive things that you can do to stop overeating. And they're counterintuitive because they don't seem like the thing to do. The counter, the counter to the counterintuitive advice is that there are things that we feel like we need to do if you want to stop overeating or emotional eating that aren't really helpful.

When you decide to make a change, a change in your eating, there is one obstacle that you probably ignore, and it's a big one. It is your brain and the way it tends to respond to change, as well as including the thoughts and the beliefs that you have. Some that you probably don't even realize are thoughts and beliefs.

The thoughts and beliefs that you have about making changes, about changing your eating habits, about what's required of you, about what changing your eating will look like, what it should look like. And even thoughts and beliefs about what you are capable of. Our thoughts and our beliefs tend to protect us from risk, from uncertainty, and from stepping outside our comfort zone.

As human beings, we're hardwired to stay safe. To be protective. And even though changing your eating habits isn't the same as avoiding a lion in the wild, our brains don't like risk. I'm going to talk more about how that comes into play when you decide that you want to stop a pattern of overeating or emotional eating.

What your brain is going to tell you to do is it feels like it makes sense. It feels like the smart approach. I want to talk about some places that that intuitive approach doesn't work. And the counterintuitive advice that will actually help you stop overeating. So let's talk about counterintuitive advice to stop overeating.

The first, which you've probably heard me say before, is that it's important when you want to stop overeating, not to focus on eating. The intuitive advice, what your brain wants you to do, you want to change your overeating, you want to change your emotional eating. So let's focus on the food. Let's create a food plan. Let's decide what we're going to eat and what we're not going to eat.

All right. As you've probably heard me say, and it's worth repeating, the more you focus on the food, the more you are not focusing on the reasons that you want the food. It is so important if you want to make a lasting change in your eating habits, to pay attention to why the food has its power, the power that it does in your life.

Why are you ending up staring into the pantry at five o'clock every day? Why do you have the craving for chocolate even though you know you're not hungry? What can you start to discern if you pay attention about the reason? That the, you and the cookies are having that stare down every afternoon. You know you're not hungry. You know you don't want to eat them. You know you feel bad after you eat them. You know you don't even taste them as you eat them and that you feel a lot of guilt because it's, it's working against yourself to eat the cookies, but you eat them anyway.

One of the most important things that you can do to stop overeating and emotional eating habits to end them is to get curious about the reasons. To put aside the urge to dive into a food plan that takes up all your energy and your mental focus to adhere to. Because when you're putting all your energy and mental focus into adhering to a plan. You are not putting your energy and focus into getting curious and learning about the reasons the fuel that is you know, that is giving over eating its power. Once you understand the fuel source, you can start to deal with that directly and that will create big changes.

I have seen this over and over again in clients that I've worked with. And I'm thinking of one client in particular who came into the Missing Peace program. Her goal was to stop eating at the end of the day. Food that she didn't want, so that she was overly full, so that she didn't sleep well, so that she wasn't hungry for anything in the morning because she had gone to bed so overstuffed.

Her goal was to stop the eating. Her goal was not to think about why am I eating? What's going on underneath all of this? And there was some resistance to that. Her brain wanted to focus on the food. How am I going to get the results that I want if I don't focus on what I'm eating and what I'm not eating?

But we moved back from that. We did the counterintuitive thing. And focusing on why she was eating led her into this journey that she did not expect at all around how hard she was being on herself. The constant dialogue in her brain about how she wasn't doing enough. And she was doing a bad job. And how food had become this thing to numb that stuff out, to push it down, to give herself a break at the end of the day where she didn't have to feel bad.

Where she didn't have to feel the self-imposed guilt. And once she got clear on that, she could take a new step in a different direction. Which was about changing the way she treated herself. And when she was able to do that, she didn't need to use the eating at the end of the day to push down thoughts and feelings that she didn't want to have. Because she had changed those things. They weren't there anymore.

This is how she took her power back from food and from cravings and from overeating, not by starting where her brain told her she needed to start. With a super clear food plan. But by putting that to the side for the moment and Focusing on what was underneath. What was going on? What were the reasons that she was overeating and what could she learn from those and what kind of changes could she put into place to create permanent change?

The second counter intuitive approach that I want to share with you is to start small. This is so hard. It sounds so simple. And this is, I think the hardest piece of advice for smart, high achieving women to take on board. Start small. I want you to practice starting with changes that you are a hundred percent sure that you can make.

So often, so often I will talk to a client who says, you know what, I am never conscious when I'm eating. I am eating on autopilot all day long. I am not paying attention to when I'm hungry, when I'm full, I, I just know I need to focus on that more. And so that is what I'm going to do 24 seven. I'm going to eat mindfully.

And guess what happens? It doesn't work. Because back to the first piece of advice I gave you, the counterintuitive advice. There's a reason that you're eating. And it is really difficult to eat mindfully, to go from eating to numb out to eating a hundred percent mindfully. It is exhausting and it is probably going to be overwhelming.

If what you want to do is be more mindful of your eating, pick one instance. For one day or two days or every other day. And practice that and see what you can learn. If you want to Practice journaling don't tell yourself you're going to journal every day for 45 minutes. Pick a few days or try it for one day and commit to five minutes. Or commit to every day this week sometime during the day, but not every morning at 6 am.

And make sure that you're just going to pick up the pen and you're going to write one sentence. The key is to start small and here's the thing, your brain is going to tell you it's not enough. Your brain is going to tell you, why even do that? It won't make a difference. Your brain is going to tell you, well, if you're going to do that, then you probably should do this too.

If you are going to experiment with eating a salad with protein in it every day for lunch, then you actually ought to be walking an hour a day, too. Because you know that will help, and you know that's the next step, and you could totally do it. Right? Your brain is going to tell you need to do more. Because this is what brains do?

If your brain is like so many other women's brains, your brain is going to start stacking habits. You are going to decide, hey, you know what I would like to do? I would like to try packing my lunch every day. And then, before you've even done that, before you have even taken your lunch to work one single day, your brain is going to have a thought like, well, If I'm going to do the prepping to take my lunches, then I could also do something different around snacks. Or if I'm going to be going to the grocery store anyway, I should...

Your brain is going to start stacking habits. It's actually quite fascinating. If you start looking for this, if you start looking for ways that your brain starts making your steps bigger and bigger and bigger, you will be fascinated, too. Your brain is going to start adding things on. And here's what happens.

It sounds really good inside your head. It sounds exciting. It's like, well, if I'm going to make this change, let's do this and let's do this. And then the results will be even bigger. So often your brain will make things so big you won't even get started. Or you will delay getting started. Or you will get started and you'll last one day, or one hour, or three days, half a week. But you won't make it till the end. You will never achieve your goal.

One of the most important, but counterintuitive to your brain, pieces of advice that I can give you to make a permanent change in your eating habits is to start small. What you want to do is start making changes that you can stick with. You want to start creating a chain of success.

You want to be taking small steps that you are following through on. You want to start establishing habits that if you decide need to be grown, you can grow. But you want to get the seed planted. And you also want to create this chain of wins. Because there is nothing more motivating than seeing that you are doing things. That you are making positive changes, taking positive actions, and that you are creating some momentum that is getting you somewhere. Even if it is small. Especially if it is small.

Because the other thing about small steps, starting small, taking small doable actions is that even though your brain is probably telling you you've got a lot of work to do. This is going to take a lot of effort. You have big changes you need to make in your eating. This is going to take forever. This is going to be really hard. This is going to be a miserable slog.

Because again, brains tend to try to protect us from change, from risk, from feeling uncomfortable. So let's just anticipate how awful anything can be if you make a change. Even though that is what brains tend to do, it is amazing how powerful small changes can be. I'm going to say that again. It is amazing how powerful small changes can be. And you are not likely at the beginning to believe that a small change is going to be as powerful as it might be.

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard members of Your Missing Peace say to me. I can't believe how much difference this little thing made. I cannot believe how important those small changes were. I cannot believe how much my eating has changed and all I've done is small things. Your brain is going to tell you, okay, the small thing isn't going to help. Okay. Maybe I will do this small thing, but I know really what I need to do is the big thing.

Your brain is going to fight you on taking small steps. I am going to encourage you to move forward by starting small. If it feels the least bit overwhelming, if you are the least bit unsure that you can't do it, try something smaller. Cut it in half. Don't do more, do less, and instead start collecting wins. Don't listen to your brain.

Take the counterintuitive approach. Start small and do not stack habits upon habits upon habits. Take one thing and then count the wins.

Okay, next piece of counterintuitive advice. Do not declare what you're doing far and wide. There is a lot of advice out there about accountability and I'm a big believer in the right kind of accountability. Accountability is helpful when you feel supported by it. When it supports you in doing what you want to do. When it helps you feel stronger and more confident. When it helps you get to your goal.

Here's the thing. All of us have been marinating in diet mentality and diet culture for most of our lives. There are a lot of well-intended people out there who care about you. Who do not necessarily understand what it is that you're trying to do. Whose own thoughts and beliefs about change, about food, about eating, about weight, about all of these things have been corrupted by the same kind of advice that hasn't been working for you.

When we say out loud what it is that we're doing, sometimes it attracts exactly the kind of messaging that we are trying to change. That we are trying to avoid. Sometimes it attracts what I call the diet police. People who think they're helping but are actually bolstering all of those thoughts and beliefs that don't work for you. You need more willpower. You need to try harder. Should you really be eating that? The focus on the food instead of what's going on you seem kind of stressed? Right?

So often, well intended advice or support includes things like stacking habits. How can I help you with that? How can we do more? How can we grow this? And also can contribute to more self-imposed guilt or shame or negative thoughts that actually will take away from your momentum.

So much of the time in the beginning when you are trying to change a habit that feels as intimate and personal as your relationship with food is, your eating is such a visible thing. Weight, if that is something that you're working on, is such a visible, vulnerable thing. And sometimes one of the most powerful and empowering things that you can do is keep it private. Or find a place to get support that really, truly a hundred percent feel supportive.

It doesn't mean that the people you aren't asking for accountability from don't love you or don't care about you, but they may not be the best positioned to give you what you need to create effective change. So it is not necessarily helpful to declare your goals, declare your intentions, declare your steps out loud, or to ask for accountability. Sometimes that can feel like policing. Sometimes that can feel oppressive.

Sometimes declaring what it is that we're trying to do can actually create the absolute opposite result by getting our inner rebel all fired up without us even realizing it. And then we end up doing exactly the opposite of what we have just declared was important to us to do.

So it is not necessarily helpful to let other people know what it is that you are working on, what it is that you are trying, or even the daily steps, the goals that you have set for yourself. I would encourage you to be very selective about what you share at the beginning stages of working to change overeating and emotional eating habits.

The last piece of counterintuitive advice that I want to share in this episode has to do with being extremely careful about positive thinking. Now this might sound odd because I'm talking in this episode about your thoughts and your beliefs and how powerful your brain is when it comes to making changes.
Here's the thing you can't lie to yourself. Lying to yourself is counterproductive. And so often when people start playing with thoughts and beliefs and motivation, the inclination is to tell yourself things to try to pump yourself up. To try to increase your positivity by saying things or reinforcing things or reminding yourself of things that you don't really believe.

Positive thinking is really important. We do see more of what we focus on. We create a whole energy and a vibe with our feelings, with the way that we talk to ourselves. I will tell you that all day long. And, it is not helpful to try to tell ourselves things that we do not really believe.

It is helpful to pay careful attention to what you are thinking. What you are telling yourself and what you are believing, because those things, they, they create the energy. It's like they are the music, you know, it can be either somber and scary and foreboding or it can be light and joyful and playful. Your thoughts and your feelings and your beliefs create the energy that lead to how you feel about something and your feelings and your thoughts and your beliefs then create the background and, and kind of create the context where you decide what to do next.

So if you're feeling miserable, if you're feeling like something's going to be an uphill slog, you are likely to feel defeated before you even start. And that is going to impact the kind of steps that you take and the energy that you put into those steps. So it is really important to pay attention to what you are thinking and what you're believing and what you are telling yourself.

However, you can't change that by just coming up with a new thought or belief that you don't believe at all. If I believe that breaking a habit of overeating at night before I go to bed, eating ice cream every night before I go to bed, if I believe that is going to be next to impossible to change. If I cannot even imagine what I would do if I didn't eat that bowl of ice cream every night. Or if I cannot even imagine being strong enough and having enough willpower to not eat that ice cream, then looking in the mirror every night and saying to myself, I get through my evening easily tonight without eating ice cream.

That's aspirational. That's a great thing to have as a goal, but I don't really believe it. And I'm lying to myself. I don't know how that is possible. I don't know what is involved in making that happen. There's a real disconnect from what I'm saying to myself and what feels true to me in my core. Right?

So what is helpful is to pay attention to what you are thinking and what you are believing, what you are telling yourself. It is extremely helpful to notice if you have thoughts that you are focusing on that aren't helpful to focus on. If I'm thinking, I can't do it all day long, that is discouraging and that's demotivating and that's not going to be building the kind of energy that I want.

But then the next step is to pick a thought or belief that serves you better that feels true to you. I may not believe in my soul that I can easily and effortlessly not eat the bowl of ice cream tonight. But I could remind myself that it feels next to impossible to give up my ice cream habit. And I also know I've done some other things that felt impossible in the past. And I'm going to believe I might be able to figure this out.

Or, it might be possible to believe that, well, it feels next to impossible to see myself not eating ice cream every night. And I know there's some things that seemed impossible in the past that don't seem impossible now. And I'm going to try to take a small step and see what happens.

Or maybe a thought that feels approachable is, I'm open to the possibility that this is changeable. And that's as far as I can go right now. Do not lie to yourself when you lie to yourself, when you try to force positive thoughts and beliefs that don't feel true to you at all you feel disengenuine. You create no motivation or momentum. You feel guilt sometimes because why can't I believe this thing now I'm failing at changing my thoughts and my beliefs.

You create a whole other cycle of unhelpfulness and another barrier to making changes that last. So, don't pump yourself up with stuff you believe. Sometimes the best new thought is a neutral thought like, you know what, it feels almost impossible to give up my ice cream every night, but I also know that's something that's unhelpful to focus on.

A neutral thought is more powerful and more helpful than a toxic negative thought or a fake positive one. And I am going to circle back to that other piece of advice that I gave you, because it is very likely, as you are listening to me say this, to have your brain pop up with that thought, but that's not much. How is that motivating? That's not going to be enough.

When you are making changes to Eating habits, when you are creating freedom from overeating and peace with food and tackling emotional eating cycles and habits, one of the biggest challenges is your brain. It's inside your own head. One of the biggest challenges that you are going to face because you are a human being and you're going to face it like everybody else is the challenge of your thoughts and your beliefs and your self-talk.

And so going in prepared, knowing that your brain pushes back against change. Your brain pushes back against thinking differently. Your brain pushes back against taking risks. Your brain doesn't always want to believe in you. It feels it's, it's safer to just keep doing things the way that you're doing things. Knowing that at the very beginning is actually a secret weapon. Even if it makes you roll your eyes. Even if it, it triggers that whole thing. It's like a vicious cycle of your brain saying, well, how is that helpful?

Knowing that your thoughts and your beliefs are running the show is the very first step. And when you know that, and you know, some of these things that I shared in this episode, you can start doing this whole approach to overeating differently.

Another piece that is really helpful as you're probably realizing listening to this episode is having support in doing it differently. That is something that I attempt to offer in this podcast.

That support and coaching that goes along with that and different kinds of training is something that I offer in the Missing Peace Program. And as you probably know, that is a kind of support that you can get in my upcoming free five day workshop. So I hope you've registered for that.

Don't be afraid of small changes. Don't be afraid of doing it differently. Pay attention to your thoughts and your beliefs and the things that you're telling yourself.

And don't fall prey to that belief that you always have to be doing more. You always have to add in one more thing and you always have to be talking bigger and in more motivating ways to yourself.

Be honest with yourself. Be curious. Give yourself space. Give yourself time. Stick with the small steps.

This is doable.

I'll talk to you soon.

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Your Missing Peace is the psychologist-designed program that provides the tools, the support, the coaching, and the confidence to create freedom from emotional eating and overeating. Finally - emotional eating help done right! Your Missing Peace is specifically designed for smart, high-achieving women who are DONE with diets, who want a lasting solution, and who are ready to take their power back from food, from overeating, and the scale. 

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