Fighting Cravings: When You Don’t Want to Overeat and Yet You Do | TMOHP Episode 129

We humans are complicated - and self-complicating. We can hold completely opposite beliefs or thoughts at the same time. In fact, we often do. So you may decide to not eat potato chips this week - and yet, at the same time, you really want to eat the potato chips. I mean, we set up plans for our eating all the time and then talk ourselves out of them! So many overeating challenges are internal - between thoughts, beliefs, and values that are contradictory. 

Struggles with food and eating take up a lot of mental space. I frequently hear from women who desperately want to put an end to all the drama, the thinking about what and when to eat, and would give a lot to be able to create mental peace with food. If you want to understand what freedom from overeating really is, it’s important to understand cognitive dissonance and the mental tricks your brain might be using that are keeping you stuck.

In this episode:

  • Cognitive dissonance and internal struggles with eating
  • How we cope with cognitive dissonance and wanting to overeat (and also wanting to change our eating)
  • Mindless eating or eating to numb as a coping mechanism
  • Respecting vs. gaslighting your cognitive dissonance about overeating and emotional eating

Resources mentioned in this episode:

  • The Freedom from Overeating Roadmap for Smart, Busy Women is your guide to ending overeating and emotional eating habits. Designed for multitaskers and busy women, you’ll take your power back from overeating with this free guide which includes resources for addressing the reasons you overeat and a user guide for Dr. Melissa’s most popular podcast episodes. Download your roadmap here: https://toomuchonherplate.com/map/
  • 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
  • Join the Freedom from Overeating and Emotional Eating Community on Facebook
  • 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.
  • Visit http://toomuchonherplate.com for more tips and resources to create peace with food and overcome overeating and emotional eating

Episode Transcript

Hey everybody. Today let's talk about that situation where you want to overeat and you don't want to overeat. Or you don't want to overeat but you really want to overeat. Let's talk about cognitive dissonance and how not to gaslight it. So, do you ever feel tired of fighting yourself? Does it ever feel like you're your own worst enemy and you're just fighting you when it comes to trying to change your eating?

Or do you get tired of fighting urges? Or fighting cravings? Or deciding that you're going to try something new, like you're not going to eat sugar, or you're not going to eat after eight o'clock, or you're going to eat more protein. And then when it comes time to do the thing, you don't really want to do it, so you don't.

When I talk about the difference between getting your eating under control and creating freedom from overeating, the heart of what I'm talking about is the difference between being in a situation where you are fighting yourself and maybe you're fighting yourself, but you're feeling strong and you're actually winning the fight.

The difference between being in a fight, whether you are the one who's winning or the one who's feeling beaten down, but the difference between that and actually creating a situation where there is no fight to be had. No fight. Where you don't overeat because you honestly just don't want to. You don't eat the chocolate in your desk drawer or maybe you pull the chocolate out and you eat a square and you leave the rest because it's all you want.

Not because you're strong, not because you remembered that that was your plan. Not because you're feeling really determined and purposeful today. All of those things, feeling and being strong, sticking to your guns, following through on the hard thing that you said you do, these all take energy and they all create stress.

And there is nothing wrong with the ability to do hard things or to be uncomfortable or to honor your commitments to yourself. There's nothing wrong with that. Those are great strengths, but I sure hear from a lot of women who are so tired of using their precious energy to fight and to be strong with food and with eating and achieving some number on the scale.

I talk to women who literally fantasize about not having all this drama take up space inside their minds. And I use the word fantasize because it feels like a fantasy because on the one hand they yearn for it. And on the other hand, they just cannot imagine it. They literally fantasize about not having the drama. The having to be strong. The willing yourself to do the thing today. Getting determined to have a good day. They fantasize about not having that take up the space inside their minds.

And I will tell you, it is entirely possible to have this stuff, not take up that space in your mind. It is possible to not have the drama. To not be caught in the war, whether you are currently today being the one who's winning it, or feeling like you've been totally defeated by food.

It is possible with two qualifications. And they are this the first one is that traditional weight loss approaches will never let you exit this battle for control. And the second one is that in order to leave the battle behind, you are going to want to use psychology. And you may want support to help you dig into things that your brain might rather avoid. Because your brain is part of what keeps you stuck.

Let me explain. If you want to really understand freedom from overeating and how it is so much more than just a bunch of fancy words. And how it is way more powerful than a diet. And why I use the term freedom from overeating so deliberately. Then we need to talk about cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is that state when we are thinking or believing or valuing contradictory things or information. So, there are two things going on inside our heads and they don't line up. As in, an example would be, I don't want to overload myself on sugar in the afternoon, but those chocolate chip cookies are calling to me and I really want to eat three of them. I don't want to eat them, but I do want to eat them.

Cognitive dissonance creates a battle. And because it's happening inside of you, every outcome is going to be some sort of loss. Right? I don't want to eat the sugar. I do want to eat the chocolate chip cookies. So you're deprived if you don't eat the cookies. And if you eat the cookies, you're mad at yourself because you broke a commitment that you made to yourself. Or maybe because you didn't make progress on a goal that you had with your eating.

But either way, there's not a clear win, and there is always some loss. Cognitive dissonance is struggle. It means struggle. It's behind the struggle. And if you're not currently struggling as in, oh, it was so easy not to eat the cookies today because I felt so rested and motivated and strong. Then there is likely going to be a day when you're not the strong one in the struggle.

And even on the good days, there’s a toll that is taken because there's this cognitive dissonance there. And even though you're showing up bright and shiny and strong, you're burning up energy and focus and willpower doing a hard thing. Cognitive dissonance makes something hard. Right? A thing that is hard is hard in part because of cognitive dissonance. Because there's a part of yourself that you're fighting against. Or there's a belief that that doesn't sync with another belief. Or you have a belief and a value that are in opposition.

Remember, cognitive dissonance is a conflict between contradictory things that we think or believe or value or that are in our environment. Something that is really important to pay attention to is that cognitive dissonance takes a real toll on human beings. Cognitive dissonance creates a mental toll, a sign that you are in the midst of it is psychological stress and the feeling that it is taking effort to move forward.

It is taking effort to move forward. You're actually working against another part of yourself or a part of your belief system. There is not flow. You know that feeling of flow when things just come easily and, and they just happen effortlessly or seemingly effortlessly. There is no flow when you are in the midst of cognitive dissonance.

And sitting with these opposing experiences also might lead you to just check out and numb out. And you know what? It's actually a cause of mindless eating. The cognitive dissonance. I just don't want to pay attention to it. Right? I'm just going to go numb.

So cognitive dissonance is this thing that people experience. I think it's very relatable or easy to relate for a lot of people to eating and overeating or trying to change your eating. So what do human beings do about cognitive dissonance? We do all sorts of things, as it turns out, because it is not a comfortable place to be.

So, if we use this chocolate chip cookie example. Right? You don't want to eat the cookies, but you do want to eat the cookies. There are a number of things that you might do. You might change your behavior to match the intention that you have. Because that's going to reduce the dissonance between the two things. Right?

So maybe you decide not to eat the chocolate chip cookie. Again, you still want to and the choice is draining and it is stressful. It may not be the biggest stress of your day, but it takes energy. And it may or may not work depending on other factors in that moment. You might not be able to change your behavior in that moment to match that intention. I'm not going to eat the cookie.

Another thing that human beings do is try to reduce that tension between wanting to eat the cookies and not wanting to eat the cookies by justifying one side or the other to yourself. So that's when you say, Oh, I've been good all week. So I deserve to eat the cookie today. Or I didn't know that Sue was going to make the cookies and I really deserve it.

One of the things that human beings do is these mental gymnastics to try to reduce the tension because we do not like cognitive dissonance. You could also maybe reduce the tension by adding in new behaviors or new thoughts. So maybe you say, well, you know, here are the cookies, but it turns out it feels like somebody always brings in treats on Thursday. So I'm just going to make it a cheat day. Maybe Thursday's be my cheat day. Or maybe you'll say, I went to the gym this morning, so it's okay to eat the cookie. Right? I'm trying to reduce the tension, the cognitive dissonance.

Or like I mentioned, you might just go on autopilot and numb yourself to the eating and not pay attention to how many cookies you are eating. Kind of zone out to avoid feeling the stress of the cognitive dissonance. And of course, that catches up with you. All of these things catch up with you because the dissonance is actually still there. Your brain is doing these mental gymnastics to try to lessen it, but the actual conflict is still there.

So another thing you might do is you might adjust your beliefs to fit better with your actions. So if you eat the cookies, it might feel better if you tell yourself, well, sweets calm me down when I'm stressed or upset. I needed the sugar. Or the cookies give me energy and I need to finish the presentation, so I need the cookies. Or Sue is going to be upset if I don't try her cookies. So now there's less dissonance. Right? There's less of that. I want to eat the cookies and I don't want to eat the cookies. Now it's I, I want to eat the cookies and it is probably okay that I eat the cookies.

Can you hear that even the mental efforts that we make to cope with the cognitive dissonance take a ton of energy and mental effort? And also, at the end of the day, you've still ended up on one side of an internal battle or another. You either ate the cookies or you didn't. And when the field is cleared and you can look at things clearly, neither option feels 100 percent aligned and good.

You either feel deprived, you missed out on something you really wanted. Or you're mad at yourself because you ate the cookies and you didn't move toward your goal. The goal, whatever the goal was that you had by not eating the cookies. So what do you do about cognitive dissonance that would feel better than trying to fool yourself?

And when I say this, I'm thinking about those women I mentioned who are literally fantasizing about not having all this food stuff, all this conflict, all this drama take up space inside their brain. You may be one of them. There are a lot of us out there. The way you can do this, or do a lot of it, is by recognizing the cognitive dissonance and resolving it for real.

Resolving the cognitive dissonance or dissolving, I guess is a better way to say it. So there is no cognitive dissonance. Because if you walk by the chocolate chip cookies and you don't really want one right now, a hundred percent, there's not an internal battle inside you. There's no battle inside you. Right?

If you can get rid of the cognitive dissonance, if you actually believe, think about the places in your life where the decisions are easy. Or the actions you take are easy, because there's no little or big opposing voice whispering to you inside your brain saying, oh, but you really don't want to do that. Or, oh, you know how you'll feel if you do that, you're going to miss out.

We make decisions all day long that are effortless because there's no cognitive dissonance. We don't feel deprived. We don't feel like we are missing out. We don't wonder how long we'll be able to continue to make the decision. There isn't cognitive dissonance.

So how do you do this, pray tell? Because I know it sounds like unrealistic magic, and I wish, wouldn't it be lovely if I just had this three word spell that you could utter and you could make the cognitive dissonance vanish?

I don't have that. And the truth is, it is different for everyone. It, the way this works and what it will take to, to dissolve your cognitive dissonance is different for everyone. And I want you to know it can be done. My clients do it. I do it. The process inside Your Missing Peace is so much about recognizing and obliterating, disappearing the cognitive dissonance.

I want you to understand this framework because living without the cognitive dissonance, at least most of the time. Right? It's not a, it's not a perfect formula, but when you can live without the cognitive dissonance, the, I don't want to eat, but I do want to eat. When you get to that place, it is magical. Because what it really is, is freeing.

Once the cognitive dissonance is dissolved, you are free. Now, does that mean you never have to do a hard thing, or you never have to say no to something when you feel conflicted, or you never have to be uncomfortable?

Of course not. But it does mean that you can probably eliminate a huge chunk of the cognitive dissonance related to your eating. Instead of ignoring it, like so many approaches and marketing will encourage you to do by just giving you pithy encouragement, like be strong. Right? Get accountable, get an accountability partner. You can do this. That does nothing for your cognitive dissonance.

Here's how you start turning cognitive dissonance into something better. What if, instead of dissonance, you put some energy into creating resonance? Cognitive resonance. I love the definition of resonance that I found, which was an amplifying effect when two systems interact in harmony.

Let me say that again because I really like it. The definition of resonance that I found is an amplifying effect, an amplifying effect when two systems interact in harmony. So you've got dissonance, clashing forces, or creating more resonance, an amplifying effect when two systems interact in harmony.

Just get playful with me for a moment. Don't worry about the how. Just imagine that you can transform that dissonance. I want to eat the cookies, but I don't want to. I don't want to eat after eight o'clock, but I want to eat the ice cream before I go to bed. Just imagine that you can transform that dissonance into a situation where your wants and your beliefs and your values are resonating with each other.

And instead of conflict, you have an amplifying effect where two systems are interacting in harmony. That is like eliminating the exhausting need for willpower and pouring jet fuel on what it is that you're trying to do. An amplifying effect when two systems are in harmony versus smashing up and clashing against each other. Right?

Can you see the difference in the picture? Let's just start there. All right. And then I know your brain is saying, so how do you do this? I can't give you a three word to spell, but I can tell you how I help members do this inside Your Missing Peace.

The first thing is we don't ignore the cognitive dissonance and I don't ask you to choose one side over the other. Right? How are you going to be stronger today? How are you going to be more determined today? How are you going to fight that stress eating? Instead, what I do with my clients that I think is really helpful is that I ask you to be curious about the conflict.

So I want to eat the cookies. I don't want to eat the cookies. What can you learn about why you want the thing that you don't want to want? What's behind that? What's the reason you want the cookies? Why are your cravings so strong today when yesterday they weren't? Why do you want the cookies? What are they doing for you? What is the reason that the cookies have so much power?

How can we understand the urge or the craving or the hunger when it's not about fuel? You're, you aren't really hungry. And you know, you don't want the sugar rush. And let’s put an and there instead of a clashing dissonance. Right? And what do you know about why you want the cookies?

And then here's the second piece of starting to dissolve cognitive dissonance. It's really important to look at how your thoughts and your beliefs and the things that you're telling yourself contribute to creating a conflict between two opposing things. Are you the person who wants to break an afternoon cookie habit? And you have thoughts playing on repeat about how the cookies perk you up and the cookies give you energy and the cookies are something that you really deserve?

Are you having thoughts or beliefs that create more resonance that help you create an amplifying effect towards what it is that you want to accomplish? Or are your thoughts and your beliefs working against you? So in plainer speak, how can you create a situation where you just don't want the cookies right now?

It's probably not by endlessly feeding yourself stories about how valuable the cookies are to you or how much you'll be missing out if you don't get them. Or how deserving you are of the cookies. Make sense?

There is so much more. I mean I could talk about this for a long time. I hadn't really thought about it this way until I decided to record this episode. But it is very clear to me that a big underlying foundation inside my six month program is you dissolving cognitive dissonance. Creating freedom from overeating, again, freedom. Right? Getting rid of the conflict is so freeing. And I don't know that you can create freedom if you're living, well, I know you can't, you cannot create freedom if you are living within a bunch of conflicts. Right?

So start today by not ignoring the cognitive dissonance. Don't do what they do. Don't do what these programs do that just tell you to be stronger and build more fortitude and build more discipline and build more inner strength. Stop ignoring the cognitive dissonance. Once you start looking for it, you are going to see it.

And you're also going to see the programs and the approaches and the advice that overlooks it or ignores it, or even gaslights you for having it. Start by respecting your cognitive dissonance. Look it dead in the eyes. Stare it down. Get to know it. And the more you understand it, the more you can help it dissolve.

It really happens.

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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