Snowballing, Overeating, and Emotional Eating | TMOHP Episode 046

Before I dive into today’s episode, I have a favor to ask. If this isn’t your first time listening to the podcast and you’re getting value from it, would you take a few moments to share it with a friend, or on social media, or to leave a rating or a review wherever it is that you’re listening to this? Thanks in advance!

Today I want to talk with you about a pattern you’ll probably recognize. Have you ever felt like you were just getting in the groove with eating in the way you want to, and then something discouraging happened, and then, before you knew it you were completely off track? I want to introduce you to a concept I call snowballing. It’s one of the most common patterns that trigger overeating and emotional eating -and if you’re not conscious of it, you might be in its power.

I’m going to show you how this cycle showed up for a client of mine, walk you through the thought process you want to look out for, and give you an example of what it looks like to escape the pattern.

What I cover in this episode:

  • What snowballing is
  • How snowballing can trigger overeating and emotional eating
  • How diet mentality and snowballing can keep you in a cycle of start over (and over)
  • What it looks like to NOT snowball
  • What to do if you catch yourself in a cycle of snowballing and overeating

Featured on the show:

Episode Transcript

Today, I want to talk with you about something I call snowballing. Snowballing is one of the most common patterns for triggering overeating and emotional eating and vicious cycles that you can get really caught in with this stuff. 

But before I dive into today's episode, I have a favor to ask. If this is not your first time listening to the podcast, and if you are continuing to listen because you're getting value, I would love it if you would take just a few moments to share the podcast with a friend or share the episode that you particularly like on social media, or take a few moments to leave a rating or a review, wherever it is that you're listening to this episode. These reviews help a lot. They make it so much easier for this podcast to be found. And for me to spread the word that diet mentality, and self blame and working harder and feeling bad about yourself are not the path to creating freedom from overeating and peace with food. So if you appreciate the podcast, if you could leave a review and share the message that would be fantastic.

And if this is your first listen, enjoy the episode. And if you like what you hear, I would love it if you would spread the word. 

So today I want to talk with you about a concept that I call snowballing, and I want to talk about it because it is one of the most common patterns that can trigger emotional, eating and overeating.

If you're not conscious of it, you might very well be in its power. I want to start by telling you a story. I've got a few stories. I'm going to change the names and a few of the details to protect privacy. And actually these stories are so common that although I'm telling you about one person, I'm actually describing so many smart women who I've worked.

The first person I want to tell you about is Cheryl. And again, this is not her real name. Cheryl had broken a pattern of binge eating, a very strong lasting pattern that she had of binging. And she had done this during a very difficult time in her life. now one of the things that happens when you stop numbing your feelings with food, it's not very sexy, but one of the things that happens when you stop numbing, your feelings with food is that you become more aware of your feelings and sometimes.

You also become more aware of why you wanted to avoid them in the first place. Cheryl was in that position, she had tackled some really difficult personal and professional situations at the same time. And she was also allowing herself to actually experience the feelings that went along with them.

That's how she was able to take care of these things in a different way. And she wasn't binging. So. Tough personal and professional situations, feeling her feelings instead of numbing them by binging, not binging, which was something she really wanted to figure out how to do. And on top of that, she had gotten into a groove with her eating and had found a way of eating that actually felt good.

And not only did the way of eating feel good to her, it left her feeling good and energized and not deprived when she ate this way. So. Things were starting to hum for Cheryl, right. And much to her surprise because she didn't expect it was possible. She wasn't obsessed with eating. She was enjoying eating. And on top of this, Cheryl had gradually, as she'd been making these changes, found a way to move her body that she loved. She was shocked by this too, but she was loving doing these spin workouts. They were feeling really good. And she had this way of moving on top of everything else that she wasn't forcing herself to do. It felt good. 

You could say that things were really turning a corner for Cheryl. Cheryl was moving well into freedom from overeating and peace, with food and a relationship with, with her body and with eating and food that she liked, except for this. So diet mentality and the thoughts and the beliefs that go with that about food and weight, those old patterns, they run really.

Diet mentality doesn't give you credit for all the good stuff for the steps, for the changes, because within diet mentality, there is only one measure of success. There is only one measure of good in air quotes and that measure, you know, what it is did you lose weight? And so Cheryl got out her scale and she stepped on the scale, which by the way, that's another thing that she had done that had felt really good to her.

After a lifetime of feeling like a slave to the scale and, and meticulously tracking her weight, she had put that scale away. She had not been weighing herself religiously, and she couldn't remember a time when she hadn't been doing that. So diet mentality is the thoughts and the thought patterns and the beliefs that go with diet mentality- those grooves are really deep in our brain. 

And so one day Cheryl had the thought, Hmm. I wonder if this is working. Isn’t this funny how your brain works? There's all this evidence that this was working for, Cheryl, that this was on the way to working for Cheryl, that good things were unfolding. Her happiness, decreased stress, the way that she was eating in a way that was leaving her feeling energized.

She was no longer experiencing the mood swings and the bloatedness and the discomfort from her old way of eating. The fact that she wasn't binging. The difficult situations that she had made it through in a different way than she'd ever been able to handle them in the past, because she wasn't numbing her feelings.

She was taking care of herself and she was responding to the feelings, big changes, but within diet mentality and old patterns of thinking, none of these things really count. And within that old diet mentality, those old grooves in your brain, it is so easy to have all that stuff happening and have this thought.

I wonder if this is really working. And so Cheryl stepped on the scale and she found that in the midst of all these changes, she hadn't lost any weight. And actually her weight had gone up. And this is where snowballing starts. Snowballing is what I call the cascade of thoughts that we can create that can almost instantly convince us that one thing is really a mountain of things.

It's like that snowball that runs downhill in the cartoons, the one where it gets bigger and bigger and bigger, and it rolls faster and faster until that little cartoon character is running faster and faster, trying to escape this giant snowball to keep from getting squashed. Right. Snowballing is when our thoughts combine and get so tangled up and so big.

And we forget that they're just thoughts. And we forget that there are other pieces of evidence or other things that are happening. It's really easy when you're snowballing to lose your sense of being grounded and to forget about the power that you have when you're snowballing your thoughts and the feelings that come from those thoughts can overtake.

And snowballing causes a ton of overeating and emotional eating. So here's what this looked like for Cheryl in the situation that I just described. She started to snowball and here's what she told me. She was thinking when we took this apart and talked about it later. So she thought I gained weight.

Then she thought, how could this happen? I was working so hard. And then she thought I've accomplished nothing. Nothing has happened here. And then I can't do this. What's the point, all these old thoughts and familiar patterns that, that dance that she knew so well, did what snowballing does it created more discouragement and more frustration.

And Cheryl binged, she had a binge for the first time in a really long. And it wasn't even food that she was craving that she binged on. She ate the old food, the usual food that she had binged on in the past. And then after the binge, which was part of the snowballing, the snowballing thoughts continued and her thoughts when something like this.

Well now it's really ruined. I knew that these new things wouldn't last, all those new things I was doing. I knew they wouldn't last. I'm going to struggle with this forever. Nothing ever makes a difference. and then I guess I'm giving up, I guess I can't do this. I guess this is too hard, which of course was followed by more overeating choosing food that left her feeling really crappy and that she wasn't even tasting or enjoying and then dropping the habits that did make her feel good.

Ignoring this newfound passion she had for cardio. Eating more food that made her feel bad and creating and building up that loop of behavior and thinking that just perpetuated itself, Cheryl got stuck in the snowball cycle. Now there are two things I need to tell you. I know you've heard it from me before, but we need to repeat it.

Diet mentality is never going to help you create freedom from over eating. If all you're pursuing is that singular goal of weight loss. You are never going to break free of the power that food might have in your life. And this doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with having weight loss as a goal, or as one of your goals, it does mean that understanding and addressing the reasons that you eat and the reasons that you overeat or binge that's an essential part of creating lasting change.

If you don't address the reasons food continues to have the power cravings, continue to have the power, the urges to overeat, continue to have the power. So there's diet mentality, and then there's freedom mentality and within freedom mentality and the path that I help my clients create for themselves.

Even if weight loss is a goal, it might not come first. I know, let that sink in. Let that metabolize, because it's really hard for a brain that is used to diet, mentality, thoughts to absorb, but within freedom mentality, weight loss might not come first. Even if it's a goal. I want you to go back and remember all the wins that Cheryl had had, that her thoughts just pushed out of the picture.

When she saw that number on the scale. Remember she wasn't numbing or Bing. She was navigating difficult feelings, hard emotions, and really difficult personal situations and professional challenges. She was doing these things. She was figuring out how to eat, how to nourish herself in a completely different way that wasn't about deprivation and the old cycles of dieting and getting too hungry that she'd been through a million times before.

She was using trial and error and trying to really find out by using trial and error, what worked for her and guess what these wins were building, because she was actually very good at paying attention to herself and being curious and noticing what worked and what felt good and what didn't. And I don't have a crystal ball obviously, but if she wasn't doing these.

And the life crisis storm that she had just come through what had happened to her when she wasn't doing these things to take care of herself and to take care of the reasons that she ate and to learn how to be with her feelings. I don't have that crystal ball, but if she was navigating all these crises, While she was using binging to numb her feelings.

Would she have gained weight? Would she have gained more weight? I don't know. Would the crises have dragged on longer because she was numbing instead of having ways to, to address the reasons and be with her feelings? My guess is probably right. Snowballing often starts when weight loss. Isn't the first thing that happens.

Snowballing convinces you that weight loss will never happen because a part of snowballing is the belief that if the weight loss hasn't happened first, you're doing the wrong thing. Snowballing convinces you, that you're doing it all wrong and that's not true. 

Because here's the second thing I want to tell you. Diet mentality helps reinforce this notion that if you achieve your one goal, that magical goal, that number on the scale, or fitting into that pair of jeans, again, all will be fixed. And this is really a lie. The truth is you'll go through tough times. Like Cheryl, they'll just be your particular tough set of circumstances.

And you might feel challenged in your eating or you might binge, or you might have a bad day or you'll go off track or whatever the words are that you call it when things don't go as planned or as you want them to with food, freedom mentality means that you have ultimately created a relationship with food and a way of eating that actually works for you.

That doesn't leave you feeling deprived that you enjoy and that you can return. It's not something you have to make yourself do, which is so different from that cascade of snowballing. If you have a bad day, you just take the next step. If you have a binge, I don't know, you can drink a glass of water or you could be kind to yourself, but the point is you get to just go back to doing what works for you without the drama.

Without that snowball of stories of it all being ruined and you being bad and it being a failure and it all being impossible and it all being too hard. And don't worry, I'm not going to leave you hanging because I know many of you, if not, all of you are wondering, but she gained weight. What about this gaining weight part of this thing?

Listen, this is one woman's story. This is Cheryl's story, but this is also a story that is familiar to so many of. And what I want you to hear is that snowballing tells you to throw out the baby with the bath water, throw it all out, start over, quit despair, blame yourself. You've got to begin a new on Monday or the first of the month or next season or after the holidays, you have to start over or be tougher or find something new freedom mentality is a complete shift.

Freedom mentality is about learning and learning and continuing to learn what works for you. And then as you learn what works for you, expanding on it in diet mentality, it was all ruined. It hadn't worked right. It was time to start over, but for Cheryl, lots of things are working. And if she sticks with them and fine tunes them and keeps learning what works and what doesn't and also, okay.

How can she make these things work better? Or how can she fine tune things to help her move towards all of her goals or the next one of her goals? As she does this, she will keep unfolding what it looks like to achieve her goals, to get where she wants to go by eating in the way that works for her to, to get her to the goal she wants in a way that's designed to be a lasting way of living at her goal.

Being the woman who lives at her goal instead of is constantly trying to get there or stay. . So let me show you a little bit of what it looks like to not be snowballing. I want to tell you about another client of mine who is in mid process of creating a new relationship with food. And she was recently describing to me how her eating is.

I think, I guess I would say evolve. Even though it's not exactly where she wants it to be yet she can see changes happening. Right. So she's working through the missing piece program. She's learned a lot about the reasons that she overeats, and she's also discovered ways to take care of those reasons, which for her.

Often are strong feelings. She's an emotional eater. And so often she has in the past, she has used food as a way to numb feelings like fear and anxiety. And in the missing piece program, she's been learning how to handle these strong feelings that she has, how to take care of herself in ways that aren't reaching for something to eat.

Now, she hasn't achieved her goals. , but she's also not stuck in snowballing. And so this is how she describes what she sees currently happening with her eating. She said, you know, sometimes I still eat more than I want to, or I eat foods that I don't necessarily wish that I was eating, but the reasons aren't the same as they used to be.

So as she describes it, it feels like she's untangling, the eating, her eating, and her overeating from the reasons. That she used to overeat in the past. And so sometimes she'll recognize a, a trigger or she'll have a feeling that would've led her to overeat in the past. And sometimes she'll still do it.

And she said, sometimes I just feel like there's just this old, automatic eating habit that I haven't figured out, you know, what to, to do about yet. So we talked more about this and she said, you know, what's different now is I can see the patterns I can kind of step. And see the patterns and I feel less compelled to act.

I feel less compelled to eat most of the time. Not always. And sometimes I still do because I'm not always sure what else I can do when I'm in that situation or I'm feeling that way, but I'm learning. And I can see that I'm learning. And when I look, I can see the effects of that learning and I can also see the reasons more clearly, uh, why I got in this overeating pattern.

I understand it more. It makes sense to me, even though it's not something I want to continue. So I can see that happening. Like maybe I have a real anxious feeling. And so when the eating happens, I'm not so hard on myself. Even when I do a kind of eating that I didn't really want to do, I can see why it happened.

And I can also see the progress I'm making in, in creating a shift and doing something differently so that when it does happen, I'm not so hard on myself. And what she said is what I want you to hear. It's. Seeing these things and noticing the progress that is happening, that isn't about the number on the scale.

This stops the snowball effect. This is so important. This is so important because what she said is even when I do eat more than I want to eat, now I can step back. Now I can see what's going on. I can also see that eventually. I'm going to be able to figure out how to shift this. If I keep doing this work, I'm going to get to my goal without any dieting at all that part of your brain that has been raised on diet mentality.

Doesn't want to hear this, but it is true. Sometimes weight loss doesn't happen. And it doesn't mean you're doing everything wrong. Often, it's a sign that you are doing lots of things right. That you are building a new foundation, that you are creating a new approach and that you are owning well, not just owning, you're creating a relationship with food that you want to own and that you can have for the rest of your life.

So if you catch yourself snowballing, First, I want you to congratulate yourself because here is the deal noticing that you are snowballing noticing that you are telling yourself a bunch of unhelpful thoughts that are getting you stuck, noticing what's happening is the first step to breaking the cycle.

And that is true. Even if you notice later than you wanted to, even if you noticed the week after or two weeks into the cycle, noticing is the first step. Notice the thoughts that are building the snowball of hopeless. And then I want you to look for other thoughts. I want you to ask yourself what has worked, what was working, what has changed, what kind of positive things have I been doing?

Ask yourself what you know about, why you want to step away from diet mentality. Remind yourself why diet mentality didn't work for you. Remind yourself why it hasn't worked in the past. Remind yourself what doesn't feel good. If you are making a shift from diet mentality to freedom mentality, then you're making a shift and it's going to feel awkward.

And maybe even graceless at times. And it's important to remember that, you know, snowballing is big and dramatic and lots of thoughts that seem to fit together. The way out of that cycle is often by choosing simple doable actions. So for instance, to go back to Cheryl, when she. Became aware of the snowballing.

She did some very simple things. She made a list of what was and is, and had been working for her. She reminded her brain. She created some new thoughts to focus on that. You know, she reminded herself that there were things really important things that were working. And then she picked something very simple, something that felt simple to her to focus.

In the midst of a snowball, your thoughts tend to leave you feeling like you need to focus on a million things at once. You need to change everything, you need to do something drastic. No, the way out of the snowball is to pick something simple that you can do. So for Cheryl, what felt simple and doable to her was to keep focusing on eating in a way that left her feeling good, to keep focusing not to start over, not to find a way, but to remember that she already knew, and she had been doing for a number of weeks, a way of eating that left her feeling good. That was her starting point. And actually that's not even the right way to say it, because it wasn't a starting point. It was her stepping back on the path that she wanted to be on and she's moving forward, now one step at a time.

Here's the final takeaway I have for you. Snowballing is just going to happen. Snowballing will happen our brains, like to snowball, they like to create a negative snowball effect with our thoughts and beliefs. It's just how we're wired. Don't make it your goal to have snowballing never happen. Right?

Don't be the person who decides, you know, if I get this right, snowballing will never happen to me. It's not doable. The goal, the winning goal, the helpful goal is to know that snowballing will happen and to know how to pull yourself back to what works when it does. So that's snowballing, it's not the end of the world.

It's just a bunch of thoughts and beliefs and you get to choose what you want to do with them. 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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