When Overwhelm is Leading to Overeating | TMOHP Episode 037

There’s a lot going on in the world these days and if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Not all overwhelm is something we create ourselves. Some of it is though, and whether the overwhelm you’re feeling is based on world events, your life, or a combination of both, I think this episode might be really helpful. When you’re overwhelmed and you’re also overeating, it can feel impossible to break the cycle.

This does NOT mean you’re not doing enough. In fact, it’s quite likely that you’re overdoing. 

A question I hear a lot is about how to proceed when you find yourself in this situation. If you’re overwhelmed and feeling out of bandwidth, does this mean you need to give up on your goals? Does it mean that changing your eating isn’t possible right now? Is it a sign you should probably “settle” and just get comfortable with the way things are?

No, no, and no.

Let’s talk about how to break the cycle of overwhelm and overeating instead of exacerbating it.

In this episode:

  • Why starting with a to-do list might not be working
  • How to break the doing/reacting/overwhelmed cycle that may be leading to emotional eating and overeating
  • The steps to immediately start to shift things

Featured on the show:

Episode Transcript

I want to preface this episode by saying that I know there's a lot going on in the world these days. And if you're feeling overwhelmed, you are not alone. Not all overwhelm is something that we create ourselves. Some of it comes from the outside world and some of it is overwhelm we create ourselves. And whether the overwhelm you're feeling is based on world events or your life or a combination of both. I think that what I have to share here might be really helpful. 

Let's talk about overwhelm and overeating. So you can't pay attention to what you aren't looking at. And if you are stuck in what feels like a never ending cycle with overload, overwhelm and overeating, it's probably because you're focused on the wrong solution and you're focusing in the wrong direction.

If like many high-achievers your strong suit, your strength is making things happen. Then you likely have an overdeveloped doing muscle. And your automatic response when something happens is probably something along the lines of "what do I need to do?" "What needs to be done?" "What can I do?" Doers look for what needs to be done, right?

And from a doing perspective, problems are most quickly solved by taking immediate action jumping into reaction. And that makes sense on an intuitive level, right? The tendency to just do is a fine ability. It's something that's great to have, and that's probably brought you lots of nice acknowledgements and rewards and results over the years.

The problems start when you do prematurely, when you do without considering not doing or doing it differently, or when you overdo or when you're so focused on the doing and all that you need to do that, you aren't enjoying the ride. You're not enjoying the journey you're burning out, or you are absolutely running on fumes. And maybe you are doing and doing, and doing, and reaching for something to eat, to fill in the cracks, right. For comfort, or to perk you up or to energize you so that you can keep on doing. Your ability to do has its limits. And reaching that limit or living at that limit, which is what a lot of busy women are doing is a big cause of overeating, exhaustion eating, procrastination eating, stress eating, anxious eating all these things happen when you have crossed the line, when you are all done in, right? From all that doing, when it is so much more tempting to use food, to reward yourself or to boost your mood, or to give yourself a little something extra, because you don't have energy or the inclination to do anything else because you have done so much. All that doing can also be your undoing.

Because when that to-do list gets too long or overwhelming, then sometimes it feels too hard to do anything at all. Sometimes then it is too much to take even a teeny tiny step. And that's what happens to a lot of women who are stuck on what I call the overeating hamster wheel. Right. It can start to feel like nothing works.

Like there's too much to do. That it's impossible to make an impact. It can begin to feel difficult to even know where to start or to even want to start. And if your brain is caught in this trap, it is also going to continue to press you to do something or to do lots of things. And you'll either keep trying to do things with minimal results because you're overdone or you'll feel paralyzed and overwhelmed, and possibly also very, very frustrated with yourself.

And then we could also add in a layer of guilt and self blame. Right. Have I just described something that sounds a little bit familiar? So here is what to do. If you're doing is undoing you, there is a way out of this cycle of overload and overwhelm and overeating, and it isn't the familiar doing. You don't start with doing. You don't start with reacting. You start with feelings. So try this on the next time. You're overwhelmed instead of asking what you should do, try asking how you want to feel. How would you like to feel?

When your focus is on making things happen or getting things done? It's easy to forget your feelings. It's easy to fall out of touch with your feelings. It's easy to not know what you're feeling now, and to not even think about what you'd like to feel in the future. And this disconnection then leads to neglecting your feelings, being out of touch with your feelings, feeding your feelings, or numbing your feelings with food, or even completing that momentous to do list, but finding it not gratifying because you were so busy doing that, your feelings still aren't attended to, and you still didn't get what it is that you really needed.

Let's talk about how to turn this bus around. How do you change the pattern? And let me give you an example here. I want to tell you about a woman that I worked with, who I'm going to call Mary in this episode. That's not her real name. The story is real. So Mary was stressed out. And she was anxious. She had a huge work project going on and also an upcoming wedding with a photo-shoot attached to it that she was absolutely dreading her stress eating was out of control.

And she was very clear that she wanted to lose 10 pounds before this event. So we're in a coaching session together and she is frantically describing to me, her plans to get the project at work done while at the same time losing the weight. And she has this list in her head. And her mind is really fixed on this list of things that she is telling herself that she needs to do to be successful.

She needs to eat this and not eat that, and she needs to have more willpower and she needs to eliminate sugar and she needs to get to the gym and the list is going on and on. And Mary is sounding exhausted, just telling me this list of all the things she has to do. And I felt exhausted by her list. So she has a plan.

She has a list. She is in doing mode and not surprisingly, her long list is getting her nowhere. Because, no surprise, she can't stick with her plans and she doesn't have the time. She doesn't have the energy. She doesn't have the bandwidth. She can't stick to the plans that she's telling herself are absolutely necessary.

And now she's overeating even more because she's stressed and she's mad at herself. And now she's actually gaining weight instead of losing weight, her doing is in overdrive at this point. All right. So at this point, we're in this coaching session and I say, Mary, how do you want to feel? Which is pretty much a drastic, hard left turn from, from where she and her, her thoughts are going.

But Mary, how do you want to feel? Mary did not have an automatic response ready for this. And I have to say in this situation, when somebody is in such a doer mode and you start talking about feelings, it's not unusual for the first response to, how do you want to feel to be something like done? I want to feel done.

I want to feel like I've done the things that I was doing. Which is not a feeling, right. So we kind of broke it down. We checked in with how she was feeling at that moment. Let's, let's just tune in, right. Take some deep breaths. How are you feeling right now? And what do you know about the feelings that you want to have?

So, I asked her questions, like, how do you want to feel at the wedding? How do you want to feel when you're having your picture taken? How do you want to feel when you finish this project and over the next several weeks, while all of this is going. What are you hoping that losing this weight is going to help you feel? So in case you are like, Mary, let me gently remind you that thin is not a feeling, but it's often something that comes up for someone who has this perfectionist idea of losing weight and how that's going to get them to their feeling.

Right. Thin it's not a feeling. So how do you want to feel? We spent some time on that. And it took a little bit of time. Eventually she came up with three words, Mary decided energized, purposeful, and alive where the feelings that she wanted to feel, which would be pretty awesome feelings to be experiencing. The feelings that Mary was craving though.

They were getting buried by her doing. In her effort to work herself to her goal, she was actually creating the opposite feeling, states. Very little of what she was trying to do. You know, all that doing? Very little of that was helping her feel energized or purposeful or alive. So we worked it backwards. Mary and I worked out what it would take to feel just a tiny bit more of energized, purposeful, and alive immediately. 

So the question was, what could you do in the next hour that would make you feel just the tiniest bit more energized, purposeful, or alive? And she came up with some things, there were little things. And then we explored what it would take to feel more energized and purposeful and alive over the next week, we did some strategizing and she scheduled some things and she crossed a lot of things off her to do list.

Because this is, this is really important. When you get clear on your feelings, the feelings that you want to have, this is so helpful in getting clear on your priorities. When you get clear on how you want to feel most of the time, you might actually get instant, clarity and motivation related to what you want to do and how you want to eat.

And that is what happened for Mary when I asked Mary. Okay. So how would you eat over the next seven days if your goal was to feel energetic? Not for the 15 minutes of a sugar rush, but if you wanted to feel energetic for the long haul and purposeful and alive, how would you eat? Making that shift for Mary from how do you need to eat? What are you going to eat? What do you need to do to change your eating, making that shift from that? To how do you want to feel and how can you use food and eating to support you in feeling more energized and purposeful and alive. Making that shift shifted the entire framework around how she wanted to approach eating.

Just like that. I mean, it really was right like that. Eating for energy and vitality became her goal. That became the new lens that she was looking at her decisions around eating through, and guess what? You don't feel vital and energetic, zoning out with a pint of ice cream. It is a lot easier to make changes, to grow something that you care about, which in this case was energy and confidence and purposefulness.

It is so much easier to make changes when they are about growing something that is important to you. Then it is to work very hard to do more things just because you think you have to, or you should. Especially when you're already tapped out on doing. And so after she made the shift, here's the other important thing that I want you to hear- Mary's stress level also shifted when her eating changed. Actually it changed pretty dramatically. But the way that it changed did not feel like another item on her to-do list. It felt like something important to her that was helping her create a feeling. And most importantly, it felt sustainable. And the last time we spoke, it was still this idea of eating for energy and vitality that was working for her and that was absolutely working to allow her to maintain the goals that she had. 

You can play with this too. Here's my objective for you from this podcast episode, I want you to notice if you get yourself stuck in doing mode, and if that is leading you in the absolute opposite direction than you actually want to be heading, if one of your goals is changing your eating, which I'm guessing it is if you're listening to this podcast. If you want to change your eating, start with your feelings, ask yourself what you know about what it is that you would like to feel, ask yourself what it would take to move one inch in that direction. And please, no matter what do not buy into the lie that the only way out of this trap is by doing more. Because all that does is just perpetuate the cycle.

There is a way out, it starts with a deep breath and it starts with asking yourself, what do I know about how I want to feel?

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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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