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Overcoming Food Impulse Eating

If you’re like most people trying to lose weight you probably think the secret is somehow figuring out how to be disciplined with you diet 24-7. Like that is really possible!

The truth is you could never expect to succeed with weight loss through will-power alone. The problem is when your will-power loses momentum (which it certainly will) you’ve got nothing left to keep you from backsliding into old habits.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again….will-power is way over-rated! It’s not about being perfect…it’s about being in control.

How food food impluse eating affects overall weight gain

The truth of the matter is most weight gain happens at very isolated points when you don’t have control. These are what we call “impulse moments.” They are usually very brief but the excess calories you consume during these periods can add up quickly.

If you track your diet for a week you’re likely to see when these impulse eating moments occur. They may seem to be random at first but if you look closely you’ll find there’s always a trigger that kicks in the cravings.

Maybe it’s immediately after work when you get home and sit down in front of the TV.

Maybe it’s when you’re around the smell of certain foods, like fresh cookies baking.

Maybe it’s after a fight with a spouse or family member.

The key thing is you’ll typically find that “out of routine” snacking, binges, and impulse eating always leave clues.

I’m not going to tell you that you should use discipline here because we both know that’s not likely to work every time.

Overcoming food impluse and emotional eating

Step one is first identifying the triggers of impulse eating. You can’t strategize against impulse eating unless you know what’s likely to trigger it. You’re not going to be able to always keep from having a stressful situation like fighting with a spouse or family member. We can’t necessarily change what happens to us in life but we can change how we react to it.

Your goal is to find a way to change your routines or habits when you’re likely to be hit with an impulse eating situation. You need a plan in advance for what you’ll do or if nothing else how you’ll outlast the situation.



It’s funny how if you let a certain amount of time pass the impulse eating craving goes a way. Your plan should be three fold:

#1 Identify impulse eating moments

Write down when impulse eating occurs, what triggers it, and where they tend to happen. Minimize your exposure to environments that you see trigger impulse eating. For example, if you’re getting your morning coffee at Dunkin Donuts and the smell of fresh baked donuts is too much to resist then change where you get your coffee. You’ll have to make some tough decisions but do whatever it takes.

#2 Change your environment when you spot an emotional eating trigger

There are countless ways you can change your environment or activity to let an impulse eating moment pass. For example, change your schedule to take a shower first thing after you get home, take the dog for a walk, just do something different from your previous habit of sitting down in front of the TV and snacking.

#3 Create an intentional eating mindset

This is exactly like it sounds, you want to plan your meals and eat with a purpose. Comfort food is just that, for comfort. You don’t want to use food for comfort. Change your mindset to see food as fuel to provide your body with energy.

Recognize the fact that everything you eat or drink (with the exception of water) will have a drug like effect on your hormonal system.

Ask yourself, “Am I turning the fat storing switches on or off?” If you’re eating a mix of natural foods in the right amount (portion control) you’ll keep your fat storing switches off.

On the flipside, if you’re eating processed/refined foods or a meal high in carbohydrates you’ll promote an insulin release which turns the fat storing switches on.

#4 Practice the 80/20 rule

I always like to teach the 80/20 rule with your diet. Look to have 80% of your diet come from eating natural foods for supportive nutrition. The other 20% can come from food or drink that is not supportive to your muscles but serves as a treat.

You don’t have to be perfect all the time. Just follow moderation with the food and drink in the 20% category. You don’t gain weight from having an occasional piece of pie with dinner. Just know when you’re going to treat yourself and how much of the food or drink you’re going to have.

Once again it’s about being intentional with your diet. Have a plan and always be conscience of what you’re sticking in your body.

#5 Take control and look to change behaviors and routines

Impulse eating is all about emotions, behaviors, and routines. You’re unlikely to have much success in trying to control emotions but you can change behaviors and routines. This will take some practice so be patient with yourself.

The key thing above all else is having top of mind awareness. If you can just get yourself to stop and think about the consequences or impact of eating something out of impulse you’ll be on the road to changing your response.

You may be in the habit of snacking from the candy bowl at the office solely out of impulse or stress. If you can get yourself to stop, just for a second, before you eat a piece of candy and consider the impact you’ll be more likely to walk away.

#6 Being uncomfortable can be a good thing

My last piece of advice is allowing yourself to get uncomfortable. We tend to get stuck in a comfort zone and it takes strong emotional feelings to produce change. Get to the point where you’re downright mad about your current situation and develop a strong conviction that enough is enough.

This will give you the top of mind awareness you need to change the associations you have with certain foods. When the Big Mac no longer is “comfort food” but something you associate with pain, you’ll be right where you need to be.

You have to start looking at food in relation to how it’s going to make you feel and how it will impact your energy, health, weight, etc. If something is not helping you reach your weight loss goals it’s setting you back or if nothing else delaying the progress.

You can overcome any and all emotional eating habits with a commitment to recognizing the triggers and changing behaviors. Think about what you want and have a clear plan on how you’ll get there.

Anything that will keep you from achieving what you want has got to be kicked to the curb. You owe it to yourself to take a stand for your own health and happiness. At the end of the day you’ll be glad you did!

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, author and founder of Shaping Concepts Fitness Training Studios. Learn how you can receive a FREE no obligations trial of his Charleston personal training programs.

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