How to Stop Overeating to Lose Weight

As a certified weight-loss coach who works only with female lawyers, I’m often asked how to lose weight.

If you’re overweight, it’s because you eat more than your body requires.

When we overeat, we’re using food to make ourselves feel better. Especially when we eat sugary foods or those with processed flour, we experience a release of dopamine that feels good.

That’s because sugar and flour (and alcohol) stimulate the reward centers in our brain. It’s the same response our brain has to heroin.

Throughout our evolution, it made sense to get a hit of dopamine when we stumbled upon and ate some berries in nature. It required a lot of effort to obtain enough to eat to sustain ourselves. You never knew when there’d be drought or famine or disease which would make food scarce. So it made sense for our brains to reward eating as much as possible when food was available and store it for later.

Now, with such abundance of highly concentrated foods an arm’s reach away at all times, our brains haven’t caught up. We no longer need to eat as much as possible. There’s no need to store weight on our bodies for the future.

By the way, our brain recognizes alcohol as a concentrated form of energy. So when you crave alcohol, it’s because evolution taught your brain to say, “Whoa, alcohol is good energy. Get as much of that as possible.”

Our primitive brain still tells us to eat (and sometimes drink alcohol) as much as possible. It feels good on a primal level.

In order to not overeat, we have to change what and why we eat. Instead of eating to store for the future, we need to by-pass eating for storage and eat only what the body needs for fuel. To lose weight, we need to eat less than our body needs so our body can tap into stored fat for fuel.

Of course as anyone who has been on calorie restricted diets knows, it isn’t only as simple as cutting calories. Our bodies have adapted to survive famine. When our bodies sense calorie restriction, metabolism slows down to use less fuel, slowing the use of stored fat.

Our primitive brain seeks sugary/processed flour foods and alcohol to get the pleasurable dopamine release. With an abundance of these foods easily available, we’ve learned to turn to them as a way to feel pleasure and avoid negative emotions.

Part of the reason for our country’s obesity problem is because it’s so easy to reach for a cookie, donut or soft drink to feel better when we’re feeling bad.

You can cut out fattening foods (or alcohol) in the short-term with will power, but in order to learn to stop overeating as a longterm solution, you’ll have to learn to process negative emotions instead of consuming to avoid them.

A simple way to practice this skill if you want to lose weight is to stop eating anything with sugar or flour.

Yep. No sugar or flour of any kind.

No Flour Means:  No cane sugar, corn syrup, fructose, maple syrup, honey, artificial sweeteners, etc. Nothing with any of these as an ingredient. A whole piece of fruit is fine.

No Flour Means:  No white flour, whole wheat flour, rye flour, no semolina (bye pasta!), no nut or chickpea flour. No whole foods dried and/or ground into a powder of any kind and nothing with these as an ingredient.  Whole grains eaten as a whole grain, such as whole corn, quinoa, brown rice, whole steel-cut oats, millet, etc., are fine.

Will you go into physical withdrawal? If it sounds difficult, then likely yes. Most people get through physical withdrawal symptoms in a week or two, but it can take up to six. 

Will your brain throw a fit until it unlearns the dopamine hit you currently receive when you eat these foods? Yes. Particularly if you use food to feel better emotionally. You’ll be faced with a sugary/processed flour food and your brain will present more plausible arguments than a teenager:  This once won’t matter. I ate on plan today. One bite doesn’t count. After my hard day, I deserve it. It’s a special occasion. I’m not really that fat.

I call these two temporary results of giving up flour and sugar—physical withdrawal symptoms and the brain rebelling while unlearning emotional reliance—crossing the river of misery. Get to the other side and your reward is even insulin levels, which yields fewer cravings, clearer thinking, confidence and weight loss.

Sound simple? It can be.

Don’t fight it.

Instead of struggling against the desire, relax into the discomfort you feel as you move through the craving or emotion. Don’t try to use willpower. Become a watcher of your mind as long as it takes until the craving or emotion passes.

Welcome the opportunity to practice this skill.

—Julie Ernst, Esq., Certified Weight Loss Coach

P.S. Visit www.julieernst.com to take my free course: Weight Loss for Attorneys.

Julie Ernst