My Favorite Mental Trick to Stop Overeating

This post is for people like me who are prone to overeating. It involves a level of thinking about food that will strike you funny if you’ve never had the struggle yourself.

There is pleasure involved in eating. Several, actually:

  1. The pleasure of meeting a true physical need. Our body thanks us for responding to hunger.
  2. The pleasure of feeling full in the belly.
  3. The pleasure of taste in the mouth. 

It dawned on me one day that I have spent most of my life chasing pleasure 2 at meals. I had an implicit goal to get full—not stuffed, but more than satisfied. I sought more than the elimination of hunger. 

This habit, especially when mixed with high-calorie foods, is all it takes to become obese. Seriously. When I was obese, I didn’t stuff myself three times a day, but I got happily full often. When I decided to change, I knew this would have to stop.

We derive comfort from food, medicate ourselves with food, celebrate with food—it’s no wonder we have an emotional attachment to it! It’s an emotional experience to accept that you’ll have to stop eating in the way that has become natural over the years. I was truly disappointed to be eating less.

Then I had a realization: This isn’t the end of pleasure in eating, it’s the swapping of one pleasure for another.

Instead of chasing pleasure 2, I began to chase pleasures 1 and 3.

How many meals have I rushed through in my lifetime without stopping to savor what I’m tasting? Most! Because I was seeking pleasure 2 (full in the belly), and not pleasure 1 (eliminating hunger) and pleasure 3 (tasting and savoring).

This meant I could meet weight loss goals and still derive joy from meals. It also killed that most common lie we tell ourselves when trying to lose weight: “You’re missing out on something.” That lie is responsible for millions of unnecessary calories.

Enjoying meals more, not less.

You can actually gain more enjoyment from a meal if you seek pleasures 1 and 3 than if you seek pleasure 2. Here’s how:

Scenario 1 – Seeking Pleasure 2 (feeling full).

  • You have a double cheeseburger with large fries and a coke. 
  • You sit down, ravenously hungry, and take a bite. 
  • While you’re chewing the burger, you take some fries and stuff those in your mouth too. 
  • Then you use a splash of soda to assist you in swallowing. 
  • The moment the food is out of your mouth, when it has hardly entered your esophagus, your teeth clamp into the burger again. 
  • Repeat until the food is gone.
  • Time spent eating: 6 minutes.
  • You’ve thought about that meal for 3 hours, or maybe longer, and it’s already gone. The pleasure is over.

Scenario 2 – Seeking Pleasures 1 & 3 (eliminating hunger and tasting/savoring).

  • You have a single cheeseburger with regular fries and water (or no drink).  
  • You sit down, ravenously hungry, and take a bite.
  • You set down the burger on the table, lean back in your chair, chew slowly, and think about everything you’re tasting. You focus on what you’re doing. You breathe while you chew. You consciously try to enjoy the food.
  • When the food is completely chewed, you swallow. Your mouth is empty. 
  • Then (and here’s where a huge difference comes in) you take a deep breath or two. You look around. You allow gratitude that you’re alive and have food to fill your mind. 
  • Only then do you take another bite.
  • Repeat until the food is gone.
  • Time spent eating: 15-20 minutes.

In Scenario 2, you’ve (A) extended the total time spent actively eating (which is the thing you’ve been looking forward to since your last meal), (B) eaten less food overall, and (C)  given your body adequate time to tell you that you’re full.

Amazingly, you end up feeling almost just as full as when you stop eating in Scenario 1.

If you’re used to getting full at every meal, you may be surprised at how good it feels to be satisfied rather than full. They are two different experiences. When you’re satisfied, you’re not bloated, you don’t feel heavy, and you have the added feeling of pride that you’ve made a healthy choice.

Another benefit of eating like this is that you get the chance to assess your likes and dislikes. Some healthy foods taste better than we assume because we rush through them and don’t give them a chance. Some unhealthy foods aren’t as delicious as we think, we’ve just attached good experiences to them and built a reflex around them. 

Of course, this isn’t perfect. I don’t eat every meal like this, not even close. Some days I eat quickly with no shame. But this is the most powerful mental trick I’ve found for me.

Favorite mental trick to stop overeating in summary: change the type of pleasure you seek when you eat.

It’s that simple.

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