One of the reasons that compulsive eating has a grip on people is that it is maintained by the strength of habit. Once this kind of eating is a habit the behavior becomes sub-conscious and automatic. The behavior falls into the realm of stimulus-response or conditioned behavior. This occurs below the conscious level and bypasses the filters that usually accompany most decision making. How to stop compulsive eating requires discovering the true purpose of this behavior.
Only then can eating habits be displaced with new and healthy food choices.
Learn to Identify Emotional Triggers
The key on how to stop compulsive eating is an understanding that a trigger elicits the behavior to begin. Triggers have powerful physical, emotion and memory associations for the individual. As an example if you have a difficult or stressful day at the office you may reach for the apple pie whose smell has a powerful link to a more relaxing and reassuring childhood memory. Because of your relationship with food it allows you to escape your present reality. The apple pie then becomes the solution for ridding yourself of stress in the most expedient manner. By responding to the trigger, stress relief and the apple pie have become powerfully linked.
Measure the Long Term Effects
Dr. Maxwell Maltz states in his book “Psycho-Cybernetics” to gain leverage over conditioning one can learn to relax instead of responding to the triggers. When you feel stressed instead of reaching for food perform some breathing exercises or put a warm cloth on your face. But don’t respond to the trigger and don’t eat as a mode of stress relief. Sure the apple pie may allow you to feel relaxed momentarily but then you have the weight gain and guilt to contend with. When the trade off becomes unacceptable to you the desire to bring the cycle to an end will be established.
To Respond or Not to Respond
Habitual eating can appear to serve a very positive end for the individual but remember it comes with a price. For many the price tag has become too expensive. By identifying your triggers steps can be taken to avert their influence over you. Maybe relaxing is too hard at the moment then the alternative approach would be to delay responding to the trigger. Distract yourself momentarily. This will cause the initial strength of the impulse to eat to effectively diminish. A walk around the block, a hot bath or reading a favorite book can all delay responding and may eliminate the need to eat.
Taking Charge of Change
There are many alternatives to fill your daily emotional needs that don’t include food. Besides, finding alternatives for relieving stress can be fun and exciting. Of course this will require that you remain attentive of your mental and emotional states so you can modify or delay responses to triggers. But being armed with the power of awareness you will be able to shift your attention away from food and toward new enjoyable alternatives. If you are committed to real change and a new relationship with food then healthy habits can be effectively established while your emotional needs are being met as well.