woman holding ice cream cone

Use the Five Gratitudes to Overcome Comfort Eating

Posted on Posted in Psychology of Weight Loss, Willpower & Discipline

Hello, Reader. If you are a frequent follower of my commentaries, you know that my work with would-be nutritarians is focused less on delineations of the various aspects of high-nutrient eating and more on habit change. Because diet modification is one of life’s greatest challenges—so difficult, in fact, that most of you, sadly, won’t succeed—I take a back-door approach. Instead of reinforcing the white-knuckle method, I instruct folks in a cornucopia of tricks for circumventing food urges and comfort eating.

Enter Thankfulnessthanks spelled out

And some of these strategies can even be fun! For instance, did you know that gratitude can help increase self-control and decrease impulsive behaviors—two skills necessary for life-long healthy eating? That’s right, simply by actively appreciating someone, something, the weather, or the warm kitty in your lap, you get a boost in self-control.

Alas. . . .

The calculated practice of gratitude is simple, but not easy. Like all strategies for increasing impulse control, there has to be a gap—incited by your wise mind—between impulse (“oooo, fresh walnut brownies!”) and response ([gobble]). It is within this infinitesimally tiny opening that change occurs, and without this gap, long-standing behaviors remain immutable. When you are equipped with a brain that has, for decades, replayed the same desire/reward cycle ad infinitum, that wee aperture can be hard to detect. But once you find it. . . .

The Treatment

What exactly is the gratitude intervention for overcoming comfort eating? Here’s the gist: when you see something you want that’s not on your food plan, say out loud five things you appreciate. They can be concrete objects or abstractions from your current condition or past experience. Beware, though, your crafty survival-driven brain will balk, “But you’re gonna eat it anyway, so why bother with the gratitude bullsh#t?”

Well, I’ll tell you why, it’s because you have no other choice. Really, if you don’t make some change in your behavior at that crucial crossroads (between desire and fulfillment), then where? I know, you’re probably still hoping for a magical transformation of desire, in which your insatiable gastronomic urges evaporate into the ether, forever. But since that’s never happened to me or anyone else you (or I) know, it’s probably not gonna happen for you. (Sorry.)

magic hatMental Legerdemain

Luckily, with a slight twist of the wrist, a miniscule ort of healthy self-deception, you can circumvent your hungry brain’s resistance to delaying gratification by telling it this, “It’s ok. After I say my appreciations out loud, I can still eat the brownie if I want it.”

You may still be doubtful about the value in utilizing a strategy that results in eating bad food. There are at least two benefits: 1. You’re inserting a delay between stimulus (food) and response (eating). Over time, this builds willpower. 2. You’re doing something different. Rather than see food, eat food, with the gratitude technique, it’s see food, say gratitudes, eat food (maybe). If you don’t change your behavior, your behavior will never change.

Ah ha! Comfort eating beware!

And now you have created the necessary gap for change to begin, and this is where you insert the gratitude strategy. It should take less than a minute to say, out loud, five things you appreciate.

How to properly judge your success

Please do not consider this tool a failure just because you still eat the brownie. If you apply this technique every time you’re faced with an urge, you will find the space between stimulus and response getting longer and longer as willpower builds. If you carry out the five gratitudes, you have succeeded.

Check out Caroline’s 4-part compulsive eating program here.

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