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How to Stop Overeating



We’d planned to see the giant sequoias over spring break.


A tiny virus postponed that trip but couldn’t put a damper on our Family Road Trip enthusiasm.


So we improvised :)


Instead of 4 days among the trees, we spent 4 hours car-exploring the Pacific Coast Highway (we saw dolphins!).


Audiobooks provide the backdrop of our auto adventures and remain one of the favorite parts of our trips.


I have boys who prefer non-fiction, so over the years I’ve learned more than I wanted to know about WWII battles, natural disasters and the physics of sneezes and explosives. Sigh.


Our latest book is Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations by Admiral William H. McRaven. He’s a retired Navy SEAL and his extraordinary career spanned decades.


While he vividly described his physically exhausting, mentally demanding, heroically intense training, I couldn’t help but think about the connection between feelings and actions.


Navy SEAL training is an extreme example of feeling the fear and doing it anyway. They feel fear and pain and confusion and hunger and uncertainty and thirst and disappointment and they do it all anyway.


Sometimes we think people like Navy SEALs don’t feel. They have no fear or they don’t feel pain so it’s easier for them to do what they do.


Turns out it’s not that simple.


They feel it all, they just do what they need to do anyway. They act in spite of . . . pain, hunger, fear.


It’s so much less convenient to know this.


If we can believe that some people are special and they don’t feel the way we do, then we can keep our excuses for not acting in a way we’d be proud of.


But anyone can feel fear and do it anyway. It’s a decision.

You’ve done it before.

You can feel an itch and not scratch it.

For dogs we put a special collar around their neck to prevent it. But with humans we can just use our minds.


If we know that touching our face or biting our nails in the time of COVID-19 puts us in danger, then we stop. We feel the urge and we don’t respond. We change our behavior in spite of the temporary discomfort.


This is the exact same method we can use to stop overeating.


When you know you’re physically satisfied (you were hungry and you ate just enough) and you feel the urge/discomfort/craving to eat some more, let it pass.

Feel it all the way through, but don’t act on it.

Do that enough times and the urge actually goes away.

You retrain your brain not to expect a reward for that feeling.


I’m not a big believer in using willpower to get things done. Science backs this up—it’s a limited resource and ineffective over the long-term.


Feeling the fear or discomfort is the opposite of muscling through or using willpower. With willpower you ignore—with feeling and choosing differently you’re creating new connections in your brain.


There is a mental trick that makes all this feeling and acting a bit easier—it helps the SEAL persevere, the face-toucher stop and the snacker forgo treats.


It’s remembering your compelling reason.


Whether that’s serving your country, preventing illness or behaving in a way that makes you proud, committing to a value or ideal you hold dear makes all the difference.


The most effective reasons have something to do with who you want to be.


Looking good in your jeans will only get you so far—when a pandemic hits and you’re not going out, pants size might mean a whole lot less.


Do you want to be an example for your family or community?

Do you want to be the kind of person who keeps her word to herself?

Do you want to be around for your loved ones or to see a dream realized?


Think BIG. And get excited. The more compelling the reason, the better the chances of following through.


When you can figure out how to feel urges and still decide on a behavior that supports your bigger vision for yourself there’s nothing you can’t do.




Next week: The secret sauce that makes the practice even more effective.




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