How to Stop Emotional Overeating When You Just Don't Care

True or false: You can't stop eating badly if you don't care? (False!)

Posted Jun 22, 2019

Did you ever get so emotional that you just didn't care about your diet anymore? Perhaps you got so angry, sad, lonely, anxious, happy, and/or tired that you said to yourself, "Screw it, who cares about my stupid diet? I'll just start again tomorrow!"

Most people think the only way to beat this is to enhance their motivation. That's not a bad idea, it's just not the only thing that works. There's a dramatic shift in mindset that I've found is much more important in helping hundreds of clients stop overeating, but I have to warn you, you may recoil from it at first. I encourage you to consider it anyway. 

See, right now you probably think you have to care or else you can't stick to your diet. 

But what if you challenged that assumption? Why do you have to care? Why can't there be some things you do regardless of whether you feel like it or not?

The deep, dark secret of the dieting world is that we do not have to fall in love with our feelings; we are perfectly capable of eating healthy in spite of them. In fact, this is almost a necessity for everyone who wants to lose weight and keep it off. There are some things we all will have to do to take care of ourselves which we are just never going to feel like doing.

I'll give you an example. Personally, I don't care to floss my teeth. In fact, I utterly hate it. If this weren't a professional blog post in a well-respected online magazine, there'd be several curse words in that last sentence to underscore how much I dislike the experience. There's no amount of motivational enhancement which could make me want to do it. I just don't care!

But you know what? I floss anyway, because I don't care. 

I know that flossing is critically important. I know what happens if I don't. I'm not interested in periodontal work (and the associated bills). I also know overall health is highly correlated with dental health. But because these benefits are all contained in my intellect, I've learned I can't rely on my emotions to drive my flossing decisions. So I leave the floss open on the sink where I'll see it first thing in the morning when I wake up and last thing at night before I go to bed. In my head, when I see the floss sitting there, I think, "Oh crap, here we go again, I really don't feel like flossing. Who cares!"

Now, I'm a seasoned psychologist, intimately familiar with cognitive re-framing and motivational techniques. But no matter what I've tried, I still hate flossing. The above thoughts and feelings go through my head each and every day, but I've trained myself to use them as my cue to floss ASAP. I recognize the unpleasant emotion and choose to do the right thing because of it. I don't wait until I want to do it, because that moment will never come.  

I floss because I don't care!

You can do the same thing with food. Let's say you know that when you get home in the evening, the last thing you're going to want to do is to eat a healthy meal with a salad, etc. "Screw it, let's get takeout or go through the drive-through," that voice in your head may say. That's your cue to make a big salad, because you don't feel like it. Or, better yet, set up your evening food first thing in the morning and lay it out in Tupperware so you'll know it's sitting there waiting for you when you get home. (It's much easier to make good food decisions in the morning when you're fresh.)

See, the lie in the thought "I don't care at all right now, therefore, I must overeat" is in the "therefore" part. There will be times you don't care. It's inevitable. Indifference is a natural part of recovering from overeating. But that's OK, you don't have to care; you only have to do what's right. In fact, you can use your indifference and/or negative feelings about caring for yourself as the catalyst to do the right thing.

Food for thought, no?

I've got one more important point about motivation: If you really didn't care about eating healthy, you wouldn't have read this far. The truth is, you care deeply, but at the moment of temptation, your reptilian brain is activated and misdirects your survival drive to some less-than-good-for-you treat. Learning to ignore these impulses is a trainable skill. Click here to read more about how to stop overeating by separating these misdirected thoughts from your personal, human identity.