How I stopped overeating with one thought

How I stopped overeating with one thought January 7, 2010

I got fat. When, about six months ago, my wife Cat became too ill to exercise—and then throughout the time that we learned that she might have cancer, needed an operation, had the operation, and recovered from the operation), I stopped exercising myself. (Cat’s fine now; she had the operation; she’s good.)

The fat I put on is sympathy fat. I’m not going to keep staying in shape when Cat cannot. Apparently.

Besides not exercising, I also started eating anything I wanted. Which, as it turned out, was everything.

I’m 6′, 2″. If I want to eat eat, things start vanishing. Food. Drink. Leather goods. The neighbor’s pets. Overweight infants.

Ah, cannibalism jokes. They’re so pretty much never funny.

Because I don’t weigh myself I don’t know the exact number, but I’d guess I’ve gained about fifteen pounds. I can’t fit into any of my pants. My stomach now pulls me down stairways faster than I care to go. I’ve lost my laptop—since I don’t have a freakin’ lap anymore. Now I just have knees and a computer I have to put up on a table I can barely reach.

So I knew I had to stop eating like the cause of a worldwide dessert shortage. But when I tried to, I failed. I found I just couldn’t stop eating in the way that for me had become habitual.

Now that was something definitely interesting to me. I’d never had that problem before. I know some people do have trouble with overeating, of course. That had just never been one of my burdens.

And then it was.

Man. Life is vicious that way, isn’t it? “Hey, this is fun!” is invariably about step away from, “Give me more, or I’ll shoot you.”

Time for Serious Thought, I thought. I knew if I didn’t figure out how to stop eating anything that stood still long enough for me to pour syrup on it, I’d soon enough be in real trouble.

One day later, I had discovered the single thought I needed to basically snap out of it, and start eating normally again. And now I’ll share that thought with you. If your eating is out of control, you can forget all about diet books, weight-loss programs, and all the rest of that sort of thing. This really is all you need.

You know why people overeat? Because taste registers as immediate and infinite physical delight.

Duh, I know. But stay with me.

Humans have exactly two ways to experience immediate and infinite physical delight: Food and sex. Speaking purely physically—which of course is speaking about a lot of our lives—nothing else comes anywhere near those two. For every other physical sort of thing you do, the relationship between the effort you exert and the result you get is perfectly … reasonable. You always get pretty much exactly what you expect to.

But with sex and food, the payoff toward the Whoo-hoo side of things is insanely lopsided. What eating and sex instantly bring feels so ridiculously wonderful that nobody’s brain can even almost process it. Eating and sex are physical acts so intensely pleasurable that once you do them they instantly become the only things left for them to become, which are emotional experiences.

They completely cash out your brain; you’re instantly transported into Overwhelmed Land.

You eat something delicious and, just like that, you have what you can’t get any other way (but one): an experience with the infinite.

The flavor of something delicious has no end. You can’t sense its limits. It literally blows your mind.

It’s more than you.

That’s the key: it’s more than you.

It’s infinite.

As humans, we crave experiencing the infinite—which is to say interacting with the infinite—like we crave nothing else in this world. As corporeal, sensual beings, we’re designed to crave being physically overwhelmed.

With all respect to the magnitude of Adam’s colossal blowing it, thank God we have to work. If we didn’t, we’d all stay home all day and do nothing but eat and [definitely deleted]. We’d be like the more disgusting, more XXX version of the humans in Wall-E.

The way to stop overeating is to accept the fact that you’re simply being tricked by the food you eat. Your tongue has so many taste buds on it (being about ten thousand, doncha know) that when all the good ones start firing at once, your brain explodes. You snap into the mode of Experiencing Infinity. Before you’ve even had a chance to register it, you’re experiencing the ever-fantastic and alluring infinite.

Why, it’s pretty exactly like you’ve stepped right into God’s territory!

Except you haven’t. All that has happened is that, via your tongue, you’ve been emotionally duped. Eating is nothing but a purely physical experience. The food hits your tongue; the nerves on your tongue start exploding; they fire off way too much information to your brain; your brain goes on overload—and voila: you have yourself a mini out-of-body experience.

Except, again: No, you really don’t. What you really have is a purely physical experience. Nothing magical or phenomenal happens when you taste delicious food. Eating scrumptious chow  feels like it triggers a wondrously magical phenomenon, but it doesn’t. It’s just that the physical chain of reactions that eating something delicious does cause to happen tricks your brain into thinking that what’s happened is something much more extraordinary than it actually is.

If you want to be free of the problem of overeating, all you have to do is accept the truth about the taste of delicious food. And the truth about delicious food is that, via the physicality of your tongue, it tricks your brain into thinking that you’re having an experience that you are not.

Satan is sometimes called The Trickster, because he makes people think that behind all the sparkling razzle-dazzle he presents is something real. But there never is. It’s all just illusion. Same with food. It tricks your tongue—and, through your tongue, you—into thinking it’s something it’s not.

The next time you’re about to eat some delicious food, remember that it’s just an illusion waiting to trick you. And then, when you’re eating it, think of it that way. It totally removes from the experience of eating that crazy-hook thing that always makes you eat too much.

Suddenly, your food’s just food. And then you don’t want nearly as much of it as you did before.

Browse Our Archives

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • As someone who has struggled with food issues for a long time and with a full-blown eating disorder for more than ten years, I am always struck by post titles like this one. "How to" and "one simple" are sweeping, big-time phrases in the diet/food issues/weight loss arena. I also want to preface this by saying please don't misinterpret my comments as a "you're wrong, I've lived this, it's rarely that simple" rant. I agree that using food as an emotional crutch can generally be boiled down to a simple "if it feels good, do it" type of mentality. We as humans do seek pleasure rather than pain, satisfaction rather than sadness, and food is often used as a "quick fix" for just the reasons you discussed.

    That being said, it has taken me a looonnnggg time to get from the first time a therapist told me "the control and satisfaction you find in overeating or purging is an illusion, a fake" to actually internalizing that knowledge. And frankly, even after being "recovered" for almost five years, I still catch myself slipping into those false realities.

    It is, after all, much like the thinking of a recovering alcoholic. While consuming a delicious glass of Riesling or a Cosmo may taste fabulous and seem to solve the day's problems, it's really just an illusion.The difference of course, is that while you can safely abstain from alcohol forever, eventually you do have to eat. So you either develop a more healthy relationship with food, or you, well, die.

    I'd love for a healthy food/body/mind relationship to be as simple as one realization, but the truth is that nothing worth having is ever really that simple.

  • AboundingJoy

    That's great, John. I was going to grab some potato chips. Now I think I'll just grab some more water in my water bottle.

  • This is right out of The Matrix. And as he's enjoying the "illusion" of steak, he says, "Ignorance is bliss." Awesome scene.

  • Really? I'm afraid I've not seen any of the Matrix movies. But it's good to know that it's all about the benefits of moderate eating.

  • Jake-ann: Thanks for writing! But, yeah, I'm good. I mean, this little/huge thought totally worked for me. I'm back to eating normally/moderately. Whew.

    Elle: Yeah, I do know what a huge industry the diet industry is. I changed the title of the piece to reflect how I only really meant this as something that worked for me. Thanks for helping me adjust it in that helpful way.

    Abounding: GREAT!

  • Truely funny. I laughed out loud (no, not LOL) at some of the images you created there John.

    Only problem I had was on the redundency of the issue. Its a proven scientific fact, and well known internationally, that all Americans are fat anyway.

  • Yeah, I’ve had this overeating problem my whole life. And I still have it!

    Just last night I was thinking, “J, right it down when you’re having the moment.” As in, write down what you refer to as the ‘trick.’ The lie.

    Last winter around February, I went on an 11-day water-only fast. Dang did that take a lot of prayer! I haven’t had the guts to do anything like it again — even though by day 5 I’d lost the desire to eat, so it really wasn’t so bad. But it was definitely a spiritual experience, man — cause only the grace of God kept me those first few days.

    Anyway, I mention that to say, don’t feel bad. Some of us have gone to the nth degree of trying to master the over-eating thing. I’m pretty average in my size, but there’s about 15 lbs that I haven’t been able to lose since have my kids… and even while the experience isn’t always the ‘crazy-hook’ as you call it… food is still one of those things I just can’t ‘quit’ thinking of as the ‘out of body experience I NEED RIGHT NOW…’

    And that’s why those 15 pounds of mine ain’t goin’ nowhere — yet. I keep hope alive…. hang in there John, you’re not alone…

  • Christine

    In all seriousness, I have had struggles with my weight too and it was because of a similar truth to this and the healing power of Jesus (in my head….he didn't melt away the kilos) I managed to lose 65 kilos and back to my healthy BMI….kudos John, people need to hear it 🙂

  • Jeanine Petty

    Yeah….remember the Turkish Delight in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?……basically a lesson on the illusive pleasures of food, sex, drugs etc…but basically those first 2 topping the list…..

    I remember one of my favorite quotes from that book…"Nothing ruins the taste of good, ordinary food as much as the memory of bad, magic food"……or something to that effect.

    But I have to ask, what about Ferrero Rocher candy? Have you ever tasted that stuff? I was losing weight and had actually completed lost my appetite so completely i had to start drinking Ensure and then my brain said….hey, remember that Ferrero Rocher candy? It should be outlawed…….And also, if you are single and living without one of the 2 basic elements of food and sex….and i'm talking about the latter…something's got to give!

  • onemansbeliefs

    I have no problem with overeating, I can overeat with the best of them.

    This I blame on my parents and all those starving kids in China.

  • Christine

    See now I know I solution….replace the instant gratification of food with the instant gratification of sex and not only do I not lose instant gratification but I also do some exercise at the same time!! Good thinking Johnny, glad someone thought of it


  • Christine

    *see now I know A solution….my bad

  • textjunkie

    Good point, John. Very good point. I'll try to remember that next time I'm rooting around for some dessert… (I've got 30 lbs to lose, myself. Goshdurnit.) But I'm glad to hear you describe it that way–my hubby doesn't understand why I find it so hard to turn away from food, and I may point him at this entry!!

    But yeah, it's amighty thin line between "mmm, that's fun!" and "give me more or I will shoot you"–a mighty thin line, with just about anything people find pleasure in.

  • Eva

    Funny AND a good point. Great post. You make a similar point to Bethenny Frankel in her book "Naturally Thin," which is essentially to stop think of food as your best friend (or your enemy)… it's just food. Thanks.

  • Shannon

    This is interesting and thought-provoking–as long as you aren’t under the illusion that a problem you had for less than a year is in any way comparable to those who have struggled with it for decades. Just because you found your personal psychological key… doesn’t mean that you understand the motives for *other people* overeating.

    I’m glad you softened the headline, but you still say, “If your eating is out of control, you can forget all about diet books, weight-loss programs, and all the rest of that sort of thing. This really is all you need.”

    All you can say with authority is that this is all *you* needed. It’s probably not all that someone who has been fat for 50 years needs.

    Above all else, please don’t fall into the trap of looking at fat people and suggesting that anyone who is fat just needs to do X–whatever X is. If *nothing* else, when you’ve been very fat for a long time, X alone won’t “fix” you, even if X is “cut all calories in half and walk three hours a day.”

  • Yeah. It’s just one idea I thought I’d share.

  • DR

    There are clearly contexts that don’t fit what’s being discussed here. A few lbs overweight is a very specific context, the post didn’t reference obesity (from what I can tell).

    Food is not our friend, it’s just what we need. When I’m in that mind set it’s so much better!

  • Allie

    While true, this doesn’t make it easier to deal with when food is literally the only thing you can do that doesn’t hurt. When my immune system kicks in, I can’t exercise, I can’t think, I can’t read, I can’t write, I can’t listen to music, I can’t enjoy a massage, much less sex. Sometimes I can’t even lie in bed without being in pain. Air touching my face hurts. But food is still good. Being fat puts more stress on my heart which is already damaged by inflammation. It’s not good, for any number of reasons. But when you’re literally not able to walk from the living room to the car without stopping twice, you only need about twelve calories a day, and trying to cram all the pleasure life has to offer into twelve calories is not all that easy. Generally I read Lynda Barry comics (which for some reason cut through the fog in my brain even when the blood vessels in my brain are making even thinking hurt), try to read a psalm every morning because shoot, David had it worse than I do and he kept praying, and eat way too much.

    And the thing is, I know my illness is mild, compared to many other people’s. If having an occasional lupus flare is this hard, how hard is dying of cancer?

  • Evelyn Marie via Facebook

    Ok, great article and everything, but per your comments, have you still not seen the Matrix? If you haven’t, I really need you to get on that immediately.

  • Does not apply to everyone, including myself.I do not eat for the taste….the reasons I overeat are complex…

  • Anne Krook via Facebook

    If you haven’t read “Mindless Eating” (food science guy at Cornell wrote it), you will find it interesting.

  • 10yrs_overweight

    I kind of get where your coming from. I have never been overweight growing up. It was always easy for me to control my hunger when i was younger. But I always knew it was easy for me to gain weight. After I had my first son my lifestyle changed. I was at home most of the time and cooking meals for my then fiance. I didnt have a scale around and before i knew it in 1 year i gained 25lbs. in another couple more years i gained about 25 more. At this point I didnt recognize myslef in pictures I even got to the point I dont like seeing people I used to know because I know what they must be thinking. I tried dieting and excercising and it never lasts and works. I just dont know whats wrong with me that I cant control myself. Recently I started reading books about the body and about food. They tell alot about what your body does with certain foods and what marketing and companies are doing and have done in the food industry. The books I’ve been reading tell you about studies of foods and Its realy been making food less desireable. I want to keep reading as it has been helping me to have some self control this past couple weeks. So far in a wekk and a half I lost 7 ;bs. i hope I can continue with the self control. One book was saying how theres all these different diets and diet books that tell you the trick to losing weight is to eat certain foods. But it says the only thing you NEED to do is stop overeating. I have been eating what I want, just less. I will right again n let you know if it works.