As a psychologist and food coach, I believe there is always a good reason for out-of-control eating -- and it isn't a lack of willpower. In fact, when you start seeing out of control eating from your body's perspective, it always makes sense and can help get to the root of what is really going on.
I have been there myself, eating so out of control I wouldn't even take my shoes and jacket off before finding myself in the kitchen eating like my life depended on it.
Because in a way, it did.
Which brings me to the first good reason for out of control eating.
1. Need. Fuel. Now.
Think of your body like a pet that you need to take care of. Now think of the way you feed this pet. If you hadn't really fed your pet anything substantial all day and you get home from work in the evening, how do you expect your pet to greet you?
It's the same with the body. When we skip breakfast or have something light and then eat a small lunch quickly in front of the computer, the body hasn't been properly fueled. That was what I had been doing and was famished by the time I got home from work.
The body's message here is: Need. Fuel. Now.
This can be true when meals are unbalanced, when they are too light, spike blood sugar or are not made of whole foods and do not truly nourish the body.
This is also true as soon when we deny our physical hunger or make certain foods off-limits -- the very definition of dieting.
Think of deprivation like a pendulum. You can hold it on one end and be in control for a while, but eventually you get tired and need to let go... and then the pendulum swings to the other extreme and eating gets out of control.
Letting go of trying to control the pendulum, and listening to what your body needs can seem scary. Yet letting go of excessive control, particularly when it involves deprivation, is actually a way of taking back control. When food is no longer off limit, you no longer need to rebel against yourself because you can always have more later if you want to.
2. Umm... did we just eat?
So you're eating balanced meals, you're not skipping meals and you're even eating mostly whole foods you think your body should be thanking you for. And yet your eating still feels out of control. What's going on?
Perhaps you are not really present for your meals. Maybe you're eating in front of the computer or TV or phone... and because you're not really present for your food, your body doesn't actually notice that it's been fed and keeps asking for more food. Or sweet foods. Or salty foods.
The body's message here is: Umm... did we just eat?
Because in order to register that it has been fed, the body needs a minimum of presence in the eating experience.
Even if you do nothing else, start with this and notice if it makes a difference: What I call The First Bite Experience. Simply close your eyes and take the first bite of food and really, really taste it. Notice the different tastes, the textures, the ingredients as if this was the first time you were tasting this food.
3. What. A. Bore.
This might seem surprising but our bodies need pleasure in order to feel satisfied with food. It doesn't matter how healthy food is if it doesn't light you up. In fact, I believe that having a healthy relationship with food is more about finding a balance between healthy and pleasure -- and for most of us, this does not involve eating "perfectly."
The body's message here is: What. A. Bore.
If you can't seem to stop eating healthy food, or you eat the healthy food and then you also binge eat or have cravings later on, look into how much you are enjoying your food. Allow yourself to eat foods that nourish you on every level, and not just physically.
Taking pleasure in what you eat is not a luxury. It is a necessity.
4. Trying to keep you safe. Just saying.
If you've addressed the three points above and your eating still feels out of control, it might be emotional.
So food itself is not the problem, it is simply a way of dealing with something that we perceive as "The Enemy" -- usually thoughts, emotions or body sensations in response to a situation. We think we need to fight these thoughts or emotions, run away from them or try to get rid of them -- and food acts as the ideal distraction or numbing agent.
The body's message here is: Trying to keep you safe. Just saying.
What if we turned towards what is happening inside us with curiosity instead of fighting it or trying to get away from it? What if we realized that we could have room for these thoughts and emotions to be there without allowing them to control our actions?
When we allow whatever emotions or thoughts that are showing up to just hang out, the body no longer needs to protect us from ourselves by using food as a buffer.
I hope you see that if your eating feels out of control at the moment, it isn't because you are weak or defective or lacking in willpower. From your body's perspective, there is always a good reason and becoming curious about what is really going on can help you make real change.