Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Rhona Epstein’s new book Food Triggers: End Your Cravings, Eat Well, and Live Better (Worthy Publishing, 2013).
While you meant to take just a taste of ice cream, you found yourself consuming the entire container in one setting. You intended to eat only a few chips, but ended up downing the whole bag. At parties, you load up on food – eating much more than you know you should, but unable to stop yourself.
Sound familiar? If so, the food you’re eating is eating away at you, damaging the good health that God wants you to enjoy. You may have tried diets and exercise to get your health back on track, to no avail. That’s because willpower alone isn’t enough to solve an overeating problem. In order to truly stop overeating, you need to overcome the food cravings that drive you to eat too much.
Here’s how you can end your food cravings so you can stop overeating:
Recognize the purpose of food. God created food to nurture and sustain people’s bodies, and he intended people to enjoy it for that purpose, eating what they need for good health and stopping whenever they feel full. Keep in mind that food is just fuel for your body, meant to promote its health. God never intended for people to struggle with food.
Understand how unhealthy patterns of eating can contribute to food cravings and upset the right balance in your brain chemistry. Food cravings can be fueled by unhealthy eating that knocks brain chemistry out of its proper balance. If your brain chemistry has been altered from the way God intends for it to be, you can be prone to overeat and even become addicted to food. But the good news is that, by changing the way you eat, you can change your brain so that it becomes healthier, which will eventually stop your unhealthy food cravings.
Figure out what triggers you to overeat. Reflect on your memories of experiencing food cravings and ask yourself questions to determine what may be triggering them. Consider: what food(s) you craved, what was happening in your life when you experienced the cravings, how you felt about what was happening in your life then, and how you felt while eating and after eating. Think and pray about significant events in your life and consider how you’ve responded to them. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you identify the patterns in your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that trigger you to overeat.
Seek healing through practicing your faith. Putting your faith in action (in ways such as praying, reading and meditating on the Bible, and participating in church with fellow believers) can bring you healing benefits that include: greater health for your overweight body and overburdened mind, power to overcome any challenge, peace as you face your past, and a community of people to support you. Keep in mind that you don’t have to clean up your act before coming to God for help. God loves you unconditionally and completely, and he will meet you wherever you are to help you move forward in the healing process.
Recognize the differences between physical and emotional hunger. Understand that: emotional hunger doesn’t notice signs of fullness, but physical hunger can be satiated so you can stop eating when you’re full; emotional eating leaves you feeling unsatisfied, ashamed, and guilty, while physical eating satisfies you without guilt; emotional hunger must be fed by what you crave, but physical hunger can be satiated by most any food; and emotional hunger arrests you suddenly, but physical hunger grows gradually. If you discover that you’ve been eating to fill emotional needs (like for love or a sense of purpose), remember that only God can reliably meet those needs, and food is meant simply to provide the physical nourishment your body needs.
Overcome temptation by changing the way you think. All of your actions – including overeating – begin in your thoughts, so if you change the way you think, you can change the way you act. When tempting thoughts of food enter your mind, you can overcome the temptation by following the Bible’s guidance to take unhealthy thoughts captive and replace them with healthy thoughts. After you’ve developed a plan for healthy eating, you can train yourself to think about that plan whenever you encounter the temptation make unhealthy food choices.
Seek peace from God. Rather than seeking peace from food (which can never truly give you peace), pursue a relationship with God, which is the only way to truly find peace. The peace God gives you will empower you to develop healthy self-care habits that will renew your body, mind, and spirit, helping you relate to food in healthy ways. Do what you can to change your eating habits one day at a time, while relying on God to empower you to do what you could never do on your own.
Avoid minefield behaviors. Unhealthy behavior patterns can act like mines hidden in the field of your life, unexpectedly triggering you to overeat. Ask God to help you deal with: isolation and avoidance, control, emotional drama, caretaking, and depending too much on others.
Deal with strongholds. Persistent attitudes – strongholds – such as anger, resentment, depression, and fear – can also cause you to overeat. Write a therapeutic letter about the strongholds in your life to face your pain about them. Then pray about them, asking God to help you heal.
Develop a healthy food plan. Once you’ve identified specific types of foods that trigger you to overeat (such as sugary, salty, or fatty foods), keep a food diary for a week, and then study it to discern patterns of what you ate, when, and why. Then ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you create a plan for healthy eating. The plan should include three daily meals and one or two planned daily snacks that avoid the types of foods that trigger you to overeat. Make sure that you include a healthy balance of food that will give you all the nutrition you need. Get to know appropriate portion sizes, and measure your food until you learn how to gauge the right portion sizes by sight, so you’ll be eating enough but not too much. Spacing your meals and snacks out throughout each day will help keep your blood sugar stable, reducing your cravings. Read food labels when you’re shopping. Keep your kitchen stocked with healthy foods. Scout out restaurants that feature healthy menu choices. Build a support system of people who will encourage you and hold you accountable as you develop healthy eating habits.
Adapted from Food Triggers: End Your Cravings, Eat Well, and Live Better, copyright 2013 by Rhona Epstein. Published by Worthy Publishing, a division of Worthy Media, Inc., Brentwood, Tn., www.worthypublishing.com.
Rhona Epstein, Psy. D., CAC, is a licensed psychologist, certified addictions counselor, and marriage and family therapist with a doctorate in clinical psychology from Chestnut Hill College. Sharing insights and experiences learned through her own battle with addictive eating, Dr. Epstein has been helping individuals find freedom from food addiction for the past 25 years. She practices counseling in the western suburbs of Philadelphia and is a sought-after conference speaker.
Whitney Hopler, who has served as a Crosswalk.com contributing writer for many years, is author of the Christian novel Dream Factory, which is set during Hollywood's golden age. Visit her website at: whitneyhopler.naiwe.com.
Publication date: January 3, 2014