27 Questions to Ask Yourself When You Have the Urge to Overeat

1 March 2018 | Written by Xenia Ayiotis

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
— Viktor Frankl —

As human beings we are wired to avoid discomfort of any kind and to seek pleasure. When we are in a stress response or in discomfort, an easy distraction is to eat. Eating provides some relief. It also releases dopamine and we feel better for a while. Often though, overeating leads to feelings of shame, guilt and regret.

It’s important to remember that the reason we overeat is as a way to cope with difficult situations and those situations can vary from mild irritation to deep despair. When we respond to stress and anxiety by eating, there is a reward – a rush of dopamine and we feel good, so our brains are wired to respond this way every time we feel any kind of discomfort and it becomes habitual. Stress – eat – relief – repeat.

The trick is stop and to notice that you have the urge to eat.

Breathe.  Pause.  Choose your response.

If you do choose to eat, do not judge yourself.  The judgement shuts us down into shame. Replace the judgement with a gentle curiosity so that you can get to the bottom of what triggered the eating.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself before automatically responding by eating…

Choose 1 or 2 questions that speak to you and practice them (imperfectly, every time you remember).

  1. Am I hungry?
  2. What would be BETTER than food right now?
  3. Am I eating out of hunger or habit?
  4. Do I really, really, want this?
  5. Do I need nurturing or nourishment right now? (thanks Char Wilkins for this one!)
  6. I can eat this if I want to, but can I delay for a bit?
  7. H.A.L.T (a well known acronym used in relapse and recovery) Am I …..
    Angry / Anxious
    Lonely or
  8. Am I hungry or bored?
  9. Why am I eating this?
  10. How will I feel after I have eaten this?
  11. How will I feel if I DON’T eat this?
  12. What can I do right now in addition to eating? (it’s important to always give yourself the choice to eat to avoid rebellious eating)
  13. What can I do other than eat?
  14. What am I not wanting to feel right now?
  15. What am I not wanting to do right now?
  16. What will eating this food do for me?
  17. Can I sit with the urge to eat this for a bit?
  18. Is eating the answer right now?
  19. What am I avoiding?
  20. This is a difficult moment, what do really I need?
  21. Am I tasting this?
  22. Is this enjoyable?
  23. Am I procrastineating?
  24. What else can I do to transition from one task to another?
  25. Is this eye hunger, nose or heart hunger?
  26. Could I delay eating this?
  27. How much would be enough? You always have the option to eat emotionally, try and do it with awareness.

You don’t overeat because you are weak and lack control, eating has become a coping mechanism. The way to change this or any behaviour is through kindness, compassion and curiosity.

May you find ways to be with challenging emotions
May you find the courage to be with difficulty
May you come to know peace with food


PS. As a gift to you – here’s a downloadable copy of my list of 27 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Eating.

🍂 My gift to you is a free “slightly different advent calendar” for you to print and enjoy during the festive season.

🍂 Is handling the combination of holidays + food + a global pandemic stressful for you? This online course may be what you need… How To Handle Eating in the Holidays is designed to support you through the festive season.

🍂 Interested in healing your relationship with food? Book a free mini-session.


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