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How to Manage Urges to Overeat

Your meals are planned and ready to go .... and then someone brings donuts to the office, or your spouse brings home cookies... and there you are, fighting the urge to eat. What do you do in that moment? Join Marchelle and I as we help you figure out how to manage these urgent-feeling urges to overeat in the moment, so you can be successful without feeling deprived!

Some of this weeks episode highlights are:

6:08 This is how we survived through the millennia. During our evolution. Our brains learned very quickly that eating food, drinking water, having sex, staying warm and comfortable, all of this equals pleasure and comfort, and most importantly, survival. So your primitive brain is all about this in the moment pleasure and comfort and ease and relief of pain. This doughnut with it's artificially processed sugar and flour and whatever other ungodly chemicals they might put into it is very specifically designed to trigger a powerful release of dopamine causing extreme pleasure.

9:59 Research shows that we have about 15 minutes worth of willpower every day. And most of us use up most of our willpower just going through our emails every morning. Using willpower is a little bit like trying to hold a beach ball underwater. You can do it for a little while, but after a bit you just become overwhelmed. And the next thing you know, the beach ball is blowing out of the water - and you're eating everything in sight.

13:20 Here's a little brain hack that you can use to work with your primitive brain. Learn to extinguish these eating urges by 'allowing' them without answering them!

--- Full Raw Transcription Below ---

Dr. Angela Zechmann (00:00):

You are listening to the Keep The Weight Off podcast with Dr. Angela, episode number 39.

Introduction (00:07):

Welcome to The Keep The Weight Off podcast, where we bust all the dieting myths and discover not just how to lose weight, but more importantly, how to keep it off. We go way beyond the food and we use science and psychology to give you strategies that work. And now your host, Dr. Angela Zechmann.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (00:27):

Hey everyone and welcome back to the podcast. Hey, Marchelle. How are you today? How are things going?

Marchelle (00:33):

Doing good. It's pretty early in the morning.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (00:35):

So I got her up. I got her up early on a Saturday. All right, well this is going to be one of those podcasts that you're going to want to like listen to over and over again, because this is some really important stuff here. It's going to be very helpful for all those of you who are in your weight loss journey.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (01:01):

So I just want to preface this by saying that this week's topic is sort of a follow-up on podcast number 35, where we talked about the different parts of your brain that are making food decisions. So if you haven't watched or listened to that one yet, go back and listen to that one first and then listen to this one.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (01:22):

In that podcast, I talked about the primitive brain and the executive brain, or which is also called the prefrontal cortex and the different perspectives that they each bring to your food decisions. So today, what I want to do is I want to help you to know what to do if you discover that your primitive brain is wanting to make a food decision. And a decision, you know, when the primitive brain is making food decisions, it feels like it's really against your will and against your long-term goals. And these are the times where you, like, I feel like I just have two different parts of me and the each one different things, and you just feel really confused. And a lot of times people end up feeling a lot of shame about it too.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (02:10):

So let's talk about this and talk about what to do. Let's say you're at work and you've eaten your breakfast and it was delicious and right on point and very much in inline with your long-term goals. And then let's say also that you're a star at this, and you've got your lunch in the fridge ready to go. And you've got this beautiful chicken salad with this delicious basal vinaigrette and some berries for dessert. And yeah, this is a typical lunch for me. I love my salads at lunch.

Marchelle (02:44):

This is true.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (02:47):

It is. She knows. So, somebody I don't know if you saw it Marchelle but somebody posted in, I can't believe, I can't remember which Facebook group it was in, but somebody posted a picture of a box of doughnuts that one of their coworkers had brought in.

Marchelle (03:05):

So Let's, well, let's say this is you and someone brought in some doughnuts and you go to the break room at lunch to get your beautiful salad out of the fridge. And there those doughnuts are. And let's say just to make this story a little bit more dramatic, just for fun, that these aren't just ordinary doughnuts. And they're certainly not day old doughnuts, but let's say someone went to Voodoo doughnuts in Portland. Have you ever been there Marchelle? Have you seen this place?

Marchelle (03:36):

If anybody knows me, they know that doughnuts are my weakness.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (03:40):

Yeah. doughnuts, everything and Voodoo - Voodoo is notorious as a doughnuts place in Portland, they're kind of like an icon and people will line up for blocks to get their doughnuts.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (03:55):

All the way down the road. Now they have to stand six feet apart, but whatever, but let's say that your office- mates were like trying to let you know, oh, I love you guys. I went to Portland over the weekend and I thought about you, and I brought you in this extra special treat. So there they are. Now, what's going to happen? You plan to eat your chicken salad, but now you have an urge to eat one of those doughnuts. This urge feels really strong, almost impossible to resist, and it actually feels urgent. That's why we call it an urge. Right? It feels absolutely urgent and imperative that we answer this.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (04:42):

Now, the first thing I want you to know is that nothing has gone wrong here. Okay? There is no reason to get upset or to freak out. And I want to explain what's going on in your brain because it's really, really normal.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (04:56):

Now let's say that you lived under a rock and you had never, ever had a doughnut before. Guess what? Your brain would do? Nothing. Your brain would not respond. It would be as if someone had put a bunch of notebooks on that table. Your brain would have no idea that those doughnuts equal a huge dopamine hit with all of that accompanying pleasure. It's not until you actually taste the doughnut and get the dopamine hit that your brain learns that this is a lot of pleasure. So then the next time you see the doughnut, your brain remembers that pleasure. And so you develop an urge to eat it. And the more you eat doughnuts, the more your brain remembers how pleasurable the doughnut is. And the more urgent the urge becomes. Does that make sense?

Marchelle (05:49):

Yeah. This is actually so hard to even talk about because really, doughnuts are my weakness, Guess what you getting in this situation so many times? And so it's, yeah, it's really, really hard to resist, But yeah, well we'll, we'll figure it well, I'll teach you what to do.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (06:08):

Okay. Now again, I want you to remember, this is all normal brain functioning. This is how we survived through the millennia. During our evolution. Our brains learned very quickly that eating food, drinking water, having sex, staying warm and comfortable, all of this equals pleasure and comfort, and most importantly, survival. So your primitive brain is all about this in the moment pleasure and comfort and ease and relief of pain. This doughnut with it's artificially processed sugar and flour and whatever other ungodly chemicals they might put into it is very specifically designed to trigger a powerful release of dopamine causing extreme pleasure. Much more than the pleasure that can be found in meat or berries, for example, which is what our ancestors had access to. So it's normal for your primitive brain to be highly attracted to these doughnuts.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (07:16):

So again, nothing going wrong here. Okay? But at the same time, maybe you are sick and tired of being sick and tired. This is what one of our Journey Beyond Weight Loss students told us, she's just as was like, I'm sick and I'm tired. And I'm done with this. And let's say that you realize that eating a doughnut is not in your ultimate best interest, and that it's actually going to make you sick, not just temporarily sick, but it can cause obesity and diabetes and cardiovascular disease and cancer and a myriad of other health issues. So this is obviously when you're, as you're thinking through this, this is not your primitive brain talking. This is your prefrontal cortex talking. This is the part of the brain that is much more highly evolved. And that can think past the pleasure of the moment and plan ahead.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (08:11):

It's interesting because your prefrontal cortex can actually think about your 'thinking'. Which is cool. So your prefrontal cortex has your long-term best interest at heart, has planned and prepared that chicken salad that is waiting for you in the staff refrigerator. Okay. So there's the situation. Again, nothing has gone wrong. So what are you going to do in that moment? What part of your brain is going to win out? This is the question, and this is why I want us all to stop and think. And we want to help you to develop some skills for managing that primitive part of your brain so that you can ride through these urgent feeling urges and stick to your plan without the drama of feeling deprived or like your somehow missing out. Okay. So ready, ready Marshall? Yes. Okay. Here we go. You have three ways of handling this urge.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (09:13):

The first thing you can do is to give into it and eat the dough. nut. The second thing you can do is to resist it and use willpower to overcome it. And the third thing you can do is to allow it without fighting it. So let's go through each of these three ways.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (09:34):

The first thing is, if you give into it, you reinforce that urge. And the more an urge gets reinforced the stronger it gets. So obviously giving into it is not going to be in your best interest.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (09:50):

The second, resisting it in order to do that, you have to use your willpower. Now, willpower will only last so long. As a matter of fact, research shows that we have about 15 minutes worth of willpower every day. And most of us use up most of our willpower just going through our emails every morning.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (10:11):

So, using willpower is a little bit like trying to hold a beach ball underwater. You can do it for a little while, but after a bit you just become overwhelmed. And the next thing you know, the beach balls blowing out of the water and you're eating everything in sight. So you're not going to just have one doughnut, you're going to have four or five. Okay? So that's, that one's not going to work very well either.

Marchelle (10:36):

That happens to me more than… Yeah.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (10:39):

Yeah, me too. yeah….

Marchelle (10:40):

I just felt so guilty afterwards. And so I'm practicing resisting that … that's what I'm doing right now.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (10:47):

Well, we don't want to resist it. What we want to do is to remember the third option, which is to just allow the urge, just let it be there. Don't react to it. Don't push against it. Just allow it.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (11:03):

Now, this is going to feel really, really uncomfortable. No question. It's a little like being in a hotel room when the fire alarm goes off. Has that ever happened to you? No. Me either. But I have been in situations where the fire alarm has gone off and most people don't really respond right away. They want to see if it's a real alarm or if it's a false alarm. And so let's say you're in a hotel room. You could respond immediately, I suppose, and go running out to the parking lot in your pajamas. Or you could just kind of wait to find out. And while you're waiting, that noise is really, really uncomfortable.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (11:43):

It's loud, it's annoying, but it doesn't kill you. Right. And that's the point here. It feels urgent, but that noise is not going to kill you. And eventually it stops and it goes away. So this is what it's like to allow an urge. It's very, very uncomfortable, but it's not dangerous. It's not going to kill you. And eventually it goes away.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (12:10):

Okay? So you could also imagine that this urge is like a toddler in a grocery store demanding candy, toddlers, screaming, and screaming. So if you give in and give the toddler the candy, you've just reinforced that behavior. Right? Next time you go to the grocery store, kid's going to scream again. If you try and hold the child's mouth shut, which is like resisting the urge the child is just going to fight harder so that doesn't work or the other option would be to just let the child scream. It's really uncomfortable. But nothing dangerous is going on. And eventually the kid's going to burn itself out and quiet down. Okay?

Dr. Angela Zechmann (12:52):

So that interesting thing is that for urges, for food, it usually goes away in about 10 minutes or less. Okay. Does that make sense, Marchelle?

Marchelle (13:04):

It does. I just haven't done this very often because usually I'm just trying to resist.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (13:09):

Right. And that makes life really hard.

Marchelle (13:14):

So this is like a whole new concept for me. And I don't know, practice more.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (13:20):

Yeah. Well, here's a little brain hack that you can use that I learned from my mentor, Brooke Castillo. And I actually think it's brilliant. So we're going to work with your primitive brain and we're going to extinguish these urges by allowing them without answering them.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (13:42):

So what you're going to do, is you're gong to go to the craft store, and you're going to buy a glass jar. It has to be a clear glass jar, and a package of 100 colorful glass beads. So you need colorful glass beads in a glass jar. And then you're going to put a label on it and call it your Urge Jar. Now this sounds really simplistic but trust me on this it works. The next thing you're going to do is make a 24 hour plan for your food. So the night before, you're going to plan everything you're going to eat the next day. Write it all down on a piece of paper so you know exactly what you're going to eat.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (14:24):

Now, anytime that you get an urge to eat something off your plan, you just allow the urge. You don't fight it. You just live with it. You breathe through it. You notice the feelings in your body, you become the observer of yourself. As you notice what is happening in your brain and your body with this urge. It should pass within 10 or less if you do not answer it. Again, don't try to answer it, don't try to substitute something else. Just allow the urge.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (15:00):

Now, once the urge has passed unanswered, you put one of those colored beads in the glass jar, and I have my glass jar here, and I'm going to put a colored bead in it. (Plink sound) That's what it sounds like. Now you can't see it, but it's very, very satisfying for your primitive brain.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (15:22):

And it's going to give your brain a little dopamine hit sort of a reward for allowing that urge. As you allow more and more urges, the colored beads start to add up in that glass jar and your primitive brain loves to see things accumulating. And the more beads that are in the jar, the more you're going to feel the reward of the accomplishment.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (15:49):

And what I noticed is that my primitive brain is like, it cannot wait for the next urge so that I can get another bead in the jar. So by the time you've made it through 100 urges without answering them, you have become a different person. Seriously. So just think every bead in that jar represents food that you would have eaten that you didn't eat. This is a huge accomplishment and a big dopamine hit for the brain. And guess what else? Many people can lose 10 or 20 pounds just by doing this process and doing it consistently. How does that sound?

Marchelle (16:35):

This is intense information making me a little bit like anxious, just thinking about it because I know, you know, we all know what urges feel like and…

Dr. Angela Zechmann (16:47):

They feel urgent. Yeah and…

Marchelle (16:49):

And yes, exactly. And that you know, so many times, you know, I've given in, like I said, I have a weakness for doughnuts in particular and usually trying to resist something. You know, like if I, you know, if something's put around me or if I have an urge, I'm just kind of trying to resist it sometimes giving in sometimes not. So I'm just feeling like a little anxious, even thinking about like having to resist a hundred urges.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (17:15):

Well, you don't, you don't have to think about resisting a hundred. I didn't think about resistance. All you need to do is to just resist one urge and put a bead in the jar when you did it.

Marchelle (17:28):

Yeah. This sounds exciting, but I'm anxious

Dr. Angela Zechmann (17:32):

After the first one. You're like, wow, I can do this. You're like, whoa.

Marchelle (17:38):

Yeah, I trust you, I'm going to do this. Yeah. But you have to have the glass jar and you have to have a glass beads. You have to reward the primitive brain.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (17:47):

Now say that the urge hasn't passed within 10 minutes. Then if you have to spend more time allowing the urge, you get another bead. Okay. So each bead represents 10 minutes of allowing an urge. Okay? So yeah. So that's a hack for your primitive brain. This is the way that you can, you know, really focus on retraining your brain. This is basically what we're doing here is we're retraining our brain because what we have done with our modern food environment is we've trained our brain to crave all of these highly processed, highly pleasurable foods because we've eaten them. We've gotten the dopamine hit and our brain knows, wow, this is a lot of pleasure. And so what we're doing is we're extinguishing that desire for that food by allowing the urge.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (18:46):

So can you imagine one day where a doughnut doesn't drive you crazy at all? Like, you're just like, eh, it's just a doughnut who cares. I Love that. Wouldn't that be great? This is how you train your brain to not want the stuff. And so many people say, when they're going through this weight loss journey, I wish I just, you know, they'll see somebody who just doesn't care about junk food and they'll be like, oh, I wish I could be like that. I wish it didn't. It didn't cause these cravings for me, I wish it didn't do this to my brain. And this is how you do it.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (19:18):

Okay. So let me summarize your primitive brain wants pleasure in the moment it wants pain relief. It wants comfort and ease. There's nothing wrong with your primitive brain. It, it has allowed us to survive through the millennia and you want to have a good respect for it. But, because it's only thinking about what's happening in the moment we want to have a little bit more control over it.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (19:49):

So you have, you're also a prefrontal cortex, which is your executive brain, which has your best interest at heart. It can think long-term and it can plan ahead. If you want to lose weight and keep it off, your prefrontal cortex has to be in charge. In order to do this, you have to learn how to plan your meals ahead of time and then manage the urges of your primitive brain.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (20:18):

Okay. You do this by making a 24 hour food plan in advance. Okay? Don't ever think that you're going to be able to use your prefrontal cortex in the moment, because in the moment your primitive brain is going to be in charge. So you make your plan in advance and then you allow the urges to come without answering them or fighting them or substituting something else for them. You allow that discomfort, okay? Get a clear glass jar, label it, the urge jar, and you're going to fill it with colored beads. One for each urge that you allow without answering it or resisting it. By the time you hit 100 beads, and oftentimes even before that, you can extinguish an urge. And you can retrain your brain. And you can lose quite a bit of weight in the process. Okay. So how does that sound?

Marchelle (21:23):

This sounds, I don't know, like I said, she's having to deal with urges because I have them all the time. So……

Dr. Angela Zechmann (21:33):

Well, practice makes perfect. Yeah. Practice makes perfect with it. And it's so interesting that once you make it through one urge and you realize you can do it, it's amazing that each time it gets easier and easier and easier and easier. All right. All right. Yeah. Yeah. It just does. It's just, it's like with anything and the first time you do it, it's hard. The, the next time you do it, it's a little easier. And the next time you do it, it's even easier. And by the time you get to a hundred urges, you are a pro. And guess what? This will help you in all areas of your life, not just with food, because how often do we get urges to do all kinds of things that are not in our best interests?

Marchelle (22:18):

(Inaudible) a lot of different things.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (22:20):

Exactly. So, so if you want to know more about this process, and if you want to get some extra help, I want you to know I'm developing a mini course in the Journey Beyond Weight Loss membership. And so I will hope you will join us there at the time of this recording of this podcast, the mini course is not yet ready, but by the time by the time you listen to this it will be ready. So I hope you'll join us in the Journey Beyond Weight Loss membership. And I think that's it for, for this week. Any other questions or comments, Marchelle?

Marchelle (22:58):

No, I, I just think this is a great idea. And I can't wait to try it.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (23:01):

It's really, it's really awesome. And again, keep this podcast on auto repeat so that you can listen to it again when the urge hits. Okay. All right, everyone. That's all for this week. We will see you again next week. Take care and have a great week.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (23:16):

Bye now, Hey,

Closing (23:18):

Hey, if you really want to lose weight and keep it off for good, your next step is to sign up for Dr. Angela's free weight loss course, where you're going to learn everything you need to get started on your weight loss journey, the right way. Just head over to to sign up. Also, it would be awesome if you could take a few moments and write a review on iTunes. Thanks! And we'll see you in Journey Beyond Weight Loss.

Dr. Angela



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