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Do you have a greedy gremlin?

Updated: Feb 2, 2021

I've written this article based on my personal experience to help anyone caught up in a cycle of binge eating. The ability to distance myself from the triggers helped enormously in my recovery to find a happy life with food...

The temptation to overeat, binge, or whatever we want to call a pattern of disordered eating can be prompted by endless scenarios - a response to emotional upsets or joy, a need for consolation or reward, the need to reduce a feeling of restriction or denial. It doesn't really matter what the driver is, the result is the same - a nasty little voice in our head which tell us eat more than we want or make food & drink choices which we had decided just a half an hour ago we definitely, absolutely wouldn't make. A voice which tells us that to eat and eat a lot, usually of stuff with little nutritional value, which doesn't actually make us feel better, is what we need.

My own personal voice has a lot to answer for. I call him (sorry chaps, he is definitely a HE) the Greedy Gremlin. He's been on a long mission of sabotage, he's has the potential to completely take me over, so that my conscious mind becomes very small, left floundering as his drivers get bigger and bigger, sending me to the fridge, the cupboard, the garage to stock up, anything to feed the Gremlin. It's not because he really is vindictive but because he honestly thinks he's doing the right thing. But how and why does he operate in this way?

The Greedy Gremlin is my sub-conscious. He has learned this behaviour from the experiences and responses I have made during my life. He has had a long time (40 years in my case) to recognise when he believes I need to overeat: to take the pain away, to make myself feel rewarded, to help divert my thinking at times of stress - in other words to try to make me feel better.

To give him some credit he is correct that when we're eating it is more difficult to think about other stuff, so the eating behaviour does offer some temporary, minor distraction. He can only give me the stimulus he has learned. Our sub-conscious is very good at remembering, it learns habits and cues and they are stored for a very long time. The longer we have them, the more ingrained they become but we can break these habits and it's actually quite straight forward.

First thing I realised was that my Gremlin is not ME. This fundamental disassociation has been absolutely key to getting away from my damaging eating behaviours and the subsequent shame which went with them. This is also so important in removing the binge the diet rhythm. I started to look at my Gremlin as a separate entity, he is external. Because I know and feel that now, I can control him and control my life in whatever way I choose - even if the choice is to have a whacking great Danish pastry at the coffee shop. I talk to him (I know, but please stay with me!) but because he is my sub-conscious it's important to remember that he only understands the positive (that's how the sub-conscious works). So I acknowledge his voice, understand, thank him even and then do whatever I want to do. If I just told him not to tell me to eat he wouldn't understand the 'not' and then I'm back to the beginning of the conversation (by which time it's my turn in the queue at the coffee shop and the array of temptation is before me!). This approach is a mindfulness which is like a conscious version of hypnotherapy - it works on the same principles, turning negative cues into positive actions which are self-serving and not self-sabotaging.

Here are some simple steps which will help you distance yourself from your own Greedy Gremlin:

  1. Work to get really conscious about the voice and give it a name or label, anything which makes it separate from you.

  2. Hear it, stop, breathe and listen to what it is saying.

  3. Understand where its instruction is coming from - is it emotional, is it driven by learned behaviour? (Remember that real hunger is a physical, not a mental cue.)

  4. Respond to it in whatever way you choose but make this your conscious choice, either to refuse the stimulus, to accept it or to modify it. Either way YOU and not the voice are in control.

  5. Breathe, smile and be happy with whatever you have decided because at that time, it was the right thing to do for you and not for your Gremlin.

Slowly but surely, the voice becomes more faint - it just gives up as we begin to learn more constructive behaviours, eating patterns and food choices. These are then embedded in our sub-conscious and become new cues.

Sometimes my Greedy Gremlin pops up when it senses an old familiar scenario where it believes the previous behaviours might be helpful. Now I can just laugh him off, knowingly and with complete control. Danish pastry anyone?


If you want to fix your binge or overeating behaviours I have an online course which will help you. More details of my coaching work is on my Services page.

I also have a YouTube video in which I share more of my experience. All of this has informed how I support clients.

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