Why You Drink/Eat/Work Too Much

By Jimmy Turner, MD
The Physician Philosopher

In our society, we are often told a lie. We are told that we should be happy all of the time and that we should avoid anything that doesn’t make us happy. What we choose to use to avoid that negative feeling is called a buffer, and it’s a big problem.

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Today’s thought is this: An all or nothing way of thinking is a thought distortion. Life is not all good, and it’s also not all bad, so why does this thought distortion matter?

The problem is that it causes this guttural reaction to seek things that make us happy and to do anything at all costs to avoid things that don’t.

We All Have A Buffer

Anything that causes a negative emotion in our life is something that we are taught from a very early age we should avoid. We should avoid being sad, we should avoid anxiety, we should avoid depression, we should avoid not being fully satisfied at all times.

What this looks like in real life is you’re feeling anxious; go have a beer to take the edge off, right? Your kids are stressing you out, stay later at work. Feel shameful about your body, well, then you eat your feelings and make the problem worse and feel even more shameful about your body. All of these things are called a buffer.

A buffer is something that we use to avoid negative emotions, or negative experiences. Basically, we’re trying to take the edge off.

The Most Common Buffers 

The three most common examples of buffers are probably overeating, overdrinking, and overworking. 

Overeating often looks like people coming home, and then deciding that they are sad for whatever reason, and so they decide to eat their feelings. They’ll eat ice cream, or they’ll have lots of sugary snacks, or whatever it might be.

What that process involves is immediate gratification, right? The dopamine receptors just get hit with a flood of dopamine and you have immediate gratification. But then, minutes, hours, days later, you have lots of delayed regret. It’s kind of the cycle.

A buffer is something that we use to avoid those negative interactions or feelings that we don’t want in our life.

How can you figure out if you have a buffer, or I guess I should probably say, what your buffer is?

How to Figure Out Your Buffer

We all have a buffer, so how do you figure out yours? Well, there’s a few different ways. Some are like catchphrases.

If you ever say something like, “Man, I really need X,” “I really need a drink,” “I need to do something in place of this negative experience, trying to avoid,” that’s a buffer. There’s certain language that comes out of our mouth when we’re talking about our buffer. 

What do you do when you are super stressed out, super sad, overwhelmed, and have major negative emotions? That’s another way to figure out what your buffer is.

Another way is to think through the cycle, right? There’s a cue, and then you have the urge to do something that provides immediate gratification that you later regret. 

So if there is a pattern in your life where you recognize that there’s a cue, something you do that immediately gratifies you to make you feel better about yourself that you later regret, that may be a buffer for you too. 

Drinking too much, eating too much, staying too late at work are extremely common. But your buffer might be different. You might decide to do something completely different, right? Everyone’s buffer is unique to them.

How Do You Handle Your Buffer? 

You really have to do some tough thought work. It’s not just enough to recognize that, “Oh, I’m eating too much,” or, “Oh, I’m drinking too much.” You have to figure out what is causing the problem.

Ask yourself, “why are you buffering?” Sit down with a coach or a family member, friend, someone that you trust in and feel like will give you a good outside perspective and just get your thoughts out there. Sometimes write things down with a journal. Ask questions like, “What are my feelings?” “What are my thoughts that are going through my head when I’m feeling like I need to drink, or eat, or stay at work?,” or whatever your buffer is. 

After you’ve done that, then you can get your solution depending on what the trigger is. 

My Solution to Buffering

So for me, part of my problem was this massive to-do list. And I’m not detail-oriented. I’m a big picture, abstract kind of thinker. I’ve always really avoided schedules. I just kind of did whatever I felt like I needed to be doing, Whatever was the top priority, I would just hammer that out and then move to the next one.

Well, that is a great way to always feel the need to work. So what I started doing was something called Monday Hour One at Life Coach School. I do it on Sundays, but for 30 or 45 minutes, I basically schedule out my week down to the hour. 

When I had my wife sit down and look at her schedule too, we could figure out times where I could focus time to work on my blog or the podcast. And the other time when I was working with my kids. I could be present in the moment. 

It ended up being immensely helpful for dealing with that negative emotion, like, that ball of stress I was having because I had all this stuff to do. I set a schedule in my situation.

Life Is Not All Or Nothing

The other part is that this all or nothing lie that we have.

We have to realize that there is a potential solution to this, which is to tell ourselves the truth that life is not an all or nothing phenomenon, right? Life is 50/50. It has ups and downs. Life has positive emotions and negative emotions, and all of that is part of being human. 

We have to move to a space where we can change our thoughts to avoid anything that’s bad or painful or hard to learn how to deal with that negative emotion so that we don’t want to buffer. 

There’s a distinction there, right? You can deal with your stress, your overwhelm, by having a solution. You also need to deal with the negative emotion, and that’s a skill set.

The Third Option

Before I started coaching and before I dove into Life Coach School and everything it had to offer, I always thought that I had two choices when I had a negative emotion. You can either accept it or reject it. 

But there’s also a third option. You can just sit there like a second person in the room and allow your emotion. You can describe it, think about what it feels like, where it feels in your body. 

If there’s tension building in your head, or you feel your heart’s racing, or tingling, or however it feels, you just think about it and just say, “Look, I’m really sad right now,” or, “I’m anxious or stressed out,” and just call it out. It is what it is. You don’t have to act on it.

You also don’t need to resist it because by the way, that’s terrible.

Just allow the emotion and say, “Life is 50/50. This is one of those emotions that I’m going to experience as a human. It’s not really my responsibility to try to avoid this right now. I’m just going to recognize that I’m nervous, I’m going to recognize that I’m sad, depressed, worried, etc.”

Maybe talk it out with somebody. Get a coach, a family member, a friend, someone you trust, have that conversation and figure out why you’re feeling that way.

Final Thoughts

The thought for the day is that life is not all or nothing. There’s good, there’s bad. It’s part of being human. When you have those bad emotions, try not to buffer. You don’t want to resist it, you don’t want to accept those things. 

Sometimes it’s appropriate to accept things. When someone dies, it’s perfectly acceptable to cry and to be sad. That’s normal, and you might want to accept it in that situation. 

But when you feel that need to resist and that need to buffer, you need to work through why you’re doing that, if that’s a healthy thing, and how to better deal with that. 

Today you’ve learned the idea of buffering, what it is, how to identify it, and that it’s okay to allow negative experiences and to get rid of that belief that life is all or nothing.



  1. AP

    I’m a big fan of the LCS and her podcast. I’ve applied many of the ideas into my life in the last several months (one of the positive things to come of being home so much), and it’s helped me immensely. Glad it’s done the same for you and that you’re spreading the knowledge.


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