If you’ve ever reached for another serving of that lasagna even though you feel full (it tastes so good!) or reached for that second slice of cake, congratulations. You’ve overeating.
Sometimes it’s painfully obvious that we’re overeating, but other times you might not even realize it’s happening. So why are we overeating, and how to stop overeating once and for all? Let’s dig in.
If you’re an overeater, the reality is that in America, you’re far from alone. In fact, we’re a nation of overeaters. More than one-third of American adults are obese. Obesity-related health conditions, like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers, make up some of the leading causes of preventable death in the country. In 2008 alone, the annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $147 billion. (1)
And that’s just obese individuals. When you add in the amount of people who are overweight, the percentage of U.S adults shoots up to more than 70 percent. (2)
There are a number of reasons Americans are overweight and obese. But one of the major reasons is simple: We’re eating more than ever before.
The reasons so many U.S. adults are overweight or obese are varied. Too many grams of added sugar in our meals, processed foods and a lack of exercise all contribute to the epidemic. But overeating is also a major factor, and one that’s often overlooked. And while it seems pretty basic at face value — you’re eating too much food, duh — overeating causes can be a bit more complex at their core. What compels us to eat more than we mean to?
You’re responding to your habits and outside cues. If you normally settle down at 8 p.m. to catch up on your favorite TV programs and eat a few pieces of chocolate, you’ll likely find yourself reaching for chocolate even on those nights when you had a late dinner and aren’t hungry. You’ve created a habit that associates TV time with chocolate.
The same goes for external clues, like TV commercials or even just the availability of food (like snacks in the break room at work, for example). Because food used to be scarce, our bodies are designed to eat when we spot food.
And while we’re no longer foraging for food and stowing away calories for days when food isn’t readily available, our bodies haven’t changed much from those days. When we see food, our brains think, “Hey, there’s food there! Let’s eat.”
You’re eating foods that make you hungrier. Did you know that some foods are actually making you more hungry? If you’re eating foods with little to no nutritional value, particularly sugary foods, refined carbohydrates (like white bread and pasta) and artificial sweeteners, your blood sugar levels are likely to spike up, leaving you feeling hungry sooner.
Additionally, sugar activates the brain in a way unlike other foods, keeping it from feeling full. (See how else sugar destroys your body.)
You’re affected by one of these weird triggers. Just eaten but find yourself hungry again? Salty foods, certain medications and even air conditioning are hunger triggers that can be causing you to overeat.
You’re not eating enough regularly. The very American way of dieting — severely restricting calories until you’re starving, bingeing on whatever’s nearby, and then re-starting the diet all over again — plays a role in overeating causes.
When we restrict calories to a level under what’s needed to function optimally, our bodies think they’re starving. When we finally do eat, we’re more likely to stuff our faces, eating well past the point of satiety.
You’re stressed. You’re more likely to crave unhealthy, fatty foods when you’re stressed, especially if you’re female: women are more affected by stress eating than men. Interestingly (but not surprisingly), those people who are dieting, tend to increase their food consumption when stressed. But they’re not overeating carrot sticks; they opt for the same food they normally shun. (3, 4)
You’re hungry — but not for food. Similar to stress, when we’re dealing with difficult emotions, we often turn to food to soothe our feelings and help us escape. They don’t call it comfort food for nothing, after all.
You’re not paying attention to your food. If you’re scrolling through your newsfeed, watching TV or working at your desk while eating, it’s likely that you’re overeating. When you’re not practicing mindful eating, it’s easy to eat more than you intended in one sitting.
If you’re a snacker, you might also be eating more than you realize as you graze throughout the day. Even if they’re healthy snacks, if you’re not keeping track, you may be surprised to find that you’re eating well over what you thought.
You’re eating bigger portion sizes. This one isn’t entirely our own fault. But portion sizes began increasing in the 1970s and haven’t really stopped. It’s not just the usual culprits like fast food, either; restaurants are serving food on larger plates, muffins are getting bigger and those sugary coffee drinks are getting taller. With these bigger sizes comes overeating; as one study found, when portion sizes are increased, people eat more. (5)
You might have recognized yourself in some of the overeating causes. But how to stop overeating and reduce how much you’re chowing down? These natural overeating treatment options will help.
1. Eat nutrient-dense foods
Processed foods, refined carbohydrates, sugary drinks, artificial sweeteners — these are all food-like substances that add very little nutritional value. Eat them and you’ll find yourself hungry soon after.
Instead, reach for rich, nutrient-dense foods, like kale, berries, wild salmon, grass-fed beef, tomatoes, mushrooms, sweet potatoes and black beans. These foods are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which not only will leave your body feeling good after eating, but they’re also filling. Choosing whole foods can also help you form a healthier relationship with food, where you’re less worried about overeating Cheetos and more in tune with your body’s nutritional needs.
2. Eat more fats
Conventional wisdom used to be that in order to lose weight, shunning fats were necessary. Now we know that low-fat diets aren’t that effective or even that healthy. Low-carb, high-fat diets like the ketogenic diet have been proven to be super effective at shedding pounds. Fats have the added bonus of being especially satiating and signaling to our brains that we’re full, reducing cravings and the urge to overeat.
Of course, you’ll want to stick to natural, healthy sources of fat, like avocados, high-quality dairy, coconut and olive oils and nuts and seeds.
3. Reduce stress levels
It’s easier said than done, but chronic stress affects your health in so many ways, and overeating is one of them. Activities like meditation, yoga, journaling and exercise are all proven ways to help manage stress, and won’t result in excess pounds the weight stress eating does. In fact, reducing stress levels is one of the best ways to lower cortisol, a hormone that, when we have too much of it, can lead to belly fat.
4. Incorporate natural appetite suppressants
If you’re wondering how to stop overeating, suppressants can help. Now, I’m not talking about the shady diet pills you find at the drugstore. Instead, natural appetite suppressants include high-fiber foods like chia seeds and legumes, hot spices like cayenne and turmeric and grapefruit essential oil, which helps curb cravings. These all-natural, fat-burning foods will help keep you from overeating without the health risks that come with traditional suppressants.
5. Eat more mindfully
One of the best ways to keep yourself from overeating out of boredom or losing track of how much you’ve consumed in one sitting is to practice mindful eating. Mindful eating is the opposite of the emotional eating that often leads to overeating. It makes eating a much more thoughtful process. You’ll be paying attention to when you’re actually hungry, not just when it feels like you should be eating because of the time of day or external cues.
It takes into account what you feel like eating, too, like perhaps you want something warm for lunch because it’s cold out. When you do sit down to eat, even for snacks, mindful eating asks that you give food your full attention and take note of how you’re engaging your senses. And finally, you slow down so that you can observe when you’re full. Intuitive eating is quite similar, too.
6. Consider intermittent fasting
Still searching for ways for how to stop overeating? If you’re someone who struggles with eating between meals, intermittent fasting can be helpful in preventing consistent overeating. The benefits of intermittent fasting and alternate day fasting range from regulating the hormones that decide when you feel hungry or full to weight loss. It doesn’t need to be drastic, either.
While there are tons of options for intermittent fasting, ranging from to just not eating for 12–16 hours, essentially you stay away from food for a determinate amount of time and then, during eating hours, you enjoy what you want, with a focus on protein and quality, complex carbohydrates. With intermittent fasting, the pressure is off on overeating to some extent, since you’ll completely ban food outside of eating hours and then have the freedom to enjoy as much as you’d like during meal times. You’re likely to find that eventually, you’re practicing more mindful eating naturally.
7. Keep track of what you’re eating
If you think you might overeat at times but aren’t too sure when or how much, keeping a food journal is a good way of identifying problem spots. Journals can be really handy in helping you uncover not just how much you’re eating daily when you actually tally up all your meals and snacks, but whether certain things trigger overeating.
Jot down everything you eat and how much (be honest!) shortly after you have it so that you don’t forget. But also take note of how you’re feeling before and after. Are you tired and reaching for an afternoon muffin? Do you find that when you go to a certain lunch spot, you tend to make healthier decisions? Look for patterns that can help identify where your overeating blind spots are.
Another way to keep track of what you’re eating? Learn what recommended portion sizes look like. There are handy visuals online, like this one, that illustrate what one serving of some of your favorite foods looks like.
Overeating is something that many of us might struggle with at some point in our lives, or during an emotional period like a breakup. However, it’s not the same as binge eating, a serious eating disorder where you binge on “forbidden” foods and then experience intense feelings of shame, guilt and anger at yourself, followed by serious dieting and deprivation and then bingeing once again.
It’s normal to have times where you might eat more than you’d like, but if you find yourself in a cycle of binge eating, please reach out for help.
Additionally, if you find that much of your overeating stems from emotional issues, you may find it helpful to see a mental health professional in tandem with the natural tactics to overcome eating. Working through some of the deeper, underlying issues that are contributing to your overeating with a professional could really make a difference.
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