Have you ever found yourself eating past the point of being comfortably full?
Have you ever found it hard to stop eating once you’ve started?
If you said yes to either of these, then you are not alone! We all overeat from time to time. As most of us have experienced, overeating can lead to digestive problems like upset stomach, nausea, bloating, heartburn, feelings of sluggishness, and more. However, when overeating becomes a habit, it can lead to weight gain, difficulty losing weight, ongoing digestive problems, and disordered eating patterns like binge eating.
If you suspect you have an eating disorder such as binge eating disorder, please talk to your doctor.
Many environmental and psychological factors can play a role in overeating. Understanding WHY you overeat is an important step in learning how to stop overeating.
The most obvious trigger for overeating is hunger!
Many women undereat during the day (because they are trying to lose weight, or they’re distracted or don’t have a plan) only to find themselves STARVING at night. This can lead to grazing after work, overeating at dinner, or late-night snacking.
There are also certain patterns of eating that drive up hunger hormones and can make us hungrier than we need to be. This includes eating meals or snacks that spike blood sugar levels and the hormone insulin.
Finally, high cortisol levels from sleep deprivation and stress can increase hunger and the tendency to overeat.
Let’s face it – food is more than fuel and nourishment … it is fun, comforting, and rewarding. Most of us love it!
Not only that but hyper-palatable foods such as hyper-sweet, salty, or fatty foods have addictive properties that light up the reward centres in our brain that tell us to keep eating … even when we are full. Think pizza, chips, and chocolate!
It makes sense that many women turn to these foods more when they are bored, emotional (i.e. sad, lonely, angry, or stressed) or need a distraction from work or their long to-do list.
There are many automatic behaviours that we could have picked up over the years that can trigger overeating. This could include:
There are plenty of strategies you can add to your daily routine to stop overeating. Some of these include:
When we are running on minimal sleep, it can be very difficult to control hunger and cravings. A good night’s sleep will help us to feel more in control of our appetite and food choices.
If you are hungry, eat! Listen to your hunger cues and honour what your body truly needs in that moment. Ignoring these cues can push you to the point of starvation, which can backfire and trigger overeating.
Pause before eating and ask “Am I really hungry?”. If the answer is NO, distract yourself with another go-to rewarding or comforting activity such as walking around the block, listening to your favourite music, taking a warm bath, or reaching out to a friend.
Eat a balanced, high-protein breakfast such as plain Greek yogurt with berries and peanut butter, steel-cut oats with shredded apple and pumpkin seeds, or scrambled eggs or tofu with avocado and sprouted-grain toast.
Eating a breakfast with adequate protein fills us up and ties us over for longer which in turn, can help us eat less during the day.
Eat a diet full of nutrient-dense foods high in fibre such as whole grains, legumes, and vegetables. Fibre slows down digestion and absorption and helps us stay full for longer.
When we eat slowly our brain has more time to receive fullness signals. When we chew our food well, our brain receives stronger fullness signals, which tell us to slow down and stop eating. Before you reach for a second helping, check in with your body to see if you’re still hungry.
Avoid eating in front of the TV or computer. Take the time to focus on the pleasure of the eating experience and tune into your body’s fullness cues. Aim to stop eating when you are comfortably full (i.e. 60 or 70% full).
Remember, if you are still physically hungry 20 minutes later, you can give yourself permission to eat again!
Protein triggers fullness signals and ties us over in between meals. Eat it with all of your meals and snacks. This includes meat, fish, poultry, seafood, Greek yogurt, tofu, tempeh, edamame, nuts, and seeds.
Heading out? Bring a snack rich in protein and fibre just in case you get hungry. That way you can honour your hunger as soon as you notice hunger signals instead of letting it get out of control. Healthy, filling on-the-go snacks can include: nuts, seeds, RX bars, and roasted chickpeas
Whether it’s a loved one, a peer, a colleague, a healthcare professional, or an online community, find someone you can turn to in times of difficulty. Sharing your feelings rather than internalizing them could help manage stress and the risk of emotional eating.
Overeating can happen for a variety of reasons, some of which may feel like they’re out of our control.
But strategies like the ones listed above can us help learn how to stop overeating, improve our eating habits and relationship with food, and put us back in control.
Remember that changing deeply ingrained habits like overeating takes time and is a journey with ups and downs. If you have a setback, have patience and love for yourself. Look at every eating experience as an opportunity to learn and grow. Aim for progress instead of perfection.
If you are still feeling lost on how to stop overeating, it could be a great idea to meet with a healthcare professional like Stefanie Senior, RD.
As an experienced Registered Dietitian, Stefanie helps her clients identify and understand their problematic eating habits and manage them in a personalized and sustainable way.