How to Stop Overeating
how to stop overeating
Overeating has nothing to do with how much willpower you have, or how big your plate is.
Overeating is caused by our perception of food and what it means to diet.
The word “diet” originates from the Latin word “dieta”, which means a way of living.
A diet is not about limiting certain foods, removing all carbs, avoiding sugar at all costs, or restricting calories to lose weight. A diet is not supposed to be a short-term, quick fix that makes life miserable. A diet is not supposed to cause you anxiety around food or interfere with your social life.
A diet is supposed to be a permanent change to the way of life, in a way or style that makes life worth living.
Our diet is supposed to make us feel like our best self, mentally and physically!
Why do we overeat?
To start, the mind and body are in constant communication with one another, giving us cues and signals that let us know when we are hungry and when we are full. They work in synchrony to keep us alive and thriving. However, many of us lack the awareness in listening to these messages. We instead operate on autopilot and fall victim to the programming of our habits and external factors, causing us to eat three cookies instead of one, or grabbing a snack when we aren’t actually hungry. We simply lack mindfulness while eating food.
From my experience, I’ve identified four main reasons why we overeat:
1. Mindless eating
All of us obviously eat out of physiological hunger, the need to give our bodies food to survive. The problem is that many of us have automated the process of eating, allowing eating to become a secondary activity that is done while multitasking. Many of us scroll through social media while eating our breakfast, snack on a bowl of popcorn while watching Netflix, or socialize at a cocktail party while eating all different kinds of finger foods that we lose count of. So long as we eat mindlessly, we will never be able to cultivate the awareness to awaken ourselves and reprogram our eating patterns.
2. Emotional eating
Look, we have all been there. Digging our spoon into a pint of ice cream after a bad break up, ordering Chinese takeout after a stressful day at work, eating a whole bar of dark chocolate because we are are just having a bad day, or celebrating a birthday with a huge slice of cake the size of our head. We reach for food to help us cope with stress, deal with sadness, and celebrate all of the fun moments of life.
Food not only affects our physical bodies, but our minds as well. There is both a physical and emotional aspect to eating, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with eating out of emotion. The problem is when emotional eating becomes mindless eating.
3. Not knowing when you are actually full
To eat when you're hungry and to stop when you are full makes so much sense, right?
So why is it so damn hard?
The problem is that most of us are not in tune with our hunger signals. We know what it feels like to be starving, we know what it feels like to be stuffed, but we have no idea what the middle ground is. We don't really know what the feeling of being full is, because we are not mindful of how we feel physically and mentally. When we are full, we feel satisfied and energized both in the physical body and the mind.
Many of us overeat out of habit. When we eat out of habit, we are adhering to the "programming" of our minds. A habit is really just a previously conditioned, automated response to an environmental trigger. When we let the environment dictate our eating patterns, we are once again falling into the pattern of mindless eating. We give away our conscious choice and shift to operating on autopilot. External triggers for overeating could be the physical setting we are in, the people we are surrounded by (or not surrounded by), the time of day, or even the weather.
Think about when you go to watch a movie, your automatic response is to grab something to eat. You aren't even consciously thinking if you are hungry or not; you just act in response to the environment.
Ultimately, mindless eating causes overeating.
Stop overeating through mindful eating
The opposite of mindless eating is mindful eating.
Mindful eating is an approach to food that is based on awareness, not restriction. Eating is instead intentional, not automatic. You are not falling victim to the programming of your mind, or the habits you have adopted overtime. You are surfacing the opportunity to make a conscious decision with your physical and emotional well-being at the forefront.
Practical Ways to Stop Overeating
I spent yearrrrss having an unhealthy relationship with food. I would restrict my calories or “diet”, then find myself overeating at my meals or snacking when I wasn’t actually hungry. My current relationship with food is by no means perfect, but these are some practices I have implemented to prevent overeating and instead eat mindfully.
Make no foods “off limits”
Ever notice that when you make a certain food "off limits", you crave it that much more?
As soon as you tell yourself that you aren't allowed to have sweets, all you can think about is digging your teeth into a decadent cake or biting into a bar of chocolate. And then, you start noticing every bakery on every street corner in the city you live in, which you normally would have just passed right by without noticing.
When you restrict foods, you may find yourself fixating and becoming more aware of the very foods you are trying to avoid. And more often than not, the craving and desire for these foods labeled "off limits" will become so strong, that we find ourselves eating them anyways.
Then we fall into the psychological spiral of "oh well, I broke the rule... so might as well eat five cookies instead of just one." And then... we overeat.
Denying yourself food just gives more power to those foods than yourself. Instead of labeling foods as "off limits", allow yourself permission to eat anything guilt free. Reclaim your power.
Eat without distractions
When is the last time you ate a meal without any distractions? And by distractions I mean phone, TV, book, podcast, or even conversations with other people.
Just you, and your food.
To eat without distraction is to eat mindfully and with full presence. When you stop trying to multitask while eating, your awareness is shifted to nourishing your body and mind with the full experience of food.
You will actually taste your food. You will notice the textures. You will realize how the food you are eating makes you feel physically and emotionally. You will discover what being full and satisfied feels like.
Food honestly tastes sooo much better when you actually focus on just eating!
Determine the trigger
I'll go ahead and admit it. I once had a long time addiction to popcorn. Every time I would watch a movie, TV show, or even a Youtube video, I would grab a bowl of popcorn, which would then lead to another bowl... and another bowl...
In my case, popcorn was a trigger and the act of watching video content was also a trigger.
As soon as I would turn on something to watch, I would crave popcorn. And if I had popcorn in my apartment, I would grab a bowl, then seek out something to watch while eating mindlessly.
Triggers for overeating can include the foods we eat, environment, activities, emotions, time of day, or even the people we are surrounded by. When you are aware of the trigger that causes you to overeat, you can then make the decision for a behavior change.
For me, I stopped buying popcorn for a while. And I found that when I didn't have popcorn in my apartment, I wouldn't spend much time watching videos or consuming content. I actually became more productive and started using my time for other activities like reading, doing yoga, journaling, etc.
I'm not saying that you need to remove the trigger entirely or forever (especially if your "trigger" is a certain friend who happens to really like food). Instead, cultivate the awareness for the trigger, acknowledge it, and make a conscious choice. You can be surrounded by the trigger, so long as you hold your power and eat mindfully.
Increase your daily calories
“Wait, eat MORE food? What?!”
Yes, eat more food.
One overlooked reason for overeating is the amount of calories eaten on a daily basis.
Like a thermostat, the body is constantly trying to maintain it's natural "set point", or the body weight it prefers to stay at.
When we drop calories, the brain communicates with the body through a hormone called leptin, which controls our levels of hunger. As you decrease your calories and lose weight, the amount of leptin in your bloodstream drops and it sends a signal to the brain to eat more food in effort to push the body back into the body weight set point.
Your hormones kind of want you to cheat on your diet.
When your calories are severely low (typical with most diets out there), leptin will decrease dramatically, and your hunger will go through the roof. And when you constantly feel hungry, you have a higher likelihood of overeating.
If you are on a super calorie restrictive diet, or if you are simply not eating enough for your activity level, and you find yourself overeating more often than not, try actually eating more food throughout the day. Be cognizant of your total calories and your fitness goals, but make any adjustments to your calories to keep your hormones better balanced and your overall hunger stabilized.
Don't wait until you're starving
Have you ever been so hungry, that you start eating other food while you are cooking your meal? You're sautéing your healthy veggie stir fry dinner, while simultaneously throwing back a handful of almonds and biting into a loaf of bread. Or, maybe you even start eating the food you are cooking with.
And by the time you actually get to your meal, you're not really hungry anymore. But of course, you still eat the meal you just cooked up anyway. Then you find yourself feeling overly full because you pretty much had two dinners instead of one (oops).
To prevent overeating, eat a meal when the physical sensation of hunger begins to come on. Don't wait until you are ravenous or reaching crazy high levels of hangry-iness. Chances are, you will eat waaay more food than you intended to.
Reflect on how you feel after a meal, physically and mentally
The problem with most food journals is the over emphasis on calories. Tracking your food has been turned into a pure numbers game, with all of the focus being on the physical aspects of food (calories, macros, weight loss/weight gain). I used MyFitnessPal everyday for three years, yes, YEARS, and I found myself thinking about how many calories were in each meal, and if I was hitting my macros. I went through a good period of time being so obsessed with numbers, that I had no awareness for my natural hunger cues.
While there is nothing wrong with counting calories, the real benefit of tracking your food is the awareness you can cultivate through self reflection.
Reflect on how you feel physically after a meal. Do you feel energized, or sluggish? Do you feel bloated, or light? Do you feel stuffed, or satisfied?
Also reflect on how you feel mentally after a meal. Do you feel shameful? More depressed than you were before you ate the cookie? Or, do you feel clear headed and motivated to make healthy decisions throughout your day?
With reflection comes self-awareness, and the more self-aware you are, the more conscious you can be about your eating patterns to prevent overeating.
Meditate before eating
Sometimes our minds are bigger than our stomachs. The mind convinces us that we are super hungry, when we really are not. Often times the mind just wants a craving to be satisfied that has nothing to really do with physical hunger. Ultimately, food changes both the body and the mind, so it's no wonder that the mind likes to play tricks on us.
If you can observe the mind with a greater sense of awareness, you can eat more mindfully. You can understand the difference between physical hunger and just a mental craving, which can help prevent instances of overeating.
So how can you develop this awareness of the mind?
There are sooo many benefits to mediating before eating a meal, including:
Meditation calms the nervous system, helping reduce stress levels, anxiety, and stabilizes mood. If you are a stress eater or emotional eater, meditation can help calm you down and clear your mind for making more conscious decisions.
Meditation teaches you to slow down, pause, and observe. Before grabbing another plate of food (after already eating a full meal), you can take a minute to consider why you are eating more than necessary. You can act on awareness, not impulse.
Meditation helps you become more present with preparing, cooking, and eating food. You can take your time to enjoy the process of putting together a healthy meal, and actually experience the sensations of eating. You can taste the flavors, note the textures, take in the scents... you can truly enjoy food.
Meditation elevates mind-body awareness, helping you observe the mind while listening to the body. You will notice how you feel both physically and mentally, throughout eating a meal.
So next time before you eat, close your eyes and meditate for a minute or two. Observe the mind and your thoughts, feel into your body, and connect with your senses.
Practice the Ayurvedic diet
According to Ayurveda, we each have a unique mind-body type or "dosha", which determines our personality, natural tendencies, physical characteristics, etc. The Ayurvedic diet is all about nourishing the body and mind, helping maintain balance of the doshas.
(Note that Ayurveda is not a "diet", but a way of living)
Ayurveda recommends that you eat certain foods, influenced by your body type, your body's needs, and your digestive power. When you eat foods that are in alignment to your dosha constitution, you physically and mentally feel like your best self. You feel well energized, clear headed, and nourished.
So how does the Ayurvedic diet help with overeating?
When you eat foods that nourish your mind-body type, you feel satisfied both physically and mentally. You respect your body's digestion. You are more aware of how the food you eat affects you, beyond the physical level. You cultivate more appreciation for the connection between your mind and body. You have greater awareness for your natural tendencies and characteristics.
You eat to become your highest self.
(Learn more about the Ayurvedic diet here.)
Cultivate more gratitude for your body (and mind)
Lastly, be grateful for your body and your mind.
The only reason you are here experiencing this physical world is because you have a body. Your body is literally a vessel for your soul to experience, move, play, and navigate through this reality. The Universe has trusted you to take care of this body throughout life, and to honor it with love and care.
Food is meant to be a source of energy, for both nourishment and vitality.
When you listen to how your body physically feels and observe the needs of your mind, you ultimately respect consciousness.
Overeating really isn’t serving the highest self. Overeating doesn't respect the extraordinary interconnection of the body and the mind.
The more you can cultivate a deep sense of love and gratitude for your body and your mind, the easier it will be to eat consciously and mindfully.
And if you slip up and find yourself overeating, forgive yourself. Forgiveness is love, too.
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Track calories, macros, Ayurvedic “Gunas”, and reflect on how food makes you feel physically and mentally.