American culture makes it easy to overeat. Super-sized portions, all-you-can-eat buffets, giant buckets of popcorn at the movies, endless chips and guacamole before the entrees arrive…and those are just situations that happen outside the home.
“Overeating is when you eat more food than your body needs for energy, and it usually causes some physical discomfort,” says a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer. Kim Juul, DR, CPT. registered dietitian Nina Dahan, RDShe defines it this way: “Anytime we eat when we’re not aware of our hunger cues,” she says.
But now, the big question: How does someone stop overeating? The first step is to know what makes you overeat. So, you are putting a solution in its place. Listed below are the 18 most common reasons Juul and Dahan believe people overeat. Plus, his expert advice on what to do about it.
How to stop overeating: 18 reasons why people overeat
If you’re feeling anxious or stressed, both registered dietitians say you’re more likely to overindulge, particularly on foods that are high in sugar and fat. These types of foods are comforting, which is exactly what someone wants when they’re at the end of their rope. To end stress from overeating, Dahan says to focus on finding a solution to whatever is causing you stress, ending the stressor. She says it can sometimes be helpful to work with a cognitive behavioral therapist, who can help implement healthy habits to replace overeating at these times.
Dahan adds that it’s also important to manage general stress, not just wait until the moment you’re stressed to fix the problem. Meditation, exercise, and self-care can help with this.
Related: 92 Ways to Manage Stress
2. Lack of sleep
Scientific studies have shown that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to overeat high-calorie foods. “In this case, what people are really looking for is more energy, and their bodies are telling them to eat, but it’s easy to overeat when you’re feeling especially tired,” says Juul. Getting at least seven hours of sleep each night will make you less likely to overeat.
3. Crash diet
If you’re skipping meals or subsisting on a super low-calorie diet, Dahan says you’re much more likely to overeat than if you had a well-balanced diet. “A very low-calorie diet disrupts the hormones that drive our hunger, making us more likely to bounce back from overeating,” he explains. Instead of depriving yourself, include foods you like in your diet; just enjoy them in moderation.
Related: How to Control Your Weight After 50
Both dietitians say that boredom is a common trigger for overeating. After all, eating is fun, engages all the senses, and lights up the pleasure center in the brain. If boredom is his main reason for overeating, Dahan recommends making a plan in advance for what he’ll do when boredom hits. “Make a list of enjoyable activities you can do instead,” she says.
“Don’t make a list of unwanted responsibilities or tasks to do when you’re bored, or something you dread,” adds Dahan. “If you default to eating when you’re bored, there’s no motivation to do the dreaded tasks for ‘entertainment’.” In other words, make sure your list contains activities that you really enjoy and that are easy to do.
Both dietitians say that overeating is often a habit. Maybe you pull out a bag of nuts from the pantry to munch on while you make dinner, not realizing how much you’re eating. Or you can open a bag of chips every day at 4 pm, even if you’re not hungry. “If you want to break a habit, you have to think of an alternative,” says Juul. Can you make yourself a cup of tea instead? Chewing gum? Go for a walk? As with boredom, he says it’s important to have a plan in place.
6. Portions too big
“We’ve gotten so used to large portions over the last 20 years,” says Darah. “If you look at fast food portions, restaurant portions, and single-serving packaged foods from 20 years ago, portions were much smaller. We go big on fast food outlets to get better ‘value’ and we get used to that feeling of fullness, which carries over to home prepared meals”. She says that similarly, all-you-can-eat buffets can lead to overeating; our eyes are often bigger than our stomachs when we arrive hungry.
To avoid overeating at home, spread out your meals and snacks. Also, give vegetables the most real estate on your plate. At restaurants, ask for a to-go container with your entree so you can reserve a portion of your meal to take home. Out of sight, out of mind!
7. Looking for comfort
While feeling sad, depressed, or anxious can also lead to not eating enough, for some people it can lead to overeating and finding comfort in food. Both experts say addressing the underlying reasons for these feelings is key, though they acknowledge it’s not easy. In the moment, find something else that brings you joy, like listening to a playlist of your favorite songs while you walk or calling a friend.
8. Eat in front of the TV
Whether it’s takeout, chips or a pint of ice cream, Dahan says it’s easy to overeat when you’re concentrating on something else, like what you’re watching on TV. “Distraction is a big part of what I see in my practice when it comes to overeating,” she says. If you like to eat in front of the TV, just bring the portion you want to eat from the kitchen instead of the entire container.
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9. Eat and work at the same time
Dahan says that eating in front of the computer is another form of distraction that can lead to overeating, and it’s one he’s seeing more of as more people work from home. She adds that eating while scrolling through social media can lead to the same trap. While it can be hard to take a break, stepping away from your computer to enjoy your food for 20 minutes will not only prevent overeating, it will be more enjoyable, allowing you to focus on your delicious meal rather than stressful emails. of work.
Related: How to stay focused while working from home
10. Eating overly processed foods
Juul points out something you’ve probably noticed firsthand: It’s much easier to overeat overly processed foods that are high in sugar, sodium, and fat than nutrient-dense foods. “High-sugar foods can lead us to crave more high-sugar foods,” she says. Ella juul also explains that since they don’t have protein, fiber, or healthy fats, they’re also not filling—another reason they’re easy to overeat.
If you want to enjoy a sweet or savory snack, divide it into portions. That way you can still enjoy it without getting a stomachache later.
Both dietitians say that when you’re drunk, a lack of control can arise, and that includes food. “Alcohol lowers our inhibitions, even if we go into [the situation] with the best of intentions,” says Dahan. If you think you’ll be tempted to overeat later, plan ahead and pack or pack a healthy snack that you can eat later.
12. Low blood sugar
Juul says that having low blood sugar can lead to cravings for carbohydrates and sugars, the body’s way of sending a message to get what it lacks. To avoid this, he says to make sure you’re getting the nutrients your body needs. “If you’re eating a well-balanced diet overall, cravings due to nutrient deficiencies aren’t as common,” she says.
13. Not being satisfied with “healthy foods”
If your kitchen is stocked with foods like low-fat ice cream, sugar-free cookies and other “diet” foods, Dahan says you’re more likely to overeat them. “The mentality is ‘they are healthy after all, why not?’ But this often leads to consuming more calories than we would if we had opted for the real thing,” she says. Additionally, she points out that these foods are often not as satisfying as the real thing, which can also lead to overeating. The solution? Buy what she loves instead of the low-fat substitute. Just stick to the serving size.
It’s completely natural to crave foods high in sugar, salt, and carbohydrates before your period. As the dietitians mentioned above, these types of foods are easy to overeat. Share the foods that she craves, and also practice other self-care activities that can offer her comfort.
15. Confusing thirst and hunger
While water should never be considered a substitute for food because it doesn’t contain the nutrients needed to survive, scientific studies show that people who don’t drink enough water are more likely to eat more. Be sure to drink eight eight-ounce glasses of water a day to avoid overeating when your body really needs more water.
16. Hit an afternoon slump
Juul says that one of the most common times people overeat is in the late afternoon. Fatigue is settling in, but you still have to put in the effort, you may be bored, and maybe not as far down your to-do list as you’d like, which is stressing you out.
If you like to snack in the afternoon, plan ahead and keep snacks with protein, fiber and healthy fats on hand, which will give you a little boost of energy. Some examples include hummus and vegetables, peanut butter and banana, and Greek yogurt with berries.
17. Not refueling properly after a workout
Walking out the door after working out, there may be many immediate needs: showering, answering texts, feeding the dog… but not taking a few minutes to eat something could lead to overeating later. To help your body recover, eat a snack or meal with carbohydrates and protein. This will help replenish the energy used during your workout and give your body the protein it needs to repair and build muscle.
18. Need professional help
“If someone finds themselves eating large amounts of food to the point where they feel sick accompanied by a feeling of being out of control, they should seek help from a dietitian or therapist who specializes in eating disorders,” says Juul. A registered dietitian who specializes in eating disorders can help establish healthy eating habits so someone can get the nutrients their body needs while also implementing healthier eating behaviors.
Both dieticians emphasize that overeating is very common; Just about everyone has reached into the pantry when feeling stressed or bored. By identifying the reasons you’re overeating and implementing the dieticians’ advice, you’ll be on your way to a healthier relationship with food and fewer stomach aches, too.
Below, check out this list of 40 foods that are scientifically linked to weight loss.