A calorie surplus is the main reason behind excess weight. Initially, the human body has a well-balanced mechanism that controls hunger and satiety; however, in some of us, it is broken. Fortunately, you can teach your body how to eat the quantity of food it needs without overeating. This might take some time, but being a lifetime strategy to maintain your perfect weight, it worths every effort.
There are four main reasons behind overeating:
The coping techniques might differ depending on the type of overeating you suffer from; however, these eight working strategies will help you in every case.
Overeating and weight problems are not due to a lack of willpower or laziness.
The primary reason is the pressure that we try to overcome with the most accessible tool: food. Stress isn't just about anxiety and a bad mood. There are three types of stress: Physical, emotional, and psychological.
Physical stress can be both situational (flu or a broken leg) and chronic (regular hard work or physical exercises). Examples of physical stress:
Emotional stress is situational, and its effects go away when emotions calm down. Examples of emotional stress:
Psychological stress is chronic. It is persistent or repetitive. Examples of psychological stress:
Any of the described types of stress can cause disrupted eating behavior: it can both increase and suppress your appetite. If there is no way to eliminate the cause of stress right now, try to minimize its effects on health and weight. Pay more attention to the inner signals: Listen to your feelings and sensations in your body.
Overweight people frequently can’t understand if they are truly hungry or simply bored or stressed out. Check out these situations:
If you’ve recognized yourself in any of these situations, maybe it’s just about time to rearrange your relations with food and start listening to your body more carefully. Before you have a meal, ask yourself if you’re truly hungry. Then drink a glass of water to make sure that you don’t confuse hunger with thirst. These additional two steps can decrease your daily calorie intake by up to 40%.
Sometimes we overeat because we’ve skipped the last meal. In this case, the hunger hormone ghrelin becomes overly active and makes us eat way more than we need. Listening to your body means not only depriving it of food when it doesn’t need it but also nourishing it when it’s hungry.
If you think that learning how to understand your body’s signals might take too much time, start by eating according to the set eating hours and hold to your plan. Keep track of how long it's been since your last snack, and don’t skip meals.
Physiological hunger occurs when your body demands energy for living, and your stomach is empty for an extended period. When you’re starving, you might feel lightheaded and shaky, and you might hear the rumbling of your guts and feel discomfort in your stomach. You’re ready to bite into any food near you, even if it’s plain or you don’t like it.
Emotional hunger is the desire to eat. Cravings are a good example of emotional hunger. This is when you’re thinking of specific food, be it a chocolate bar in your closet, a pack of ravioli in your fridge, or some Quattro Formaggi pizza leftovers in your office kitchen.
When emotionally hungry, as a rule, we try to compensate or hide some negative emotions. For example:
Any of these emotions are stressful for the body. When they happen from time to time, overeating episodes also occur from time to time. If these emotions and feelings are constant or prolonged, using food as a coping mechanism becomes a way of life.
The reason behind emotional hunger is the comforting feeling your favorite dishes give you, helping you to cover your loneliness or sadness. If you analyze your overeating episodes, you might discover that you often crave foods that used to be associated with comfort and love in your childhood.
Next time you feel hungry, consider the following:
Eating slowly is not easy if it’s not in your habit. Moreover, sometimes you have only 10 minutes to shove in your lunch and get back to work or domestic chores. However, if there is no rush, take your time! Eating quickly doesn't give your brain the time to understand that your stomach is full.
Try to make every meal last at least 20 minutes. Studies(5) show that this is the average time your brain needs to understand that your stomach is full. You can spread out your mealtime by being more conscious about the process. Pay more attention to your food’s texture, temperature, and taste. Chew slower, have smaller bites, place your spoon on a table after each spoonful, or drink water while eating.
High-carb sugary snacks will make you feel hungry faster(6). This happens because of the blood sugar spikes resulting from consuming the so-called “fast carbohydrates”: overly refined cereals, white flour, and table sugar.
When you eat carbs, they fall into simple sugars. Your pancreas reacts by releasing insulin, the hormone that tells your cells to consume sugar from the blood. If you opt for high-carb products without fiber, the sugar level in your blood rises and falls too fast, which can lead to new hunger urges very quickly.
To avoid hunger cravings caused by blood sugar spikes, opt for carbs with a low glycemic index and high fiber content. It would be wise to swap a doughnut to an apple, a glass of soft drink to a cup of tea without sugar, a bowl of white rice to a portion of buckwheat or quinoa, or a white-bread toast to an Iceberg wrap.
Analyze your behavior during binge eating or overeating episodes: What triggers you?
Being aware of the problem is half of its solution. Know your triggers and learn how to deal with them.
If you’re dealing with inexplicable hunger urges, try to distract yourself with some calming activities.
These are just a few of the activities you can opt for instead of food.
Sometimes you might discover an extreme hunger after overly restrictive diets or fasting. You overeat. The next day, you decide to fast, which leads you to another cycle of overeating, and this behavior gets you into a vicious circle you can’t break.
If this is your case, the best decision is to make an appointment with an eating disorder specialist. If, for whatever reason, you can’t do this right now, try to stop punishing yourself for food! Stop starving yourself and opt for balanced eating. Studies(7) show that flexible dieting is much more effective for weight loss in the long run than meticulous counting calories and rigid eating patterns.
These are some working strategies on how to train yourself to stop overeating.
To keep on losing weight and maintain it afterward, you have to focus on the process and embrace new lifestyle changes. Focus on your inner motivation. These are some examples of correct, efficient motivation:
There is also extrinsic motivation, but it doesn’t work when it comes to sustainable weight loss. These are some examples of wrong motivation:
How is this going to help with overeating? By focusing on what’s important, you will decrease your risks of developing binge-purge cycles. Your main goal should always be health. In this case, you will easily avoid fad diets and will easily develop healthy relations with food.
These questions will help you stay aware and mindful during meals. Before every meal, ask yourself:
While eating, ask yourself:
After eating, ask yourself:
Analyze how your answers affect the feelings of hunger and satiety. Strive for comfort while eating and stay aware of the whole process. Don't let your meals become stressful; you already have enough in your life.
1. Don’t you dare to blame yourself! The feeling of guilt has never helped anyone.
2. Don’t plan fasting, extreme dieting, or 2-3 hours of cardio for the next day. This will only take you to the binge-purge circle.
3. Analyze why this has happened.
You didn’t realize how much you’ve consumed?
You were drunk?
You couldn’t stop because the food was too tasty?
Your family or friends were eating much, so you just acted as everyone did?
You were upset or had some other negative emotions?
4. Understand that multiple episodes of overeating harm your health(8).
5. Stay kind to yourself and your body.
If you’ve ignored your body’s signals for the largest part of your life, learning how to listen to them again might take some time. If you’re prone to eating at night or when stressed, you might be an emotional eater. Ask for assistance if you have a binge-eating disorder. Get a meal plan that will help you track what you eat and modify your eating habits. Keep analyzing your eating patterns and always stay kind to yourself.