BlogWeight LossHow to Stop Overeating and Binge Eating?

How to Stop Overeating and Binge Eating?

Mariia Roza
Written by Mariia Roza on March 31, 2021
Medically reviewed by Dr. Olena Avdiievska

Table of contents

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.

Get your 100% personalized meal plan by completing our 3-min quiz

Get your 100% personalized meal plan by completing our 3-min quiz

None of the known diets should be followed without considering your unique body needs, preferences, and goals

Start Quiz

Reasons behind your overeating

There are four main reasons behind overeating:

  • Emotional eating(1) is a habit to cope with stress and negative emotions with food.
  • External eating(2) is when you see or smell your favorite food and can’t tame your cravings.
  • Mindless eating(3) is when you overeat without even noticing it just because there was a pile of snacks near you.
  • Binge eating(4) is when you eat too much and too fast, experience guilt and shame after overeating episodes. This is an eating disorder that professional psychologists should treat.

Eight strategies to overcome 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. 

1. Manage your stress

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.

Sleep deprivation is a physical stress for your body | Shutterstock
Sleep deprivation is a physical stress for your body | Shutterstock

Physical stress

Physical stress can be both situational (flu or a broken leg) and chronic (regular hard work or physical exercises). Examples of physical stress:

  • Increased mental or physical pressure
  • Lack of sleep
  • Illness or injury
  • Menstruation

Emotional stress

Emotional stress is situational, and its effects go away when emotions calm down. Examples of emotional stress:

  • Quarrel with loved ones
  • Conflict at work
  • Excitement before an important event
  • Fright (traffic accident, sharp, loud sound, etc.)

Psychological stress

Psychological stress is chronic. It is persistent or repetitive. Examples of psychological stress:

  • Long-term conflict in a relationship
  • Increased anxiety
  • Past or present psychological or physical abuse
  • Depressive disorders and severe emotional states
  • Self-rejection, fears, uncertainty about the future, etc.

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.

2. Listen to your body needs

Overweight people frequently can’t understand if they are truly hungry or simply bored or stressed out. Check out these situations:

  • You don’t want to do something important, so you procrastinate by making another cup of tea with a cookie. 
  • You feel anxious and put another scoop of ice cream next to your apple pie.
  • Your colleague has brought a birthday cake, and you took a piece just because everyone did so.

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.

3. Differentiate emotional and physiological hunger

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.

Emotional eating is one of the main reasons behind excess weight | Shutterstock
Emotional eating is one of the main reasons behind excess weight | Shutterstock

When emotionally hungry, as a rule, we try to compensate or hide some negative emotions. For example:

  • Pain and fear
  • Resentment and sadness
  • Feeling insecure
  • Loneliness and anxiety
  • Difficulties with self-acceptance
  • Guilt
  • Uncertainty and discontent
  • Depression and grief
  • Anger and hate

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:

  • If you feel hungry suddenly, specifically when your favorite food comes within eyesight, it’s emotional. If the feeling builds gradually, your hunger is physical.
  • Emotional hunger is in your head. You draw pictures of how you eat your favorite food and want to feel its taste. Physical hunger is in the stomach. You simply want to fill it in.
  • Emotional hunger makes you crave specific kinds of food. When feeling physical hunger, you’re ready to eat anything you can put your hands on.
  • When you fall victim to emotional hunger, you might come up with the feeling of guilt, self-loathing, or even shame. When you embrace physical hunger, you rarely have this kind of destructive emotional response. 

4. Eat slowly

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.

5. Avoid blood sugar spikes

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.

6. Know your triggers

Analyze your behavior during binge eating or overeating episodes: What triggers you? 

  • It might be the smell of your favorite dessert, an Instagram photo of pho bo, or the description of the Harry Potter Christmas feast. If these stimulants trigger your appetite, you’re dealing with external hunger.
  • It might be your parents’ house where there’s always an apple pie waiting for you. A cozy room where you can eat as many cakes as you want because nobody can see you and no one will blame you. A sushi bar where you used to dine with your significant other, ordering as many rolls as you wanted. In these cases, you’re dealing with both external and emotional factors.
  • You might notice that you overeat every time you’re on a fancy dinner where waiters fill your glass with champagne as soon as it is half empty, offer you multiple snacks, and take away empty plates immediately so you can’t see how much you’ve consumed. As a rule, you understand that you ate too much only when your dress becomes a bit tighter around your belly. This is a situation that triggers mindless eating.

Being aware of the problem is half of its solution. Know your triggers and learn how to deal with them.

7. Find distractions

If you’re dealing with inexplicable hunger urges, try to distract yourself with some calming activities.

  • Start doing something with your hands. Knitting, painting, playing online games, everything will do.
  • Read your favorite book, listen to music, pet your cat or dog, apply a face mask, or go out for a walk. 
  • If your cravings happen at specific hours, plan something for this time. 

These are just a few of the activities you can opt for instead of food.

Boredom can lead to emotional eating, so find distractions | Shutterstock
Boredom can lead to emotional eating, so find distractions | Shutterstock

8. Break the binge-purge cycle

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. 

Exercises to deal with binge eating

These are some working strategies on how to train yourself to stop overeating.

Find correct motivation

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:

  • I want to be healthy
  • I want to feel good and in harmony with my body
  • I want to like the way I look
  • I want to live in harmony with myself, food, and sports
  • I want to live a long and happy life

There is also extrinsic motivation, but it doesn’t work when it comes to sustainable weight loss. These are some examples of wrong motivation:

  • I want to see specific numbers on the scales
  • I want to lose weight by a particular date or event
  • I want to lose weight for someone
  • I want to lose weight to wear a specific size of clothes (or fit into my favorite dress).

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.

Ask yourself ten questions before, during, and after meals

These questions will help you stay aware and mindful during meals. Before every meal, ask yourself:

  • Am I really hungry right now?
  • The food on my plate is exactly what I want to eat right now?
  • What do I feel right now?

While eating, ask yourself:

  • Do I like the taste of this dish?
  • Do I like the way this food looks?
  • Do I like the environment in which I am eating?

After eating, ask yourself:

  • Am I feeling full?
  • Has this food brought me emotional satisfaction?
  • What do I feel after eating: cheerfulness and energy or lethargy and drowsiness?
  • What are the sensations in my stomach: satiety, lightness, pain, rumbling, heaviness?

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.

Bonus: What to do if you’ve already overeaten? A step-by-step instruction

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.

Summing up

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.

Be kind to yourself, binge episode is not the end of the world | Shutterstock
Be kind to yourself, binge episode is not the end of the world | Shutterstock

Sources

  • Hou R., Mogg K., Bradley B. P. (2011, April). External Eating, Impulsivity and Attentional Bias to Food Cues. Appetite. DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2011.01.019
  • Frayn M., Livshits S., Knäuper B. (2018, September 14).Emotional Eating and Weight Regulation: A Qualitative Study of Compensatory Behaviors and Concerns. Journal of Eating Disorders. DOI: 10.1186/s40337-018-0210-6
  • Kaipainen K., Payne C.R., Wansink B. (2012, December 17). Mindless Eating Challenge: Retention, Weight Outcomes, and Barriers for Changes in a Public Web-Based Healthy Eating and Weight Loss Program. Journal of Medical Internet Research. DOI: 10.2196/jmir.2218<
  • Tanofsky-Kraff M., Bulik C. M., Marcus M. D. (2013, April). Binge Eating Disorder: The Next Generation of Research. International Journal of Eating Disorders. DOI: 10.1002/eat.22089
  • Hawton K., Ferriday D., Rogers P. (2018, December 27).Slow Down: Behavioural and Physiological Effects of Reducing Eating Rate. Nutrients. DOI: 10.3390/nu11010050
  • Chandler-Laney P. C., Morrison S. A., Goree L. L. T. (2014, September). Return of Hunger Following a Relatively High Carbohydrate Breakfast Is Associated with Earlier Recorded Glucose Peak and Nadir. Appetite. DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2014.04.031
  • Stewart T. M., Williamson D. A., White M. A. (2002, February). Rigid vs. Flexible Dieting: Association with Eating Disorder Symptoms in Nonobese Women. Appetite. DOI: 10.1006/appe.2001.0445
  • Prentice A. M. (2001, November 9). Overeating: The Health Risks. Obesity Research. DOI: 10.1038/oby.2001.124