Do you ever find yourself feeling a little too full, or eating when you’re not really hungry?
But at the same time, you’re struggling to change that?
Overeating is really common and there are a few reasons why that’s so!
Sometimes it could be because there was a special event like at a wedding when you weren’t paying too much attention to what you were eating. This happens to all of us and that’s normal and expected! We’re not perfect and you don’t need to be because that’s not the goal.
Other times however, you may find yourself overeating on a more consistent basis.
Consistently overeating can leave you feeling not well physically, more disconnected from your wants and needs, and also be a sign that you haven’t found how to practice healthy and balanced eating in your daily life.
Overeating Vs. Binge Eating Disorder
How do you know if you’re overeating or if you’re binge eating? Let’s chat about the difference between the two so you can begin to determine where you fall.
The definition is exactly what the title entails, an overconsumption of food. Overeating is a common occurrence for many individuals. Whether that entails taking an extra serving of a favorite meal or indulging in more dessert than usual, it still involves a sense of control.
You know what you are doing when you are overeating and you often can understand the why or the how behind why it occurred (more on that below).
If it only happens periodically and you don’t feel as though you have lost all control over your actions, you are overeating.
Binge Eating Disorder
On the other hand, Binge Eating Disorder occurs when we do not have any control. It’s sometimes brought about by emotional triggers, but this is not always the case.
It also happens regularly and frequently. Perpetually consuming exceptionally large meals followed by an immense sense of guilt, self-loathing and regret are characteristics of binge eating.
Binge eating episodes can often occur without hunger and continue far past the point of discomfort. Those with Binge Eating Disorder also often eat alone for fear of judgement from others due to their large portion sizes.
Binge Eating Disorder is a medical condition, it’s one of the most common eating disorders in America.
What Causes Overeating
There are a few common reasons people tend to overeat, and I’m going to walk you through that so you can see if any of these are common in your life.
One of the simplest reasons you may be overeating is because you’re distracted.
When you’re “distracted eating,” you aren’t fully present to experience your food — to fully enjoy it, notice where your hunger levels are at, and what you need.
This often happens when you’re on your phone, watching TV, at your desk working, driving, rushing to get from one task to the next, ruminating thoughts in your mind, feeling zoned out, or doing anything else while eating.
When you slow down and remove distractions from your meals, you’re able to more consciously experience your food — the way the food tastes, how it feels, what it looks like and how it smells, along with how you’re enjoying it, your hunger cues, and how your body feels before during and after a meal.
Another common reason is emotional eating. Emotions like boredom and stress are something many people experience on a regular basis, and dealing with those emotions can be a struggle for some people.
This could look like reaching for the snacks in the evening when you have nothing to do but watch TV or it could look like getting home after a long, stressful day at the office and feeling called to eating comfort foods.
Other emotions like grief, which may occur less frequently can also contribute to emotional eating.
Situational or Environmental Triggers
The third thing that may trigger overeating is your environment. Environmental triggers are specific situations or places that start a period of overeating.
Common examples of this may be going to the movies and ordering popcorn, grabbing one of the candies in the bowl by the office break room wherever you go by, or going out to eat.
It’s those situations or environments that send messages to you that you should eat, and it can sometimes be challenging to remember to check-in with yourself and notice if you’re truly hungry or if external factors are guiding your eating.
Can you think of an environmental trigger that you realize causes you to overeat?
Having Foods that are “Off-Limits”
Another factor that contributes to overeating is if you have foods that you consider off-limits.
If you’ve ever been on a diet before, this might sound like a familiar situation. You go out to eat or go to a social gathering while on a diet and are offered foods you “can’t have” which increasingly make you hyperaware, hypersensitive, and focused on that food choice.
When you’re face-to-face with these foods, you then may feel the lack mentality which causes you to want to overindulge in that food because you don’t know when you’ll be able to have it again since you’ve labeled it “off-limits”, rather than being able to enjoy a serving and be fully satisfied.
Extended Periods of Time Without Food
We only have so much willpower to use before it runs out. When we wait an extended period of time to eat, our hunger cues eventually take over which results in an overconsumption of food.
Let’s use the time period between lunch and dinner as an example. If you have lunch at 12:00 pm, then don’t eat anything until you get home and start to prepare dinner at 6:00 pm, chances are you’re going to be very hungry.
For most people, at this point we experience at least a minor loss of control. As soon as we see or even smell food, our hunger cues shoot through the roof and our bodies are looking for anything and everything to eat.
This often leads to overeating in an attempt to make up for hours without food.
Each of the macronutrients serve a different purpose. While some are meant to give us energy, others are meant to keep us full.
If we maintain a diet that is consistently low in nutrients that provide us with satiety, we can often perpetually overeat. This occurs when we maintain a diet primarily void of healthy fat and/or protein.
The Side Effects of Overeating
After overeating, the body tries to tell us that we’ve had too much to eat through a variety of signs and symptoms.
Just after overeating you may experience abdomen distention, nausea, fatigue, gas and generalize discomfort. You can also start to experience mild regret or guilt.
In the long run, the more we overeat the more we are susceptible to complications later down the road. It can lead to excess weight gain, disrupted hunger regulation, an increased risk of disease as well as a negative relationship with food.
How to Stop Overeating
What some people try to do when they experience overeating to try to stop it is to avoid those foods or situations.
Maybe you’ve done some of these things.
You find yourself overeating chips, so you say you’re not going to eat chips anymore.
Or you find yourself overeating when you go out for girl’s night, so you decide it’s best to just avoid going out to dinner with your friends.
Not only do these things not solve the root cause of the problem, but they can actually heighten it when you inevitably are faced with that food or situation again.
On top of that, it can bring up a lot of emotions, like guilt, shame, or even sadness and depression for feeling out of control and for separating yourself from friends, families or experiences that may trigger your overeating or encourage unhealthy eating behaviors that left unresolved over time, can lead to more disordered eating habits.
It’s important to give yourself compassion and curiosity when it comes to exploring the root issue or trigger of what’s causing you to overeat or use food as the main coping mechanism.
So when you’re learning how to stop overeating, avoiding foods or situations aren’t going to support you in doing that in the long-run.
I have hours of lessons inside of my program, The Method, that dive into how to create healthy eating habits, but I want to share a few simple tips with you that you can start practicing if you’re finding yourself overeating.
The first step in this process is to uncover what is causing you to overeat. Once you have that awareness, you can then focus on actions that will help you navigate these things.
1. Check-in With Your Hunger Cues
First, always check in with your hunger cues and ask yourself how hungry you are on a scale of 1 to 10 to help you better understand what your body needs. 1 being very full and 10 being very hungry.
This practice will help you tune into your body and understand if you’re truly hungry or if there’s an external factor influencing your hunger.
2. Practice Eating without Distraction
The second tip is to eat at the table with no devices.
Removing distractions will help you be fully present for the food you’re going to eat and help you enjoy what you’re eating and also read your hunger levels as you eat.
Eating at the table will also naturally remove some of those environmental or distracted eating situations, where you find yourself eating while watching Netflix or while stressed out at work at your desk.
3. Keep a Reflective Food Journal
The third tip is to keep a reflective food journal. If this is something you feel is a problem in your life, a food journal can really help you identify why this might be happening and give you greater insight into your eating habits.
You can download my free guide where I share a simple yet effective food journal exercise that can help you with this.
Overtime, it’s these types of practices that help you bring awareness to your eating habits and behaviors.
That awareness helps you make adjustments to the way you’re eating that better align with how you want to feel and act.
Navigating Overeating in Your Daily Life
Now that you know what a few of the common causes of overeating are and a few tips you can start using right away, which practice is resonating the most with you that you could give a try this week?
The key is to start taking a small action with the knowledge you have just gained to align with what you want to be experiencing.