5 reasons why you are overeating (Hint: None of them are greed!)
It happens every year. The guilt after the Easter weekend of the large amount of chocolate eaten. Or the anxiety of knowing there’s more and wondering whether you can resist the eggs still in the house. Eating too much on an occasional basis is actually very common, and as part of a balanced lifestyle, is nothing to worry about. The main issue is when the episodes of overeating are more frequent - not just on occasions - and they are making you unhappy.
There’s such a stigma to ‘overeating’. It’s a term I’ve hesitated to write as well, but it’s widely used and recognised to mean eating larger portions than necessary, past the feeling of ‘full’. The stigma comes from the assumption that someone who overeats is greedy. This is not true! Let’s be clear - it’s very normal to eat past satisfaction, and there are many reasons why you may overeat.
It’s also very common to eat emotionally, which is when you use food as a coping mechanism to deal with certain feelings. Food has many functions for us outside of nutrition: it can be a comfort, part of a social occasion, tradition in a family or religion, a happy memory, or pleasure in the present moment. However, this can obviously become a problem if it happens a lot and the underlying emotions are not dealt with.
What about binge eating? Although people often call it binge eating when they eat a lot in one go, Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is when this happens frequently with large quantities of food. Usually, it is a more compulsive feeling, with sufferers of BED feeling out of control. It is common with BED to eat very quickly and to the point of physical discomfort, feeling upset and shameful afterwards. If you think you suffer with BED, see the end of the article for links on where you can find help.
When is overeating an issue?
When you often eat past full, it can contribute to feeling unhealthy and/or weight gain over time. The lack of control that you might feel can be really frustrating and often, it’s the guilt or shame that can consequently lead to emotional eating (or BED).
It’s important to understand why you might be overeating before you can look at ways to manage it.
Ways to manage emotional eating
We often comfort eat when we feel down - and that’s OK! However, if you’re not able to recognise when your low mood is the reason behind your eating patterns, you won’t be able to manage them effectively if it keeps happening.
Being too hungry
When you wait too long to eat, you’re more likely to eat past satisfaction because your body is telling you to eat ALL the food NOW. Many diets cause this issue by imposing strict rules on when and how much people ‘should’ eat, which often doesn’t work for the individual. Not eating when you’re hungry is very likely to lead to overeating later in the day, which is counterintuitive if you’re trying to lose weight.
Linked to low mood, feeling like you’re not ‘good enough’, or that everyone is slimmer or happier can trigger you to feel the ‘oh well effect’, where you go a little mad on all the foods you think you shouldn’t have. Which leads me to…
Having a diet mentality
Trust me, restricting foods you love makes it more likely that you’ll eat to excess on those exact foods. Being trapped in a diet mentality can put certain foods ‘off limits’, which just adds to their appeal (and also the guilt of consuming them).
Food tastes good!
Let’s face it, we don’t overeat broccoli, do we? Part of the reason it’s hard to stop eating certain foods like cake and biscuits is because they’re supposed to taste amazing. Companies spend MILLIONS on making foods quicker and easier to eat, and as tempting and pleasurable as possible. With so many new flavours, delivery options and sharer packs, it’s a food environment that makes it more difficult to consistently make healthier choices.
How to overcome overeating
There are a few areas to consider:
- How often does it happen? If it’s just every now and then, enjoy those occasions!
- Do you meet the criteria for BED? If so, check the article linked at the end for help.
- Are you eating large portions of food and past full (overeating), or eating because you’re sad, lonely, anxious etc. (emotional eating)? There are different approaches to manage overeating and emotional eating.
For overeating, you need to balance your meals and snacks throughout the day to ensure you’re not ravenous by the time you come to a meal. You can use your plate as a guide for portions: a good rule of thumb is to have half a plate for veggies/ fruit, a quarter for protein and a quarter for carbohydrates. It’s usually the latter that we overestimate, so for a week, look at recommended portion sizes on packets to see how your usual portion compares.
Other tips include using smaller plates and bowls, as research shows this can reduce how much food we eat during a meal, and ensuring you sleep well, as we often crave carbohydrates and sugar when we’re tired.
For emotional eating, you won’t be surprised to hear that you need to find ways to address the underlying emotions first. Awareness is the first step, so by considering what the issue is, you’re already on your way to managing when and why you’re eating.
If you would like step-by-step guidance on overcoming overeating and managing emotional eating, I have a new course on exactly this! It’s full of tips to help you manage cravings, balance your meals and feel more in control around food. Find out more here.