So many of us have been there: We wake up with best of the intentions to eat healthy, fresh food, and lo and behold, by the end of the day we find ourselves foraging for junk food, looking for chips or salty snacks, craving chocolate or ice cream, or simply overeating at meals. We are left feeling exhausted and wonder: How do I stop overeating?
If you’re someone who struggles to stop eating before you’re over-full, know that you’re not alone. This is a common problem that is made even more challenging when the message in our media is that overeating is practically synonymous with sin. We are left beating ourselves up for overdoing it, and we suffer from shame for not having enough willpower to stop.
Here at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating we want you first to recognize that you haven’t failed, and you can stop beating yourself up. What if we told you that your overeating challenges are actually an opportunity – a wonderful doorway into deepening your relationship with food and your body and a chance to transform your life in ways you may never have imagined?
Here are some simple strategies to help you on your way with that transformation:
Learn More About Your Hunger Cues
This is a very simple strategy that is often overlooked or taken for granted. Listening to your hunger and fullness cues can be challenging at first, but once you learn how to do it, you’ll feel so much more empowered. Our bodies are full of information and intuition. Take some time to check in with it to see what it’s telling you.
How does your body feel when it is slightly hungry? Does your stomach rumble? Do you get a slight headache? Does your mouth start to water? Does your mood change? Now take a moment to consider how you feel when you are slightly full. Where do you feel it in your body? Do you feel energetic? Clear-headed? Focused?
Hunger and fullness cues are different for everyone. This is a learning process that takes time. Please be patient. The key is to begin to observe your body so that you’re aware of what it’s telling you. By feeding ourselves when we are just beginning to feel hunger and stopping when we are slightly full, we can find a sweet spot.
We avoid the too-hungry scenario, where we reach for less optimal foods, or the too-full scenario, where we feel uncomfortable in our body.
Understand the Difference Between Body Sensations and Feelings
This strategy is lesser known because it’s sometimes difficult to understand the difference between true hunger and emotional hunger, but the field of Mind Body Nutrition has developed some useful insights that can help you determine what type of hunger you are experiencing.
A “sensation” of hunger is a true hunger. It starts in your body and alerts your brain to the need for food. This is why it’s important to get to know how you feel when you are hungry and full. Once you are aware of the sensation of hunger or fullness in relation to food, you can begin to differentiate between true hunger and emotional hunger.
Emotional hunger is a feeling. Feelings start in the brain as responses to our thoughts, and then travel down into the body, where they can often be felt as physical impressions. Often, we mistake feelings for signals originating in the body. An emotional hunger can feel as real as a physiological hunger for food.
Here is the key to this strategy: food will never resolve an emotional hunger for very long. If you are eating because you’re bored, angry, sad, irritated, stressed – whatever the feeling may be – no amount of food will fill up that hunger. Instead, working to resolve and process your feelings is the key to overcoming an emotional hunger.
When you notice yourself beginning to reach for food, take a moment to ask yourself if what you are experiencing is a sensation of hunger or a feeling of hunger. You may be surprised by the answer.
The Psychology of Overeating and Fast Eating
Did you know that eating too fast is a common cause of overeating? When we gulp down food too quickly, our brains cannot fully scan and decipher our meals. There is a scientific term, for the cephalic phase of the digestive response, which basically means that digestion begins in the mind.
The body starts warming up its organs of digestion when you see food (or even think about food), and the process is further activated when you fully taste your food and your brain receives the message of enjoyment.
If you eat too fast, you skip this step, and your brain and body do not get all the information that they need to regulate the digestive process. You may not receive the signal that you are full in a timely fashion, and this increases the chances of overeating.
So how to Stop Overeating?
The remedy for this is simple. Stay present. Slow down when you eat. Sit at a table. Turn off the television. Enjoy the company at your dinner table. Appreciate the sight and taste of your food. Find pleasure in the entire eating experience. When you eat, you really eat. And you just might find yourself needing less food to feel full.
It’s time to stop seeing overeating as the enemy or your appetite as the enemy. It is simply a symptom that is asking us to look deeper. Overeating has nothing to do with a lack of willpower and more with “how” we eat versus “what” we eat. Try these simple strategies for shifting your relationship with food and you may find overeating to be a habit of the past.
Become a Mind Body Eating Coach
Now enrolling for June 2023.
Make real, lasting change - in your life and the lives of others using eating psychology coaching tools.
Subscribe to The Psychology of Eating Podcast
Get notified when new episodes go live.