Even if you’re fully committed to living a healthier lifestyle with a balanced diet, there are going to be times when you overindulge and eat more than you should. Whether it’s a celebratory meal, a social gathering, or a “cheat day,” it’s natural to eat more than you normally do from time to time. Overeating every once in a while is generally not a concern, but when it becomes a regular occurrence, it can lead to overweight or obesity. So what is the best way to move forward after overeating? How do you get back on track and avoid it becoming a habit?
What Counts as Overeating?
Overeating can generally be defined as consuming a larger amount of food than the body needs to meet its energy requirements. This definition is by nature subjective, however, since what might be considered overeating for one person may be normal for someone else. Factors like metabolism, physical activity level, and genetics all play a role in how much food we need. Through chemical hunger and satiety signals, our bodies let us know when we need to eat, though sometimes we ignore these signals.
In the strictest sense of the word, overeating is measured in terms of calories: when the number of calories consumed exceeds the number of calories expended. This measure also helps differentiate between occasional instances of overeating and a pattern of chronic overeating that can lead to poor health outcomes. Everyone has an individual basal metabolic rate that governs how many calories we can consume before it becomes too much. One day of eating more than this number isn’t necessarily a problem, but it can become one if it happens regularly over time.
Why Do We Overeat?
People overeat for all sorts of reasons, and the various factors that contribute can be complex and overlapping. Indeed, this complexity is a major reason why overeating can become a recurring habit that is difficult to break. Below are some common reasons why someone might develop an overeating problem:
- Emotional eating: Eating food to cope with emotions is so common that it has become a regular trope in the culture at large. When we feel sad, anxious, stressed, or bored, we might turn to our favorite foods to feel better or to experience some moments of comfort. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with curling up with a tub of ice cream after a rough breakup, it’s not hard to see how a habit of using food to cope can lead to extra calorie consumption.
- Social situations: In some cases, overeating may stem from social pressure. Maybe someone brings donuts into the office for instance; you already ate breakfast, but the fact that everyone else is devouring a sugary donut may be too much to resist. It may be only one donut, but the calories can add up quickly when you take into account all the other food you eat during the course of the day.
- Environmental triggers: Sometimes overeating can be triggered by just being around food. Even if we’re not hungry, the sights and smells can be powerful. A related effect is the impulse to finish everything on your plate; when the food is right in front of you, you may feel obligated to finish everything regardless of your hunger.
- Dieting: Though it may seem contradictory on the surface, restrictive diet culture can also lead to overeating. Strict diets that call for greatly reducing calorie intake tend to be unsustainable because they leave you feeling hungry and miserable; then, when you grow tired of it, you’re more prone to overeating or even binge eating.
- Boredom: Sometimes boredom or inactivity can lead to a state where you’re looking for distraction or stimulation. This can bring about mindless eating while watching TV or using a computer. Mindless eating in this way often ends up meaning eating more food or larger portions without even realizing it.
- Easy access: Most people keep their foods at home within easy reach at all times of the day. And simply having easy access to a lot of highly palatable foods can be all the reason you need to overeat. Such foods are also typically high in simple carbs that aren’t very filling and can increase cravings.
Tips for Getting Back on Track
As mentioned above, occasional overeating doesn’t necessarily lead to significant negative consequences. But the occasional experience can quickly expand to an unhealthy eating habit if you’re not mindful about what and how much you’re eating. Recognizing overeating patterns and addressing the underlying factors that contribute to them are important steps in promoting a healthy relationship with food and maintaining a balanced diet. Below are some tips for getting back to a healthy eating pattern:
- Be kind to yourself: If you find that you’ve overeaten, your first instinct may be to chastise yourself; this is especially likely if the original reason for overeating was primarily emotional in nature. This kind of self-criticism isn’t actually helpful, though, and it might even lead to more overeating. Instead, be kind and compassionate with yourself and don’t judge yourself too harshly.
- Practice mindful eating: One of the best ways to begin making changes to your eating habits is to practice mindful eating. This practice involves paying attention to the experience of eating as well as your body’s hunger and satiety cues. Being mindful in this way can promote a more balanced and healthier approach to eating and your relationship with food overall.
- Stay hydrated: Drinking water is good for overall health and wellness, but proper hydration can also improve the function of the digestive system as well as make you feel less hungry between meals.
- Remember the cost of overeating: Overeating can be a very satisfying experience in the moment but then leave you feeling worse for the rest of the day. Depending on what you ate and how much, overeating often leads to a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, acid reflux (heartburn), constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, or stomach pain.
- Eat balanced meals: Rather than being stressed about overeating, make a point of looking forward to the next meal or the next day as an opportunity to return to a healthier diet or meal planning habit from an earlier time.
- Increase fiber and protein: If you’re overeating, it’s most likely to be ice cream, cookies, chips, or some other carb-heavy food that can affect blood sugar levels. Since these kinds of foods tend to not be very filling, you should instead increase the amount of fiber and protein in your diet; they both are more likely to leave you feeling fuller for longer.
Contact True You Weight Loss Today
Over time, overeating can of course eventually lead to weight gain. Once you’ve gained weight, though, it can be hard to lose it. If this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. And at True You, we are dedicated to helping people lose weight in a sustainable way that can lead to long-term freedom. If you would like to learn more about ESG or any of our other state-of-the-art non-surgical weight loss solutions, please contact us today to request a consultation.