Everybody overeats sometimes. It is within the realm of normal eating. But if you find yourself overeating often, it may be problematic for your health. Not to mention it just doesn’t feel good.
In my experience, there is one main reason that people overeat – distraction.
You know the drill, you’re sitting at home having a marathon of your favorite series on Netflix while simultaneously enjoying a yummy snack. Next thing you know, you look down and the food is gone. Or maybe you’re out for dinner with your family or friends and you’re enjoying the conversation, only to realize at the end of the meal that you’re stuffed and miserable.
For some people, this pattern of overeating has become so habitual that it feels “normal” and their brain starts to think that this is the level of fullness they should be shooting for when you grab a bite to eat. Eating less than this starts to feel like not enough. Going 6-8 hours or more without eating becomes the norm because you just don’t feel hungry all that often when you’re repeatedly overeating.
Is this issue overeating, or has it become Compulsive Overeating – or perhaps even Binge Eating? If you are worried about this, an evaluation by a professional specialized in eating issues is a must. There are effective forms of treatment that don’t involve dieting or restricting yourself.
The solution to distracted overeating? To become aware. To pay attention. Here are some key steps:
- Check in with your hunger level before you start eating. Are you “meal hungry” or “snack hungry?”
- If you’re not physically hungry, be curious about why you are wanting to eat at that time. Are you bored? Happy? Sad? Lonely? Is it habit? Do you always eat at this time or in this situation? Don’t judge yourself, just notice with curiosity.
- Eliminate distractions while eating. Turn off the TV, put aside your phone, step away from your desk.
- About 1/2 way through, take a pause to check in. Ask yourself, “Am I still hungry? Am I satisfied? Will this stick with me until I eat again?” If you’re eating breakfast that needs to stick with you for 4 hours until lunch time, then you want to feel comfortably full. If it’s a snack that only needs to take the edge off your hunger for the next hour until dinner time, then you just need to feel no-longer-hungry (rather than full).
- When you are done eating, reassure your body that you will feed it again when it is ready. No need for the body to fear that it will be deprived if you consistently feed it every 3-4 hours. A body that fears the threat of starvation will want to overeat when given access to food. By giving yourself consistent, predictable opportunities to eat, your body will trust that you will feed it more later.
By reducing distractions, you’ll be more in tune with your body’s signals for hunger and fullness. This will help reduce episodes of distracted or habitual overeating. If you find yourself in an ongoing struggle with overeating, seek out professional help.