- you CAN stop overeating
- why I overate
- how to fix 6 common overeating situations & prevent a binge
How do I stop overeating?!?
…Well, first you need to figure out why you overeat.
Is it when you’re hungry?
Do you overeat as a coping mechanism for emotions like stress, loneliness or boredom?
Or is overeating a habit?
For the decade I struggled with my weight I felt disappointed (with a capital “D”) in myself every time I overate.
I never reflected on why I overate, realized there were different reasons for overeating or that my overeating evolved over time.
But the good news is I did stop overeating
And I’m someone who overate All. The. Time.
But since 1999 overeating is THE LAST thing I’d want to do.
And you can beat it too.
How do I stop overeating? First examine the WHY
Looking back I see that the first few years (of the decade I had a complicated relationship with food) I overate because I was starving.
After gaining a little weight on a 5-week family car trip across Canada (where we ate burgers, fries & pop for lunch and didn’t move around much) I put myself on a diet – effective immediately! – when I got home.
I had no idea how our bodies work. So I restricted what I ate and over-exercised.
At 14 years old, my day looked like this:
- only fruit until noon (thanks Fit for Life for making me scared of combining food groups)
- salad with only vegetables and ultra-low-fat dressing for lunch
- running up to 17km after school with my cross country team
- & then having boiled chicken, half a “dry” baked potato and salad without dressing (or as little as I could get away with for dinner)
Then after about a week of this I’d end up being so hungry I’d overeat.
It happened again and again. And I felt terrible about myself again and again.
I remember coming home from a school dance and being so hungry food was all I could think about.
My first thought was:
Then I allowed myself one rice cake with as little peanut butter on it as possible.
It felt so good to have something in my stomach. So I ate another one. And another… and so on.
That’s the first time I remember overeating.
Why you’re not addicted to food
Years later I learned that when you don’t eat enough food from a variety of food groups (a balanced meal!) CONSISTENTLY your body sends you hunger signals to remind you to meet your body’s needs. Your body’s job is to keep you alive. So it will keep bugging you to eat until you listen. It’s super preoccupying, isn’t it?
But guess what!? Once you get in the habit of eating healthy meals regularly, you stop wanting to eat all the time and worrying, wondering or regretting what you ate.
Silencing those constant thoughts of food, weight and hunger sets you free to think about Taylor Swift’s latest song or why you need another cat. (You do by the way. If you were looking for a sign, this is it.)
How my overeating evolved
As I continued to restrict what I ate, I also continued to overeat.
One extreme leads to another extreme.
After a while, overeating became a coping mechanism
And then a habit.
You know when things aren’t going well you can default into doing something that makes things even worse?
Say you’re finishing your thesis: “Do woodpeckers get headaches?”
You’ve got to hand it in tomorrow. But you decide to watch TV (procrastinate!) before you get started.
Which leaves you less time to finish your research paper.
…What I’m getting at is that your decision to watch TV is: COUNTERPRODUCTIVE.
And if you want to make that word super-fancy and a little bit sexy, say it with a British accent:
Well, when you have:
- a complicated relationship with food
- a history of feeling hungry
- and so many diet rules, tips and tricks that are hard to keep straight in your head
it’s easy for your go-to counter-pro-duck-tive activity to be eating—rather than watching TV. Or maybe it’s both.
Here’s another scenario.
You’re trying to finish your large-scale painting that captures how color and lighting effect the mood of an image.
It’s 3 am.
Current mood: STRESSED.
And your cat keeps head-butting your calf because he wants your attention.
…or sitting on your work so you can no longer see your rough notes.
Gunther (came with the name) loves doing this.
So you also feel guilty you’re not playing with your little indoor raccoon.
…It feels like everything’s going wrong so you may as well overeat.
Overeating can be a negative coping mechanism and unhealthy habit
But remember, no matter why you overeat, you can stop overeating for good!
One more time for the people in the back:
You can stop overeating for good!
How do I stop overeating? Step 1
Ok, so take a moment to reflect.
Why do you overeat?
a coping mechanism?
Or a little bit of all 3?
Understanding why you overeat helps you correct it.
How do I stop overeating? Step 2
So if you overeat because you’ve been restricting what you eat—aka dieting—which makes you:
- extra hungry
- have sugar cravings
- & want stuff just because you can’t have it (human nature)
the next thing to understand is that overeating is part of a cycle.
A self-destructive starve-binge-(and for some people) purge cycle.
The way to break this cycle—this counter-pro-duCK-tive way of trying to lose weight, is to meet your body’s needs regularly.
(That’s the first time I’ve ever said or written that.)
The way to meet your body’s needs regularly so you can stop overeating and break the starve-binge-purge cycle is to:
Eat ROUGHLY balanced meals made MOSTLY of whole foods
& eat ROUGHLY balanced snacks made MOSTLY of whole foods when you’re hungry between meals.
Eating this way also unlocks your H 🙂 PPY weight.
Because your body hates extremes and loves routine.
Work with your body!
You will reach a healthy weight naturally and keep it off for good, if you stop dieting and eat a variety of natural foods when you’re hungry.
Like this balanced meal (the classic Sunday roast) I took a sub-par pic of (before eating this meal) the other night:
chicken stuffed with sage
roasted potatoes and vegetables
peas + gravy
& a big salad with Parmesan cheese plus a home-made dressing
(that can be as easy as balsamic vinegar and olive oil or one with a few more ingredients like this one.)
Don’t eat less food.
Eat BETTER food.
Needing to be hungry to lose weight
Having to be miserable to lose weight
Is simply NOT true.
For instance, try a lunch like one of these (I’ve been eating all those lunches for the last 21+ years that I’ve been my H 🙂 PPY weight).
How do I stop overeating? Step 3
Ok, so eating regular meals and snacks made of natural foods sounds pretty simple, right.
That’s why I always say: Big problems don’t need big solutions.
Like I was a full-blown bulimic who overexercised and under-ate for 10 years. But every part of my life got better, fast, when I got good information and some support to get over the hump of trying something new.
The simple approach to eating that I describe in this post can be hard to accept
when you have years of diet culture garbage in your head (like I did)
competing with the healthy eating H 🙂 PPY weight info I share.
So the 3rd step to: How do I stop overeating? is anticipating how the eating 3 meals and snacks when you’re hungry approach can look in real life.
A little trouble-shooting and planning ahead can help avoid confusion and get you to be a pro at problem-solving.
Here’s some thoughts and scenarios you might find yourself in:
A. eating meals and snacks feels weird
B. 3 meals isn’t working
C. I’m not hungry in the morning
D. when I was driving home from work I got this huge wave of hunger
E. I binged after lunch so I skipped dinner
F. by the time we had dinner I was so hungry I ate really fast and ate way too much (and now I hate myself)
There’s quick answers for each of these sticky situations to PREVENT overeating.
How do I stop overeating in this sure-to-happen circumstance A
“eating meals and snacks feels weird”
A while ago a woman got in touch with me to work 1:1. Her name looked familiar. Then I realized she ordered my book 2 years earlier. When I asked her about it she said that eating 3 meals felt weird. So she tried it for a day and then quit. I completely get that. What I suggest sounds way too easy. We’re programmed to think if it’s not hard to lose weight, we’re doing it wrong.
Happy ending: After just a few days of working together, she was sticking to 3 meals a day, snacks when hungry and the occasional treat. She was also navigating how to eat on a road trip and with new friends and being the role model she wanted to be for her daughter.
You’ve got to trust the process. xo
How do I stop overeating in this sure-to-happen circumstance B
“3 meals isn’t working”
Linda read my book and a week later wrote to me that she was frustrated. Then I got an email that said:
“For the first two weeks nothing seemed to happen.
But then all of a sudden I started to have more energy and naturally lose weight.
Now I feel huge changes every day.”
I always say you can’t undo 20 years of dieting or disordered eating in a week!
2 weeks can even be fast to see results.
First you have to get your body out of survival mode and boost your metabolism by giving your body the energy and nutrients it needs (balanced meals and snacks.) Then your body will start to respond to H 🙂 PPY weight eating.
How do I stop overeating in this sure-to-happen circumstance C
“I’m not hungry in the morning”
When your eating is all over the map (you diet, maybe you binge, maybe you purge or take laxatives or perhaps you’ve always been someone who eats little bits throughout the day and never eat a meal…) you’ll feel hungry at strange times and not hungry at other times. Some days ravenous and sometimes you won’t feel like eating breakfast. The key is to be consistent and get your body into a breakfast-lunch-dinner routine and eating snacks when you’re hungry between meals.
All ROUGHLY balanced and made MOSTLY of whole foods, of course.All change is hard at first, messy in the middle and so gorgeous in the end— Robin Sharma, leadership expert
Again, it will take a bit of time and soon you will be hungry in the morning.
Eating in the morning kicks off your metabolism!
How do I stop overeating in this sure-to-happen circumstance D
“when I was driving home from work I got this huge wave of hunger”
What’s the Beaver Scout Motto?
(Just looked it up and it’s “sharing, sharing, sharing”… Ok. Not the one I was thinking of.)
Ok… bear 🐻 with me… Here it is:
In 1907, Baden-Powell, an English soldier, devised the Scout motto: Be Prepared. He published it in Scouting for Boys in 1908. (Two years later, in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America was founded.)
When you’re prepared for situations like hunger you can deal with them in a healthy way.
By keeping a washed apple and almonds in your purse it’s EASY to avoid pulling into the golden arches (McDonalds) and ordering everything under the sun.By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail— Benjamin Franklin
Feeling hungry can lead to bingeing especially if you have tried to lose weight by restricting.
Or bingeing is a coping mechanism you sometimes use.
Or overeating is a habit.
Feeling hungry can make you feel panicky. So having a nice healthy snack on hand can meet your body’s needs and help you stick to your healthy routine.
…that’s almost a balanced snack! Amazing.
One of my clients calls this:
“pre-empting a binge”
I thought that reflection was brilliant.
And you can fit an apple and almonds in a big-flat-pretending-to-be-3-D purse.
Or a Kelly-green-got-at-a-church-bazaar medium purse.
An I’d-grab-this-purse-if-the-house-was-on-fire vintage purse.
Or an I’m-going-out-on-the-town tiny purse.
Or a medieval purse. (Ok this one is too small but I can’t find my big one.)
Or a purse you can pack everything into for work, made of dead-stock materials from bus seats in Argentina. (I got this at the coolest craft market in NYC.)
Apples and almonds will even fit into “what I call” my wood-pecker purse:
How do I stop overeating in this sure-to-happen circumstance E
“I binged after lunch so I skipped dinner”
So basically, you hopped back into the starve-binge-purge cycle.
Not eating a proper meal (the best you can) after you overeat, sets you up to fail.
Skipping meals gives you permission to overeat and/or binge again.
We gotta break that cycle!
The best way?
Business as usual.
Stick to the program.
Keep on keeping on.
Stay calm and carry on! (That’s Principle #6)
And I could go on and on.
There’s so many ways to say: keep moving forward.
Because living that way is tried, tested and true.
The first time I didn’t let myself rejoin the starve-binge-purge cycle after a “mistake” was actually the last time I overate.
And when you know you’re going to eat your next meal (vs. skip it), it’s so much easier to stop yourself from overeating.
Remember… you don’t want to feel uncomfortable. But try to eat a little bit of each food group so your plate looks like the Eatwell Guide:
How do I stop overeating in this sure-to-happen circumstance F
“by the time we had dinner I was so hungry I ate really fast and ate way too much (and now I hate myself)”
The reason I’m writing this blog post is because recently I was walking Rocky and I suddenly felt starving and far away from home.
So when I got back in the house I ate an apple and instantly felt so much better.
Then when we ate dinner (it was super quick to make) I wasn’t ravenous.
It’s normal to “wolf down” food when you’re starving. So the key is to eat something natural that’s full of fiber when you feel super-hungry right before a meal. Then you won’t eat so quickly and end up eating more than you need. An apple before dinner is just enough to take the edge off so you feel more under control.
Here’s a picture from my book where I talk about how eating an apple can also help you learn to listen to your body.
Make Today Count
What’s you’re next meal today?
Make sure you eat it!
Set yourself up for success!
And pack a snack so you can pre-empt a binge and MAKE TODAY COUNT!
Build healthy eating and exercise habits. A healthy weight will follow.
If your eating has been disordered for a while and you’ve sort of lost touch with what a healthy meal looks like, here’s what I ate when I first broke the cycle of restricting and then overeating. Or, if you’re like “Ya, I’m a pretty healthy eater but overeating has become a habit.” I’ve written about how to break habits here.
Ok… let me explain 😉
This video is HILARIOUS. (I love when Harry Styles mouths: We can do that! And then proceeds with very convincing flared-nostril breathing.)
But this video also captures how things can suddenly completely change 🙁
Like you can:
wear an outfit you feel good in
show up to work or class on time
make self-deprecating jokes (my favorite) that go down well
and just generally be hitting it out of the ball park
…then half way through the morning you’re starving and you’re not prepared so you eat one thing. And another. Next? You’re at the vending machine. Then suddenly you’re like: How did that happen?
But this isn’t you, right?!
You’re going to pack a healthy snack each night just before and as routinely as you brush your teeth.
(Pairing an activity with something you always do helps make it a healthy habit.)
Set yourself up for success!
Then you won’t do anything counter-pro-duCK-tive.
PS What’s your favorite easy-to-eat-on-the-go snack? Let me know in the comments below.
PPS Did you read Fit for Life?
Sharing what I learned makes the 10 years I STRUGGLED worth it