Getting Over Overeating

Let’s set a scene: It’s evening on Thanksgiving Day. Early evening darkness settles on the world outside, but inside feels warm, bright, and full of love and laughter (and possibly the cheers from the requisite football game on TV). You think about all the delicious foods you ate that day, from the green bean casserole to the pumpkin pie and everything in between, and the thought crosses your mind: I’m so full. I can’t believe I ate that much. 

Many of us have had this thought at one point or another, and not just on holidays. Overeating happens even when we’re not thinking about it, and let’s face it, some foods are just good! What’s not so good is how we can feel afterward (physically and emotionally).

It’s not uncommon to feel guilty or ashamed after overeating, but it’s important to remember that overeating doesn’t make you a “bad” person or a failure. In fact, those feelings may even cause you to overcorrect and heavily restrict yourself the following day. If you overeat one day, you still deserve to eat the next day. In order to maintain balance in your eating habits, it’s good to notice when you’re overeating so that your relationship with food can remain positive and conducive to a healthy lifestyle.

There are a few reasons why we can overeat:

  • Eating too fast and not noticing how full you become until your stomach feels full and stretched.
  • Mindlessly eating, especially if it’s in front of the TV or computer. When your mind is preoccupied, it can be easy to keep reaching for more to eat. It’s also easier to miss signals your body is sending to tell the brain that you’re full.
  • Eating emotionally often means eating when you aren’t hungry in an attempt to quell very strong emotions that arise (boredom, stress, sadness).
  • Being used to cleaning your plate can also lead to overeating. Instead of listening to when your body tells you it’s full, you’re relying on the external signal of how much food you have left on your plate. 

It can be incredibly easy to get into a habit of overeating, especially if you tend to eat when you’re not thinking about it. When we overeat, we’re overriding the body’s signals to stop when fullness has been reached. The solution to overeating isn’t as simple as saying: “Each meal should only be this many calories.” Instead, it can be more advantageous to get more in tune with your body and what it’s telling you. We can do that with mindful eating.

What is mindful eating? 

Mindful eating can be a powerful tool in helping you become more aware of when you’re overeating and what you can do instead. According to the Center for Mindful Eating, mindful eating allows you to become aware of “the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom.” 

How can mindful eating help me not overeat my meals?

Because mindful eating focuses a lot on increasing awareness of how full you’re feeling, you start to pay more attention to how full you become as you’re eating.  One way you can practice mindful eating to keep from overeating at meals is to use the hunger scale. Assess where you are on the scale before you eat, and again halfway through your meal. 

Another way you can use mindfulness to keep from overeating is to eat slowly. Take a bite, set down your utensil, and think of all the flavors and textures that you’re experiencing as you chew. 

I overate today. What can I do?

First of all, it’s okay. Nearly everyone has overeaten a meal at some point or another. 

You can use mindfulness in this case too. In the same way that you engage in non-judgmental eating, you can carry that non-judgmental viewpoint to this scenario. Making yourself feel guilty might feel justified in the present (which it isn’t), but it’s more conducive to a healthy relationship with food if you let go of strict rules. It’s okay that you are an imperfect person with imperfect eating habits.  

Something you could do to help you feel better after you overeat is to go for a walk. You can get in some movement and research has shown that going on a walk after you’ve eaten can help improve digestion. 

It can also help to think about what you might do for your next meal. Keeping your most recent meal in mind, think about the portion sizes for your next meal or what kinds of foods you’d like to have. 

Above all, overeating doesn’t mean that you have to punish yourself with intense exercise, strict food restrictions, or negative self-talk. 

Overeating happens to the best of us, and it’s okay if we enjoy every bite of it. The important thing to remember is that you’re working on establishing a healthy relationship with food, and with yourself as well.

We’ve got more tips on how to handle overeating. Check it out!