It’s one of the main reasons that people can’t lose weight and one of the most difficult habits to rein in – overeating.
We eat more than we need to for many reasons – boredom; access to large volumes of tasty food and not having the ability to identify real hunger.
If we overate only on special occasions and celebrations it would not be an issue.
But far too many of us overeat on a daily basis thanks to easy access to food, routinely large serving sizes and more concentrated food tastes and textures which appear to stimulate the brain to seek our more and more food. So, if you regularly go to bed bursting with food, or have had to undo your pants button after eating too much again, it may be time to take a closer look at what’s going on.
Overeating is strongly linked to our mood. Sadness, frustration, anger or any unresolved emotion can see us turn to food for comfort. We can learn this behavioural response from parents or carers who offer food, usually sweet foods, to soothe crying babies, injured infants or hurt teens. Or it can be self-taught as we seek out this sensation of pleasure of eating to ease emotional pain. Unfortunately the food only fills the emotional void temporarily, so the habit of overeating can continue for years.
While it is useful to understand why overeating may occur, much more useful are the behavioural strategies to help manage and take control of overeating, in a number of different scenarios.
Behavioural research from the journal Appetite has shown dieters who consumed lunch while watching television consumed significantly more calories at their next meal. The reason? Failing to be present and mindful about what they has eaten at lunch. Keep present at meal times and give your full attention to your meal. Not only are you likely to savour and enjoy what you are eating more, but research would suggest you will also eat less.
Know your high risk situations
Identify the times when you are most likely to overeat. Is it socially? In the office? Or when you get home at night time? Once you’ve done this, you can develop strategies to manage these times. The simple act of going for a walk when experiencing a chocolate craving has been shown to significantly reduce cravings. Whilst standing away from the buffet or biscuit jar has been shown to significantly reduce mindless eating.
Consider the ease of eating
Sweet drinks, soft textures that require minimal amounts of chewing and energy dense foods such as chocolate, potato chips and snack foods are consumed very quickly yet can fail to trigger the satiation that more bulky foods that require much more effort to eat such as salads, meat and even dense chewy breads do. Make a concerted effort to ditch the soft white breads and cakes, noodles and rice and any type of sugar based drink and focus on good quality meals and snacks that take time to eat.
Learn to feel hungry
When was the last time you felt really, truly hungry? For many of us, it’s not a familiar feeling as we snack all day. Learn to quantify your hunger levels out of 10, and aim to only eat when you are up at 8 or 9.
Eat until you’re not quite full
Pay closer attention to the point in which you actually start to feel full. In general, it is a mouthful or two prior to the actual ‘full’ feeling. Serve yourself less at meals than you usually would and then prolong the eating occasion by chewing each mouthful slowly and placing your knife and fork down in between mouthfuls. This process of not eating until you feel ‘stuffed’ is crucial. And it is important – research again published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that slow eaters consumed significantly fewer calories and drank more water at a meal simply than eaters who routinely consumed their meals quickly.
Get familiar with portion sizes
Whether you start to track your calorie intake using a monitoring system, or start to measure and weigh your foods for a period to learn what a normal portion is, keeping a close eye on volumes is crucial as most people will eat what is served as opposed to what they are hungry for. A dietitian can help you to identify the right portion sizes for you based on your dietary goals, age, exercise level and gender.
If packets of biscuits and blocks of chocolate are kept at home, you will eat them. It’s as simple as that – especially if you are bored, tired or emotional.
And when celebratory cakes and slices that colleagues bring to work are waved under your nose regularly, it’s hard to resist.
You’ll need to speak to family members, colleagues and other ‘feeders’ to ensure you have their support in keeping these indulgence foods out of your way.
Learn to compensate
It’s no use wallowing in guilt when you do demolish three pieces of chocolate cake. That leads to the mentality of “well I may as well have a fourth”. Instead, learn to compensate for overeating. A day of simple salad and soups and some extra exercise will not only help you to feel physically better when you have overeaten but it will help teach you to balance your intake with your output.