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We all have a different threshold for how much is too much, and the definition of overeating can vary depending on the situation. For instance, what you eat for dinner one day may be a normal amount for you, but it can seem like overkill if you also had a very large lunch or did a lot of snacking between meals. In general, “overeating can be defined as consuming more food than the body can handle comfortably in one sitting, or consuming more calories than the body needs to function optimally on a daily basis,” says Eudene Harry, M.D., physician and author of three books including Be Iconic. “This can leave us feeling bloated with a multitude of digestive symptoms and lead to weight gain.”
“I call overeating being “regretfull” — a combo of regret and full,” says Susan Albers, Psy.D., psychologist, best-selling author of eight books, including the forthcoming Hanger Management. “We tend to feel a lot of regret when we eat past the point of being satisfied.” There are number of physical and emotional factors that can lead us to that point. Being tired, stressed, hangry, unfocused and even eating certain foods can cause us to overeat. The trick is to resolve those issues and adopt strategies to avoid overeating on the regular. Thankfully, with the help of Dr. Harry, Albers, and Ilana Muhlstein, M.S., R.D.N., registered dietitian nutritionist and creator of the 2B Mindset, we’ve got plenty of tricks up our sleeve for you to use.
Tips on to stop overeating:
- Clean out your cupboards. First things first: We all have those foods that we can get enough of, whether that’s chips, pasta, candy, or ice cream. “Don’t keep food around your house or office that leads to overeating,” says Muhlstein. “Out of sight, out of mind, is one of the easiest ways to control this issue.
- Get more shuteye. Sleep improves nearly every system in our body, and when we don’t get enough, our body doesn’t function efficiently. “Studies consistently show that when a person sleeps less than the recommended 7 to 8 hours per night, she may be more likely to feel hungrier the next day and crave and consume higher calorie and carbohydrate-rich foods,” says Mulstein.
- Stay ahead of hanger. You never want to let yourself get so hungry that you reach for whatever’s nearby. “Keep high-protein snacks handy,” says Albers. “Cheese sticks, turkey cold cuts rolled up, hummus, roasted chickpeas, nuts, energy balls and protein smoothies are some of my go-tos.” Along those same lines, Muhlstein also recommends Greek yogurts and snackable veggies like baby carrots and cut up cucumbers.
- Check in with yourself. “When you feel yourself start to get hungry, ask yourself how hungry are you, really?” advises Albers. “Whether you’re a little bit hungry, moderately hungry, or very hungry, this is going to let you pick the right eating intervention — just a bite, a snack, or a meal.”
- Drink water. “We commonly confuse hunger for thirst,” says Muhlstein. “To put it in perspective, we can’t live three days without water, but we can live three weeks without food.” She advises always drinking 16 ounces of water before you take your first bite of food. “It will drastically improve your ability to control your hunger,” she says. Carry a water bottle with you to make sure you’re hydrated even when you’re on-the-go.
- Eat mindfully. “Turn off the television, put down your phone and really focus on your food,” says Dr. Harry. “Eating mindfully allows you to appreciate all the complexities and nuances of the food in front of you.” Not only will you be more aware of how much you’re consuming, she says, you’ll often notice a flavor explosion in the first few bites of your meal that gradually decreases and becomes less satisfying.
- Include protein and fiber in your meal. These two nutrients may help you feel fuller faster, according to research. They also enable your body to better regulate swings in your glucose levels that may come with eating carbohydrates. Dr. Harry suggests working with your physician or nutritionist to assess the right amount of protein for your needs.
- Use a smaller plate. Some studies have found we eat more when our plates are larger, while others suggest this isn’t always the case — but it can’t hurt to test it out for yourself. “Having a smaller plate that is filled to the rim can be a visual feast for the eyes,” says Dr. Harry.
- Make your first bite a veggie. “If you’re at a party and choose the sliced veggies and dip before the cheese and crackers, you may be more likely to make smarter choices throughout the night,” says Muhlstein. It’s definitely worth a try!
- Eat slowly. “When we slow down and chew food thoroughly, it starts the digestive process that leads to nutrients being released in the stomach,” says Dr. Harry. “This tells the stomach to make and release hormones that let the brain know it’s full so it can turn off your hunger signal. Some research estimates that this process can take 20 minutes.” For these reasons, Albers recommends cutting your bites into smaller pieces, adding an extra three chews to each bite and consciously eating at a slower pace than the people you’re with.
- Smile between bites. No, seriously. “This brief pause gives you just a moment to ask yourself if you really want the next bite or if you should stop right there,” says Albers. “Also, a smile triggers the release of feel-good neurotransmitters, which helps reduce emotional eating.”
- Plan an intermission. Take a break halfway through your meal to gauge your hunger level. “Even a small pause gives your food time to digest and register in your brain that you have eaten,” Albers points out. Everything you can do to help your brain accurately judge how much you’ve consumed can help you avoid overeating.
Remember, beating yourself up after we have an episode of overeating is not helpful. “Drop the inner critic and get curious about your overeating,” suggests Albers. “Ask yourself a series of questions like what lead to the overeating right now? What would I do differently next time? What are some steps that would have prevented the overeating?” This turns the situation into a teachable moment that you can use to avoid overeating in the future.