2 Tips to Stop Overeating and Adopt Healthy Eating Habits
1 Sep 2021
There are two main issues I address with clients to enable them to stop overeating and adopt healthy eating habits. First let’s take a look at a scenario that I hear from my clients all the time…
It’s Friday night and you don’t feel like cooking dinner – might as well order some delivery. You’ve been craving pizza all week, but lately you’ve been trying your best to eat healthier and lose weight. Even though you really want the pizza, you tell yourself you have to be “good”. And being “good” means you can’t have pizza for dinner. So you decide to order a salad topped with roasted chicken breast because that’s supposed to be healthy, right? Your salad fills you up physically, but you can’t stop thinking about that pizza you wanted to have.
As you’re sitting down to your Friday movie line-up, you start feeling snacky. But you’re still trying to be “good” – still patting yourself on the back for resisting pizza for dinner. You choose a snack that you know is healthy: raw carrot sticks with hummus for dipping. You eat it because it’s healthy, even though you prefer your carrots roasted and you don’t really like hummus that much. Initially, you feel full after your snack, but then the desire to eat strikes again. You try some different snack options that will allow you to be “good”: nuts, fruit, rice cakes, etc. Nothing seems to be hitting the spot!
Finally, you give up on this whole healthy eating thing. You tried to be “good” all day and yet you can’t seem to stop eating. You head to the kitchen to check out the “junk food drawer”. Maybe you pick a bag of chips, a carton of cookies, or a pint of ice cream. Then you sit in front of the TV while you watch movies, polishing off the entirety of what you picked out because you figure, “Might as well – it’s not like I have the willpower to lose weight anyways”.
Many of my clients want to see a registered dietitian such as myself to stop the scenario above from happening. And I can help break that cycle! But the approach I use might not be what you’d think. Here are my 2 tips to stop overeating and adopt healthy eating habits.
2 Tips to stop overeating
1) Are you eating what you REALLY want?
The scenario I described happens when a person eats a meal that leaves them unsatisfied. It’s important to achieve physical as well as emotional satisfaction with our food choices. Physical satisfaction is the experience of sensations of fullness after eating. Emotional satisfaction is that feeling of, “That hit the spot” – it’s making our taste buds happy. If we are physically satisfied, but not emotionally satisfied, we will be left with the desire to eat even after our meal is finished. This is one of the major reasons why I find many of my clients feel like they can’t stop eating. They are not eating foods that are emotionally satisfying!
What exactly does it mean to eat in a way that is emotionally satisfying? It means eating foods you enjoy. Yes, it’s important to eat healthy. It’s also important to engage in healthy eating consistently, in the long-term. To make sustainable changes in the way you eat, it’s crucial to choose the foods you actually like and to prepare them in the ways you enjoy. If you aren’t pleased with a particular eating pattern, how long are you going to keep it up? Probably not for very long! Healthy food is only healthy if you eat it.
We get inundated with messaging about what we “should” eat all the time. These foods are “good”; they’re on the must eat list. While those other foods are “bad” – avoid those as much as possible. The problem with this dieting mentality is that it makes healthy eating so hard. It sucks only eating foods you don’t actually like. And what fun is it not letting yourself eat the foods you find delicious?
That’s why it’s so important to think about what you REALLY like. What are your favourite flavours? Textures? Temperatures? Do your preferences change throughout the day (ex: what to have for lunch versus dinner)? Depending on the season? And so on.
Doing this mental sensory inventory is important to do for all foods, regardless of their nutritional value. It will help you to prepare and combine nutritious foods in the way you enjoy. And it will enable you to pinpoint exactly which food will hit the spot when you’re having a craving. That way, you won’t end up eating a bit of this and a bit of that, ultimately overeating in your attempt to figure out what will emotionally satisfy you. You heard me right. If you’re having a craving, it’s important to eat the food(s) that will satisfy your desires. Be sure to pay attention while you eat to prevent overeating though. More on that in a few moments.
Of course, overeating isn’t always due to a lack of emotional satisfaction. Sometimes it happens because you’re not physically satisfied. If you find that every time you eat you end up feeling hungry only 1 or 2 hours later, you might benefit from a consultation with me to learn more about how to put together meals and snacks with staying power. Emotional eating is another cause of overeating that I work with clients on a lot. If you’d like to fill up your toolbox with alternative strategies to deal with emotions like stress or boredom, a session with me can provide you with the tools you need.
2) Are you paying attention while you eat?
Choosing the foods you really want to eat is actually just the first step to achieving emotional satisfaction and preventing overeating. Next, it’s crucial that you pay attention while you eat. Tuning in to your eating experience is required for both types of satisfaction, actually. If you don’t pay attention to how your body feels as you eat, it can be easy to eat to the point of being over-full. And if you eat while on autopilot mode, how can you truly register how yummy your food is? Your food can’t hit the spot if you aren’t savouring it.
Focusing on your eating experience is especially important when you eat treats, or less nutritious foods. Depriving yourself of the treats you like will just make you want them even more, making overeating more likely when you do allow yourself to have them. So let yourself have treats on a regular basis, but if you love a food, savour it!
How do you make sure you’re savouring your food?
- Eliminate or reduce distractions while eating.
- Eat slowly and thoroughly chew your food.
- Practice mindful eating so you can register and appreciate all the sensory qualities of your food.
Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary anti-diet approach. New York: St. Martin’s Essentials. pp 150 – 166.
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