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How to Stop Overeating: 10 Tips to Avoid Eating Too Much

Jan. 26, 2022 - Katie McCallum

Sometimes eating too much is simply an instance of your eyeballs growing bigger than your stomach at a buffet, potluck, party or holiday meal.

Other times, overeating is a pattern rather than the exception.

How much is truly too much? And if you are indeed at that point, how do you cut back?

"Overeating is eating beyond what's needed to fuel your body," says Kylie Arrindell, a wellness dietitian at Houston Methodist. "Whether intentional or not, we all do it at some point. The short-term symptoms of overeating are often just related to stomach discomfort, but there are long-term consequences of overeating which, over time, can negatively impact your health."

This means it's important to recognize whether you're overeating and, if you're doing so frequently, take steps to reduce the behavior.

What are the signs of overeating?

Am I overeating?

That seems like it should be something fairly easy to answer. Perhaps by counting calories?

But Arrindell points out it's not that easy.

"The amount of calories you should be eating per meal is a very individualized number," says Arrindell. "People have different health goals, needs and conditions, so it can be difficult for you to determine your optimal calorie intake on your own. Additionally, counting calories might not resonate with you in a positive way."

Plus, calories aren't a great measure of whether you're eating mindfully and whether you're stopping when you're satisfied, two of the most important components of properly nourishing your body that can also help you understand if you're overeating.

With that in mind, the actual signs of overeating may include:

  • Eating beyond the point of being full
  • Finding yourself mindlessly eating because you're bored or distracted
  • Experiencing physical symptoms after eating, including nausea, abdominal discomfort, gas, bloating or heartburn
  • Eating for reasons other than to fuel your body

"Those are the short-term signs and symptoms of overeating, but there are long-term indications, too, including unwanted weight gain, difficulty losing weight and prolonged digestive discomfort," Arrindell adds.

Fortunately, these particularly noticeable signs can be powerful reminders that it's time to take action. But Arrindell points out that there are also detrimental health impacts you may not notice yourself — although they will likely show up in your blood work.

"Over the course of weeks to months to years, overeating can affect your cholesterol and could potentially impact your blood sugar management, which can put you at risk for developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease," warns Arrindell.

How to stop overeating: A dietitian's top 10 tips

If you recognize the signs and are ready to take action, here's what Arrindell recommends to help you avoid overeating:

1. Familiarize yourself with recommended portion sizes

Portion size is critical.

To keep your eyeballs in check, take advantage of nutrition food labels and reputable sources' recommended amounts of foods. These guidelines aren't perfect, but they can help set the baseline for what a realistic serving size looks like — usually hard to guess on your own. Knowing the recommended amount also helps you stay accountable for how much you should be eating.

And — speaking of accountability — you might also try eating off of a smaller plate.

"The plates we serve our food on are usually pretty large, so even just something as simple as decreasing your plate size can really help you stick to more appropriate portion sizes and avoid overeating, especially for those who have been taught to finish everything on their plate," says Arrindell. (She notes you don't actually have to eat everything on your plate.)

2. Include a fiber source with meals and snacks

"Fiber is helpful for satiety, the feeling of fullness after eating," says Arrindell.

For instance, let's compare a plate of roasted vegetables versus several pieces of cheese. Both may contain the same amount of calories, but the roasted veggies are more likely to fill you up because they contain fiber — whose feeling of fullness can help reduce overeating tendencies.

Since cheese is less filling, you may have to eat more than your body actually needs before you physically feel full and your brain realizes you're not hungry anymore.

3. Avoid skipping meals

Intermittent fasting — the foundation of which is skipping meals — is a trendy diet right now, but for some people, it may lead to a feast-or-famine mentality that inadvertently leads to overeating.

"Skipping meals can cause intense hunger, which, for many people, tends to result in episodes of overeating once you do finally eat," warns Arrindell. "Instead, I recommend eating healthy snacks between meals or eating smaller meals more regularly throughout the day."

4. Know and limit the foods that are easiest to overeat

We've all wondered if there are foods we should write off completely. Just give us the list!

But here again, Arrindell says it's not that simple.

"Everyone has their own individual preference on the foods and drinks they enjoy most, so advice on which foods to keep your eye on will vary from person to person," says Arrindell. "Keeping a food journal can provide you with insight into your own eating habits, a helpful tool for identifying which foods you struggle with the most."

That said, Arrindell says that most people tend to overeat calorie-dense foods or processed foods they view as treats, including those high in:

And while Arrindell says there's no food you should overeat — since even too much of something healthy, like fiber-rich veggies, may cause unwanted digestive distress — she adds that she doesn't often hear of someone who regularly overeats broccoli or asparagus. Wink, wink.

5. Stay hydrated

"Cues for thirst can often be mistaken as hunger cues," says Arrindell.

Especially when you're feeling hungry or craving a snack at a time you shouldn't, just taking a few sips of water can help you determine whether you're actually hungry or just thirsty. And keeping up with your water intake throughout the day may help you completely sidestep those tricky hunger pangs that aren't actually due to hunger after all.

6. Be mindful about why you're eating and pay attention to hunger cues

There are a lot of reasons you might want to eat, but there's only one you need to: nourishing and energizing your body.

From "I think I need a snack" to "It's dinner time," be sure you're not falling into the trap of eating mindlessly just to eat.

"If you aren't paying attention to the actual snack or meal you're eating and why you're eating it, chances are you're not really paying attention to your body's cues for appetite and hunger either," says Arrindell.

When you're not in tune with when it's time to stop eating, you're more likely to overeat.

"Being mindful about your meals and what you're eating is important since paying attention to your body's cues can help you connect to the process of enjoying food as a way of nourishing your body," explains Arrindell.

7. Slow down

Crucially, not overeating also means actually stopping when you're approaching feeling full. Portion sizing can help, but, ultimately, slowing down your meal and paying attention to how you actually feel is one of the best ways to avoid overeating.

The goal is to give your food-filled stomach and hungry brain time to re-sync with one another. In fact, it can take as long as 20 minutes for your stomach to let you brain know it's full.

"A lot of us scarf down meals in half that time or less!" says Arrindell. "If you find yourself overeating at meals, try to find ways to slow down the process. For instance, you might try eating with your non-dominant hand or putting your fork down between bites."

8. Rethink that second serving

Speaking of slowing down ... it can also help you decide whether you truly need to be refilling your plate or not.

"Maybe you really are hungry and need that second helping, which is okay," says Arrindell. "But my advice is to wait 5 to 10 minutes before you get another serving and to make sure your additional serving is mostly the good stuff — more vegetables, for instance."

9. Turn off your TV

A great way to help encourage paying attention to how you feel after eating is to make snack time and mealtime a distraction-free experience.

"Turning off your TV and sitting down at the table is a great place to start," says Arrindell. "Eating without distractions brings us back to the concept of connecting to the process of nourishing your body, which is what your food is actually meant to do."

10. Give yourself some grace

Whether you hit a roadblock as you're getting started or when the holidays come around, know that fighting back against overeating takes patience and compromise.

"Allowing yourself to have foods that you really enjoy in moderation is helpful because then you're not tempted to overindulge on them later," says Arrindell. "Giving yourself grace not only provides a little bit of wiggle room in your diet, it's also sometimes the missing piece for people when it comes to maintaining healthy eating patterns that can help reduce the chances of overeating."

Why am I overeating?

Sometimes overeating just happens on occasion. This is especially common on occasions where you have access to more food than usual (*cough* Thanksgiving).

Other times, it becomes a pleasurable yet unhealthy habit that reinforces itself over and over — as habits do. The steps above, given time, might be all it takes to break the habit.

In some cases, however, there could be a more complicated reason you're overeating.

"When it's happening habitually, that's when it's time to take a look into why you're overindulging more often than usual," explains Arrindell. "There could be some underlying reasoning behind why it's become a habit."

For instance, you could be using a food solution to fight an emotional issue — sometimes referred to as emotional eating. Recognizing this behavior and better processing your emotions are important steps in your journey to reduce overeating.

Lastly, in the most extreme cases, overeating might also be a sign of something more complicated: binge eating disorder.

"If you find yourself overeating often, talk to your dietitian or doctor," recommends Arrindell. "Overeating can be closely associated with binge eating tendencies, which is not something you have to navigate on your own and it is treatable with the right help."

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