Lack of sleep. Stress. Crazy-demanding cousins/in-laws/parents. Hormones. All of these factors can add up to one big bucket of ice cream or takeout box of pizza when the overeating gear kicks into full drive.
Read on for top nutritionists’ tips for the most common culprits of overeating and how to conquer them. And if you happen to be diving into healthy foods instead of Chips Ahoy, you’ll still want to be mindful of your portion control beware of the healthy foods to eat in moderation. Plus, try our best Eating Habits to Lose Abdominal Fat As You Age.
We’ll never argue with slipping more cruciferous veggies and dark, leafy greens into your diet, but you could technically be doing it wrong. “Sure, in theory, this is a great thing since vegetables are low in calories and packed with nutrients,” explain The Nutrition Twins, Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, and authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure. “The problem is if your salad mainly consists of greens without some more substantial, energy-providing carbohydrates to fuel your brain and muscles or protein to keep you feeling satisfied. Without those, this will make you tired and hungry soon after and crave more fuel, which means you’ll be prone to overeating.” To fix this: “Add a small portion of a quality carbohydrate like quinoa, beans, sweet potatoes, corn or peas to your salad and some healthy protein like eggs, beans, chicken, shrimp or edamame.”
Putting the wrong foods in easily-seen, easily-reached places is one surefire way to urge on overeating. “Ever heard of ‘out of sight, out of mind?’ Well, you can’t eat the things you don’t have, and you’re less likely to eat them if they aren’t right in front of you,” says Rebecca Lewis, RD for HelloFresh. “Instead, place bowls of fruits and veggies out on the counter and ditch the display of unhealthy snacks.” Pro-tip: Make sure none of the unhealthiest foods on the planet are on your counter, fridge, or a stone’s throw away from your kitchen to avoid overeating them.
This is one champion title you don’t want to rock. “Eating in front of the computer, TV, in the car, or while reading a book are all things we love to do,” says Kimberly Gomer, RD, Director of Nutrition at Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa. “But our stomachs have ‘stretch receptors.’ When food hits our stomachs, the stretch receptors send a signal of satiety to our brains saying ‘You’re full!’ This signal does not work if you eat while distracted. Studies have shown that you can easily take in hundreds of extra calories simply by not paying attention.” To avoid this overeating pitfall, practice mindful eating. Turn off any distractions around you, sit quietly, and focus on all the aspects of your meal when you eat. “It can change your entire eating experience in a positive way and be a major tool in avoiding overeating,” says Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, CPT, a plant-based dietitian, and author of The Vegiterranean Diet and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition.
“The brain confuses thirst for hunger and you wind up overeating when a glass of water would have nipped your ‘hunger’ in the bud,” offer The Nutrition Twins. It’s easy to outsmart this sneaky but common source of hunger pangs, though: “Carry a water bottle with you and sip it throughout the day and make an effort to drink at least one cup of water with meals and a cup before!”
File this under amazing: “Because we make approximately 200 food choices each day, we get fatigued towards the end of the day,” comments Hever. “Meal planning is optimal to help you gain control of your overall food intake.”
Many of us are literally eating food that is chemically-engineered to trick your brain into thinking you’re still hungry. “Essentially, these foods are calorically dense but lack actual nutrition. So, you have to eat more and more of the food before your brain gets the message that you are actually full,” shares Lewis. “Additionally, these types of foods are heavily processed and filled with the specific additives, flavorings, and textures that keep you coming back for more and more. Instead, eat fruits and veggies first [like the best veggies for weight loss, before you reach for the boxed and bagged stuff.”
Maybe it’s your job, your spouse, your house hunt…whatever it is, it’s got you feeling super stressed out. “Stress kicks up your cortisol levels into high gear, which promotes hunger and overeating. Over a period of time with elevated cortisol levels, you are at an increased risk for weight gain,” offers Hever. “Try emphasizing stress management techniques such as meditation, walking, or talking to a friend or therapist to help you deal with the underlying issues promoting stress.” May we suggest test-driving these 5 foods that fight stress?
You Crossfit rockstar, you. We’re all about breaking that sweat, but sometimes it could backfire on your appetite control. “It’s great to exercise, and to challenge yourself, but some people push themselves so hard that it triggers an insatiable appetite,” say The Nutrition Twins. “If this is you, experiment a bit to see what will slash your appetite. For some people, it means exercising with slightly less intensity but going slightly longer. For others, it means possibly stopping doing your typical interval workout 10 minutes earlier and just continue at a slightly lower intensity.” You should continue to challenge yourself, but test yourself and journal the results to see what may trigger a ferocious appetite. And be sure to drink plenty of fluid during your exercise so that it’s not dehydration that’s making you think you’re hungry.
Ever notice that you’re ravenous the day after you didn’t sleep well? You’re not alone. “Research has shown that missing even just a single night of sleep can really wreak havoc on the way your appetite hormones work,” says Lewis. “Even just a single night of poor sleep can make you feel hungrier than usual the next day. Instead, make sure you are getting six to eight hours of sleep a night. Start by turning down lights and powering down your electronics about an hour before bed.” Hever adds: “Try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule and prepare for occasions when this may be challenging (such as during travel or stressful periods) by meal planning and tuning into true hunger and satiety signals.” And be sure to avoid these foods that keep you awake at night.
Tempting as it may be, it’s key to avoid food that works as a cradle of coziness rather than fuel for your body. “Because of the deep symbolism and memories attached to certain foods—typically rich, celebratory foods associated with family gatherings and holidays—it may seem soothing to reach for these foods to satisfy an emotional need for connection or to ameliorate feeling of sadness or longing. Try reaching out to loved ones and friends when you feel this way,” suggests Hever. It’s also helpful to learn smart swaps that turn comfort foods into lighter fare.
You know you need fiber and protein for healthy, permanent weight loss, but a big reason is because not getting enough can put you at risk for overeating. “They keep you feeling satisfied because they take longer to digest,” say The Nutrition Twins. “You should never have your meal without adequate protein and fiber. Cut back on some of the cereal and have a Greek yogurt at breakfast; make sure your salad at lunch has chicken, shrimp or tofu; as your snack, skip the pretzels and try veggie crudites and hummus; and cut your pasta dinner in half and add lean protein like seafood or grilled chicken with a bunch of your favorite veggies tossed in.”
Or sad. Or upset. “Emotional eating is a real thing that unfortunately starts as a habit when we’re kids,” says Lewis. “We’ve all seen the screaming kid who will only be quieted down by candy. Adults have this same behavior; they reach for ‘guilty’ pleasures that they think will give them a boost. Instead, take a five-minute walk, call a friend, or try some deep breathing.”
“As registered dietitians, we find that some of the most well-intentioned healthy eaters overeat other foods as they attempt to avoid the one food they want. Instead of just having the cookie they crave, they have a serving of yogurt, a handful of whole-grain crackers, some fruit, and more. Before they know it, they’ve overeaten. Yes, it was healthy food, but they’ve consumed a lot of calories and still don’t feel satisfied,” comment The Nutrition Twins. What to do instead? “Allow yourself to indulge in one pre-determined portion of the treat, such as a small cookie, a square of dark chocolate or half a cup of low-fat ice cream. The key is to know in advance how much you can have. Fill up first on a healthy meal with satisfying protein and fiber so that you don’t overeat out of hunger.”
Just because your lunch hour whizzed by, doesn’t mean you might as well wait until dinner. “Most people should not go more than four to five hours between meals,” Lewis says. “Waiting too long to eat can lead to a drop in blood sugar. Once the ghrelin hormone has been released, the lack of food will inevitably lead to hunger cravings that make you over-indulge. Instead, watch for clues: If you notice yourself getting more irritable, hunger may be the cause. Take a break and find a healthy snack to relieve your hunger and balance out your blood sugar levels. Be sure to keep grab-and-go snacks on hand.”
Let’s call it the Ugh Moment. It’s when you’ve eaten too fast and too much and all of a sudden are like, “Ugh.” We’ve been there, too, and the answer is to slow down. It takes time for the signal from your stomach to get to your brain that you’ve just eaten. “Without that signal, we’re inclined to keep eating until we are full and then end up stuffed,” says Lewis. “Instead, slow down, put your fork down between bites, try to stretch your meal to be a full 20 minutes, and stop eating when you’re medium-full.”
“How many of us are guilty of rewarding ourselves after a super intense workout at the gym—only to find that even after working out, you’re still gaining weight? This is because we tend to overestimate the good stuff and underestimate the bad stuff,” explains Lewis. Instead, learn to read labels, pay attention to portion sizes, and reward your efforts with healthy foods that are nutrient dense instead of just calorically dense. Test yourself: 8 confusing labels and what they actually mean.
Similar to previous tips, this one is all about being mindful. “We teach our clients at Pritikin the skill of Mindful Eating. This means paying attention to hunger and satiety and using a hunger scale to determine when to start eating and stop are key,” suggests Gomer. Check out easy ways to eat mindfully and start incorporating them into your daily life for more ways to be more tuned in to how full your tank is.