We’ve all been there – that moment when a meal or snack turns into something more. Whether it be a turkey dinner or you dip into the chip bag, only to find you’ve finished off the whole thing. You find yourself beyond full, maybe even uncomfortably stuffed. Cue the guilt, negative self talk, and unpleasant physical feelings of overeating.
First, I want you to hear this: it’s okay. We all overeat at times, and this is not a failure. Instead, it’s an opportunity to practice kindness and reconnection with our body. In this blog, we’re going to cover some of the reasons why we overeat, what to do when you overeat, and strategies to help prevent overeating in the future.
Whether it be a special occasion like the holidays or you’re enjoying a snack and all of a sudden it’s gone, we’ve all felt that feeling of being “too full”. As a registered dietitian, I hear it all the time from my clients. “I don’t know what to do when I over eat!” “How can I stop overeating?” “What do I do when I overeat?”
These are all normal feelings. It’s something I’ve felt in my life too. But after years of studying and strengthening my intuitive eating muscle, I’ve learned how to deal with overeating in a guilt free way and strategies to help prevent overeating in the future.
In this blog we will cover:
- Why we overeat
- What to do after overeating
- 3 steps to prevent overeating in the future
Why Do We Overeat?
There are many reasons we overeat. Sometimes it’s intentional and other times we may not even realize we’re doing it until our body feels stuffed. Understanding the “why” is a great first step, and a foundation for becoming an intuitive eater.
Here are some of the most common reasons we overeat (some of these may surprise you!):
Restriction: Over the years, we’ve seen diet culture try to dictate what we can and can’t eat, labeling foods as “Good” or “Bad”. This often leads to restricting ourselves from those “bad” foods. Believe it or not, restrictive eating patterns are the most common culprit to overeating that I see with my clients.
Explore not just what you eat but why you eat, how you feel when you eat and any patterns that affect how you feel or impact any choices you make and start your journey to food freedom today!
Why? The answer is two part
- Physical restriction: When we physically restrict ourselves (not enough food, not eating regularly enough, not eating balanced enough to keep us full) our survival mechanisms kick in—this is actually just our body doing its job to get the energy we need to not only survive, but thrive. This may look like releasing ghrelin (our hunger hormone) or cueing us to think more about food.
- Mental restriction: When we tell ourselves something is “bad” or that we “shouldn’t” eat it, we only want it more. It’s psychology 101. While we may be able to “hold off” for awhile, sooner or later when those foods are available, it becomes nearly impossible not to overindulge. This “all or nothing” or “last supper” mentality can play a big role in why we overeat.
Mindless eating: Mindless snacking, whether out of boredom, habit, or convenience, can contribute to overeating. When we’re not present and aware of our eating, it’s easy to eat beyond fullness as we forget to check in with our internal hunger, fullness and satisfaction cues.
One of the biggest contributors to mindless eating is multitasking while eating. Watching TV or scrolling through devices while snacking or having a meal, can disconnect us from our body’s hunger and fullness cues, leading to overeating without realizing it.
Emotional eating: Sometimes, we overeat due to emotional reasons. We might be seeking comfort, looking for a way to destress, or may be coping with challenging emotions. Food can serve as a temporary escape.
This may surprise you, but emotional eating is not inherently bad! It’s ok to eat for comfort at times! It is when it’s our only coping mechanism that it can become a problem and cause even more emotional distress.
Because we want to: Now this one might surprise you – you can eat intuitively and overeat. It all comes down to intention. You may intentionally overeat because you’re truly enjoying the experience like when you’re at a holiday dinner or eating an 8 course meal at a restaurant. These moments are a time for enjoyment, connection, and creating lasting memories.
What To Do When You Overeat
You overate. Now what? I understand that the aftermath of overeating can feel overwhelming but, I’ve learned from both personal and professional experience, that these moments are a time for self-compassion and not self-criticism.
Here are 5 things you can do if you find yourself feeling overly full:
Embrace Self-Compassion: First thing’s first, let’s ditch the guilt. It’s essential to offer yourself the same kindness you’d extend to a loved one. Overeating isn’t a failure; it’s merely a part of life’s eating experiences. If you want to learn more about overcoming food guilt, I’ve written an entire blog post that you can read here.
Avoid The “I’ll Make It Up” Mindset: It’s tempting to think of ways to make up for overeating. This can look like restricting, engaging in intense exercise or even purging. But remember, your body seeks balance. Instead, focus on returning to your regular eating routine based on your body’s cues of hunger and fullness.
Hydrate & Move Gently: Hydration can help with digestion and ease discomfort post-overeating. It might seem counterintuitive but try sipping on some water or herbal tea (I like mint tea as it can also be a digestive aid) and see how you feel. Gentle movement, like going for a walk or stretching, can also help with digestion, feeling sluggish, and your overall mood. I find a short walk outside can do wonders for both the body and mind.
Rediscover Mindful Eating: You don’t want overeating to impact future meals – whether that be the same day or next. Even after you’ve overeaten, you will still need to eat again. Instead of living in the past, focus on reconnecting with your body and eating without judgment. Tune in to the flavor of the food and pay attention to how your body responds. Eating mindfully helps cultivate a healthy relationship with food.
Reflect & Learn: Take a moment to reflect on what triggered the overeating episode. Was it emotional stress, social factors, or simply enjoying some delicious food? Understanding these triggers without self-criticism can empower you to make mindful choices in the future.
A tool that I encourage all my clients in the Make Food Feel Good Program as I walk them through reconnecting with their bodies is to use is a food journal. This is not a food tracker, instead it’s a way to fully understand why you’re eating and any thoughts, feelings, or rules that might come up while you’re eating. I highly recommend trying it. It is a great tool to start your intuitive eating journey. Get the free food journal download here.
3 Dietitian Steps to Overcome Overeating
Give yourself permission to enjoy all foods: One key to overcoming overeating is to ditch the mindset of “good” and “bad” foods. Giving yourself permission to enjoy all foods without guilt is a fundamental part of intuitive eating. When no food is off-limits, you’re less likely to feel deprived, reducing the urge to overeat on those restricted foods. Embrace a balanced approach that includes a variety of foods, enjoying each without judgment or guilt.
Eat regularly throughout the day: Ever noticed how skipping a meal often leads to ravenous hunger and potential overeating later on? Eating regularly throughout the day (even if you have a big holiday dinner or meal out coming up), including consistent meals and snacks can help stabilize blood sugar levels, regulate hunger, and prevent the likelihood of overindulging due to extreme hunger later on.
Clients are always surprised when they realize it’s a matter of eating more (more regularly or more balanced—even carbs!) not less that will help prevent overeating but in doing so we help keep blood sugar levels (and therefore hunger and cravings) stable throughout the day.
Get support: Having support, tools, and a process as you work through overeating can be game changing in shifting not only how you eat, but creating a mindset that will support you long term. If you’re looking for guidance and actionable strategies to help you navigate these challenges and develop a healthier relationship with food I’d love to support you! You can check out my group coaching program Make Food Feel Good to see when enrollment is opening next.
Does this surprise you? Have you tried some of these strategies? Let me know in the comments below which ones have worked for you!
Looking for more support?
Looking for support to end the diet cycle, trust your body and learn the nutrition that feels amazing for YOU? Learn more about my Make Food Feel Good Program here where hundreds of women have found lasting success through my proven framework and step-by-step guided support. Let’s Chat!