The reasons we overeat are often not because of laziness, a lack of discipline, or willpower. In today’s article, we’ll explore 11 reasons we overeat not related to laziness, discipline, or willpower. Plus, solutions for overcoming each one.
Table of Contents
What is causing me to overeat?
I’m not sure we need to mess around today. How about you and I jump right into it the reasons we overeat and what to do about each one?
#1: Your environment can cause you to overeat
I don’t know about you but if food is in my home eventually it will be devoured. There is only so much willpower and discipline I can display if peanut butter, chocolate, and pecan pie are in my vicinity.
Sometimes it’s the not-so-obvious stuff. The handful of M&M’s we grab a couple of times per day because a bowl is sitting on the counter. Or the chips we munch on because the bag was left out. Sometimes it’s the leftover pizza on the top shelf of the fridge in plain sight – And we don’t want it to go to waste now do we?
Take action: Make the stuff you want to do more attractive and the stuff you don’t want to do less attractive.
- Shop the outer ring of the grocery store where the produce and lean proteins are found
- Do a kitchen makeover and toss out any trigger foods or make them harder to get to. Place them behind things, out of plain sight, or in opaque containers.
- Use smaller plates, cups, or preportioned Tupperware
- Take snack foods out of the box and put them into preportioned baggies
#2: Dining out often can cause you to overeat
Restaurants and takeaways have hidden calories you may forget about or are totally unaware of. Such as oils used to prepare foods and sugars in sauces and marinades. In one study a validated bomb calorimeter was used to measure dietary energy (calories) in 269 meals across and 242 unique foods across 42 restaurants. What they found was that 19% of individual foods contained 100 calories or more than stated.
Plus, portions while dining out or ordering in intend to be much larger than you would serve yourself. Big portions equal a good deal and restaurants want to make sure you get your money’s worth. Hell, you want to get your money’s worth.
There’s also the psychology of the recipe. We place extra value on what we pay for. So if we don’t clean our plate we feel like we’ve wasted money. Thus, we eat more than we actually need to.
Take action: Make more meals at home or plan to eat out and adjust to it
- Plan your meals out in advance and adjust your calorie intake accordingly for the day. Stick to mostly protein and veggies for the day and enjoy your meal out.
- Intermittent fast that day or the day after to balance out your calorie intake.
- Keep track of how often you eat out or order takeaways. Can you slowly start to reduce that each month and make more meals at home?
#3: It’s not the food you’re really hungry for but something else
A lot of my clients struggle with stress and emotional eating. Food acts as a coping mechanism to help deal with those things. If they’re stressed they want relief and food provides that for them.
When they’re sad they want to feel happy and food provides this for them. If things feel out of control food becomes something they can control. Or when things are too in control, food becomes a way for them to let loose. There’s nothing wrong with using food or drinks as a way to cope. It only becomes a problem if it’s the only thing we use.
Take action: Notice and name what’s going on. Choose an action to take before, during, or after.
- What patterns can you identify around stress or emotional eating? Are there certain tasks, people, environments, and times of day where it happens more than others?
- Once you have awareness choose a specific action to take before, during, or after stress and emotional eating. Something that provides a similar feeling to what you’re hoping food will.
- Keep in mind you’re not trying to fix anything or solve a problem. You’re trying to slow down and choose how you want to respond versus react.
#4: Your social relationships can cause you to overeat
If you spend the majority of your time with people that stay out late, love grabbing drinks, and eat out often the odds of you doing the same increase. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things if it adds value to your life. But if you have health and fitness goals you may need to accept the tradeoffs that come with them.
Your friends, significant other, and kid’s food preferences can influence yours. As a busy Mom, it’s hard to make separate meals for you and your family. It’s hard to be the guy’s guy that turns down beers with his buddies and orders a chicken salad instead of his own large pizza.
Take action: Want, willing, won’t, and who.
- What do you want to do or change?
- What are you willing to do for that goal?
- What won’t you do for that goal?
- Who do you need to have a conversation with to help you with the changes you’re making
#5: Awareness. Simply not knowing how much you’re eating can cause you to overeat
Many clients come to me eating really well. They eat a lot of fruits, veggies, lean proteins, healthy fats, and choose great sources of carbohydrates. They just have no idea how much they’re eating.
Take action: Create calorie awareness and weigh your food for a week.
- Read labels and look up nutrition info online. Learn as much about what and how much you’re eating. Look for things like calories per serving.
- Be a weirdo and toss your food on a scale. See what 4 ounces of protein looks like versus what you think it looks like. How much are 32 grams of peanut butter really?
#6: Highly palatable foods are easy to overeat
It’s no secret that foods have been scientifically designed to hit bliss points. Salt, sugar, and fat is an orgasmic combination, isn’t it? Chips, cookies, and pizza are amazing and hard to resist. Plus, you don’t want to never have them again. You’ll go bat shit crazy.
But these foods also pack a lot of calories in a small serving. They’re not very filling and often not very satiating. We’ve often left craving more due to physical and psychological hunger.
Take action: Aim for a little bit better
- Eat something low calorie and filling before or with it. A side salad with your pizza or an apple before some candy. It may keep you from eating more of the highly palatable stuff later.
- Commit to a little bit better? Usually have 3 slices, try 2. Usually have 2 bowls, have 1.
#7: Clever marketing and “the health halo” make overeating seem ok
From cartoon characters and brightly covered packages that force you to buy cereal for your kids. To celebrity endorsements and fancy words like fortified, organic, and all-natural that create a health halo around food. It’s a hard night to overeat calorie-dense organic chocolate chip cookies. I mean everyone deserves a break, right? Well played Kit Kat. Well played indeed.
Take action: Shop the perimeter and read labels
- Shop the perimeter of the grocery store to avoid many of these items. Simply being away from the “health halo” goes a long way.
- Slow down and ask yourself is this organic pop-tart really that much better for me?
- Read labels and look at nutrition facts. Is there even a difference in calories per serving or vitamins and minerals between the two?
The irony of me marketing for kit-kat right now is kinda hilarious, don’t you think 🤦♂️
#8: Physical hunger (getting too hungry) can cause us to overeat
Sometimes you are physically hungry, starving in fact. You skipped breakfast and lunch to work through meetings and can’t wait to get home to grub. Other times you’re just having a “hungry” day for whatever reason.
Take action: Eat slowly, eat on a schedule, and emphasize protein, veggies, and fiber
- It can take 20 minutes for your brain to figure out you’d had enough to eat. Try your best to eat slowly.
- Make sure you’re including protein and veggies with the majority of your meals and snacks. Both are extremely satiating.
- If you are physically hungry, sit with it for a few minutes. See if it goes away. If not, go ahead and eat some protein, veggies, or high in fiber like a piece of fruit to get you to your next meal
- Try eating at scheduled meal times to avoid letting yourself get “too hungry.”
#9: Being distracted can lead to overeating
I love Cobra Kai. If you don’t love it too there is something wrong with you. And you know what is awesome? Watching Cobra Kai and eating some of my favorite foods. It’s relaxing AF. But when eating like this it’s hard to know how much I’ve eaten.
Take action: Remove distractions or eat off a plate.
- Remove distractions while eating and if that’s not possible make sure to eat off a plate versus from a box or bag.
#10: Food restriction
In a review of the literature and research on food restriction, it is suggested that inhibiting food, starvation, and self-imposed dieting can result in eating binges once the food is available. You can become preoccupied with certain foods and eating in general.
Take action: Avoid good versus bad thinking
- Cheat meals infer that you’re doing something bad. There’s nothing wrong or bad about eating certain foods. Remove the idea of cheat meals.
- Create eat more of, eat sometimes, and eat fewer food lists instead of putting food into good versus bad categories
- Spend some time tracking your calories or macronutrients. You’ll learn that all foods can fit your calorie needs
#11: Food variety
For example, the variety of snacks available to us also influences how much we consume. Specifically during special events and across meals. When you eat one food the pleasure of its taste decreases. Eating a variety of foods does the opposite. There’s even some evidence to suggest that it may delay feelings of fullness and satiation.
This is known as sensory-specific satiety which is “the declining satisfaction we get from eating a certain type of food and the consequent renewal in appetite from the exposure to a new food or flavor.”
Take action: Be a little boring and use fewer foods
- This doesn’t mean you need to eat chicken and broccoli all the time or to only snack on apples. But keeping your meals and snacks to similar foods could be beneficial when trying to keep calorie intake down.
- Make a list of your 3 to 5 favorite proteins, veggies, carbs, and fats. Keep the majority of your meals to these foods.
Differences between overeating and binge eating
According to the American Psychiatric Association, binge eating disorder is a recurring instance of eating significantly more in a short period of time than most people would eat in similar circumstances. This could be lead to feelings of being out of control and physical and psychological stress. Overeating occurs periodically and does not have feelings of guilt, shame, or stress attached to it.
What kind of food keeps you full?
Research shows snacks higher in protein, fiber, and whole grains can promote satiation and keep you feeling full. Even processed foods contain these things.
A study conducted by Marmonier et al. Examined the effects of the nutrient composition of an afternoon snack consumed while not hungry on how soon the next meal was consumed.
The sample of young men was given a high-fat, high-protein, or high-carbohydrate snack to be consumed 4 h after the beginning of lunch. The consumption of the high-protein snack delayed the request for dinner by the greatest length of time, followed by the high-carbohydrate, and then the high-fat snack.
Food volume also keeps you feeling full. By including less calorie-dense foods you can increase feelings of satiation and fullness.
Calorie density can simply be summed up as more food with fewer calories.
More specifically, it’s the number of calories in a given weight of the food. A food high in calorie density has a large number of calories in a small weight of food (i.e. olive oil). A food low in calorie density would have a small number of calories in the same weight of food (i.e. broccoli).
Choosing foods lower in calorie density is important because these foods are satiating and fill our stomachs without adding tons of calories to our diet.
Generally speaking, vegetables and fruit are the lowest in calorie density, followed by whole food starches, animal proteins, and finally liquid calories, nuts, seeds, and oils. Highly processed foods like cookies, candy, ice cream, and fries would also be calorie-dense foods.
Now, this doesn’t mean we can never eat these foods. It just means to be aware of them, eat them in moderation, and adjust our consumption of them based on our current goals.
5 healthy foods we tend to overeat
As discussed earlier highly palatable foods are the easiest foods to overeat. They taste freaking good and pack a lot of calories in a small amount. But some really great foods are easy to overeat as well.
- Peanut butter and nut butter (30 grams = 190 calories)
- Nuts and seeds (30 grams = 170 calories)
- Olive oil and other cooking oils (.5 fl oz = 120 calories)
- Quinoa (1 cup uncooked = 620 calories)
- Avocado (1 = 320 calories)
Note: The calories numbers are averages as found on calorieking.com
These foods are calorie-dense and difficult to estimate serving sizes. Spend a few days with your food scale, weighing portions, and learning more about what a serving of each is versus what you think it is.
And come on. You and I both know we’re putting that spoon back for a few more bites.
This doesn’t mean you should not eat these foods. It’s simply meant to create more awareness around how much of them you’re eating.
I guess that’s the point of this entire article. We don’t need more “best food” lists or more diets to follow. We need more food flexibility and freedom. Create more awareness around what, how much, and why you’re eating. Pay attention to the things that may be influencing you.