Overeating can seem harmless. So you finished that whole bag of chips the other day — what’s the big deal? But as one of the biggest causes of obesity, overeating runs deeper than simply having the occasional case of my-eyes-were-bigger-than-my-stomach syndrome.
“Overeating is when a person eats to the point of feeling uncomfortable,” says Keri Gans, RD, author of “The Small Diet Change.” “You should be able to walk away from a meal feeling satisfied but not stuffed like you need to undo your pants.”
But it’s not just a physical problem. To get to the root of why we do it, it helps to take a closer look at the psychological as well as the physical.
“A lot of it is behavioral,” says Gans. “Since we were children, we were taught to finish everything on our plate, and therefore we’ve lost the ability to recognize when we’re full.”
When you do fall prey to the temptation to overeat, a few things happen to your body.
“The immediate response for people when they overeat is that they feel tired and sluggish,” says Gans. “It takes work to digest a meal, and, if you’re eating a lot of food — especially high-fat foods — that takes a lot of energy for your body to digest.”
Next, you’ll get that uncomfortable bloated feeling. As your body works to digest the high volume of food, your stomach will produce gases, leaving you to deal with the discomfort of your waistband suddenly cutting into your stomach.
You might also experience a separate pain from acid reflux, which can be triggered by downing a high volume of food.
And most importantly (and obviously), any time you consume more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight.
So what can we do about it? First, figure out if you’re actually hungry or if reaching for the plate of cookies in the break room is more of an emotional response.
“One of the first things I always tell my patients is to use what I call the ‘HALT’ method,” says Gans. “Are they hungry, angry, lonely or tired?”
Once you’ve ruled out an underlying psychological state as your motivation for eating, take a look at what’s actually on your plate. A properly portioned meal that’s high in fiber will fill you up and leave you feeling satisfied and nourished. Gans recommends following the 25-25-50 rule: one-quarter of your meal should be lean protein like grilled shrimp, one-quarter whole grains like whole-wheat pasta and half filling fiber like grilled veggies.
You can also eat from a smaller plate when possible, since several studies have shown that how big our portion appears relative to plate size plays a big role in how much of it we eat.
Now that you’re sitting at the table, make mealtime an actual event. “Slow down and remove distractions,” says Gans. “Actually focus on eating, tasting and enjoying your food.”
And finally, she recommends drinking water with your meals — it will help to slow you down and fill you up, giving you the upper hand on overeating.