Overeating is a common issue among both men and women and a big contributor to unwanted weight gain. In this article I’m going give you a clear 7-point checklist for how to stop overeating so you can get back in control more often and find success with your health and body composition goals.
Do you see overeating as “the problem” you face? If so, I’d encourage you to see it differently. In my experience, overeating is not the problem. It’s a symptom of other challenges you’re facing.
Here’s a seven-point checklist that should help you with overeating (if you take action beyond simply reading it). Keep in mind that solving your overeating challenge is not going to happen overnight. It requires long-term work. If you’re not patient, frustration will corrupt your desire to succeed. You must be willing to play the long game.
#1 – Are you sure you’re overeating?
How can you be sure that you’re overeating? If you’re like most people, you’ve calculated some arbitrary number of calories using an app like MyFitnessPal (read: Why You Shouldn’t Use MyFitnessPal to lose weight).
If you go over that calorie count, you’re said to be “overeating.”
But using calories as a tool is more harmful than helpful.
There’s no solid way to calculate your caloric need because it fluctuates daily. And even if you could calculate your needs, it’s nearly impossible to track your calorie intake accurately.
Your body does the calculations automatically though, which brings me to the next point…
#2 – Are you overeating because you’re not listening to your body?
Overeating means eating more calories than your body needs. That doesn’t make much sense when you realize that your body has an internal calculator and is designed to self-regulate intake.
If you’re overeating consistently, it’s almost certain that you’re not listening to your body’s signals.
There are two main signaling mechanisms:
If you want to stop overeating, it’s important to follow your signals to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.
I realize that you’ve heard that advice before.
“Kevin, if I could eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full, I wouldn’t have an overeating problem.”
I get that, and we’re going to talk about why you can’t follow your signals in a moment. But it’s still important to cover all the bases. Many people don’t know their body can and will signal properly if you have the right factors in place.
Eating when you’re hungry.
Modern humans rarely eat when they are hungry. Instead, they eat when the clock hits some arbitrary time or when their boss tells them they can break for lunch.
It’s also common for people to pre-emptively strike their hunger. Sometimes people eat now because they know they might not get a chance later. And sometimes people eat around the clock because they’re afraid of hunger.
If you’re not listening to your body when it comes to meal timing, there’s a good chance you’re going to be over or under-eating.
You also might be eating to feed emotional hunger instead of physical hunger, especially if you have issues with your emotional metabolism (more on this issue later).
Stopping when you’re full.
Your body uses the hormone leptin to help signal satiety.
There are two primary reasons you don’t stop eating when leptin signals you to stop eating:
- You’re leptin resistant.
- You’re eating emotionally.
If you’re leptin resistant, that can be resolved in fairly short order.
If you’re eating emotionally, which we’ll talk about that more on the 7th point of this checklist, that can take longer.
The bottom line is that if you want to stop overeating, you must be able to consistently eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. While that might sound impossible now, I can assure you that it’s achievable.
#3 – Are you balancing macronutrients properly?
The three main macronutrients are fat, protein, and carbs. Out of the three macros, protein is the most satiating.
Carbohydrates and fat are both satiating as well, but you need to make sure you’re eating healthy fats and real-food carbohydrates.
Inflammatory fats disrupt your hormone signaling and drive up inflammation.
Processed, hyper-palatable carbs disrupt your hormone signaling, feed emotional eating issues, and can result in physiological dependence.
Contrary to some opinions floating around the internet, you can still eat carbs and not overeat. My recommendation is to match your carbohydrate intake with your activity levels.
If you don’t have emotional eating issues and you still overeat, it’s almost certain that you’re eating inflammatory fats or processed, hyper-palatable carbs.
#4 – Is your gut healthy? Are you nurturing your gut?
There are 100 trillion microbes in the human gut with over 1000 different species represented. In terms of complexity of function, the gut is second only to the human brain.
Not only is your gut the first line of defense for your entire body, it’s where 95% or more of your serotonin is produced.
This is why gut health is one of our Six Pillars of Optimal Human Health.
The majority of adults are suffering from a range of ailments related to poor gut health and don’t know it: digestive distress, reflux, low energy, mood instability, sleep problems, diarrhea/constipation, slow metabolism or trouble losing weight, anxiety or other mental/emotional stability issues, and frequent illness.
Well, guess what? The gut also might be responsible for your overeating issues.
Smithsonian Magazine covered this in an article, Your Gut Bacteria May Be Controlling Your Appetite.
The key factor? Well, like most issues related to human health, it could be a host of factors.
“Here we see a bacterial protein that appears to inhibit appetite by stimulation of neurons in the brain,” Fetissov notes. “But you can imagine that other bacteria can produce other proteins that can influence not only other appetite pathways but entirely different pathways. We may find out that human behavior is in some part very much influenced by gut bacteria.”
While this point in the checklist isn’t as actionable as some of the others, making sure you have healthy gut function is critical for overall wellness. And doing that work might just bring about the end to your overeating.
#5 – Are you eating nutrient-rich food?
Let’s say your body needs 2400 calories today (don’t worry about the number itself, I could have picked anything). Then let’s say you eat 1200 calories of nutritionally poor food and 1200 calories of nutritionally rich food. You’ve only received part of the micronutrient load you could have received through 2400 calories of nutrient-rich food.
Most people in modern society are eating more nutrient-poor food than nutrient-rich food. This causes a condition I call “nutritional poverty” where the body is starving for micronutrients at the cellular level.
This starvation prompts endless calls to eat more food. But, you’ve already consumed the 2400 calories your body needed today.
To get more nutrients, you have to eat more than that. This means nourishing your body in this scenario results in weight gain.
Not only that, but processed foods hijack your brain chemistry and make listening to your body impossible. This is a vicious combination. Not only are your cells are starving for nutrition and telling you to eat more, but you’re eating nutrient-poor food that’s putting your appetite into overdrive.
This is why your diet needs to consist primarily of nutrient-rich real food.
Real food allows you to snatch your brain chemistry out of the grasp of the processed food trance and it gives your cells the nutrients they need. This ends the cycle and puts you back in the driver’s seat.
If you want to stop overeating, switching to nutrient-dense real food is one of the quickest and most significant steps you can take.
#6 – Are you under too much stress?
In today’s modern world, being healthy requires some extra time and attention.
Let’s face it, the most convenient foods are often the most unhealthy.
In order to consistently eat healthy, you have to have the necessary physical, mental, and emotional resources.
Physical resources (like time and money) allow you to eat slower and afford higher quality food.
Mental resources give you the resolve to cook, meal prep, or choose a particular restaurant.
Emotional resources ensure that you’ll be able to choose nourishing foods instead of coping foods.
Stress chips away at these resources.
Stress makes you seek out convenience foods.
And stress, for those who struggle with emotional eating, drives food-seeking for comfort, control, and coping.
If you want to stop overeating, work to get your stress levels under control. Make sure you have healthy boundaries. And work to improve your emotional metabolism.
#7 – Are you eating emotionally?
Just because you know what to do, doesn’t mean you’ll actually do it.
Sure, you can willpower your way to a healthier diet for a short time, but it never lasts, does it? Why is that?
The reason you have a gap between your good intentions and your behavior is because your behavior is being manipulated.
You probably already know that processed foods can hijack your brain chemistry and physiology and influence your choices. Well, other BioPsychoSocial factors can influence your choices as well.
Even if you commit to real food, you still haven’t done anything to address your relationship with food, body, and self.
You still haven’t done anything to address the pathological stress most of us experience.
You still haven’t gotten to the root of why you overeat, which is likely due to emotional eating and the use of food for comfort, control, and coping.
The fact that you’re reading this article means food is likely your coping mechanism of choice.
Even if you make some of the powerful changes I’ve mentioned, “comfort foods” will find their way back into your diet.
The only way to stop overeating for good is to do the work to heal your relationship with food, body, and Self.
The good news is that when you do this work, willpower is no longer necessary, discipline is no longer necessary, and aligning your behavior with your good intentions on a consistent basis becomes a part of who you are.
This is the psychology of the process that I talk about so often. And it’s one of the main things we focus on at Rebooted Body.
There’s a gap in the health and fitness industry. That gap—the missing piece—is addressing the root influence of your behavior and choices.
The other points I’ve made in this article are important, but you will never succeed with getting a body and life you love until you address this gap.
If you struggle with consistency, emotional eating, overeating, or other eating challenges, there’s more work to do.
Our Decode Your Cravings program is a powerful online program that guides you through this work if you’re serious about finding success.
If you’re not sure of the extent of your emotional eating or overeating issues, I’d highly recommend that you take our free emotional eating evaluation.