This is the number one question I get from potential clients as an eating disorders therapist. One of the major causes of overeating is stress. One survey showed that 38 percent of American adults overeat due to stress. Of those, half say they overeat at least once a week.
According to another article, another reason we overeat is emotional (I like to say we eat when we are ‘sad, mad or glad’), and because we are constantly bombarded by seeing visuals of food all day long (TV ads, social media, at the grocery store or those treats in the break room at work).
I have spent over 25 years helping people end the overeating habit forever and have also mastered this myself. I want you to begin experiencing a peaceful relationship with food and your body. Read more to learn how.
Top Five Tips to Stop Overeating
Tip #1: Practise Mindful Eating
Esther’s Top 10 Strategies for Mindful Eating
- Only eat while sitting.
- Set a place for yourself at the table with a placemat, cutlery, napkin, and a glass for a beverage.
- Eat away from your work area — in a lunchroom, restaurant, or outside.
- Eat with chopsticks — it will automatically slow you down.
- Take a few deep breaths before you eat to calm and center yourself.
- Chew each bite at least 30 times before swallowing
- Give thanks for your meal and appreciate that you have food to eat.
- If you are eating with others, avoid upsetting conversation over meals and instead, practice eating quietly and mindfully with the other person.
- Turn off the phone at all mealtimes so you won’t be interrupted.
- Eat at the same time every day for each of your three meals and make sure it takes you a minimum of 20 minutes to eat a meal.
For a more thorough explanation of mindful eating, please see this blog post:
Tip #2: Eat Only When You’re Hungry
Here is a tool I often use with clients who are trying to tune into their bodies’ natural hunger cues. It’s called the Hunger/Satiety Scale.
Hunger has a wide range of intensities. Pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues. Imagine hunger as a scale from 1 to 10 where 1 is hunger to the point of light-headedness, 5 is no hunger, and 10 is “Thanksgiving full” where you may even start to feel pain. Ideally, you want to stay in the middle of this range between slightly hungry and comfortably full. If you allow yourself to get too hungry, everything starts to look good and it’s easy to overeat.
On the other hand, if you are always eating before you feel hungry, you are ignoring the natural signals that help you maintain a regular body weight. It is important to stop eating just before you feel full because it takes time for the brain to get the fullness message. Some days you will be more active and require more energy than others, so respond to hunger cues appropriately.
Tip #3: Eat in Front of and With Other People
Do you sneak-eat? I liken this habit to cheating on one’s partner with an unsavoury character: food becomes your ‘secret lover’ and you regularly steal away to feel embraced in its seductive yet dangerous arms. You know its bad for you and leading you down a dark path, but you find its pull impossible to resist. Your hidden eating habits become a dirty and shameful secret.
Read this blog post for tips on how to stop the sneak-eating habit.
Tip #4: Deal with Your Feelings
Emotions we Often Stuff Down With Food
Emotion #1: Anger
Many of us are socialized to be “nice” at all costs and are discouraged from expressing anger or resentment. Often, we will eat instead of focusing on what is “eating us.” We stuff our anger down with food to cope, but unfortunately, this doesn’t get rid of our anger, it simply buries it and if we don’t deal with it, it will keep popping up until we do. Not only that, but we hurt our bodies by overeating and then add the feelings of guilt and shame to the anger we started with.
A way to get out of the “angry eating trap” is to delay stuffing our faces with food (even 10 minutes will do) and instead, sit down, take a deep breath and tune in to what we’re really feeling and what we need to do in order to let go of our anger. For this, I recommend using the “Emotional Eating Diary” on a regular basis which you can find in my book, It’s Not About the Food.
Another key to dealing with anger is to set boundaries. Read this blog post to find out how.
Emotion #2: Anxiety
Many of us eat in an attempt to lower anxiety. It’s a coping mechanism; a way of self-medicating ourselves. In fact, research has shown that carbohydrate-rich foods like bread and cookies actually boost serotonin levels in the brain; a chemical that makes you feel calm. This explains why we often reach for carbohydrate-rich ‘comfort foods’ when we’re stressed.
Unfortunately, this ‘calming effect’ only lasts for a brief time and when the serotonin levels fall soon after we’ve eaten, anxiety comes back at full force. Then we’re left not only with the original anxiety, but also the self-loathing and physical discomfort that comes from emotional eating.
Read this blog post to learn some things you can do instead of running the refrigerator the next time you feel stressed and out of sorts:
Tip #5: Find Something Else to do With Your Hands
The majority of my clients tend to overeat in the evenings after dinner, once the working is day is over and/or the kids are in bed and they finally have some ‘down time’. They find themselves in the middle of the kitchen almost trance-like, rummaging through the cupboard/fridge/freezer looking for something to eat.
A tried and tested alternative to shoving food into your mouth is to distract yourself with a healthier activity. Here are some that work really well for my clients:
- crafting — knitting, crocheting, sewing, needlepoint, etc.
- Going out for a walk
- Watching TV with a hot mug of tea in their hands to sip on
- Reading a book
- Playing a board game
- Writing in a journal
- Calling someone on the phone
Contact me to set up a free 15-minute phone consultation to explore doing counselling sessions.