A: Thanks so much for sending us your question, Olivia. First off, you are far from alone. And it’s true, you can gain weight (or thwart your weight-loss effort) even when you follow a super-healthy diet if you don’t also practice portion control. And sometimes, that’s easier said than done. Although there is certainly more to the whole weight-loss equation, calories do count.
Fortunately, you’ve already gotten off to a great start by filling your pantry with healthy foods (while tossing the high-calorie junk food, which tends to be really easy to overeat), gathering great & healthy recipes that are good for you (and you find to be tasty), and finding an exercise program that you can stick to. Great job! You’ve already accomplished so much. (Go ahead and pat yourself on the back.)
Now it’s just a matter of making some small adjustments to help you control those calories while still enjoying the foods you eat. Here are ten tips on how to stop overeating:
How to Stop Overeating: 10 Simple Tips
Tip #1: Ensure you’re getting plenty of sleep. If you want to overeat, just skimp on sleep. There’s a strong sleep-eat connection—these two processes are deeply intertwined. When you’re fatigued, you’re looking for energy, and energy most often comes from the foods we eat. Unfortunately, when tired, the types of foods most people gravitate toward are junk foods that are high in calories.
In one study, researchers used MRI scans to look at the brain activity of sleep-deprived vs. well-rested folks and discovered that the reward centers of the brain in those people who didn’t get enough sleep showed significantly stronger responses to images of high-calorie foods.
In addition, when you don’t get enough sleep, the hormones that regulate appetite are also affected. For example, levels of the appetite-stimulating ghrelin go up, and levels of the satiety (appetite-suppressing hormone) leptin go down. Late nights also tend to add up to increased calorie consumption. So, instead of asking wondering how to stop overeating, do yourself a favor and ensure you’re getting 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep at night.
Tip #2: Eat real food. It sounds like you already have this under control. You likely already know it’s much harder to overeat broccoli or kale (no matter how delicious the recipe) than it is to scarf down a calorie-dense bag of chips or a pint of ice cream. So, as you’re building your meal plan (more on this below), focus on whole, real foods you enjoy while avoiding those you know trigger you to overeat (which tend to be more highly processed). Speaking of which, be mindful of your “trigger” foods, which can even be “healthy” foods (like nuts, for example) for some people. Keep plenty of low-calorie (often referred to as “free”) foods on hand, such as celery, lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, sugar snap peas, carrots, jicama, peaches, grapefruit, strawberries, watermelon, and oranges, so you can reach for those when you want a quick snack.
Tip #3: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Just as a lack of sleep can lead to overeating, so can a lack of water because the brain has a hard time differentiating between hunger and thirst. To help prevent this, ensure you’re staying hydrated by keeping water with you at all times — next to your computer, during your workout, in the car… wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, keep sipping away to ensure you’re staying hydrated.
Tip #4: Eat slowly. With today’s busy schedules, it’s easy to find yourself eating on the run, rushing through a meal, and eating mindlessly. We don’t even give our brains a chance to monitor what we’re eating. So, before you eat, remember that you’re not in a race. One simple and very effective technique on how to stop overeating is to set your food down, and before taking even one bite, stop and take 5 to 10 deep breaths. Prepare your mind and body for the food you’re about to partake. Then, as you’re eating, set down your fork between each bite, so you can chew and swallow fully before taking the next bite.
Speaking of bites, one way to slow down is to chew your food — 40 TIMES, to be exact. Research shows that chewing each bite 40 times increases feelings of fullness and suppresses appetite to a greater extent than when the same food is chewed 10 or 25 times. As an added bonus, chewing each bite 40 times also increases levels of a hormone called GLP-1, which not only suppresses hunger but also helps control blood sugar.
Finally, it takes your brain 20 minutes to register it’s full, so when you eat quickly, you may inadvertently continue eating well past the point when you’re full. In addition to slowing down, another great recommendation is to eat only until you feel about 80% full. This will give your brain a chance to catch up to your belly—before you overeat.
Tip #5: Meal plan and meal prep. We’ve all heard the saying, “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” And that really is true when it comes to meals. When you’re winging it, you’re more likely to eat foods that aren’t as healthy, and you’re also more likely to eat more than you think. One simple step that will save you time throughout the week, help you save money, and support your weight loss is to plan and prep your meals in advance.
Tip #6: Pre-portion your meals. You’ve made a delicious meal, and you’re getting ready to sit down to eat. After you put your perfectly portioned serving on your plate, pack up any leftovers to help prevent yourself from eating more than you planned. Put leftovers into individual containers for future meals, and you’ll not only save yourself from overeating tonight, you’ll also have tomorrow’s lunch or dinner ready to go. (You can even put pre-portioned leftovers into the freezer for a future night.)
And when it comes to some of those delicious carrot cake balls mentioned above, after you make them, store them in the freezer and only pull out one to thaw. They’ll be safely stored out of sight and out of mind, yet available for a tasty snack with just a little planning.
Tip #7: Stop multitasking through meals. Do you find yourself eating most of your meals at your desk while cramming in some extra work, catching up on emails, or surfing the Internet? Or, do you tend to plop yourself in front of the TV as you catch up (or binge watch) on your favorite show? How about while you’re driving down the road on the way to your next appointment? That’s the American way, isn’t it? This is also a death blow to overeating.
Unfortunately, not only is multitasking interfering with your productivity, it’s also likely to cause you to overeat and be less satisfied with what you have eaten (which can result in eating more later on in the day). So again, before you start eating, turn off the TV, turn away from your computer, and take those 10 deep breaths to fully engage with and enjoy your food. You’ll enjoy it more and eat less. Win-win!
Tip #8: De-stress. Ahh… stress. While there is positive stress and negative stress, stress-induced eating is rarely good. From the hormones unleashed (e.g., cortisol) to the food choices made (e.g., high-calorie “comfort foods”), it’s easy to see how it can lead to overeating and weight gain. Instead of sinking in stress and asking how to stop overeating, find healthier ways to deal with stress, such as meditating, exercising, spending time with friends and loved ones, getting outdoors, and remembering to breathe.
Tip #9: Fill up on fiber and protein. One study found that women who ate a higher fiber diet over a 12-year timespan were half as likely to become obese compared to those who ate less fiber. Why? Because fiber is filling, helps us feel more satisfied, and helps us manage blood sugar levels. Plus, high-fiber foods are typically lower in energy density — meaning high-fiber foods tend to have fewer calories for a given amount of volume/food. We tend to eat less without even thinking about it because we get fuller faster. In other words, fiber is key on how to stop overeating.
The type of fiber, however, is important. The viscous soluble fibers (such as pectins, found in fruits like pears and apples; beta-glucans, found in oats and barley; glucomannan, found in beans and legumes), which form a gel-like substance in the gut, appear to be the most effective for decreasing appetite.
Protein is also a super-satiating nutrient that helps feel more satisfied and eat fewer calories. It also helps boost the metabolic rate and burn more calories. Plus, it helps preserve our calorie-burning muscle mass. As Coach Tim recently explained, “Protein-rich foods have the greatest thermogenic burn of all, boosting the metabolism THREE to SIX TIMES more than carbs or fats. This means you burn more calories each day when you consume a higher-protein diet. It also means protein-rich foods provide less metabolizable energy (than carbs or fats)—meaning your body is less likely to store calories from protein as fat.”
Tip #10: Let hunger be your guide. If all you’re eating is leafy greens, you’re going to find yourself hungry, even starving. And if you’re starving, you may find yourself wolfing down any food in your path—fitness goals be damned. And if you eat until you’re full — especially if you eat quickly — you’re likely to regularly overeat. So instead of waiting until you’re really hungry or really full, use a hunger scale of 1 (starving) to 10 (stuffed) to guide your eating. Eat when your hunger level is between a 2 and 4—getting hungry but not quite starving—and stop when you hit between a 7 and 8—feeling not quite full.
How to Stop Overeating: A Recap
While you may not be able to perfectly follow all of these tips all of the time, by incorporating them into how you eat, you can begin to eat more mindfully, which will allow you to get in touch with your brain and body. And ultimately, that’s key on how to stop overeating.