The lure of the fridge late at night can result in even the most health-conscious person’s downfall. So why is it, that despite good intentions, you can demolish a block of chocolate after swearing you’d only have two pieces? Or head to the fridge in search of that delicious and magical snack that will fix all, knowing somewhere inside that you will live to regret what you are about to do?
Overeating is more common than you might think. Many mistakenly believe that a lack of willpower is behind it, yet the desire to eat more food than is needed to satisfy hunger and nourish your body can be driven by numerous factors. Whether it’s a habit from your childhood, or a craving for certain flavours, by the end of this article you should understand your overeating habits and have a solution to nip it in the bud!
Are you missing out on nutrients or looking for flavour?
Sometimes we overeat in search of nourishment. Nourishing foods typically have a satiating effect on appetite. Over the last few years the Western diet has moved steadily towards more processed and refined foods. Processed foods tend to be lacking in fibre, vitamins and minerals, which are of course essential to our very being. It is nutrients that keep us alive! Many people over consume highly processed foods, as they provide little to no nourishment and don’t readily engage the satiety centre in the brain.
If you go back for seconds or eat dessert even though you’ve actually eaten enough food, you might be looking for taste bud satisfaction. It’s common to overeat in search of flavour.
Or perhaps due to the pace of life, you’ve started to rely too much on takeaway food. These foods tend to have an emphasis on flavour as opposed to nutrition and unfortunately often contain ingredients that can take away from our health. Pay special attention to simple ways of adding more flavour to food. Use good quality oil, fresh herbs and spices and fresh chili for a bit of spiciness if you can tolerate and enjoy it.
TRY THIS: Make and store nourishing condiments in the fridge to accompany meals. A delicious example is a quick green sauce you can spread over vegetables, salad or meat options. Blend in an avocado, some lemon juice, fresh flat leaf parsley or coriander and a dash of olive oil. Season to taste adding lemon juice and olive oil to reach desired consistency. If snacking is your downfall, take the time to arrange a vegetable platter. Cut up your favourite vegetables and serve with a dip such as hummus, a fun way of increasing the nourishment of your diet.
Are you eating to satisfy your soul?
“Once I start I cannot stop” is a phrase I have heard countless times. The wording gives you a clue. If you were truly eating in order to nourish your body, there would be a point you would feel comfortable, satisfied and nourished, and you would stop. Yet many people eat to find what I call “soul food.” It’s actually not about the food at all. In this case, food is being used to replace a feeling. Eating for comfort, eating to feel lit up, or eating to relieve loneliness is common and it is just one way you may have learnt to cope. If you are eating in search of soul food, rather than to satisfy hunger, bring more of the things that truly nourish your soul into your life. Read more often, dance, sing, move, or appreciate nature. Food can never truly replace the role of soul in your life. And remember what you focus on is what you feel.
TRY THIS: Schedule activities for the times you feel most vulnerable to overeating. Engage in an evening fitness, pilates or yoga class. Or utilize what is abundant and around you, for example, watching the sun go down or observing a beloved as they sleep with their book resting on their lap. Filling your heart with gratitude helps anchor you in the now.
Are you looking for something sweet?
Craving sugar can have a psychological or biochemical basis. Many people don’t feel satisfied unless they have had something sweet after lunch or dinner. This may be because they were brought up having desserts or sweets after meals and so it has become routine in their psychology that after savoury comes sweet. For some, they crave it because they have created a biochemical, blood glucose roller coaster throughout the day.
Others may have formed an emotional connection with sugar. Are you looking for joy? Are you looking for more sweetness in your life? More often than not people crave sweet foods during periods of stress, as the production of adrenalin encourages your body to burn glucose as its fuel as opposed to body fat. When you are burning glucose you tend to crave it to replenish your stores. Sugar in its refined form provides no nutritional benefit to the human body, so opt for sweet choices as close to their natural state as possible.
TRY THIS: If you want something sweet, choose sweet food that supports your health, rather than sweet food that takes away from your health. Good quality dark chocolate or seed and nut truffles can be satisfying solutions, that don’t take away from your health. Emotionally, connect to aspects of your surroundings that bring you joy and “sweetness”.
Are you serving yourself too much?
It is no secret in the West that we regularly serve ourselves too much food. Your stomach is roughly the size of your own clenched fist. This provides a good indication for portion sizes of concentrated foods (low water content) such as carbohydrates and protein that would suit your needs. Two fist sizes of concentrated foods is a rough guide for your main meals. However, for optimal health, the majority of your plate is best filled with water-based vegetables. As I love to say “amp up your greens!”
There are many ways of transitioning to smaller portion sizes and using smaller plates is a great way of making the meal appear larger than it is. Or take a tip from Asian cultures and use chopsticks. Chopsticks will slow you down. It can take the brain up to 30 minutes to sense there is food in the stomach and a lot of people do not allow this time for the feeling of satiety to set in.
TRY THIS: Serve your meal in numerous small bowls and make the meal interactive so it is less about consuming an “allocated” portion size. Many cultures eat like this especially at night which significantly helps avoid over-eating.
Eating is an activity in its own right but it has become commonplace to eat while checking emails, texting, or watching television. Research suggests that those who eat while distracted tend to eat faster, are more likely to snack and report not feeling full after consuming an adequate sized meal. Snacking can become another form of distracted eating, inhaling something as you drive or rush between appointments. There may be times when this is just a by-product of your day but for the most part, endeavour to schedule yourself time for eating occasions. Mindfulness is an essential technique to apply when eating any meal. Listen to your body and eat slowly. Being grateful for the food you eat can help immensely. When you focus on all that you are grateful for you’re less likely to over-eat out of frustration, stress, fear or boredom.
TRY THIS: Schedule yourself regular breaks to refuel. This can be a reminder that appears on your phone. That way, when you eat outside these scheduled break times you may be eating to relieve a feeling such as boredom or stress.
Hormones play a vital role in hunger regulation. A typical pattern of food intake that I witness regularly is to inhale a processed breakfast cereal and race out the door to work. Your blood glucose soars and your pancreas subsequently releases a surge of insulin. If you continue to choose options that make your blood glucose soar (typically refined or processed foods), insulin will be released again and you will continue to feel hungry. Insulin moves glucose out of the blood and into the muscles and fat cells. If insulin levels are high, production of another hormone called leptin is supposed to be initiated to tell your brain you’ve eaten. Leptin is produced by adipose (fat) cells and it circulates through the blood and binds to receptors in the hypothalamus, the area designed to turn off the desire to eat. Insulin can interfere with leptin’s ability to signal to the brain to stop eating.
TRY THIS: Add plant fat to your meals such as raw nuts, seeds, tahini, avocado, coconut and extra virgin olive oil. Fat slows gastric emptying and the speed at which glucose is released into the blood, which is particularly important if you are prone to fluctuating blood glucose levels.
There will always be occasions where there is temptation to over-do it and sometimes that may be just what your soul needs. So put a full stop at the end of the sentence rather than judging yourself if you do eat too much on occasion, remembering it is what you do every day that impacts on your health, not what you do sometimes. Truly getting to the heart of why you consistently overeat however, will only have incredibly positive effects on your body, mind, and soul.