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Why Do We Eat Too Much?

Jul 9 2021
5 min read
woman holding coffee cup and looking out window

Whether you’ve felt the sudden ache of a full stomach or were surprised to see that you’ve munched your way to the bottom of a snack bag... may have asked yourself: Why did I eat too much? Your first inclination may be to blame yourself for a lack of “self-control.” Be gentle with yourself. Though personal choice does play a role in how much we eat, overeating tends to be a product of several factors both within you and around you. Explore just a few of them and ways you can prevent yourself from eating more than your body needs the next time around.

1. Mindless Eating

Research shows that eating while doing another task, such as working at your desk, watching TV, or driving can cause you to eat more food than when you’re sitting at a table, focusing on and honoring your dining experience. Pull up a chair in the kitchen, a break room or wherever you can escape distraction for each meal, and engage your senses in the moment. Tuning into the taste of a sweet potato, the aroma of freshly made soup or the texture of your sandwich’s multigrain bread can help keep your focus on what you’re doing so you don’t eat without thought.

2. Eating Too Quickly

Often a companion of mindless eating, scarfing down your food too quickly can cause you to eat past the point of contentment. To give your brain the time it needs to get the message from your stomach that you’ve had enough (20 minutes), pace yourself as you eat. Try putting your fork down between bites, and check in with yourself during your meal so you are more attuned when you’ve satisfied your hunger.

3. Depriving Yourself

Many diets ask you to put some of your favorite foods on a “no” list. While it may be wise to limit certain goodies, completely nixing some of your favorites all together generally has one outcome—eating too much of them the next time they cross your path. Instead, set some boundaries around your trigger foods. If you know that it’s hard to eat just a square of chocolate, make a rule that you only eat high-quality chocolate that you buy just once a month.

4. Your Emotions

We sometimes forget that the role of food is to nourish our bodies and not our feelings.

Remember that eating well has more rewards in the long run than any immediate gratification eating may bring. Celebrate a triumph, comfort yourself or otherwise cater to how you’re feeling by engaging in activities that don’t center on food; when emotions run high, emotional eating can easily turn to overeating. Congratulate yourself on your promotion by allowing yourself a lazy afternoon with friends, or call up a loved one when you’re feeling low.

5. Unchecked Stress

Chronic stress can increase your body’s release of the hormone cortisol, which increases appetite and causes you to crave high-fat, sugary foods. Left to build up, you may not only eat too much, but face other health concerns, from headaches to poor sleep and more. Employ stress management strategies to keep your tension—and your overeating—under control.

6. Portion Sizes

When you look at the servings of food doled out in restaurants and grocery stores, it’s no surprise that we eat more than we used to. For instance, an average muffin weighed about 3 ounces in the 1950s; today, one is likely to be closer to 6.5 ounces—more than double the size. When dining outside your home, try halving your portion before taking your first bite.

7. Skipping Meals

Ever skip breakfast and find yourself gorging on lunch? We tend to eat more than we need when our blood sugar is low—a side effect of skipping meals. Eat your three squares—even better, six smaller meals throughout the day—to keep levels steady and extreme hunger at bay.

8. The "Clean Plate Club"

Many of us were taught to eat until the food in front of us was cleared, rather than when we felt satisfied. If you’re still in the habit, serve yourself a modest amount of food to start. You can always go back for more if you’re truly hungry, but you may find that you are actually satisfied with far less than what you’re used to eating.