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Five Strategies to Avoid Overeating

Wellness

By Melinda Maryniuk, MEd, RD, CDCES

We eat to give our bodies the energy, calories, and nutrients they need. We eat to maintain and improve our health. We eat because we’re hungry. But for most of us, there are many other reasons we eat…

We eat because it is enjoyable and social. We eat as a result of triggers or cues, like seeing food on the counter, watching TV, or even sitting in a comfy chair at the end of the day. We eat in response to emotions – such as feeling stressed, happy, or sad – and food can be a reward for getting through the day, a source of comfort or a way to soothe ourselves.

An important part of your healthy eating journey is to anticipate times where you’re likely to overeat and have a plan for how you’re going to manage them. When you identify high risk times of day or specific situations that might trigger you to overeat, you can be better prepared to either avoid the triggers entirely or face them thoughtfully. You can be in charge!

The following 5 tips offer guidance for managing those high risk times of day… 

1. Be aware. Know that overeating can and will happen. Keep in mind the 80/20 approach (eating nutritious foods 80 – 90% of the time, and allowing room for treats 10 – 20% of the time.) If you deprive yourself of foods you love, you are more likely to treat them as a reward … which can trigger overeating. So, it’s best to learn to eat those special treats, but in moderation.

2. Find the triggers. Ask yourself, what are the times of day, or places, that are most associated with overeating? Is it after dinner while watching TV? When you get home after a stressful day at work? Is it when you are with a certain person? When you know what your triggers are for overeating, you can make a plan to avoid them, or be more mindful of how you’re using food. .

3. Be mindful. If you decide to eat something you had not planned – or eat extra amounts… be thoughtful about it. Give it your full attention – sit down, chew slowly, really taste the food and avoid other distractions. When you eat, focus on the pleasure of it. Chances are, you will eat less when you are mindful. 

4. Make healthy swaps. You probably know a few simple healthy swaps when it comes to food choices, like having an apple instead of a handful of cookies. However, you can also think about the feeling certain foods (or beverages) give you. Does it make you feel happy? Does it calm you when you feel stressed? Find a comforting activity you can turn to instead that can provide the same feeling – without involving food. For example – when you’re stressed, instead of eating a bag of chips, would taking a hot bath fill the need? If you’re feeling happy and turn to food to celebrate, would calling a friend give you a similar sense of pleasure? While food is often used as a reward, other activities can fill that same function if you plan ahead.

5. Keep a positive attitude. If you get off track, get back on the wagon again. Don’t wait for the beginning of the new week. Be forgiving and compassionate with yourself, because guilt and shame are toxic to behavior change. Adopt an attitude of non-judgmental curiosity and ask yourself, “Why did this happen?”, and think of how you might manage a similar situation in the future…

Knowing there will be high risk times of day and triggers that cause you to overeat is the first step to managing them. Your journey will be easier when you use these five guidelines to help you navigate the tough times.

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