Do you ever feel like you can’t stop eating, even when you’re not hungry anymore? There are many reasons why eating habits can get out of control. Emotions, stress, and your environment can influence your ability to stop eating.
Think back to March 2020. Between the end of 2020 and early 2021, surveys revealed that over 100 million Americans were eating an extra 18,000 calories per month, equating to gaining five pounds per month.1 One-third of Americans could not stop eating during one of the most stressful times in recent history.
Why Do I Overeat?
Stress is one of the many reasons people can’t stop eating. Other reasons people overeat include boredom, emotions (happy or lonely), habits, time of day, or they are truly hungry.
You can also feel hungry when there is an imbalance of macronutrients in the diet. If we lack protein, high fiber carbohydrates, or fat, we become hungry again quickly after a meal. Learning how to build a balanced meal will help you stay full longer, and ensure you meet your daily vitamin and nutrient requirements.
Unfortunately, most Americans live in a food environment which makes healthy eating more challenging. We can access convenient and affordable ultra-processed foods which are notoriously deficient in fiber, protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Take a moment and think of how many fast-food restaurants or drive-thrus are within a couple of miles of you.
Research shows that people who consume ultra-processed foods eat more and gain more weight when compared to people eating a minimally processed diet.2,3 Regular consumption of processed foods can increase your risk of diabetes, being overweight, obesity, and metabolic disease.3
It is helpful to decipher your reason(s) behind overeating. Apply these six simple and realistic tips to stop eating when full.
How to Stop Overeating
Eat at Regularly Spaced Intervals (aka Don’t Skip Meals!)
Going too long between meals can lead to uncontrolled eating. Your glucose levels (blood sugars) can dip, which signals your body to eat.
Due to increased hunger, you may eat faster and consume more than what you need in a short time frame. It takes 15 to 20 minutes for your body to start feeling the physical effects of absorbed nutrition, so slow down at meals!
Eating every three to five hours can help stabilize your hunger levels throughout the day. Some people can feel hungry again within an hour of eating. This is likely related to a lack of key nutrients at a meal, like protein, fiber, or healthy fat.
Balance Your Meals and Snacks
You may be asking, “why do I want to eat all the time”? It could be related to the lack of variety in your meals. Most people eat enough carbohydrates daily. Unfortunately, 41.8% come from low-quality carbohydrates like refined grains, juice, and added sugars.4
Low-quality carbohydrates provide quick bursts of energy but will leave you feeling hungry again in as little as one hour. Choosing high-quality carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, non-starchy vegetables, and beans will fill you up longer and provide more nutrients.4
Pairing your high-quality carbohydrate with adequate protein will keep you full longer. Protein increases satiety longer than carbohydrates or fat.5 You can add two eggs or a container of Greek yogurt to breakfast and a 3-ounce serving of chicken, fish, or lean beef to your lunch or dinner meal to help you stop overeating.
Eat Enough Calories
Sometimes eating too few calories in the first half of your day can cause you to overeat in the latter half of the day, particularly after leaving work. Without a balanced snack or dinner plan, you may feel an uncontrollable urge to eat large amounts of easy-to-grab food like chips, cookies, and crackers. Many people report that they can’t stop in situations like this once they start eating.
Prevent this cycle by eating at least a third to half of your daily calories before dinner. Try a protein bar with at least 10 g of protein or a trail mix with nuts and unsweetened dried fruit. Keep shelf-stable snacks in your car or work bag.
Drink Water Throughout the Day
Hydration is important. Drinking enough water throughout the day may keep you from overeating and help you lose weight.
A short-term study on 173 overweight women found that simply drinking more than 1 liter of water daily may help with weight loss. The participants’ shift to drinking adequate water intake is thought to lower daily calorie intake and alter metabolism.6
Try drinking water throughout the day and see how it affects your hunger and eating.
Savor Your Food
Many of us multi-task while eating. We spend little time enjoying our food due to our busyness. Taking the time to taste meals can help you have an increased awareness of how you feel as you eat. You might be more aware of when you are full.
This practice of mindful eating involves “being aware of the present moment when one is eating” and “paying close attention to the effect of the food on the senses.” A mindful eating approach to food can help prevent overeating.7
Pick one meal or snack this week and savor the food.
- Turn off your TV and laptop.
- Put your phone away or on airplane mode.
- Try to eat the food as slowly as you can.
- Notice the flavors, texture, temperature, and smells.
Practicing mindful eating can help you establish healthy behaviors with food and the people you eat with.
Pay Attention to Hunger and Fullness Cues
Hunger and fullness cues are your body’s natural way of telling you to eat or to stop eating. Over time, we can learn to ignore these cues. You may stop eating before you are full or eat past fullness. Some people ignore their hunger cues and don’t eat for much of the day.
A great way to start listening to your cues is to rank your fullness and hunger on a scale of 1 to 10. A score of one on the hunger scale indicates you are so hungry you feel dizzy, sick, and empty, whereas ten is beyond full, stuffed to the brim, and also feeling ill.
Rating your hunger before eating is a mini-assessment to help you decide if it is time to eat. Generally, most people eat when they rank themselves a 3 to 4 and stop eating when they reach a 6 to 8. This prevents getting too hungry or too full.
Experiment this week by ranking your hunger and fullness before and after meals. You might need a little less food in the morning to reach a 6 or 7, whereas, by lunch, you need more to reach that same number. That’s perfect! You are learning how your body functions best and how to fuel it well.
Nourish is Here to Help
Navigating healthy eating behaviors can be overwhelming. If you find yourself constantly overeating and need help to make changes, you may want to work with an expert.
A registered dietitian (RD) is a trained health professional who can facilitate nutrition changes to help you stop overeating. Nourish can connect with you an RD who specializes in mindful eating; they can help you make lifelong changes.
At Nourish, we help people achieve health and wellness through virtual, personalized nutrition counseling. Our services are covered by insurance and 100% remote. Click here to get in touch and book an appointment today!
- Psychology Today. (2021, May 23). COVID Calories: 100 Million Americans Are Eating 18,000+ More Calories Per Month.
- Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake.
- Elizabeth, L., Machado, P., Zinöcker, M., Baker, P., & Lawrence, M. (2020). Ultra-Processed Foods and Health Outcomes: A Narrative Review.
- Shan, Z., Rehm, C. D., Rogers, G., Ruan, M., Wang, D. D., Hu, F. B., Mozaffarian, D., Zhang, F. F., & Bhupathiraju, S. N. (2019). Trends in Dietary Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat Intake and Diet Quality Among US Adults, 1999-2016.
- Paddon-Jones, D., Westman, E., Mattes, R. D., Wolfe, R. R., Astrup, A., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. (2008). Protein, weight management, and satiety.
- Stookey, J. D., Constant, F., Popkin, B. M., & Gardner, C. D. (2008). Drinking water is associated with weight loss in overweight dieting women independent of diet and activity.
- Warren, J. M., Smith, N., & Ashwell, M. (2017). A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutrition research reviews, 30(2), 272–283. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954422417000154
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