I’ve overeaten more than I’d like to admit. But yikes! Here I am admitting it!
Too much dinner? Check. Stuffing in sweets when already full? Check. Snacking on the couch while watching Netflix late into the night? Check.
When I did my professional intuitive eating training though, I was super excited to hear Evelyn Tribole (author of Intuitive Eating) talking about overeating.
Evelyn was answering a question from a fellow nutritionist, about how to help a client who had a habit of overeating. The lady was apparently trying really hard to stop overeating, but struggling with her attempts.
And there was me on the old Zoom, going “ahem” quietly, as I pondered my own problem.
So what did Evelyn suggest?
And also, what do we know from research about overeating?
Turns out the two of those answers are closely connected. But in order for Evelyn’s suggestion to make sense, I’m going to explain the research first.
#1 Technique – Mindful Eating Reduces Overeating
Mindful eating is all about being in the moment with the food and drink you’re putting in your body, rather than being distracted by everything else. And there is a worthy pile of research to suggest that if you and I eat mindfully, we are less likely to overeat.
Unsurprisingly, most of us tend to do the opposite to mindful eating. We’re more likely to fall into the ‘mindless eating’ camp. Ouch.
We eat while distracted, not noticing the food, not noticing the taste, not noticing if we’re full or not. We’re distracted by our thoughts, phones, what’s going on around us, and how guilty we feel for eating a certain food and so on.
Which is kind of weird. But it’s become the norm in a way, right? People everywhere eat distracted, in cafes with phones, at work in front of their computer.
We literally think nothing of seeing someone eating in a distracted, mindless way.
But it is weird if you think of it like this….
Imagine going to a movie – you go to the ticket stand, buy the ticket, grab yourself some (seriously over-priced) popcorn, and make your way to the cinema.
Once seated, you get out your phone and start scrolling your social media feed.
The cinema lights dim, they roll the movie and you just keep scrolling your social media feed on your phone, texting your friend, munching on your popcorn.
Halfway through you glance up at the screen and wonder what’s going on in the movie, you have no idea, because you haven’t been listening or watching the movie.
Then back to your social media feed you go, scrolling, scrolling, time flies along, you lose track of time, and before you know it the closing credits are rolling.
You can’t believe the movie finished so quickly! Gosh, you can’t remember what actually happened, you didn’t catch the main storyline even, because you were so busy scrolling social media.
And off you go to continue with your day, having spent money on a movie ticket that you consumed but really didn’t even notice.
This is EXACTLY what happens when you eat mindlessly.
You have no idea what your food tasted like, you missed out on enjoying the flavour. You certainly didn’t notice when you hunger disappeared and fullness appeared, because you didn’t notice anything about the meal experience at all, you were too busy focusing on X, Y or Z.
Does that sound like you some days? All days?
Well, you’re not alone.
And it’s not surprising we overeat when we’re such mindless eaters, because we don’t register or notice anything going on in our body when we’re so distracted while eating. Just like sitting in a movie theatre and playing with your phone instead.
The Solution Is SIMPLE – Focus On Your Meal And Eat Mindfully
- Put your food on a plate (always, even snacks)
- Sit down at a table
- Eat slowly
- Put your fork down between bites
- Chew thoroughly
- Notice the aroma of the food – does it smell delicious? What can you notice in the aroma?
- Stop halfway through the meal and check in with your tummy (am I starting to feel full? how full?)
- Notice the different flavours and textures in your meal/snack as you eat
- Think about where the food came from, who grew it?
- Notice if eating produces any emotions – then let them go (especially any feelings of guilt!)
- Notice if the enjoyment of the taste starts to wain as you’re eating, this is often a sign of fullness emerging
- Try to make the meal last for at least 20 minutes, so your tummy has a chance to signal fullness to your brain
It might be a big call to do this at every meal and snack in your day, especially if you’ve got kids to chase around. But at the very least aim to eat one meal or snack mindfully each day, so you’re learning and practicing mindful eating techniques.
Because the simple fact is – the more mindful eating you do, the less overeating you’re likely to do.
And what about Evelyn Tribole’s tip for overeating?
Focus On Your Food And Thoughts While Overeating
Evelyn recommended the nutritionist get her client to really dial down on that mindfulness whenever she was overeating. So you could try the same.
Notice what you’re feeling when you’re overeating – what emotions are there?
Notice what the food tastes like – does it still taste good? Or are you getting tired of the taste?
Notice what your tummy feels like – is it overfull and uncomfortable?
You don’t need to try and stop yourself from overeating in that moment. Just use the experience as a learning experience. Gather whatever information you can and then regroup afterwards.
Maybe you’ll discover somethings you didn’t know before – perhaps you want to keep eating because you’re scared you’ll make yourself go on a diet again and you just don’t ever want to feel hungry again.
Or maybe you’re still relishing the joy of eating tasty food as an intuitive eater, after years of dieting and eating boring food. It can be hard to say no and stop eating.
The key point for all of this is to slow down and become more mindful.
If you really want to stop overeating you need to become a mindful eater.
You can’t expect to vanquish overeating while continuing to eat mindlessly, it just won’t happen.
Which is more important to you? Eating mindlessly? Or stopping the overeating?
If it’s the latter – then put a note in your phone to remind yourself to eat your next meal mindlessly, you can do it!
P.S. Want a simple to follow checklist to guide your mindful eating? Grab a copy of my Happy Eating Checklist below: