Most people experience some form of overeating, especially when weight gain becomes a heightened concern. It’s normal to miss comforting and familiar foods when on a diet, or to feel emotional when we hit a weight loss plateau from time to time.

Weight loss is never a straight line process, with many ups and downs along the way. Unless we are super human, giving up can be fairly difficult to prevent.

However, regular episodes of overeating, depending on their frequency and duration, can pose stumbling blocks to sustainable weight loss and maintenance.  When these urges hit, there are many strategies to help.

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In order to come up with a solution to your individual situation, it’s crucial to understand what is the underlying cause , look at the options below, run through them as a checklist,  and decide on the appropriate strategy/ies to help stop an overeating episode.

Also check out these Worst triggers that make you overeat

Here are some reasons why overeating occurs:

1. Physiological

If we allow our blood sugar to get very low, we will seek out fast releasing energy as a basic survival mechanism.

For example, if our diet is deficient in essential fats we will crave fatty foods; with too much sugar, we can get hooked on sweet foods that increase production of feel good chemicals such as dopamine or serotonin – this is very addictive as we really do feel much better, but have a dip in mood soon after.

Often we are craving the food that is doing us the most harm, sugar is often the culprit.

2. Emotional

When experiencing emotions such as anger, sadness, fear or guilt, we may use food to calm ourselves down, or when we are bored and have lots of time on our hands, we may find ourselves thinking of food as a first option and end up grazing as a ‘time filler’

Dieting causes a lot of stress, makes us feel bad and can lead to overeating – for many years dieting has had the analogy of ‘all or nothing’ and having to cut out our favourite foods so we feel trapped.

Combined with the pressure we impose on ourselves of not losing weight fast enough, this can cause us to have the urge to break free and overeat. The result is feeling uncomfortable  and full of negative self talk, leading to feelings of guilt and despondency, and therefore we give up. Hence the term yo-yo dieting.

3. Beliefs from Childhood

Much of our behaviour is learnt during early childhood (like when a baby cries and we respond with milk).  If a parent was constantly on a diet we may pick up their habits. Or we may have been rewarded for good behaviour with food especially sweet foods so we identify being upset with needing a ‘treat’.

We may have been told to  ‘clean our plates’, causing us to overeat when we are no longer hungry.

Fortunately we can change our habits and our beliefs over time to stop overeating.  Here are some solutions to help:

1. Adopt balanced nutrition

Instead of dieting, adopt the belief that habit change, both in our food and lifestyle choice, is the better option. Ensure you eat regularly meals and snacks to prevent blood sugar dips and cravings.

Have enough essential fats in the form of oils and nuts and seeds, oily fish and avocado, plus protein to satisfy hunger for longer. Eat low GL wholegrain carbohydrates containing fibre which release their sugars slowly sustaining our blood sugar, energy and good mood for longer.

We also need many  vitamins and minerals for the mind to function. If we are back in balance, 75% of cravings disappear, leaving 25% to be resolved by other means . Choose healthy foods first and then you can work out what to do with the little blips.

2. Work through a checklist: What else helps to deal with emotional triggers?

Ask yourself the following questions when the desire to overeat hits:

Have I eaten balanced meals today? Am I hungry? Would a snack or cup of tea or a glass of water be better right now?

If it’s emotional – what can I do right now instead of eating? Speak to a friend? Have I got the situation right? Do I need a break?

Am I bored? What do I enjoy doing? Reading? Sport?

If it’s a genuine craving ask what other food or drink would satisfy?How-to-stop-overeating-for-good_2.jpg– If it’s sweetness you want, choose from the following healthier alternatives to sugary foods and drinks:

Granola and yoghurt with berries
Stewed apple with cinnamon and natural yoghurt
Carrot and walnut, or apple and almond cake (use xylitol as a sweetener)
A fruit smoothie: almond milk or natural yoghurt, berries, half a banana and some pea protein
An apple, pear or satsuma with some almonds.

– If you really want chocolate, then go ahead and have what you want and enjoy it!  Stick to the 80/20 rule, aim to eat well for 6 out of 7 days and accept that you don’t have to be perfect. This will not make you gain weight as knowing you can have some of your favourite food means you are unlikely to binge.

– In the event of a binge, treat it as one episode, forgive yourself, accept you are human and get back on track the next day.

3. Slow down!

Adopt mindfulness to eating. Slowing down and chewing each bite 30 times will help your brain to receive the message that you are full – a task that can take up to 20 minutes.  Stop to meditate daily even for only 10 minutes and take regular deep breaths to bring you into the present moment and help you keep calm.

Keeping centred and calm will put all of your good efforts into perspective and prevent you becoming overwhelmed.

4.Exercise

Exercise provides lots of benefits which will help you to stop overeating:

It boosts energy, feel good endorphins and reduces stress and depression. Usually we will naturally want to eat the right foods as a result.  Aim to schedule 20-30 minutes of aerobic and resistance exercise a week. You’ll find it’s a great motivator as it will raise metabolism, help to build lean tissue and burn fat.

– Exercise will also alleviate boredom, so find something enjoyable to do if you are not a gym goer or are on a tight budget, go walking, dancing or practice yoga via u-tube or download an exercise app.

5. Put your health and wellbeing top of your agenda!

Focus on what you can do, rather than what you can’t do. As you will be right either way.

Make time for yourself, schedule menu planning and food shopping  so you have the right foods to hand.

Put exercise in your diary so other less important activities won’t get in the way.

Often we are just rushing around too much, taking on lots of commitments and looking after others, giving little thought to ourselves. See your food as nourishing and enjoyable and you will put a stop to overeating for good!

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