If you’re stuck at home, unable to see friends and family, it’s tempting to turn to food as a comfort. That’s perfectly okay and normal to do – many of us eat in times of stress without. Even if this is normal, that doesn’t mean you should overdo it. Overeating isn’t a healthy habit and it can lead to some serious health issues.
It is easy to fall into, especially when restaurant portion sizes seem to get bigger by the day. Overeating can lead to weight gain and blood sugar issues — both of which are linked to chronic diseases such as diabetes. There’s no reason to beat yourself up if it happens to you — but if you’re overeating more than you’d like, there are several things you can do to help prevent it.
Keep reading to find out possible reasons why you’re overeating and how to replace it with healthier food habits.
Try to pinpoint why it’s happening
The first step when you want to change a habit is awareness. This means finding out the “why” behind what you’re doing, which applies to overeating and your food habits. Pinpointing why you are overeating and what could be causing it is helpful since there’s usually a reason behind it.
According to dieticians, one of the most common causes of overeating is not eating enough throughout the day or skipping meals. Many times, people will skip breakfast or work through lunch. Since they may not have eaten enough during the day, their bodies are in starvation mode at night. When they’re finally around food, it becomes impossible to control.
Sometimes people feel guilty when they overeat because it feels like they have no self-control, but that’s often not the case. Individuals may think that they lack the willpower to control themselves at night. However, it’s not a lack of willpower; it’s the biology of our starved body screaming for food.
Even if you find it difficult to fit in full meals throughout the day in a busy schedule, one thing you can do is always carry snacks. Keeping healthy snacks at your desk, in your car or in your purse or backpack is one way to ensure that you at least have something to eat, even if it’s not a full meal.
Try to be more mindful when you eat
These days, it’s easy to spend all three meals in front of some kind of screen — from phones to computers to the TV. Even though that’s common, it’s not exactly ideal. This is why mindful eating can be helpful if you struggle with this habit.
Technology, eating at our desk, eating out of boredom — all of these can equate to mindless eating. When we aren’t tuned in to our plate, we are missing common ‘hunger’ and ‘full’ signals. Because of this, we end up eating more than we would have if we’d been focused on what we were doing.”
Even if you’re not mindlessly eating, another common cause of overeating is using food to help cope with emotions. Emotional eating is common since we often associate foods with happiness and celebration — like cake and ice cream on your birthday. So, if you’re feeling down, sometimes you crave those things as a pick-me-up.
There’s a science to explain this too. Food can give you a dopamine effect on the brain, making you feel good temporarily. Many times, individuals will overeat to numb pain from emotions with food.
So, if you find yourself emotionally eating, you can try and find other ways to naturally feel happy. Listening to music, playing with a pet, talking to a friend, or getting some exercise can give you the same dopamine-enhancing effect.
Listen to your body to see if you’re full
Most packaged food comes with a serving size on the box, but otherwise, you’re basically left to your own devices to figure out how much you should eat in one sitting.
When you’re halfway done with your meal, check-in with yourself to see if you’re full or still hungry to keep eating more. Always remember, you can always eat the food again, so there is no reason to have to finish it in one sitting.
If you tend to fill your plate with lots of food, one tip you can try is using smaller plates or bowls. You might be surprised how well this simple swap can help. Just make sure you are loading up on fresh vegetables with lots of color, fresh greens for added fiber, lean protein (animal or vegetable), and healthy fat in that bowl.
Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet
First, consider the basic food groups and macronutrients that you need, and how to balance them. When you get the right amounts of protein, carbs, and fat, your blood sugar stays balanced, which means you will feel full and satisfied longer. Within each food category, there are better choices than others. Choosing complex carbohydrates like whole grains, for example, will help you feel more satisfied than a simple carb like white bread. Adding protein and fat to each meal will also ensure that you stay satisfied longer.
It’s also a good idea to incorporate healthy fats into your meal; for instance, avocado, olive oil, or nuts. This balance keeps you full without making you feel heavy. Combining carbohydrates with protein, fat, and fiber from vegetables or fruit slows down the digestion of carbohydrates, keeping you full for longer.
If you struggle with overeating at night especially, being more mindful of balancing your meals is a great way to start.
Don’t make any foods ‘off-limits’
It’s normal for people to fixate on what we are told we “can’t have.” This is why if you resolve to quit sugar or never have an Oreo again, you’ll crave those foods you can’t have. When we don’t allow ourselves to have a specific food, it becomes hard to control ourselves around that food when we finally allow ourselves to eat it. Instead of setting foods off-limits, it would be good to allow yourself to have what you’re craving in a mindful way.
Another tip is when you allow yourself to indulge in something like a dessert, make sure you’re nourished and satisfied with healthy food first. This makes it less likely that you’ll go overboard when it’s time for dessert.
For example, if you have set pasta off-limits because you feel like you cannot control yourself when you eat it, try having a portion of pasta with protein and vegetables.
Having an unprecedented and abrupt shift in routine likely will lead to disruptions in your normal eating and activity patterns – and routines are being redefined each day.
At the end of the day, it pays to listen to your body and to maintain a healthy lifestyle. A healthy way of life is key to having a strong immune system that can help ward off any virus and help prevent bouts of depression or anxiety.