How to deal with Over-Eating

by Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Posted on Sep 24, 09:18 PM in . No comments.

Woman raiding the fridge in the middle of the night

Oh no, its the evening and you have done so well with your diet all day but have just blown it on night time snacking! Or you are at that party and even though you said you wouldn’t, you have just dipped into the large bowl of crisps in front of you.
Are you prone to overeating? Is it always at a certain time of day? Why do we do it and what can you do to reduce this habit?

Why do people eat?

People need to eat when they are physically hungry but it is very common to eat for other reasons including:

  • Out of habit
  • To be sociable/because they feel it would be rude to refuse food.
  • For comfort e.g. if lonely, bored, stressed, anxious, annoyed or tired.
  • They are craving certain foods which they have banned on their diet or feeling frustrated because weight has increased
  • To reward themselves for something

If someone is eating a lot of the time when they are not hungry then they are likely to be overeating and to gain weight.

Do you feel you often overeat for any of the above reasons? If you feel unable to relate to a reason for overeating but feel you do overeat try keeping a food & feelings diary to help you identify the reasons.

How dieting can lead to overeating

Although when people start to diet their intention is to eat less, very often they end up eating more than they would if they weren’t dieting. This is because:-

  • Weight loss can cause powerful feelings of hunger
  • Banning foods can lead to feelings of deprivation or ‘missing out’ which can lead to strong cravings for foods
  • Dieting can affect your mood, and mood changes can lead to overeating
  • Dieters often set unrealistic goals. Not achieving these goals leads to a feeling of failure and depression. This can then often lead to comfort eating.
  • Many dieters think in an ‘all or nothing’ way about food. This can mean that even if they eat only a small amount of a food they think they shouldn’t have eaten, they feel they have ruined their diet and might as well carry on eating more of this food. This goes hand in hand with the “start again on monday” mantra.

How to help

  • Keep a food and feelings diary especially during times when your weight is not reducing
  • Eat regular meals to prevent extreme hunger which leads to overeating
  • Have some filling but low calorie foods available for “damage limitation”.
  • Set realistic goals to prevent you becoming disheartened
  • Learn to manage slips or lapses in your eating plan
  • Consider changing the aspects of your behaviour, which make it more likely that you will overeat.
  • Think before you eat – are you really hungry? Is there something else you could do instead. Try mindful eating techniques.
  • Try distracting yourself from eating (see below)

Distraction Techniques

If you feel like eating but are not physically hungry then try to do something else to take your mind off food. Some things that other people have found helpful include:-

  • Going for a walk
  • Visiting, phoning or texting friends or family
  • Writing a letter
  • Using the computer (no snacking)
  • Having a bath or shower
  • Cleaning the house or car or doing some DIY or gardening
  • Having a hot (low energy) drink in a favourite mug, low calorie vegetable soup or sparkling water in a wine glass
  • Doing a hobby such as knitting, sewing, cross stitch, jigsaw puzzles, drawing or painting, model making or playing a musical instrument. Occupy your hands.
  • Reading a book or magazine
  • Watching a video or something interesting on TV
  • Listening to music or playing an instrument
  • Doing crosswords or other puzzles
  • Treating yourself to a manicure or face mask

Many people report that activities where they have to use their hands are the most effective at distracting them from eating.

Make sure you keep a diary so you can see which are your “danger” times and have some of these strategies ready.

About the author

Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Anne is a Health Professions Council (HPC) registered dietitian (RD), an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD- Australia), a fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA), a member of the British Dietetic Association, The Nutrition Society and of The Dietetics Association of Australia.

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