May. 27. 2022
Mindful Eating
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped® and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

Do you ever find yourself feeling a little too full or eating when you’re not really hungry, but at the same time, you’re struggling to stop overeating? 

We all overeat sometimes, that’s normal and expected! We’re not perfect, that’s not the goal. However, if you recognize that overeating is consistently present in your life, it’s also important to address it and learn how to reduce overeating because it’s not supporting you.

Consistently overeating can physically leave you feeling unwell and more disconnected from your wants and needs. It can also be a sign that you haven’t determined how to practice healthy, balanced eating in a way that works uniquely well for you.

Here you’ll learn why overeating can be so common, plus a few practices to start using to help you stop overeating.

How to Stop Overeating

We often get asked, “What should  I do to stop overeating?”, “How do I stop overeating at meals?”, and more specifically, “What’s the best way to stop overeating at dinner?”. 

I have hours of lessons inside of my program, the Mindful Nutrition Method™, that dive into how to create supportive eating habits. But with that said, I want to share a few simple tips with you that you can start practicing if you’re wondering how to stop overeating. 

1. Keep a Reflective Journal

One of the first steps in overcoming overeating is to understand why you’re overeating.

Many people think it’s because they have a strong sweet tooth or because they have a lack of self-control, but that’s usually not the case. Understanding your personal eating habits and tendencies will support you in finding the true cause so you can address it.

For example, one student of our Mindful Nutrition Method™ program noticed she was really only overeating in the evenings. She knew needed to better understand what was causing that, so she used a reflective journal to help her do that.

A reflective journal isn’t about tracking calories or controlling what you eat. The purpose is to understand your eating habits and tendencies. For example, you may track and ask yourself the following questions, “How are my stress levels on the days that I overeat?”, “How am I feeling emotionally when I overeat?”, “What did my eating patterns look like throughout the day prior to overeating (i.e. did I undereat, forget to add protein, fat or starchy carbohydrates, etc.)?”.

This helps you to identify common patterns so you can determine what’s working and what’s not working. This awareness helps you make adjustments to the way you’re feeling and therefore eating, so you can ultimately stop overeating. 

2. Dive Deeper Into What Causes Overeating

After bringing awareness to your unique eating habits through journaling, you’ll start to notice your patterns around overeating. This is what will help you identify the root cause.

For our Mindful Nutrition Method™ student that I mentioned earlier, she noticed she was overeating in the evenings. After using a reflective food journal, she was able to notice that she tended to overeat on the days she was at the library studying. After learning about the causes of overeating, she realized she wasn’t eating enough throughout the day when she was studying. She normally only packed a protein bar as a snack. She was unintentionally going from breakfast until dinner without eating anything at all! Leaving her feeling ravenous by the time she got home, hence the overeating.

Once you have this heightened awareness, you can then focus on actions that will help you navigate these situations.

Here are some common reasons people tend to overeat. You can use these in your journaling and reflections to see if any of these are common in your life.

Distractions

One of the simplest reasons you may be overeating is because you’re distracted.

When you’re distracted or mindlessly eating, you aren’t fully present to experience your food — to fully enjoy it or notice where your hunger levels are.

This often happens when you’re on your phone, watching TV, at your desk working, driving, rushing to get from one task to the next, ruminating over thoughts in your mind, feeling zoned out, or doing anything else while eating.

When you slow down and remove distractions from your meals, you’re able to more consciously experience your food. Such as the way the food tastes, how it feels, what it looks like, and how it smells. As well as how much you’re enjoying it, what your hunger cues are, and how your body feels before, during, and after a meal.

A key part of learning how to stop overeating will be to learn how to eat without distraction so you can be fully present.

Emotional Eating

Another common reason is emotional eating. Emotions like boredom and stress are something many people experience on a regular basis. Many people also use food as a means to cope. This could look like reaching for snacks in the evening when you’re watching TV, or like getting home after a long, stressful day and feeling called to eat comfort foods.

Other emotions like grief, frustration, anger, irritability, loneliness, and anxiety can also contribute to emotional eating.

Situational or Environmental Triggers

Your environment may also instigate overeating. Environmental triggers are specific situations or places that create an urge to overeat.

Common examples of this may include going to the movies and ordering popcorn, grabbing a handful of candy from the bowl by the office break room, or simply going out to eat. These situations and environments can send messages to you that you should eat. Sometimes it can be challenging to remember to check in with yourself and notice whether or not you’re truly hungry, or if external factors are guiding your eating.

Can you think of an environmental trigger that you realize causes you to overeat?

Having Foods that are “Off-Limits”

Another factor that contributes to overeating is if you have foods that you avoid.

If you’ve ever been on a diet before, this might sound like a familiar situation. You go out to eat or attend a social gathering while on a diet and are offered foods you “can’t have”. This increasingly makes you hyperaware, hypersensitive and focused on that food item.

When you’re face-to-face with these foods, you may then experience a scarcity mindset. This causes you to want to overindulge in that food because you don’t know when or how you’ll be able to have it again. This is all caused by the fact that you’ve simply labeled it “off-limits”, rather than allowing yourself to enjoy a serving and be satisfied.

You Aren’t In-Tune With Your Hunger Signals

One of the main practices we teach here at Nutrition Stripped is how to read your body’s hunger signals. These signals guide you to know what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat. This skill takes patience and practice to learn because it’s not quite as simple as, “eat when you’re hungry and don’t when you’re not”. If you aren’t successfully using your hunger levels to guide your portion sizes, you may be overeating.

You Went too Long Without Eating 

We only have so much willpower to use before it runs out. When we wait an extended period of time to eat, our hunger cues eventually take over which results in overeating food.

Let’s use the time period between lunch and dinner as an example. If you have lunch at 12:00 pm, then don’t eat anything until you get home and start to prepare dinner at 6:00 pm, chances are you’re going to be famished.

For most people, at this point, we experience at least a minor loss of control. As soon as we see or even smell food, our hunger cues shoot through the roof and our bodies are looking for anything and everything to eat.

This often leads to overeating in an attempt to make up for hours without food.

Your Meals Aren’t Well-Balanced 

Each of the macronutrients serves a different purpose, which is why using our Foundational Five system is key to avoiding overeating. While some are meant to give us energy, others are meant to keep us full.

If we maintain a diet that is consistently low in nutrients that provide us with satiety, we can often perpetually overeat. This occurs when we maintain a diet primarily void of healthy fat and/or protein.

If you don’t have the right balance of macronutrients on your plate, this can also cause blood sugar spikes, which can cause you to feel hungry even when you ate not that long ago. It can also result in the development of cravings for sugary foods.

Lack of Sleep

A good night’s sleep allows the body to replenish, reenergize and recuperate for the following day. One poor night of sleep won’t do much harm, but a perpetual lack of sleep can start to wreak havoc on the body.

When sleep-deprived, the hunger and satiety hormones ghrelin and leptin can get out of whack. This can result in excessive cravings, hunger cues, and an increased appetite over time.

3. Identify What Action to Take to Stop Overeating

A common attempt to stop overeating is restriction. The thought process may look something like this, “I always overeat chocolate, I have no self-control. I’m just not going to buy it anymore or have it at all, so I don’t even have the opportunity to overeat it.”. 

Maybe you’ve experienced something similar. Maybe you find yourself overeating when you go out for girl’s night, so you decide it’s best to just avoid going out to dinner with your friends.

Not only do these things not solve the root cause of the problem, but they can actually heighten overeating when you inevitably are faced with that food or environment again. On top of that, it can bring up a lot of emotions. Guilt, shame, sadness, and depression are common as a result of separating yourself from friends, family members, or experiences you inherently enjoy. 

When you’re learning how to stop overeating, avoiding foods or situations isn’t going to support you in accomplishing that in the long run.

What’s most important is to address the root cause of overeating in a supportive way. That way you don’t feel restricted and you’re able to sustain it. 

This will look different for everyone because we’re all so unique. The key is exploring what those practices are that would both address the root cause and also feel really supportive and aligned with your life.

How You Can Stop Overeating in Your Daily Life

Which practice is resonating the most with you that you could give a try this week? The key is to start taking small steps with the knowledge you’ve just gained.

With that said, we all need a little support and accountability sometimes. If you find yourself in need of support to stop overeating, we’re here to be just that for you. Sign up to watch my free masterclass today, where you’ll learn about the #1 Habit That Keeps You Struggling With Your Relationship With Food — And How To Break Free From The Diet And Food Obsession Starting Now. 

You don’t need to stress and obsess about food or overeating. There is a better way, and yes it’s possible to cultivate a positive relationship with food! Join this free balanced eating masterclass to learn how.

Watch The Free Masterclass