I’d like you to take some time to think about the last time you ate because you felt so hungry, and you ate so much until you felt so full and couldn't eat anymore to the point where you had to unbutton your pants.
How did you feel afterwards? Did you feel happy and satisfied or did you feel horrible and guilty?
I believe that most of us have done it at one time or another, and the reasons for overeating can be due to:
- Emotional eating
- Stress eating
- Boredom and not being able to clearly identify the sense of hunger properly
- Food simply tastes good
If this happens occasionally, it’s not such a big deal as eating more than usual when food tastes good is relatively normal eating behaviour. However, sometimes overeating is driven by a ‘last supper’ attitude.
This is characterised as mindless eating with a drive to eat food until there is none left.
For those who tend to overeat regularly and start to realise that their eating habits become out of control, and are always thinking about foods and feel ashamed and guilty after eating, then we need to take a closer look at why we are doing it and how to prevent overeating.
First, it is important for us to identify different types of hunger in order to prevent overeating. Some of these include:
1) Stomach hunger (physical hunger)
Stomach hunger is a physical hunger that is stimulated when it’s time to feed your body with foods. Hunger is the body’s natural way of asking for food and drink. If it’s not asking, and you have eaten within the last few hours, then it doesn’t need food.
It is important to listen to hunger and fullness cues.
People without weight concern usually eat when they are hungry and stop eating when the hunger signal has ceased and start to feel full, rather than waiting until they feel really full. Also, they don’t tend to eat in the absence of hunger. If they do overeat at a meal (perhaps a work function, Christmas party or birthday meal), they will then usually stop eating and won't eat again until hunger kicks in later on in the day/night.
Foods that we eat contain carbohydrates, protein and fat, and it takes at least 3-4 hours for the nutrients to be properly digested and absorbed. If we keep a good eating routine with 3 regular main meals a day and give our body sufficient time to digest foods properly before the next meal, then we can easily sense and trust our body’s cue for hunger when it’s time to eat again.
We can trust and listen to our body's cues of hunger when the body is well slept, hydrated and without high levels of stress.
Eat when you feel moderately hungry, don’t wait until you feel extremely hungry as this is when most people have a greater tendency to overeat and feel sick afterwards.
If you feel hungry after 1-2 hour of your last meal, take a second and ask yourself...
Did you undereat for your main meals or perhaps you're simply not drinking enough water?
When you under-eat and are not eating enough fibre-rich foods at main meals, you will get hungry very soon and start to feel like eating again, which can then lead to eating a lot more calories than you expected in a day.
Thirst is one big mistake that many people make and perceive as hunger. Instead of satisfying the body with water, they reach out for comfort food!
So, make sure that you drink a glass of water first before snacking on foods to ensure your thirst isn't being misunderstood as hunger.
2) Nutritional hunger
Some people may say, "I just feel hungry all the time" or "I just need to eat and eat and eat".
Well, the chances are you may be eating the wrong type of foods. You may be eating foods that are high in calories and fat and poor in nutrients and especially fibre. You may be feeling full and satisfied, but it will only last for a short period.
After 1-2 hours, you feel peckish again and you start to crave for more foods to satisfy your hunger. This is because our bodies naturally crave for nutrients and real food, which then causes your brain to stimulate your appetite, telling it that it wants to eat more nutrient-dense foods. However, nowadays we just end up feeding our bodies crappy foods, as we misunderstand the nutritional hunger as physical hunger, and the vicious cycle continues.
And before you know it, you've gained unwanted weight.
So how do you break the vicious cycle? It’s very simple.
I want you to eat real foods. Foods that are naturally high in vitamins, minerals and fibre. Eating foods that are nutrient-rich like vegetables and things that are both minimally processed and high in fibre will also help as they bulk up the volume of your meals and keep you full and satisfied longer.
3) Emotional hunger
When we are under stress, boredom, angry and emotional, we tend to turn to food. Instead of dealing with the issues, we turn to foods to comfort our mind to make us feel better emotionally. This is similar for those who turn to alcohol and drugs. Yes, you may feel relieved but it’s only for a short period of time. When it’s over, I can assure you that you will feel worse, and hate yourself for binge eating.
Hence, it’s very crucial for us to identify what being emotionally hungry means.
- Emotional hunger isn’t real hunger. You don’t feel hungry in your stomach.
- You often have bad cravings for certain types of foods such as chocolates, chips or cake.
- It’s also commonly called non-hungry eating.
- It often leads to mindless eating.
For instance, you may grab a big pack of chips or a big block of chocolate and eat mindlessly before you realise you have already eaten the whole pack of chips or a whole block of chocolates.
- You may not enjoy the foods you eat, but you just can’t stop eating because you’re feeling overwhelmed.
- You don’t feel satisfied even when you are full.
- Often leads to regret, guilt or shame.
If this is you, the next time when you start to eat mindlessly, put the food down, pause for a few minutes and take some deep breaths.
“What am I asking the food to do for me?”
“Do I really need it?”
“Do I eat because I’m enjoying the food or simply due to the fact that I am feeling emotional and overwhelmed?”
If it is caused by an emotional trigger, don’t’ ignore it. Find ways to deal with the specific issues.
For example, if you’re feeling down or lonely, find someone to talk to, or find ways to extend your social circle. If you’re feeling tired, take a break and spend some time in nature while you relax. If you’re feeling bored, read a book or doing something that you enjoy to get yourself distracted from foods.
Food is one of the greatest pleasures in life and your body and mind need to be nurtured with nourishing foods.
It is important for us to clearly understand the underlying causes of hunger that lead us to eat mindlessly. Mindful eating includes maintaining awareness during eating.
Through the practice of mindfulness, we learn to enjoy food better, as we pause to notice the colour, texture, smell, and the taste of the food before us.
We also learn to better manage our emotions by finding better ways to deal with emotional triggers as well.