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Why We Overeat
Maybe it was that fifth handful of sour cream and cheddar chips, or the third trip to the buffet line. Regardless, many of us have had experience with overeating. So what causes this uncontrollable urge to stuff our faces? With one-third of the U.S. adult population suffering from obesity, people are flocking to the next fad diet or fat-busting fitness program. But that can’t solve the problem for everyone in the long run. Instead, lets dig a little deeper to discover why we overeat (and how to stop).
The Stuffing — The Need-to-Know
So here's the breakdown: When we have cravings, good memories we’ve tied to that specific food comes to mind. These pleasing memories fuel our anticipation to eat that food. Once we eat it, we feel rewarded, and the brain keeps seeking that reward until the food is gone. But it’s not just about old memories. The body can play other tricks to make us think it’s time to chow down, too.
Ever eat something, but the stomach keeps rumbling like it’s asking for more? It can be easy to misread out bodies’ signals and needs, and the mixed messages start at an early age. One study found out that three year olds stop eating when full because they’re better at listening to their bodies’ hunger cues. Five year olds, on the other hand, start paying attention to factors other than hunger when chowing down, so they’ll often finish what’s in front of them, even after they’re full . But it’s not just about the full factor: We can also misread what our bodies are telling us to feed them. Another study found that people tend reach for super salty foods when they’re actually dehydrated .
When the latest brood of botoxed housewives (or football players) are brawling on TV, it’s all too easy to stuff our faces with whatever’s within reach and not even notice how much we’re consuming. That uber-entertaining TV show can easily distract from the natural food cues our bodies are giving us. Plus, commercials tend to lure folks in with 37 percent of them hawking delicious food items. In fact, some research suggests that watching TV during mealtime promotes overeating and weight gain . Food enviornment, or the atmosphere, distractions, and people we surround ourselves with, can also have a huge effect on the quality and quantity of what we eat.
Emotional and Stress Eating
When life starts to get hectic and dramatic like the latest soap opera, many people use food for comfort to cope with negative emotions. Emotional eating can increase happiness for a short time, but the harm is more long lived . Actually, people with stress related problems are 13.4 percent more likely to be overweight or obese .
To Binge, or Not to Binge — The Answer/Debate
If overeating is a personal issue, don’t worry — there are ways to correct the bad habit!
- Uncover the culprit. Be careful! What we interpret as hunger might actually be thirst. When craving a salty snack, try sipping on a glass of water first to see if the hunger subsides.
- Keep an eye on portions. Controlling portion sizes is one of the best ways to prevent overeating.
- Distraction, be gone! Focus on the plate in front of you at that next meal, and banish distractions like TV or email from the dinner table.
- Be aware of your feelings. Are you chowing down on a box of cookies because someone bummed you out at work? Recognize the reasons behind the binge to help stop unnecessary eating. If you’re eating because of stress or emotional issues, talk to someone!
- Break the habit. Since habits are built over time, overeaters must consistently disrupt their habit to get rid of it.
One last thing: Overeating and food addiction can be serious medical issues. If you feel the way you eat has turned into more than just a bad habit, it’s important to consider looking for professional help. Talk to your doctor about healthy eating habits, and check out sites like foodaddicts.org to help figure out if those habits are more like an addiction.
Are you an overeater? How do you combat the urges to chow down (and not stop)? Let us know in the comments below!
- Serving portion size influences 5-year-old but not 3-year-old children's food intakes.Rolls BJ., Engell D., Birch LL. Nutrition Department, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, USA. Journal of American Dietetic Association, 2000 Feb;100(2):232-4.⤴
- Water deprivation-induced sodium appetite. De Luca L.A. Jr., Pereira-Derderian D.T., Vendramini R.C., et al. Department of Physiology and Pathology, School of Dentistry-FOAr, São Paulo State University, Araraquara, São Paulo, Brazil. Physiology and Behavior, 2010 Jul 14;100(5):535-44.⤴
- ObesiTV: How television is influencing the obesity epidemic. Boulos R., Vikre E.K., Oppenheimer S., et al. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston, MA 02111, USA. Physiology and Behavior, 2012 Aug 20;107(1):146-53.⤴
- The psychobiology of comfort eating: implications for neuropharmacological interventions. Gibson EL. Department of Psychology, Whitelands College, University of Roehampton, London, UK. Behavioural Pharmacology, 2012 Sep;23(5-6):442-60.⤴
- Overweight and obesity are associated with emotion- and stress-related eating as measured by the eating and appraisal due to emotions and stress questionnaire.Ozier A.D., Kendrick O.W., Leeper J.D., et al. Northern Illinois University, School of Family, Consumer, and Nutrition Sciences, Nutrition, Dietetics, and Hospitality Administration, DeKalb, IL. Journal Of American Dietetic Association, 2008 Jan;108(1):49-56.⤴
Comments Leave a comment
I eat something healthy first, before indulging in the thing i tend to overeat on. usually, the urge goes away
I "try" to eat just a SMALL BIT of what I'm craving ... since for me if it's a real craving, nothing else will satisfy it. The operative words, of course, are "SMALL BIT".
Because good food is delicious!
''Once we eat it, we feel rewarded, and the brain keeps seeking that reward until the food is gone" Really?!! we eat because good food is delicious! as simple as that!
Certain medications, especially anti-depressants, somehow stimulate major cravings for sugar & carbs; people tend to eat when they're not hungry only because that constrant craving for something to eat is there. I speak from personal experience. I've gone from 135lbs to 150 in a matter of weeks. I can eat broccoli all day long, but that urge for donuts & pizza will not go away until I've satisfied that carb craving. Also, I've noticed that I can sit and eat 2 or 3 helpings without feeling full. I've realized that the signal that lets my brain know I'm full, isn't there; that's why I can keep eating like that. It's much more than mind over matter. Much, much more. I'm lucky because I had the weight to spare; I actually have a booty now :0)
Especially with #4, I feel like overeating the same with alcohol, drugs or spending have the same sort of escapism that one feels to get away from the problems in his or her life. I believe that getting to the root of the problem would be more effective then just addressing the symptoms.
I've read (and found this to be true): if you feel hungry, eat an apple. If you aren't hungry enough to eat the apple, you weren't really hungry in the first place. So I keep an apple at my desk at work rather than candy.
Very true about 'mindless' eating. Whenever we watch TV or otherwise distract ourselves from the act of eating, we fracture our awareness and we're partially engaged in 2 things instead of totally engaged in one. It's really kind of amazing how much better food tastes and how much more in tune you are with your body and level of fullness when you're just mindful and aware. Great article :-)