This is an excerpt from my Fit Tales Newsletter #13, with the addition of several answers from a few subscribers who shared their own strategies to overcome overeating.
When you’re in the fitness industry one way or another – a nutritionist, a trainer, or even a skinny fat insta model – people think you *only* make perfect choices when it comes to your food and workouts.
Maybe that’s why most of us are so ready to believe any internet celeb who tells us we have to eat penguin shit topped with orange peel if we want to lose weight.
But seriously now, I’ve noticed a lot of people looking into my plate and thinking:
– as a food coach, I only make the healthiest choices
– the healthiest choice someone can make is being a vegan or a vegetarian (because I used to be a vegetarian).
The truth is that I struggle with my own habits as much as I do with those of my clients. The only difference is maybe that I know myself better and can see clearly where the bad habits come from.
So, I’ll be honest with you and I’ll share one of the bad habits I am still struggling with, and that’s overeating. Don’t get me wrong, I can go through the Christmas holidays or Easter by eating normally.
But looking back at the moments when I’ve been overeating and remembering what happened, how I felt, and what was going on in my mind and soul, I noticed exactly when I tend to do this.
And it’s more likely to happen when I’m having fun with lots of people around: a birthday, a party, nightly Catan championships with friends and so on.
Some people eat when they’re sad. I eat more than I need to when I’m happy, surrounded by friends, and I see them eating, too. And from what I’ve seen, overeating is, in most cases, a way of managing stress. And it’s a pain in the ass habit, pretty difficult to handle.
But today I want to share with you some strategies that I use for myself and others that I use with my clients to overcome the urge to eat more than you need to, resulting in stomach pain after, feeling bloated the next day, and having a mini heart attack when you get on the scale.
Top strategies to stop overeating
1. Identify patterns. Make a list of the moments when you’ve overeaten. Try to remember what you were doing, who was around, what you were feeling, what kind of food there was around, what had happened in the rest of the day etc.
Things you might notices and write on your list: stress, happiness/sadness, extreme dieting etc. Once you’ve identified some recurring patterns, you now know when to anticipate the tendency to overeat and be prepared to use one of the following strategies.
2. Prep. Have your meals prepared or decided in advance. I had a client who was logging his meals in MyFitnessPal even before he ate them. So when the moment of potential overeating came, he was sticking to what he had written down.
3. Only eat from plates and sitting down. A lot of overeating happens because of stress, in stressful situations when you find yourself eating from bags of chips and cookies, at your work desk or in bed, watching TV. Make it a rule to eat only from plates, sitting down at the kitchen table, no matter what.
4. Intermittent fasting. It’s a way to allow yourself to enjoy a bigger meal later in the day and still be within your normal calorie goal. But this can also be quite tricky for two reasons: especially in women it can create really bad binge eating habits, and it can also lead everyone to overeat, because we tend to underestimate the calories we take in.
And when you’re hungry, the last thing you want to do is log everything in a meal tracking app.
5. Prioritise protein. When you start eating, start with the leanest protein you find, add some veggies and that will already make you feel satiated, without needing to add a kilo of cookies on top.
6. Drink water before you eat.
7. Brush your teeth after you’ve eaten enough, so you reduce the urge to add some more to your plate.
8. Take half of the portion at the restaurant to go. I also hate food waste, but some restaurants just serve more than we need. So I sometimes come back home with half of my lunch and have it for dinner.
9. Headspace. I used this app and also recommended it to a few clients who had problems managing stress or couldn’t get enough quality sleep. It also has a Mindful Eating series that a client of mine successfully uses to control her appetite.
10. Ask a coach to look at what you’re already eating. Maybe the food you eat on most days is not enough, not satiating, lacks some key nutrients and that always leads you to feeling hungry and needing to overeat.
11. Make room for the foods you love. It’s quite normal to overeat cookies and ice cream and whatever it is you’re craving when you’ve restricted them completely for a while.
Change your mindset from this restriction to allowing yourself to eat anything. Nothing is off limits, but in small portions and, if you’re in a fat loss or muscle building phase, make sure it fits in your daily calorie goal.
12. If it still happens from time to time, see the good part of it: maybe you overate less than the last time, maybe it happens less often than it used to or maybe you overate something a bit healthier.
Congratulate yourself for everything that is just a little bit better than before and be aware and happy for the progress you’re making.
13. Accountability – a coach, a group of friends or someone else who you can report to. It makes it a lot easier to stick to a good routine or habit when you decide to tell someone else about it, plus the fact that you get some support from someone who understands, which is priceless.
Extra ideas from Fit Tales subscribers
I was so happy to get a lot of replies from the newsletter subscribers and I’ll be sharing some of their strategies below. Here’s what they do to stop overeating:
Take a break before you refill – “when terribly hungry I take a 15 min break after the “normal meal” just to see if the hunger passes”.
Sleep more – “I noticed I tend to overeat when I am tired, looking for snacks at 10PM, so what helps is going to bed earlier”
There are no “off limits” foods – “The more you restrict, the more you’ll feel the need to overcompensate.”
Be active every day – “I do one day of hard training, one day of walking. And I have a snack before the trainings, because when I didn’t I always got very hungry after”
Cook – “I cook more and it helps me be more aware of my meals. Also, I make my own homemade desserts – baked apples or dark chocolate mousse – but I have them right after a meal, when I’m already relatively full, not as a snack, when I would tend to eat more than I need”
Avoid boredom – “Long walks, reading, going out, running. I do what I can to avoid boredom, because it leads to snacking”
Adopt a dog – (n.C. – this was my favourite <3 ) “It was a bit boring to come after work or after the gym and be home alone. My boyfriend lives in another city, so I adopted a dog. Now I also have a running buddy.”
Include more protein and fats – “My meals are now richer in protein and fats. The vegetarian diet didn’t work for me, I was feeling constantly hungry.”
The broccoli test
A fellow Precision Nutrition colleague told me about the broccoli test. He does this with his clients to understand if what they feel is emotional hunger or physical hunger. It goes like this: he just asks them to put some steamed broccoli on a plate and have a few bites.
If they want to eat it, they’re really physically hungry. If they refuse it – “nah, that’s fine” – then it was just an impulse to eat. Simple and effective.
So next time you reach for some food, imagine it was broccoli 🙂
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