Food is essential for functioning on a daily basis. But sometimes we eat a lot — not because we’re hungry, but because it tastes so damn good. As a result, some people struggle with overeating and not knowing when to stop. Guilty? Binge eating could prevent you from reaching your health and fitness goals. The first step to fix overeating issues: Figure out why you’re doing it in the first place. “Being aware of the reasons you might overeat can help you identify the behaviors that are holding you back from the results you want,” says Men’s Health nutrition adviser Michael Roussell, Ph.D.
Whether you hope to lose your spare tire or just want to be a little healthier, here are five reasons why you may be overeating and how to stop yourself.
1. You reward yourself with food
You may not even realize you do it, but take a moment to think about this: After a long day at the office, do you “reward” yourself with a large piece of chocolate cake? Or, after a particularly hard workout, do you wash down dinner with a six-pack of beer? If you regularly do things like these, you’re guilty of rewarding yourself with food. And if you do this often enough, it’s no longer a reward — it’s a daily habit. Men’s Health warns that this can pack on the pounds.
Start to solve this problem by noting all the places that you allow high-calorie meals or binge drinking to creep in because you feel like you earned it or deserve it. Whether it’s once or several times a week, you can identity these key areas and begin to adjust your mindset.
2. You consume food with artificial sweeteners
When you reach for a can of diet soda, you could be wreaking havoc on your health despite “diet” being used in the name of the beverage. According to research from Purdue University, artificial sweeteners interfere with your body’s ability to gauge just how much you should be eating. According to researchers, artificial sweeteners are very sweet — 200 to 7,000 times sweeter than average table sugar — but contain zero calories, and over time they weaken your body’s ability to count calories according to a food’s sweetness. This translates to your body having an increasingly harder time knowing when it actually feels full.
Refrain from consuming anything with artificial sweeteners to avoid falling into this easy trap.
3. You dine out too much
More than 40% of meals are eaten away from home according to the USDA. However, eating out can wreak havoc on your diet. You’re more apt to eat the larger portion sizes that restaurants serve. And you also have little control of what is in your food, which is not ideal; foods higher in sodium and fat can cause you to overeat without you even knowing it.
Before going out to eat, look online for a restaurant’s nutrition information to see what they offer food- and calorie-wise. At some chains, you can request a half order. And if you plan on going to a more upscale restaurant, plan ahead so that you can allocate more calories for the meal, and not feel as guilty about indulging a little.
4. You’re distracted while eating
How often do you eat at your desk while working, browsing Facebook, or watching TV? If you’re guilty of doing this, it’s important to remember that eating is it’s own activity; you should be mindful of what you’re putting in your mouth. There is scientific research to back this up: British researchers discovered that those who could recall what they ate for lunch consumed about 30% less than those who couldn’t remember. Scientists say that recognizing your recent meal, and the awareness of how satiating the food was, had a significant effect on subsequent consumption.
5. You’re not getting enough sleep
Being tired saps your willpower. A 2013 study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that not getting enough sleep can cause people to eat up to 5% more calories per day — primarily after dinner. Additionally, your fatigue decreases your ability to handle stress, another aspect of willpower depletion. Try this: Maintain a consistent sleep schedule, so that you feel well-rested and refreshed every day.