How can I know when I should stop eating?

Assuming we can rely on our stomach to tell us how much food to eat is one of our main misconceptions. Judging from the feeling in our stomach after we’ve eaten a reasonable portion, we often think we’re still hungry, so we eat more. But the feeling of satiation doesn’t register right away after we’ve eaten, and for some people, it never registers.
There are different degrees of hunger. If you’re tummy-rumbling hungry, that’s a trustworthy sign that it’s time to eat a meal. But when you’ve already eaten, using the feeling in your stomach to tell you how much more to eat or when to stop is an unreliable gauge. Sometimes the more we eat, the hungrier we feel!
If the body were good at telling people when to stop eating, there wouldn’t be so many obese people around. Although the sensations in your stomach might be a gross measure of whether you’re hungry enough to eat a meal, they don’t tell you when to put on the brakes. Let portion size, rather than the feeling in your stomach, determine how much you eat.

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Some of you may think you already stop eating when you feel full, but unless you are French – think again. Based on research, Michael Pollan says instead of using our internal cues to know when to stop eating most of us “allow external, and usually visual, cues to determine how much we eat.” Think back to your last meal…did you stop eating when your gut told you you’d had enough or when your plate was clean, the package was empty, or the T.V. show was over?

According to Pollan:

Supposedly it takes twenty minutes before the brain gets the word that the belly is full; unfortunately most of us take considerably less than twenty minutes to finish a meal, with the result that the sensation of feeling full exerts little if any influence on how much we eat. What this suggests is that eating more slowly, and then consulting our sense of satiety, might help us to eat less. The French are better at this than we are, as Brian Wansink discovered when he asked a group of French people how they knew when to stop eating. ‘When I feel full,’ they replied. (What a novel idea! The Americans said things like ‘When my plate is clean’ or ‘When I run out.’) Perhaps it is their long, leisurely meals that give the French the opportunity to realize when they are full.

I don’t know about you, but as long as I can remember I’ve been told to “clean my plate.” I am finding that it helps to start off with less food, because it can sometimes be difficult to stop eating an exceptionally good meal when there are only one or two or even three bites left. It wouldn’t be enough food to save or pack up at a restaurant, and I know we’ve all been taught how awful it is to “waste” food. And speaking of eating at restaurants my husband and I have been making an effort to split an entrée as well as a small appetizer since their portions tend to be over-sized here in America.

The key is when you start with less food you can always add more. You may be surprised at how often you don’t feel the need to pile on more…especially if you rest for a few minutes before going back. This is something I’ve honestly struggled with myself ever since I first read Pollan’s book, but I continue to try as hard as I can to not be won over by a delicious meal and instead stay in check by listening to my gut. As Pollan says “Better to go to waste than to waist,” which will “help you eat less in the short term and develop self-control in the long.”

Not to mention “Americans are on average eating 200 more calories a day than they were in the 1970s.” We think this concept of controlling our portions goes hand-in-hand with eating real food because we have personally found that real food is incredibly filling. You truly don’t need to eat as much to get to that “full” feeling as you would with the empty calories that make up highly processed food. But following through on this concept can sometimes be easier said than done – trust me, I know!

Some other similar concepts from the “How should I eat?” section of Pollan’s book Food Rules:

  • Pay more, eat less.
  • Stop eating before you’re full.
  • Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored.
  • Eat slowly.
  • Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it.
  • Buy smaller plates and glasses.
  • Serve a proper portion and don’t go back for seconds.
  • Do all your eating at a table. (A desk does not count!)
  • Try not to eat alone.
  • Leave something on your plate.

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23 Simple Things You Can Do to Stop Overeating

Eating too much in one sitting or taking in too many calories throughout the day are common habits that can be hard to break.

And while some people see these behaviors as habits that can be broken, they may indicate an eating disorder in others.

Over time, eating too much food can lead to weight gain and increase the risk of developing a chronic condition, such as diabetes or heart disease.

Regardless of whether you have an eating disorder, breaking the cycle of overeating can be challenging. However, some techniques can help.

The 23 tips below provide a starting point to reduce overeating.

1. Get rid of distractions

Whether it’s working through lunch in front of the computer or noshing on chips while catching up on your favorite TV show, eating while distracted is a common occurrence for most people.

While this habit might seem harmless, it can contribute to overeating.

A review of 24 studies found that being distracted during a meal led people to consume more calories at that meal. It also caused them to eat more food later in the day, compared with people who paid attention to their food while eating (1).

Summary Make an effort to turn off or put away potential distractions like phones, computers, and magazines. Concentrating on your meal during mealtime can help prevent overeating.

2. Know your trigger foods

Pinpointing which foods can trigger overeating and avoiding them can help decrease the chances of overeating.

For example, if ice cream is likely to trigger a binge or episode of overeating, it’s a good idea to stop storing it in the freezer. The harder it is to access something, the less likely you might be to overeat that food.

Preparing healthy options like a sliced apple with peanut butter, hummus and veggies, or homemade trail mix can encourage better choices when snacking.

Another helpful tip is to keep unhealthy snack foods like chips, candy, and cookies out of sight so there’s no temptation to grab a handful when walking past them.

Summary Identify the unhealthy foods that trigger overeating. Keep them out of the home or far out of sight, and make healthy options easily accessible instead.

3. Don’t ban all favorite foods

Restrictive eating patterns that eliminate many of your favorite foods may cause you to feel deprived, potentially leading you to binge on forbidden treats.

Diets that concentrate on whole, unprocessed foods are always best, but making room for an occasional treat is perfectly healthy.

Swearing to never have a scoop of ice cream, slice of pizza, or piece of chocolate again is not realistic for most people.

That said, in the case of food addiction, a person may need to permanently abstain from trigger foods. In this case, it’s a good idea to find healthy substitutes that are satisfying.

Focus on providing your body with mostly healthy, nutritious food while giving yourself the freedom to truly enjoy a treat here and there.

Summary Eating patterns that are too restrictive may drive binges. The key to a sustainable, healthy diet is to concentrate on eating whole, unprocessed foods most of the time while allowing for a treat here and there.

4. Give volumetrics a try

Volumetrics is a way to eat that focuses on filling up on low calorie, high fiber foods like non-starchy vegetables.

Consuming foods that are low in calories and high in fiber and water before meals can help you feel full, which might decrease overeating.

Examples of volumetrics-friendly foods include grapefruit, salad greens, broccoli, beans, tomatoes, and low-sodium broth.

Eating a large salad or bowl of low-sodium, broth-based soup before lunch and dinner may be an effective way to prevent overeating.

Summary Use the volumetrics method of eating — fill up on healthy, low-calorie, high-fiber foods to help promote feeling full.

5. Avoid eating from containers

Eating chips out of the bag, ice cream out of the carton, or takeout straight from the box can lead to consuming more food than is recommended as a serving size.

Instead, portion out a single serving size on a plate or in a bowl to help control the number of calories you consume in one sitting.

Use measuring tools to train your eye on what a normal portion should look like for different types of foods.

Summary Instead of eating food straight from the package, portion it into a dish. Try measuring out appropriate serving sizes to help train your eye to identify how much food is recommended as an average portion.

6. Reduce stress

Stress can lead to overeating, so it’s important to find ways to reduce the amount of stress in your daily life.

Chronic stress drives up levels of cortisol, a hormone that increases appetite. Studies have shown that being stressed can lead to overeating, increased hunger, binge eating, and weight gain (2).

There are many simple ways to reduce your everyday stress levels. Consider listening to music, gardening, exercising, or practicing yoga, meditation, or breathing techniques.

Summary Stress can lead to overeating, so reducing the stress in your everyday life is one important step to reduce overeating.

7. Eat fiber-rich foods

Choosing foods that are rich in fiber, such as beans, vegetables, oats, and fruit, can help keep your body feeling satisfied longer and reduce the urge to overeat.

For example, one study found that people who ate fiber-rich oatmeal for breakfast felt fuller and ate less at lunch than those who consumed cornflakes for breakfast (4).

Snacking on nuts, adding beans to your salad, and eating vegetables at every meal may help reduce the amount of food you consume.

Summary Add fiber-rich foods to your diet to keep your body feeling satisfied longer. Studies show this may help reduce the urge to overeat.

8. Eat regular meals

When attempting to lose weight, many people cut out meals in hopes that it will decrease the number of calories they take in.

While this may work in some instances, such as intermittent fasting, restricting meals may cause you to eat more later in the day.

Studies have demonstrated that eating more frequently throughout the day may decrease hunger and overall food intake (5).

For example, some people may skip lunch to restrict calories, only to find themselves overeating at dinner. However, eating a balanced lunch may help reduce the chances of eating too much later in the day (6).

Summary Skipping meals may cause you to eat more later in the day. Instead, focus on keeping your body feeling satisfied by eating balanced meals made with whole foods.

9. Keep a food journal

Keeping track of what you eat in a food diary or mobile app may help reduce overeating.

Many studies have shown that using self-monitoring techniques like keeping a food diary may aid weight loss (7).

Plus, using a food journal can help identify situations and emotional triggers that contribute to overeating, as well as foods that are likely to provoke binge eating.

Summary Studies have shown that tracking your food intake may help you lose weight. It will also help you become more aware of your habits.

10. Dine with like-minded friends

The food choices of your dining companions may have a greater effect on your food intake than you realize.

Numerous studies have found that people’s food choices are heavily influenced by the people they eat with.

People may tend to eat portions similar to those of their dining companions, so dining out with friends who overeat may cause them to overeat as well (8).

Plus, studies have shown that a person is more inclined to order unhealthy options if their dining partner does (9).

Choosing to eat with family and friends who have similar health goals can help you stay on track and reduce your chances of overeating.

Summary With whom you choose to eat may majorly impact your food choices. Try to dine with people who also want to eat healthy meals in moderate portions.

11. Fill up on protein

Protein helps keep your body full throughout the day and can decrease the desire to overeat.

For example, eating a high protein breakfast has been shown to reduce hunger and snacking later in the day (10).

Choosing a protein-rich breakfast like eggs tends to lower levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates hunger (11).

Adding higher protein snacks like Greek yogurt to your routine can also help you eat less throughout the day and keep hunger under control (12).

Summary Eating protein-rich foods may help stave off hunger and cravings. Starting the day with a high protein breakfast can also help fight hunger later in the day.

12. Stabilize your blood sugar levels

Eating white bread, cookies, candy, and other carbs with high glycemic indexes will likely cause blood sugar levels to spike, then fall quickly.

This rapid blood sugar fluctuation has been shown to promote hunger and can lead to overeating (13).

Choosing foods with lower glycemic indexes will help prevent blood sugar spikes and may reduce overeating. Beans, oats, and brown rice are all great options.

Summary Eat foods that help keep blood sugar levels constant. High-glycemic foods like candy and white bread can make blood sugar spike then drop, which may lead to overeating. Instead, choose foods like beans, oats, and brown rice.

13. Slow down

Eating too quickly may cause overeating and lead to weight gain over time.

Slower-paced eating is associated with increased fullness and decreased hunger and can serve as a useful tool for controlling overeating (14).

Taking the time to thoroughly chew food has also been shown to reduce overall food intake and increase feelings of fullness (15).

Summary Focusing on eating more slowly and chewing food thoroughly may help you recognize signs of fullness and reduce overeating.

14. Watch your alcohol intake

Drinking alcohol may cause overeating by lowering your inhibitions and stimulating appetite (16, 17).

While having a drink or two with a meal generally won’t have a huge effect, having several drinks in one sitting may lead to increased levels of hunger.

One study found that college students who drank four to five drinks at a time more than once per week were more likely to overeat after drinking, compared with students who drank one to two drinks at a time (18).

Cutting back on drinking alcohol may be a good way to minimize overeating.

Summary Studies show that drinking several drinks in one sitting may lead to overeating. Instead, stick to just one or two drinks, or forgo drinking alcohol entirely.

15. Plan ahead

Being unprepared when hunger strikes can make it more likely that you’ll make poor food choices that can lead to overeating.

Purchasing meals and snacks at the last minute from restaurants or delis increases the likelihood of making unhealthy choices and eating more.

Instead, keep healthy snacks on hand, pack home-cooked lunches, and stock the fridge with healthy options to prepare dinner at home.

These strategies can help decrease overeating. Plus, making more meals at home can save money and time.

Summary The more prepared you are to eat healthily, the less likely you are to overeat. Keep the fridge and pantry stocked with healthy, filling foods.

16. Replace sugary beverages with water

Drinking sugary beverages like soda and juice could lead to weight gain and increase the risk of certain diseases like diabetes (19).

Studies have shown that consuming sweetened drinks with meals may be linked to overeating as well.

A review of 17 studies found that adults who drank sugar-sweetened beverages with meals consumed 7.8% more food than adults who consumed water with meals (20).

Choosing water or unsweetened seltzer over sweetened beverages may help reduce overeating.

Summary Avoid sugary beverages. They’ve been linked to an increased risk of diabetes and other diseases and may be linked to overeating. Drink water instead.

17. Check in with yourself

Overeating in the absence of hunger could be a sign that something deeper is going on.

Depression and boredom are two common issues that have been linked to the urge to overeat (21, 22).

Fortunately, taking certain actions can help. For example, try taking on a new activity that’s enjoyable. It may help prevent boredom and distract from the urge to nibble.

Also, spending some time thinking about what triggers overeating can help determine the type of help to seek. If depression and anxiety are contributors, getting proper treatment from a mental health professional might assist with reducing overeating.

Every person is different, so it’s important to find the right treatment plan for your needs.

Summary Think about the feelings during episodes of overeating and seek help to address the issues behind the behavior. Depression and boredom are two common reasons. A mental health professional can provide guidance.

18. Ditch the diet mentality

Fad diets probably won’t help you stop overeating in the long run. Short-term, restrictive diets may lead to rapid weight loss, but they are often unsustainable and can set you up for failure.

Instead, make long-term lifestyle changes that promote health and wellness. It’s the best way to create a balanced relationship with food and prevent habits like overeating.

Summary Instead of going on fad diets to curb overeating, find a sustainable way of eating that nourishes your body and helps it reach optimal health.

19. Break old habits

Habits can be hard to break, especially when they involve food.

Many people get into comfortable routines, like eating dinner in front of the TV or having a bowl of ice cream every night.

It may take time to identify unhealthy behaviors that lead to overeating and replace them with new, healthy habits, but it’s well worth the effort.

For example, make it a point to eat at the dinner table instead of in front of the TV, or replace a nightly bowl of ice cream with a hot cup of tea. These replacements will become healthy habits over time.

Summary Identify unhealthy habits and gradually replace them with new, more positive behaviors.

20. Eat healthy fats

Although high fat foods are often associated with weight gain and overeating, choosing foods rich in healthy fats can help you eat less.

Several studies have shown that adults who consume high fat, low carb diets are less hungry 3–4 hours after meals and lose more weight over time, compared with people who consume diets high in carbs and low in fat (23, 24).

Adding healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, nut butters, and olive oil to your diet may help you feel more satisfied after meals and reduce overeating.

Summary Try adding more healthy fats to your diet. Studies have shown doing so may help you feel fuller after meals and lose weight over time.

21. Keep your goals in mind

Setting short- and long-term goals and referring to them often may help you stay on track and reduce the urge to overeat.

Knowing the reason for overcoming overeating and how overeating is preventing you from reaching your health and wellness goals can motivate you to work toward establishing new eating patterns.

Jotting down motivational quotes and hanging them in prominent places around your living space can help inspire you to stick to a plan throughout the day.

Summary Identify specific short- and long-term eating goals and refer to them often. It can even be helpful to place motivational quotes around your home.

22. Get help if needed

It’s important to distinguish overeating from binge eating disorder (BED).

Binge eating disorder (BED) is recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM-5) as a psychiatric disorder. This means someone who has BED will likely need treatment from a team of medical professionals to overcome it.

BED is characterized by ongoing episodes of eating a large amount of food very quickly to the point of discomfort, despite not being hungry. After a binge, a person might feel shame or guilt surrounding the behavior.

It affects millions of people worldwide and is the most common eating disorder in the United States (25).

If you feel that you might have BED, it’s important to get help. Speak with your healthcare provider about treatment options.

Summary If you regularly binge on large quantities of food, lack control, and experience feelings of guilt, you may have binge eating disorder and should seek professional help.

23. Practice mindful eating

Adopting mindful eating techniques is one of the best ways to prevent overeating.

The practice of mindful eating stresses the importance of focusing on the moment and being aware of thoughts, emotions, and senses while consuming food.

Many studies have shown that mindful eating is an effective way to reduce binge eating behaviors, overeating, and emotional eating (3).

Eating more slowly, taking small bites, chewing thoroughly, being aware of your senses, and appreciating food are all simple mindfulness practices to incorporate into a daily routine.

Summary The practice of mindful eating has been shown to help reduce binge eating behaviors. Mindful eating focuses on being aware of your thoughts and senses while eating.

The bottom line

Many people struggle with overeating.

Fortunately, there are ways to improve eating habits and overcome eating disorders.

Healthcare professionals like psychologists, doctors, or registered dietitians can also provide counseling and guidance to help you get back on track.

Overeating can be a hard habit to break, but you can do it. Use these tips as a starting point to help establish a new, healthy routine, and make sure to seek professional help if you need it.

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published on April 16, 2018. Its current publication date reflects an update, which includes a medical review by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD.

7 Ways to Stop Overeating Once and For All

Overeating is easy to do, especially when you’re indulging in an unusually delicious meal. It’s also easy because there are many factors that cause us to overeat, including stress and noshing too fast—both of which we likely experience or do on an almost daily basis.

Fortunately, there are many tactics you can use to stop overeating once and for all, from slowing down to learning your body’s hunger cues. Use these tips to get your eating on track so you can feel fueled and satiated instead of full and frustrated.

Look Ahead

If you’re surrounded by unhealthy food all the time, it can be easy to eat all day long, whether or not you are hungry. Here’s one way to avoid this temptation: Think about how you’ll feel after you eat too much—like those times when you know you’re full, but there’s still food on your plate.

A similarly powerful tactic is thinking about how you’ll feel if you don’t eat the food. In almost every case you feel proud, happy and more satisfied than if you’d indulged unnecessarily.

Stop Once and For All: Before you grab the doughnut from your office kitchen—especially if you’ve already had a full breakfast—think to yourself: How will I feel when I finish this? Better yet: How will I feel if I walk away right now? Make this a habit, doing it every time you reach for an unnecessary snack; sometimes you’ll want to indulge and that’s okay. But you may find that you say “no” a lot more often than you say “yes.”

Eat Slower

It takes time for your stomach to tell your mind that you’re full because the process of feeling satiated takes time.

“Stretch receptors in the stomach are activated as it fills with food or water; these signal the brain directly through the vagus nerve that connects gut and brainstem. Hormonal signals are released as partially digested food enters the small intestine,” explains Ann MacDonald, a contributor to Harvard Health.

This process of sending signals from your gut to your brain can take anywhere from five to 20 minutes, which is why it’s important to eat more slowly. Eating too fast is a surefire way to overeat because we get this cue well after we’ve already eaten too much.

Stop Once and For All: The next time you eat, set a timer for 20 minutes and see how long it takes you to feel full, paying close attention to the cues your body is sending you. This will give you an approximation of how long it takes your body to feel full, which you can use to stop overeating in the future. Continue eating slowly until you notice that “I’m full” feeling. Note that those with type 2 diabetes may not get these same hunger cues, which makes this tactic less effective.

Eat Mindfully

In our on-the-go world, we’re often eating breakfast in the car, rushing through lunch at our desk, and half-heartedly noshing on dinner while watching our favorites shows. In all of these situations, your focus isn’t on the food you’re eating. It’s on driving, working or watching television, which can lead to overeating.

When you’re not paying attention to your body, it’s easy to miss the “I’m hungry” cue—just like when you eat too fast.

Stop Once and For All: Make a rule to eat at least one meal a day without doing anything else. Notice the difference in recognizing your satiation (feeling full) cues and how satisfied you are. Slowly increase this to two meals each day and eventually to all three.

Get Your Stress Under Control

It seems as though there’s always something stress us out, whether it’s a meeting at work or a family issue. This stress not only wreaks havoc on your body physically, causing everything from chronic high blood pressure and diarrhea, to headaches, chest pain and more, it’s causing you to overeat.

When stressed, your body releases cortisol, which also happens to increase appetite. Whether you’re hungry or not, your body is craving food, and to quell that “hunger” you eat. In many cases, you end up eating high-fat, sugary foods, making the overeating even worse.

Stop Once and For All: If you can’t reduce the amount of stress in your life right now, the next step is to recognize the potential for overeating and stop it before it starts. When stressed, rely on portioning your food, and when you go out to eat, get half of your meal put in a box for later before you even start eating. If you’re hungry for a snack, when you normally aren’t, check in with yourself: Is this stress or am I really hungry? Take Michael Pollan’s advice: If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re probably not hungry.

Eat Before You’re Hungry

This idea may sound odd, but think about these two scenarios:

  • You eat dinner a little early, not because you’re very hungry but because you know you’re going out with friends and don’t want to order out—or you wait until you’re starving and eat post-drinks. You pour a glass of wine, browse the fridge, take your time making dinner, eat until you’re relatively full and then head out.
  • You decide not to eat before going out because you’re not hungry. You wait to eat dinner until 8pm, after you’ve gone out for drinks. Now you’re ravenous. You dive into your cabinets looking for whatever is easiest to make, and dig into the first thing you see. You eat so fast, you don’t realize how full you are—and now you’re stuffed and wishing you hadn’t eaten so much.

In the second scenario, you’re so hungry that you may be experiencing slight nausea or a headache from the hunger. But you may even eat unhealthier foods because you’ll likely eat one of the first things you find; forget about taking time to make a healthy dinner.

You may have similar experiences if you wait too long to have lunch at work, or eat breakfast late in the morning.

Stop Once and For All: Most people tend to eat around the same time every day. Set an alarm on your phone for an hour before you’d normally eat each meal so you remember to nosh earlier than usual. You’ll quickly find that you’re more likely to make rational healthy choices about what you’re eating and how much.

Give Yourself Time

How many times have you looked down at your plate, knowing that you’re full, and finished it anyway? When you’re done, you feel full and mad at yourself: Why did I eat the rest of that? I didn’t need it and now I feel like crap. It’s hard to resist food in the moment, thanks to our need for instant gratification. But giving yourself time to decide whether or not to finish the plate may be exactly what you need.

Stop Once and For All: The next time you’re in a moment where you would normally eat more, but know you shouldn’t, stop for 10 minutes. Give yourself time to decide if you want to eat the rest of the food on your plate. Almost every time, you’ll be happy to toss or save the rest of the food when your 10 minutes is up.

Pay Attention to All Your Hunger Cues

If you’re waiting for your stomach to growl, you may be setting yourself up to overeat, because we don’t all experience the same hunger cues. Sometimes it shows up as a headache or a bad mood that comes on suddenly. A nutritionist once said, “I always know I’m hungry when I’m happily working on something and all of a sudden I’m annoyed by what I’m doing.”

Knowing how hunger can show up in your body is key to recognizing it before it’s too late and you’re starving. Other potential hunger signals include:

  • Growling stomach
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Low energy
  • Suddenly irritable (“hangry”)

Stop Once and For All: Make note of which hunger cues you experience each time you eat. Slowly you’ll discover what means “I’m hungry” for your body, allowing you to eat right away rather than waiting until later, when you’re ravenous, and therefore more likely to overeat.

Stop Overeating

It can be so hard to say no when food is right in front of you—and so easy to ignore that full feeling and eat until you’re so full you literally need to lay down because it hurts to sit or stand. Stop the cycle of overeating once and for all with these simple tips. Test each one to see which works best for you and then stick with it. Once it becomes a habit, you’re more likely to say no when you’re full and indulge when your body needs the fuel.

Why Can’t I Stop Eating?

There are a number of reasons you might find yourself reaching for food. A 2013 survey reveals that 38 percent of American adults overeat due to stress. Of them, half say they overeat at least once a week.

Identifying your personal triggers for overeating is the first step toward changing your habits.

How can you modify your eating habits?

Again, you may eat for emotional reasons. Boredom could be another factor. Others overeat because they’re hungry and not filling up on the right foods. Once you identify why you’re eating, you may move on to following more mindful eating practices.

1. Don’t skip meals

You should be hungry when you go to eat a meal. If you’re starving, you may be more apt to overeat.

You’ve probably heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. People who eat morning meals tend to eat less fat and cholesterol throughout the day. Research also suggests that eating breakfast can help with weight loss.

Anatomy of a healthy breakfast:

Whole grains Whole grain toast, bagels, cereals, waffles, English muffins
Protein Eggs, lean meats, legumes, nuts
Dairy Low-fat milk or cheeses, plain or low-sugar yogurts
Fruits and vegetables Fresh or frozen whole fruits and veggies, pure fruit juices, whole fruit smoothies

2. Pause before eating

If you’re eating at regular intervals throughout the day and still find yourself eating, ask yourself if you’re truly hungry. Is there another need that could be met? A glass of water or a change in scenery may help.

Signs of true hunger may include anything from headache to low energy levels, stomach growling to irritability. If you do still feel like you need a snack, start with small portions, and repeat the checking-in process once more before reaching for seconds.

3. Banish distractions

Change your location for meals, especially if you tend to chow down in front of the television, computer, or in another distracting environment, like in your car.

While work or school may not permit you time to have all your meals at the table, trying to sit and focus on your food can help with overeating.

Start by eating just one meal without distractions each day. Sit at the table. Focus on the food and your feeling of fullness. If you can, increase this habit to two meals or more each day. You may eventually get better at recognizing your body’s signals that you’re full and stop overeating.

4. Chew more bites

Experts recommend chewing each piece of food about 30 times. Chewing allows you to pace yourself. Your brain is able to catch up to your stomach. Not only that, but you may also better enjoy the flavors and textures of what you’re eating.

Try choosing a smaller plate to control the size of your portions. And if you start to feel full, resist the urge to clean your plate. Stop where you feel comfortable and wait 10 minutes before continuing. You may realize you’re too full to try to eat any more.

5. Keep track

You may have emotional or environmental triggers for overeating. Certain foods may also be triggers. Consider keeping a food diary to see what you eat, how much you’re eating, and when and where you tend to eat.

You can keep a simple diary with paper and pen or use an app, like MyFitnessPal, if you’re typically on the go.

Keeping track of your food may help you notice patterns in your habits. For example, you may find you prefer eating chips or chocolate, so you can try keeping those items out of the house. Or maybe you tend to consume most of your calories in the evening while watching television.

6. Address stress

Identify your emotions before you eat, especially if it’s not at a regularly scheduled meal time. Again, it may be helpful to keep a food diary and record this information so you can look for trends in time of day or activity. Consider if you’re feeling:

  • worried or stressed
  • sad or upset
  • angry or isolated

There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to feel, but checking in with your emotions may help you discover if they are at the root of your hunger.

Take a deep breath and try engaging in another type of activity before eating, like taking a walk, doing some yoga, or any other self-care measure.

7. Eat at home

Restaurant portions are large. If you eat out frequently, you may be overeating and not realizing it. Over time, large portions of calorie-laden foods may feel like the norm, making overeating struggles worse. At least one study has linked restaurant eating to obesity in the United States.

Consider having half your meal packed up before you even start eating. Better yet, skip restaurant meals altogether or save them for special occasions.

Research shows that cooking meals at home contributes to healthier food choices overall. You can find a number of healthy and affordable recipes on websites like the United States Department of Agriculture’s What’s Cooking.

8. Choose wholesome foods

Empty calories from added fats and sugars pack a caloric punch, but foods high in these ingredients don’t necessarily quell hunger. You may eat more to fill your stomach as a result.

Instead, bulk up on whole foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables. They’re rich in vitamins and minerals, as well as stomach-filling fiber.

Consider these “smart swaps”:

Sodas and sugary drinks Water, herbal tea, coffee
Sweetened cereals Whole grain cereals with fruit
Ice cream Low-fat yogurt with fruit
Cookies and packaged desserts Popcorn, fruit kebabs, homemade low-sugar granola
Chips Fresh veggie sticks with hummus

9. Drink more water

Hunger may mask dehydration. Other signs of mild dehydration include feeling thirsty and having concentrated urine.

The Mayo Clinic suggests men need 15.5 cups of fluids per day. Women, on the other hand, need around 11.5 cups to stay hydrated. You may need more than this basic amount depending on your activity level and other factors, like breastfeeding.

You don’t have to always drink water either. Sip milk, pure fruit juice, and herbal teas. Foods with high water weights are also good choices, like watermelon and spinach.

10. Find support

Reach out to a friend, especially if you tend to overeat when you’re alone. Chatting with a friend or family member on the phone or just hanging out can lift your mood and keep you from eating for comfort or out of boredom.

You may also consider attending your local Overeaters Anonymous (OA) group, which offers support specific to compulsive overeating. At OA you discuss your struggles and work to find solutions through a 12-step program.

When to see a doctor

Lifestyle changes may help you get a control over your overeating before it becomes a bigger issue.

While overeating from time to time may be nothing to worry about, frequently filling up when you’re not hungry or eating to the point of being uncomfortably full may be a sign of binge-eating disorder (BED).

Ask yourself:

  • Do I eat large amounts of food over a certain period of time, like an hour?
  • Do I feel my eating is out of control?
  • Do I eat in secret or feel shame or other negative emotions about my eating?
  • Do I diet often but not lose weight?

If you answer yes to these questions, you may want to make an appointment with your doctor. Left untreated, BED can last for months or years and is associated with other issues, like depression.

Compulsive eating can also lead to obesity. People who are obese are at increased risk of a whole range of health issues, including high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, degenerative arthritis, and stroke.

Again, talking to your doctor about your overeating is a great first step in making healthy, lasting changes to your lifestyle.

5 Ways to Stop Yourself from Eating When You’re not Hungry

The fridge door is open and you’re peering inside, feeling bored, lonely or sad. But you’re not actually hungry.

You know that eating what’s in front of you isn’t the answer. You know you’re just going to feel awful, if you do. But what are some things you can think, say or do to stop eating when you’re not hungry?

  1. Find your real hunger. If you’re not physically hungry, but you’re still feeling drawn to that leftover cheesecake on the top shelf of your fridge, it may mean that you’re hungry for something else. You might be hungry for a hug, reassurance, or love. You might be hungry for a relationship, friendship, or praise. Make a list of what you’re hungry for at this moment. Recognize that you’re hungry for something that food can’t give you.
  2. Talk to the food. This may seem silly, but try speaking to the food that you’re craving. Ask that slice of cheesecake: “Will you hug me? Will you reassure me? Will you love me? Will you be my friend?”The answer, of course, is no. The best that the cheesecake can offer is a moment of temporary gratification, followed by remorse. You deserve better and you can offer yourself much more than that.
  3. Remind yourself what happens next. This isn’t the first time you’ve felt the urge to eat to satisfy emotional hunger, and it might not be the last.If that slice of cheesecake is still beckoning you, remind yourself of how awful you’ll feel after you indulge. You could tell yourself: “If I do this, afterwards I will probably feel disappointed. Bloated. Uncomfortable.”

    Remind yourself: “Eating that cheesecake might feel good in the moment, but that good feeling won’t last. The consequences are not worth it.”

  4. Feed your real hunger. This one is a must. If you’re looking to food for emotional nourishment, such as comfort when you’re sad, reassurance when you’re scared, and love when you’re lonely, stop right there. Food can’t take away your sadness or your fear, or make loneliness go away. You might feel some relief while you’re eating, but afterward, when you’re no longer savoring that dense, creamy cheesecake, you will be right back where you started — aware of your sadness, fear, and your hunger for company and love. Remember the list you made earlier of what you’re hungry for. You can satisfy those hungers for yourself in a way that food absolutely cannot.If you’re sad and want a hug, let yourself cry, so that you can feel some relief. If you’re scared and want reassurance, accept how you feel (“It’s all right to be scared”). Then reassure yourself that there is nothing you cannot handle. If you’re lonely and want friendship, remember that you can be alone physically but that doesn’t mean you need to be lonely. Enjoy your own company. Be your own best friend. Feed your hungry emotional heart with self-love, not empty calories.
  5. Buy some time. You may not always be able to address what you’re feeling at the moment. Sometimes, you may have to buy yourself some time and put your feelings aside until you can properly take care of them later. This isn’t the same as suppressing your feelings, or pretending they don’t exist. You’re going to take care of your feelings, just not right at this moment.You could say to yourself:

    “I really want to eat right now, but I know my hunger is emotional (I just ate a big lunch!). I don’t have time, right this moment, to give my full attention to my hungry feelings (because I’m at work, or driving my kids to school, or attending a friend’s graduation). I will tend to those feelings as soon as I can. But for now? I’m just going to breathe and accept how I feel, and let my feelings move through me.”

    And then? Breathe, breathe, breathe. If you take big, cleansing breaths, even just for one minute, you might be surprised to find that the desire to eat passes for a little while.

    Not enough? Then distract yourself. Drink a glass of water. Engage in a conversation with a colleague. Catch up on your emails. Do whatever it takes to buy a little more time, until the urge to eat settles.

Above all, believe in yourself. Believe in your inner strength. Believe in your ability to handle anything in your life, without turning to food. As you’re looking inside the fridge, tell that food: “I am stronger than you.” Because you know what? It’s true.

5 Ways to Stop Yourself from Eating When You’re not Hungry

Stop eating when full

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