follow-up: overeating

15 Aug

My last post discussed eating disorders–a very real issue for a lot of women. Overeating plagues even more of us, though: that is, the tendency to eat more than we need, and to eat for reasons other than hunger (even when it’s not severe enough to warrant the label “eating disorder”).


Some doctors believe that this is more often a problem for women with PCOS and insulin resistance, because the levels of insulin in your blood are connected to cravings and hunger. In particular, a lot of insulin-resistant people crave carbohydrates even when they have had plenty of calories.


Is this you? Do you find it difficult to stick to your eating plan or to listen to your body and eat mindfully, only when you are really hungry? It definitely describes me. There are some things you can do to minimize this, though. Some of these tips you have heard before, but maybe there’s something here that can help you.

  1. Clear your home of your most difficult-to-resist foods. For those of you who share your home, either with a family or a roommate, this might be hard. If popcorn is your go-to food when you’re bored or upset, and your spouse loves it, what do you do? My recommendation is that you get it out of the house. Ask your spouse to keep it at work or find a replacement that you wouldn’t be inclined to overeat. Talk to your housemates and explain that it’s important to you. If the rest of the household isn’t willing to get rid of something that you find irresistible, try to make it less convenient for you to eat it. Store it high up, or ask your partner to put it away out of sight so that you will be less likely to notice it. If you have roommates, ask them to store it in the bedroom so it’s not in your common space.
  2. Avoid tempting situations. If you always succumb to the siren call of the soft pretzels at the mall, don’t walk past them. Go a different route through the mall or whatever you have to do. If you always overeat when you go out to a certain restaurant with a friend, suggest a different restaurant that has healthier options (especially if you dine together frequently). It may seem extreme to avoid whole places in order to control your eating, but it’s not. Would you expect an alcoholic to resist drinking if there were always a bottle of his/her favorite drink on the kitchen shelf, or if every Thursday night was spent in a bar? Not really. It makes sense to save yourself the difficulty.
  3. Find healthier replacements for the things you usually snack on. This is harder than it sounds, because most of us are not satisfied with carrot sticks when we really want potato chips. But think about things that are similar to the food you overeat. For example, if you do crave potato chips, would you be satisfied with whole-wheat crackers and hummus? Or roasted chickpeas with some kind of seasoning? Or even with homemade sweet potato chips?
  4. Plan. This is hard for me, but it really does help: plan what you are eating for the day. Plan not only your meals, but your snacks. If you have a plan, it is easier to choose to adhere to your decision to eat toasted pita with hummus instead of a cookie from the break room at work. And you know that you will be getting a meal at some point in the future, which can make a difference to the way you feel about snacking. I am much more able to eat healthfully throughout the day and avoid overeating if I know that I am making a satisfying dinner that night.
  5. Prep. This is similar to item 4: get your snacks ready ahead of time so that you don’t have to prepare them when you’re craving something to eat. If you have to stop and peel a carrot and cut it up, it’s much less likely that you’ll eat your planned carrots and dip. If you have to clean a box of strawberries before your snack, it’s that much more tempting to eat chocolate instead. When everything is ready in the refrigerator (you might even box up your day’s snacks the night before), you can just grab it and eat it, and that eliminates the time you might spend thinking “maybe it would be easier to just eat this other snack instead.”
Practical suggestions help, of course, but I think it’s important to understand why we overeat. If you are a normal American overeater, you might get a lot of benefit out of David Kessler’s book,The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.

This book is an excellent discussion of why we overeat and how to stop. Kessler, a former FDA commissioner, spent most of his career trying to improve regulation of cigarettes; his book is another contribution to public health, in my opinion, and it was very helpful to me. Kessler talks a lot about how foods are manufactured to produce the craving response that trips up so many of us. I highly recommend the book.


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