Overeating is so easy to do, and it is becoming a way of life for lots of people. Some see this as an addiction or a disease. Overeaters Anonymous, for example, addresses the problem as an addiction. Physicians see it as an eating disorder. I see it differently. I see it as disordered eating, and while that seems like semantics it is not.
Overeating is often an unconscious act of eating too much and not really realizing that a lot of food was just consumed. How often do you grab for something to eat, only to look down a while later and realize that the full bag or carton or bowl is empty? You didn’t even see or feel it happen. You don’t even know why you ate it, because you weren’t even hungry to start with – or maybe you were. Overeating can also occur because of an uncontrollable urge to binge, and frequently on simple carbohydrates (as in lots of pastries, ice cream, chocolate, pretzels, macaroni and cheese).
Many different things cause us to overeat, and most are not obvious. I’ll start with three common situations. The first is that you haven’t eat much all day. You’ve skipped a meal and gone long hours without eating. Maybe you got hungry and nothing was available, or maybe you decided to ignore your hunger signals. By the time you get home you are famished. Does this sound familiar? Then you ate a bit before dinner, had a bit more than you needed at dinner and later had some more food. Or maybe you waited for dinner and stuffed yourself and forced in a bit of dessert. When you started eating you thought the food would feel good, but later you felt sick. A second scenario is you ate pretty well during the day, but still found yourself unsatisfied when dinner was over, even though you got full, and needed something sweet to top it off later. And a third situation is overeating every time you eat. These are all common experiences to many people. It doesn’t make them addicts or ill or bad. There is another explanation.
Here are some reasons, and they don’t start by looking at what is wrong with the behavior. It starts by looking at where the behavior stems from.
In the first scenario, skipping meals or going for long periods without food leaves the body without the calories (or fuel) that it needs to support its metabolism (the rate the body burns calories). So you are practically driven by your body to overeat, and specifically to eat simple carbohydrates that break down quickly into fuel. It is a given – if you are ravenous when you start to eat, you will exceed your fullness.
In addition, it is at night that the emotions of the day try to buddle to the surface, and food is a way to keep the emotions down. We all have emotions, including frustration, irritation, anger, stress, emptiness, loneliness, sadness, and excitement. We are good at keeping them in check during the day, and then at night we use food as a way to deal with these feelings – feelings we don’t even know we are having. This is called emotional eating – when we use food to cope with emotions.
In the second scenario, the reason could be emotional eating. It could also be because of your beliefs. It could be your belief that dessert always follows a meal, or a plate of food is always finished off no matter how full you feel. And then you have to have dessert because it is what happens after dinner.
In the third situation, constant overeating can be attributed to only eating carbohydrates, because it is hard to tell when fullness occurs and carbohydrates drive up blood sugar levels, which drive up cravings. It can also be because of emotional eating, or because fullness has become such a normal feeling you don’t even realize how it feels to stop before you get full. It never occurred to you.