Over time, you will find that regular mindful eating can help you stop overeating and lose weight.
There are many things you can do to get back in tune with your body so that you can eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. Here are the best tips for preventing overeating.
Don’t overdo it and don’t skip meals
If you’re trying to lose weight quickly, you may be tempted to eat a low-calorie diet or skip meals. But such deprivation can have unpleasant consequences, leading to overeating, Livestrong.com writes.
According to Piedmont Healthcare, when you cut calories too much or go too long without eating, your blood sugar drops dramatically and your stress levels rise. This sends your body into starvation mode, which makes you crave unhealthy, high-calorie foods as compensation.
Indeed, researchers in a January 2021 study in Nutrients found that young adults who regularly skipped dinner gained more weight over a six-year period than those who ate lunch every day. Lunch skippers were also more likely to be overweight or obese.
Instead, try to eat three nutritious meals each day, along with one or two snacks, and keep your daily calorie intake above 1,200 if you are assigned female at birth and above 1,500 if you are assigned male at birth, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Limit the consumption of highly processed foods
It seems that not all calories are created equal. Your body responds differently to whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and lean meats, then it does to processed foods.
Studies have linked processed foods to both weight gain and overeating. One study by Cell Metabolism, conducted in May 2019, found that people on an ultra-processed diet eat 500 calories more per day than those on an unprocessed diet, even though the foods they eat contain the same amount of calories and macronutrients.
The study was small (only 20 people), but it was a randomized controlled trial designed to determine cause and effect.
With this in mind, choose more whole foods and avoid processed foods such as fast foods, packaged snacks (chips, crackers), frozen dinners, soft drinks, processed meats (bacon, sausage), and packaged desserts.
Determine whether your hunger is physical or emotional
If you find it difficult to control your eating, it’s a good sign that you’re eating out of emotion rather than true physical hunger.
What’s the difference? Physical hunger is characterized by a feeling of emptiness in the stomach and possibly accompanying growling or rumbling, which signals that the stomach is empty.
“It’s caused by a complex hormonal pathway between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract,” explains Jaime Harper, MD, a board-certified obesity medicine specialist in Indianapolis.
Physical hunger tends to come on slowly, and as it becomes more intense, you usually feel open to eating a wide variety of foods – anything to satisfy your hunger. “If you’re really hungry, you may also feel irritable or weak,” says Candice Sethi, a San Diego-based psychotherapist, and nutritionist.
Emotional “hunger” usually occurs suddenly, usually in response to an unpleasant feeling such as stress, boredom, anxiety, or loneliness.
“Your body is not really hungry. It’s looking for a rush of the feel-good hormone dopamine, which you can get from eating certain foods,” says Dr. Harper. Namely. Processed carbohydrates. “They tend to cause a greater release of dopamine, so most people crave them,” she explains.
Emotional hunger is usually the culprit when you feel a craving for comfort foods like pizza, cookies, or chocolate, but the idea of a healthier meal isn’t very appealing.
Keep a food diary
One of the best ways to prevent overeating is to keep a mindfulness-based food diary. In addition to recording the types and amounts of foods you eat at each meal and snack, this type of journal also records how you felt before, during, and after the meal.
“This helps identify trigger foods, especially those that you may eat, usually for no real reason,” says Hannah Koshak, a dietitian in Rice Lake, Wisconsin.
Think about the candy you reach for every time there’s a rush at work or the handful of cereal you grab when you go to the kitchen after work just because the box is on the counter.
Here’s how to do it: for two weeks, write down what you eat and when. In addition to this, write down how you felt at the time. Did you reach for a bag of chips because you were bored while you were watching TV? Did you have an argument with your spouse and find yourself reaching into the cookie jar shortly afterward?
The purpose of tracking your food intake and your emotions together is to find out what emotional triggers are related to food. You can also note how you felt after you finished eating – like “if you were and what emotions you felt,” says Koshak.
Once you’ve identified your emotional triggers for overeating, make a plan to get ahead of them: if you usually watch TV in the afternoon and snack on chips, don’t watch TV and go for a walk instead. If you have a fight with your spouse that forces you to eat, plan to call a friend after the fight instead. (Pro tip: you don’t need to go into the details of the argument; the goal is to distract you from emotional eating.)
Likewise, if you notice that you tend to overeat a certain food or that eating it makes you feel bad, you can think of strategies to control your portions or make healthier choices.
Try mindful eating
While it takes practice, especially if you’ve been emotionally eating for years, you can reconnect with your body and tune into your own cues and hunger signals by adopting what’s called mindful eating.
Mindfulness is an umbrella term for bringing your awareness and attention to the present moment instead of allowing your brain to become distracted. Mindful eating brings this concept to food by helping you become aware of how your body feels and thoughts about food – both before you decide to eat and while you’re eating.
When you eat mindfully, you check in with your body before you start eating to decide if you are really hungry. If you decide to eat, you enjoy the food until you notice that your body is satisfied. According to the experts at the Center for Mindful Eating, the goal is to give your body what it really needs and enjoy your meal without worrying about restricting or limiting yourself.
And that can make a big difference: according to an August 2017 study in Diabetes Spectrum, people who engage in mindful eating tend to eat less, choose healthier foods, and appreciate the food they do eat more.
And while weight loss isn’t always the main goal, being more mindful can help you shed a few pounds by reducing food cravings, according to a review published in Current Obesity Reports in March 2018.
How to start eating mindfully
When you get the urge to eat, start by asking yourself a few questions to figure out if you’re really hungry or just want to eat in response to a particular emotion.
“I encourage my patients to simply pause before they snack and ask themselves why they are eating,” says Dr. Harper. “If the answer is emotional, I ask them to leave. If they are still hungry 20 minutes later, then their body probably needs the food and they should make a healthy choice.”
If you have trouble understanding this, the following questions may help you:
When was the last time I ate? Did I just finish dinner and now I want something sweet, or has it been a long time since I ate?
Does my stomach feel full or empty? Does the urge to eat come from my stomach or my brain?
Do I experience any uncomfortable emotions that make me want to eat, or do I feel emotionally stable?
Will I enjoy healthy foods like chicken and broccoli, or will I crave something special like pizza and ice cream to fill an emotional void?
Simply put, mindful eating involves sincere attention to the food in front of you. It may not be easy at first, but the more you practice, the better you’ll get at it. And over time, you’ll find that regular mindful eating can help you stop overeating and lose weight.