How to Overcome Overeating

Learn three reasons you overeat and how to handle each situation.


Almost everyone, at least once in a while, turns to food for some reason other than being hungry. Recognizing what spurs you to eat when your body doesn’t need nourishment can mean the difference between surprise when the scale won’t budge and finally losing weight. Take a hard look at yourself and your eating habits to see if one of these reasons is why you’ve packed on pounds.

Your Emotions Are in an Uproar

Instead of coping with uncomfortable feelings of anger, sadness, stress, boredom or loneliness, many of us turn to food. “Mood eating” accounts for 75 percent of overeating and diet failure, according to the Cleveland Clinic and its nutrition program studies. When we use food to comfort ourselves to our own detriment, it’s time to work on the emotional side of overeating, says Lisa Dorfman, a licensed psychotherapist, sports nutritionist and adjunct professor at the University of Miami.

What you can do: “Simply being aware of which emotions trigger overeating can help you stop it," she says. Try keeping a food journal to see which moods accompany you to the pantry. Once you see a pattern of using sweets to soothe stress or nostalgic foods like Aunt Barb’s noodle casserole to remind you of your far-away family, you give yourself the opportunity to respond to those feelings with something other than food. Turn to something you enjoy that keeps you busy – and away from the kitchen. Try playing fetch with your dog, knitting or calling a friend. By finding a positive outlet for your negative emotions, you’ll not only avoid weight-loss setbacks, but you’ll also accomplish something.

Your Bad Habits Run Your Life 

You open the refrigerator door every time you enter the kitchen. You snack throughout the day and almost never sit down to eat real meals. You finish every morsel on your plate. You grab a bag of chips when your favorite TV show comes on. When it comes to food, bad behaviors can be life-threatening at their worst and wardrobe-wrecking at their least.

What you can do: Identify your diet-sabotaging habits by keeping a food journal. Review your food journal on a regular basis. Once you pinpoint the situations, times of day or other triggers that make you eat mindlessly, you can work to break the connections between those triggers and the food you eat. For example, plan ahead: instead of always going to the vending machine at work for a midday snack, bring low-fat cheese and whole-wheat crackers or an apple. Establish rules to help you overcome overeating, such as no eating while watching television. Pay attention to what you are doing; for example, don't nibble while you are cooking or continue to eat after dinner is over by snacking on leftovers when you clean the dishes. You might also need to redecorate, which means that the candy dish that looks lovely on your coffee table will have to go. It costs you 400 calories a day when it's filled with Skittles.

You’re Resigned to Being Overweight

You’ve started a diet, stopped a diet, started again and stopped again, and you just can’t seem to lose the girth. Why bother, you think. Believing weight loss is impossible can be disastrous because giving up on weight loss often means weight gain. Maintaining a stable weight – even one that’s too high – takes some effort for most of us. The higher we are above our ideal weight range, the worse the consequences are for our health, self-esteem or motivation to get back on the weight-loss wagon.

What you can do: Be realistic. Don’t expect to lose three inches in three months. What took 10 years to put on won’t come off by the time next season’s clothes are in stores, if you’re just getting started today. And don’t think that eliminating French fries from an almost all-junk-food diet will make much difference – no matter how painful the sacrifice might be. Sometimes a seriously disillusioned dieter needs to see a professional, such as a dietitian, surgeon or psychologist, says Dorfman.


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