- A Different Perspective on Overeating
by Alice Greene
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 ate 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
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.
I have seen all of these and
more explanations, and each of them is easy to address with a
method of becoming mindful of hunger levels, of understanding
emotional eating and balancing food choices to minimize high
carbohydrate meals and snacks. This is not to say that some people
don't have addictions and disorders, but I believe that many
overeaters are simply suffering from a lack of balanced and emotional
eating knowledge and tools. Be mindful as you eat this week,
and see if you are overeating for any of the reasons I explained.
If so, don't judge yourself. Guilt or shame will only lead you
to eat more. Simply observe and say to yourself "isn't that