First, hi! It’s been a looooong time since I’ve written anything but I’m happy to be back and I’m happy you’re here reading this.
A few years back I was diagnosed with a binge eating disorder. Today, I am well and truly recovered but in the years I’ve worked as a strength coach, I have had multiple clients that have issues with binging and overeating.
Binging and overeating is a topic and issue that seems to rampant in the fitness community. I have seen countless accounts where people talk about their current or past struggles with overeating.
This got me thinking, why does this happen? What can we do to stop overeating?
What drives overeating?
I think it’s important to first look at the potential reasons why people overeat.
Before we continue, I want to clarify that by overeating, I don’t mean bulking or gaining where you are purposefully eating in a caloric surplus. What I’m talking about is an undesired over consumption of food where you feel you have no control and sometimes can’t stop.
There are a few reasons why you might overeat:
- Behaviors and habits
- Restrictive diet
- Activity level
Where we grow up, the type of people we surround ourselves with all have influence over our current views and behaviors.
This is natural as we tend to mimic the behaviors of those around us to fit in and be accepted.
If you grew up in a family that had huge family dinners and ate a lot of fast food, you most likely do those things as an adult.
If all your friends are going out on Friday night having lots of drinks and a big meal, you are likely to do something similar.
When you are surrounded by situations when overeating is accepted or commonplace, you are more likely to also overeat. Most of your friends and family aren’t tracking macros, deadlifting, and doing pull ups in the gym. Because of this, they will have a difficult time understanding why you are doing what you are doing.
Plan ahead! If you know you will be consuming a large amount of calories later in the day, you can save up some macros. You are also less likely to make poor decisions if you have a plan A and a plan B.
Have an internal dialogue with yourself. Ask, am I hungry? Do I want to eat this food? How will I feel afterward?
And get ready, I’m about to lay down some tough love.
You might need to find new friends.
Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t cut your old friends out of your life completely but the people that you surround yourself with can sometimes make or break your success. If you start hanging out with others who are fitness minded, they train hard, take their diet seriously, you will be more inclined to do so as well.
Last I want to address your home environment.
If you have certain foods that you will eat guaranteed (for me it’s Ben and Jerry’s) the best thing to do is to not keep those foods in your house. The more easily accessible a food is, the more likely you are going to eat it.
When you need to drive 15 minutes to the nearest Ben and Jerry’s supplier at 11pm, you are most likely not going to bother.
Behavior and Habits
So often, overeating can be triggered by a specific situation. Over a lifetime, you develop behaviors associated with these situations and often food is involved. These can be both positive and negative situations.
As a positive example, going to the movies. You might buy popcorn and some candy and a soda. You probably don’t get that stuff because you are hungry but because that is what you have done your whole life and it’s part of your behavior.
A negative example, you’re stressed at work. Maybe the way you have dealt with stress your whole life is to lean on food. I remember once being so stressed about school, I came home and ate an entire bag of Reese’s cups.
The first thing to do is to recognize scenarios that trigger you to overeat.
Second, instead of trying to resist the urge to eat, do something else and replace the old habit with a new one. For example, if you feel stressed listen to music or read a book. If it’s a situation like the movies, sneak a macro friendly snack in or get a jumbo sugar free soda.
Because you benefit from swapping overeating with a new habit, your brain will have develop the desire to repeat the new, healthier habit.
Much too often, we want the quickest solution to weight loss. This leads to crash diets, cutting out an entire food group, juice cleanses, etc.
Although these types of diets can work in the short term, the body’s survival mode quickly kicks in. Your body does not care about how shredded you are, it only cares about keeping you alive.
Restrictive dieting is essentially controlled starvation. When you restrict calories, your body slows down it’s metabolic processes, increases hunger stimulating hormone (ghrelin), and decreases satiety hormone (leptin).
The longer you are in a restricted state, the worse the symptoms become. If you’ve ever dieting for a long period of time, you know how hunger and food obsessed you can become. This more often than not leads to a huge overeating session.
Not only this, but these types of diet are not sustainable. Cut out a whole food group? Usually you end up binging on that food. In an extreme deficit? You end up binging due to hunger.
The best diet is the one you can stick to.
If you are in fat loss, there are a few things you can do to avoid binging:
- Eat a sufficient amount of protein
- Drink lots of water
- Choose high fiber foods (eat yo veggies!)
- Decrease foods that are highly palatable (often leads to binging)
- Go for voluminous foods over calorie dense foods
Another topic I want to touch on is cheat days.
There is a glorification of cheat days in fitness. Many people are disciplined Monday to Friday and then massively overeat on the weekend, trying to rationalize it by saying it’s their cheat day.
Some of this is due to extreme restriction, other times it’s habit. It’s the weekend, I deserve to let loose is a common thought.
Cheat days almost always lead to extreme overconsumption of food and only slow your progress.
A better approach would be to implement a refeed which is a controlled increase in calories, specifically carbohydrates. The key here is, it’s still controlled.
There is no denying that cardio is a great fat loss tool. However, I’ve had more than one person tell me they did an extra cardio session so they could eat more dessert.
Just because the treadmill or your Fitbit says you burned an extra 500kcal doesn’t mean that eating an extra 500kcal will be balanced.
Energy expenditure is more complicated than that.
The more cardio you do, the more adapted your body becomes. The longer you diet, the less calories you end up burning through exercise.
Plus coupling hours of cardio with a restricted diet is a recipe for overeating.
Cardio is a great tool but use it only when you need it. Don’t jump straight into an hour of cardio a day, start with a couple 20 minute sessions each week and don’t use cardio as excuse to eat even more.
We are often our own worst enemy when it comes to dieting and the gym.
There are a few common mindset pitfalls that we can easily fall into with overeating.
The first one is the ‘Fuck it’ mentality. You have one treat that might put you over you calorie target by a couple hundred and then you decide you’ve already done some damage so the whole day is ruined. This leads to full food blow out. Then you end up feeling crap the next day.
The second is rationalizing overeating. You think, I’ve been doing so well, I deserve this treat or this big meal. Most of the time this leads to eating more than maybe you intended.
Third is the good/bad food label. You’ve labeled some foods as bad and cut them out completely. A few days go by and before you know you are binging on all the ‘bad’ foods.
These mindsets only feed into the restrict/binge cycle.
The common denominator with these types of mindsets is that they make you feel like you failed. You ate something you shouldn’t have, so you end up feeling guilty, so you become more restrictive. Then the cycle repeats.
Before you let the spiral get too out of control, it’s important to take a step back and become the observer. This helps to distance yourself from the feelings of guilt you might experience.
Ask yourself some questions:
- Where are you?
- What were you doing before overeating?
- What were you thinking about before overeating?
- When did the overeating occur?
- How did you stop?
Lastly, it’s ok if you do fall off the wagon. You are human and dieting is not going to be 100% perfect all the time.
Accept that you fell off and move on, make your next food choice a good one, don’t dwell on the fact that you overate. It’s done. Keep moving forward.
If you have questions, you can join my Facebook community (where I do LIVE trainings) or follow me on Instagram and I will respond asap. Or if you are after some more guidance, you can download my free guide.