You’re accustomed to overeating
People overeat out of habit, says Bärbel Knäuper, associate professor at McGill University’s Health Psychology Laboratory. ‘They ate slightly too much yesterday and the day before and, probably for a long time, [they ate] a little too much every day.’
Knäuper says there are many reasons why people form an overeating habit, including learning the behaviour from their families while growing up. When you’re used to overeating, you become comfortable consuming more food than you need and the cycle continues.
‘Realize that overeating is a habit, something we repeat every day unless we take action to change the habit once and for all,’ says Knäuper. By simply recognizing that you’re eating more than you need, you can take steps toward eating more consciously.
You’re unaware of your calorie intake
‘Lack of knowledge may be a factor in overeating,’ Knäuper says. Many people are not aware that they are consuming more calories than they burn because they don’t know how many calories are burned during exercise, they aren’t aware of how many calories are in the foods they eat and they don’t know how many calories they need to eat each day.
For instance, a bottle of Tropicana fruit punch contains 170 calories. You’d have to walk for more than 40 minutes just to burn off a drink you may not have thought much about, says Béliveau.
While exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, being aware of food’s caloric content is the most effective way to curb overeating. ‘It takes a lot of exercising to compensate for overeating, therefore [it] is usually not a successful weight-loss strategy. Eating less is much easier for reaching a daily energy balance,’ says Knäuper.
Research the number of calories you need each day as recommended by Canada’s Food Guide and take steps to stay within that limit. Using a food journal to record your calorie count will help you stay on track. (Download Best Health’s printable food journal as a good way to get started.)
You find food comforting
Who hasn’t reached for the Ben and Jerry’s after a bad day at work? And when you’re feeling sorry for yourself after a fight with your partner, it seems okay to finish off a bag of stale chips because it makes you feel better.
‘Often we eat not because we are hungry but because we are tired or depressed,’ says Béliveau.
However, we don’t often crave a veggie platter when we’re feeling low. That’s because eating sweet foods such as chocolate causes your body release small amounts of feel-good hormones, which can help lift your mood. And if you’re someone who can’t seem to stop eating after one square of chocolate, you’re not alone.
‘Sugars are processed very rapidly by the digestive system and create immediate reward responses or pleasure. This makes people indulge in them. White sugar is the fastest processed sugar,’ says Knäuper.