Nutrition Articles

Overcoming Overeating

New Strategies to Stop Overeating Before You Start

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Why do we eat? We all know why we should be eating: to supply our bodies with plenty of energy to get through the day; to get nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals which help us to stay healthy and free of disease; and to get useful carbohydrates, proteins, and fats—all of which contribute to running our bodies properly and maintaining good health.

But sometimes we can all be guilty of eating for other reasons. We love food! And that’s great! Eating should be pleasurable, not just nutritious. Food is everywhere: books are devoted to cooking and recipes, we find ourselves daydreaming and even talking about the newest restaurant or our favorite foods.

Many times we eat to celebrate—holidays, job promotions, graduations, weddings…we’ll find just about any achievement ("I raked the yard!", "We sold our house!", "My favorite team won!") to be celebration-worthy, and we’ll eat to commemorate it.

Other times, we let our emotions take over. When we’re stressed out, sad, angry, or lonely, we oftentimes turn to food to comfort us. Even starting (and staying on) a new diet can be stressful, especially when emotions creep in.

In our food-obsessed culture with out-of-control portions always lurking within our grasps, how can we not overeat? It’s hard to break habits and go against the lessons we have always been taught, like cleaning our plates, not being wasteful, or getting the best deal—which usually means ordering up and getting a lot more food for the money.

There are many ways to stop overeating. While some may seem silly…silly just may work for you. From the following list, find a few that work best for you, and try several. For example, if you find yourself eating out a lot, experiment with the dining out options more. After finding the strategies that work, stick with them. Over time, you’ll break the habits of overeating and form new habits. Pretty soon, you won’t even need the strategies at all, and you’ll be on your way to a permanent lifestyle change!

Skills for Any Setting
Whether you’re cooking your own meal, eating at work, or snacking at a football game, here are the strategies you can take anywhere:
  • Know your portion sizes. Make your own "portion pack" to take with you or keep the following common items in mind when preparing and eating meals.
    • A golf ball is the size of a serving of nuts (including peanut butter) or cheese.
    • A deck of playing cards is equivalent to 3 ounces of any meat.
    • Use a die to estimate a proper serving of oils and fats.
    • For fruit and veggie servings, use a tennis ball.
    • One serving of cooked grains or potatoes is about the size of a computer mouse.
  • Divide your plate. When cooking at home, looking at pictures on menus, or shopping ala carte at the work cafeteria, your plate should look like this:
    • Half (or more) of the plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables.
    • Protein-rich foods (meat or legumes) and starches (grains, potatoes, bread) should take up one quarter of the plate each.
    • Fill your "divided plate" only once. If you’re still hungry, have another half-plate of vegetables. It’s that simple.
    • Portion-controlled plates are available to buy as well…although they’re much more expensive than drawing an imaginary line. Try the Diet Plate.
  • Quench your hunger with water. Instead of high-calorie, low-nutrient drinks like soda, alcohol, or other sugary drinks, choose water. It’s free wherever you go, and most people don’t meet their 8-10 cups-a-day requirement. Drink water before, during, and after a meal to slow yourself down while eating and curb hunger.
  • Fill up on Fiber. The healthiest and most filling foods are high in fiber—think fruits and veggies, and whole, unprocessed grains. Adding fiber to your diet will aid in weight loss, and keep you feeling fuller longer, so you may eat less.
  • Supportive groups are crucial. Surround yourself with positive people who motivate you to reach your goals, not those who want to sabotage your efforts. When you feel tempted, emotional, or if you have already gotten off-track, turn to your support group. Call a friend, email a family member, or get online to the SparkPeople message boards. Sometimes all you need is a short word of advice from a friendly voice.
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Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
Nicole was named "America's Top Personal Trainer to Watch" in 2011. A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, she loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Her DVDs "Total Body Sculpting" and "28 Day Boot Camp" (a best seller) are available online and in stores nationwide. Read Nicole's full bio and blog posts.

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Member Comments

  • FOXGLOVE999
    While I agree that Americans overeat, it's not because we are food obsessed, it's because we are disconnected to our food, bodies etc. Americans spend less time on food preparation than most cultures, devote less money as well. That doesn't sound particularly obsessed. This fear of getting fat is causing people to be afraid of devoting time and money to good food, they are so busy trying to avoid food, but they can't, because you need food to live, so they give up and gorge themselves on fast food, because they have no plan for eating healthy, it's not a priority. Embrace food, only then will you succeed. - 10/23/2014 9:40:33 AM
  • Sometimes overeating isn't so simple. It can be a symptom of a psychiatric illness as is the case in eating disorders. While the suggestions may be helpful to the average person, if you can't control your overeating, I would suggest you get professional help as you may have an eating disorder. - 10/4/2014 2:45:31 PM
  • @ALIGHTERBOB:

    I think I have similar problem about breaking good habits in the evening. Maybe the solution could be a new habit for the evening? Like taking a walk, or doing some light work (crafting in my case) that keeps the hands busy so they don't stray for the bag of crisps?

    I was surprised at your reaction to the picture - It's amazing how different perception can be. I saw very little beef on the plate, most of it was (to my eyes) fried food, refined carbs and sauce. The glass could just as well have been root beer AFAIK. I was actually glad that for once the overweight person wasn't a woman shoveling cake into her mouth; something I've seen in plenty of articles and books on the subject. - 3/17/2014 8:54:07 AM
  • Such a great eye opener. Really enjoyed this. Thanks very much. - 8/10/2013 6:00:38 PM
  • I really found the accompanying photo offensive. To imply that we are fat because we eat beef or drink alcohol is just perpetuating a stereotype. - 3/2/2013 8:23:31 PM
  • JOANNEA1952
    My husband and I eat out a lot, and I have figured out how to do this without gaining weight. Just like the article said: I either ask for just vinegar or lemon juice to put on a salad, and I ask to eliminate any cheese it may come with. I never eat any bread that may come with the meal. I order salmon (first choice) or another fish, chicken or lean pork for an entree. I substitute a double order of vegetables for any starch included, and I may have a dry sweet potato on occasion (I never eat white potatoes of any kind). I also enjoy a pre- dinner cocktail and wine on occasion. I may have a taste of my husband's dessert, if he should order one (which is rare). Also, I rarely eat red meat, but I may splurge on a steak once or twice a year. I know this sounds really restrictive, but I really enjoy having a social dinner out with my husband (and friends, on occasion), and I focus on the social aspects of the meal more than I do on the food itself. After 15 years of weight gains/losses of 10 to 30 pounds, I've finally figured out how to maintain a constant weight of 100 pounds (I'm 60 years old and very petite). I enjoy everything I eat, but I am very disciplined about what I eat. Giving up all the fattening foods I used to love became a lifestyle that took several years to achieve, but it is so worth the effort it took to get there. - 1/6/2013 10:50:47 PM
  • ALIGHTERBOB
    I have not yet found a solution. If anyone has an idea, I would appreciate it. - 12/29/2012 6:30:42 AM
  • ALIGHTERBOB
    I have not yet found a solution. If anyone has an idea, I would appreciate it. - 12/29/2012 6:30:42 AM
  • ALIGHTERBOB
    I am usually very good over 90% of the day. I stay within my calorie range, eat plenty of fruits and veggies and drink plenty of water. Where I struggle is before bed. I am usually hungry. Some of the solutions here do not work well for me at that time. If I exercise, I have trouble getting to sleep. If I drink a lot of water, I will be getting up (my other problem is not sleeping well). If I just go to bed, I have not yet found a cure for - 12/29/2012 6:28:50 AM
  • NOTLIKEMCLOVIN
    This isn't a bad article, but the tips tend to suggest a diet that won't leave you satisfied. Oh, you might have enough food, but frankly, to me a salad with grilled chicken and just enough dressing to taste sounds like something I'd give up 20 years of my life to avoid eating every day. And too much of this advice leaves out the important role that fat plays in a satisfying diet. If I eat three strips of real bacon (turkey bacon is basically no better) and two over-easy eggs for breakfast, that's only 260 calories, but it's 260 calories that's going to keep me satisfied until lunchtime. I could eat 260 calories of whole grain oatmeal with a splash of skim milk, and it would not only be unsatisfying taste-wise, I would be hungry in two hours.

    That being said, the article does mention nuts and eating protein, but I just wish that more articles would keep in mind the role of fat in our diet. - 6/18/2012 7:07:10 PM
  • CHRISTINASP
    I agree with happeningfish that it's very important to listen to one's body: eat when hungry, stop when enough...
    And fruit for dessert? This will give most people a bloated feeling. Fruit as I understand it is best eaten on an empty stomach. So better to turn it around and have fruit BEFORE a meal, not afterwards. - 6/18/2012 5:14:23 PM
  • One thing the left out is ordering off the kids menu! Most restaurants have one plus; There's less food, less cost and they do have healthy options. Another thing you can do is split your meal with your date and split the cost :) - 6/18/2012 2:43:08 PM
  • Excellent! - 6/18/2012 6:35:16 AM
  • Excellent! - 6/18/2012 6:35:16 AM
  • VERY HELPFUL!!! - 2/19/2012 8:26:11 PM

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