Everyday, we make decisions about when, what, and how much to eat. In this food abundant environment, it can be easy to take in more energy than your body actually needs. Overeating is a common challenge that might be standing in your way of a healthy, rewarding relationship with food. Overeating often leads to cycles of yo-yo dieting, which can impact your metabolism, self-esteem, and body image. So what can you do to keep well-nourished, without going overboard and without feeling deprived?
Tip #8: Learn Your Physical Hunger & Fullness Cues
If you’re struggling with overeating or undereating, learning your physical hunger & fullness cues and eating according to these will make a huge difference. Pay attention to the full range of sensations. It’s easy to notice “extremely hungry” or “so full I’m bursting”, but do you know what “a little hungry” or “almost full” feels like? Listen carefully — your body is letting you know how much food it needs in this moment. Ideally, you’ll eat when you feel “hungry” and stop eating when you feel “almost full”. This comes with practice– start by becoming aware of your physical hunger & fullness cues.
Tip #7: Plan Your Meals
Having a plan prepares you for eating according to your values for health and vitality, instead of choosing whatever is most convenient at the time. Depending on your personal preferences and lifestyle, you might need a structured meal plan, complete with snacks, shopping lists, and recipes. Or you might do better by thinking about your meals day-by-day: where will I be at lunch/ dinner today? What foods are available there? How can I make my plate look more like this? Aim to eat once every 4-6 hours.
Tip #6: Savor Your Food
Imagine eating handfuls of popcorn while watching a movie, or snacking on a bag of chips while driving. Do you feel satisfied after these experiences? Or does it leave you full but unfulfilled? Eating mindlessly often means eating more than you’re physically hungry for. Instead, pay attention to the experience of eating. What does the food look, smell, feel, and taste like? Recognizing these sensations can help increase your awareness of pleasure while eating, which contributes to feeling satisfied with your food. You might also notice not liking a food when you actually taste it — and you’ll know to avoid it next time.
Tip #5: Check Your Food Environment
Often, when you’re hungry, you want food NOW! So surround yourself with snacks and meal staples that are good for you. This means that the most convenient choice is always a healthy choice. Remove excessive junk foods from your work desk, car, bag, kitchen counter, fridge, and cupboards. Replace some of them with options that are high in fibre and / or protein, like whole grain crackers, fresh fruit, or nuts.
Tip #4: Know Your Triggers
Are there certain situations that often lead to overeating? For example, do you have a habit of curling up with a big bowl of ice cream every night while watching TV? Or do you treat yourself to a few extra slices of pizza after a bad day at work? Instead of reaching for food, explore alternative ways of dealing with these food triggers. Try calling up a friend, going for a walk, reading a book, listening to some music, or find your own soothing activity instead of reaching for something to eat.
Got a food craving? Check out these 4 tips to overcoming this common pitfall!
Tip #3: Keep Hydrated
Thirst can get mistaken for hunger, leading you to eat when you didn’t need to. Build a habit of drinking some water before and after each meal to make sure you’re getting enough. What’s an easy way to tell if you’re well hydrated? Check the colour of your urine. It should be pale yellow. Beware if you’re taking vitamin B supplements: excessive B2 (aka: riboflavin) can turn your urine a neon yellow colour (it’s otherwise harmless).
Tip #2: Practice Leaving Food on Your Plate
Many people who overeat do so partly because they have a tendency to finish everything on their plate, even when they’re no longer hungry. This is especially the case in restaurants, where the serving sizes can be twice or even three times the amount you normally might serve yourself. Give yourself permission to eat based on how much your body needs (not how much someone else decided you should have). Similarly, if you’re still hungry after eating a serving of food, then return for seconds.
Do you eat out a lot? Check out my guide to healthier restaurant meals!
Tip #1: Prioritize Fibre & Protein
Eating foods that help keep you full for longer can crush food cravings that often lead to overeating. Two nutrients that’ll help you with exactly that are fibre and protein. The good news is they’re found in a variety of foods!
- Whole Grains: try whole grain bread, brown rice, barley, oats, millet, quinoa for lunch or dinner. Choose whole grain pasta, crackers, and cereals over refined versions.
- Nuts & Seeds: try a small handful of peanuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, cashews, or Brazil nuts when you’re feeling a little hungry.
- Legumes: try adding black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans to a salad, or boiling some edamame for a snack.
- Vegetables: add them to stir-frys, casseroles, pasta dishes, or steam and serve with a dip (like hummus or tzatziki).
- Fruits: try pomegranate, fuyu fruit, kiwi, and berries! Explore ones you’ve never tried yet!
- Whole grains: it might surprise you that most whole grains contain moderate amounts of protein, another reason to add them to your meals often!
- Meats: Choose lean cuts of chicken, beef, or pork. Season with herbs such as thyme, rosemary, or oregano. Marinate them with soy sauce, sesame oil, and ginger for an Asian flavour. Or go Mexican by adding ground cumin, chili powder, and garlic powder.
- Nuts: Like legumes, these do double duty! So tap into nut power if you haven’t tried it yet! I also like using peanut butter as a dip for apple slices or bananas.
- Legumes: tofu and soy milk are good sources of protein. Or substitute some meat with red lentils in sloppy Joes, shepherd’s pie, meatloaf, or chili.
- Fish & Seafood: canned salmon or tuna is a convenient source of protein anytime of the day. Trout is a great choice that’s high in heart healthy omega 3s. Bake it with dill and lemon in a 350F oven until the flesh is flaky for a quick and delicious supper.
- Milk & Dairy: Choose a moderate to low fat version of products such as milk or yogurt. If you’re eating cheese (low fat or regular fat), make sure to portion control– aim for an amount about the size of 3 standard dice. Products like sour cream, cream cheese, ice cream, and frozen yogurt usually have too much fat and / or sugar to be considered a nutritious choice.
Taking consistent steps towards healthy eating can help you build habits that become second nature. Any action, no matter how small or imperfect, is a move on the right path. It might be challenging to trust yourself when it comes to making decisions around food right now. Keep working on it, and you will notice small but significant changes over time. I wish you the best on your healthy eating journey!