It’s lunch time on Tuesday. It’s a writing and “housekeeping” sort of day, so instead of running around, I’m snuggled up at home. It’s warm. Ella Fitzgerald is crooning softly on Spotify. And I have time: exquisite, rare time to be alone in my house and wander into the kitchen and grab a snack. Or two. Or three.
Now it’s 2:15 and I’ve eaten the lion’s share of my calories for the day, yet I’m not sure I was really even that hungry. I was just surrounded by yummy things in my home. Can you relate to eating out of boredom?
Why We Overeat
There are many reasons that we end up eating too much. The idea of “too much” is a bit loaded. Let’s say for our purposes today that we’re using the context of energy needs to either maintain our weight or lose fat. If you’re one of those people who is trying to put on weight, I salute you. Bulking sounds like a hell of a fun challenge.
Here are some common reasons why we eat too much to support our body composition goals, with troubleshooting suggestions that follow.
1. Reactive Bingeing – Binge eating can be a form of eating disorder, and if you regularly binge on foods, consuming thousands of calories at a time, I strongly urge you to connect with a therapist who can provide real help. Another form of bingeing exists too, however: reactive bingeing. If we severely restrict calories for a period of time, we instinctively want to fuel ourselves. That can lead to unbridled eating that unravels the deficit we were trying so hard to create. Instead of slashing our calories down severely, a more modest deficit of 300-500 calories is healthier for our bodies and minds.
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2. Go Home, You Are Drunk. There’s a reason that fast food joints are open late around college campuses. After a night of partying, what seems like a good idea? Tacos. And pizza, of course. Not only does alcohol come loaded with calories, we lose some of our better judgment when we get lit. This can lead to poor food choices and cringe-worthy decisions in general. Though it always leads to becoming an awesome dancer. Thanks, vodka. Imbibe responsibly.
Emotional eating isn’t always the worst thing in the world, and we’re not failures for having the urge to nosh in response to our feelings. After all, we’re not robots. We’re thinking, feeling beings. Food is something that nourishes our bodies. But it also brings us together, soothes us when we’re aggravated and elevates occasions when we’re celebrating.
Whoever came up with the quip that food should ‘only be fuel’ must be someone who is decidedly not a foodie. The ability of our species to combine flavors and textures to create sublime-tasting dishes is something to be treasured.
The problem is, as someone who really loves to cook and eat, it’s easy to get swept away and pack on more pounds than I’d care to carry.
To help combat eating out of boredom, we can at least be mindful in our eating. What may feel like hunger may not actually be hunger. Instead, we may just have time to imagine delicious things that get our brains humming with possibilities. If you can wait a half hour to see if your hunger grows, you will have solid feedback that eating is a wise idea.
4. Stress. This plays into #3, but along with the solution of mindfulness being helpful, developing alternative coping skills for stress can be a game changer. If food becomes our only coping mechanism, we’re likely to overeat. Walking, playing or listening to music, knitting, and reading a book are ways that I unwind. What are things you can do to care for yourself that don’t necessitate using food?
Hehe remember this book?
5. Too much junk food. A little junk food spices up life. Ain’t no shame in your game for loving a few “fun foods”. But a steady diet of highly processed foods will likely not only deprive you of precious nutrients; it will also leave your belly grumbling. Whole foods like lean proteins, vegetables, and fruits will keep you full longer with fewer calories consumed.
6. Too much ‘healthy’ food. It’s harder to over-consume calories if you’re eating plenty of whole foods. But it can still happen. The biggest culprits that I find trip up my online training clients are things that actually do have an excellent nutrient profile yet are calorically dense: nuts, avocados, and whole grains are just a few. You don’t have to stop eating them. Just be aware that small portions are probably the best way to incorporate them unless you have a big calorie budget.
7. Mindless nibbling. I did this a lot when my kids were young – I’d eat a bite or three off of their plates. I’d grab a handful of this or that each time I entered the kitchen. When you’re a mom of many little people, actually sitting down to a thoughtful meal during the day can be tricky. If you’re a nibbler, change the environment that’s causing this to happen:
For example, if you mindlessly snack in the kitchen, try keeping foods off of the kitchen counter. Consider putting portions of snacks into containers that you then can decide to eat. You’ll often consume less overall this way. Alternatively, consider eliminating snacking and instead choosing larger, more filling meals to decrease the urge for snack foods.
8. Celebrating. When we’re caught up in a wonderful moment with people we love, food becomes a way to connect with each other. There are two ways to look at this: one would be that food doesn’t have to be the centerpiece of enjoying people’s company. Another would be to just allow yourself to enjoy the food and your loved ones. We only have one life on this planet, and constant restraint usually leads to overeating at some point later on.
My strategy on this one – fill up earlier in the day on foods that are relatively light on calories yet high on the “filling factor”: namely lean protein and veggies. That way you won’t have eaten all that many calories when you head into your party. You also won’t go in ravenous and ready to dive bomb the nachos.
The Big Picture
The really good news is that once you’ve begun to identify where your trouble spots lie, you can take steps to improve your eating habits. And remember, food isn’t the enemy. It’s something we can love – as long as we have a healthy relationship with it for the long term.
Looking for more ways to get healthy in the new year? Sign up for my FREE Women’s Strength Challenge and get a kick start to building lean muscle in 2016. It takes just 30 minutes 3 times a week. Get on it!