You’re adamant you won’t engage in overeating this time.

This will be the moment when you display that self-control, listen to your fullness cues, and proudly stop eating short of a self-inflicted food coma.

That is until you find yourself three packets of chips, a tub of ice cream, and fourteen cookies down.

Oops. I did it again.

Why is it so hard to stop eating?

Why do you promise you’ll be ‘good’ this time only to find your hands moving towards your mouth?

Interestingly, it often has nothing to do with willpower, your environment, or because you ‘love food too much.’

It’s far more profound than that.

Here are five hidden reasons you keep overeating and how to fix them:

Because You’re Feeling Guilty

Unfortunately, you’re often consumed with guilt when eating.

Not necessarily guilt with consuming that particular food item (although, of course, still a huge reason) but the guilt with:

Leaving food on your plate

Leaving food you’ve paid for

Saying ‘no’ to food, friends, and family has made you.

Stopping eating while others are still going.

When we feel guilty about squandering food or ‘wasting an experience,’ that self-condemnation can motivate us to keep going.

It can also add to the emotions we’re already trying to avoid. This causes us to consume even more to suppress those feelings.

Moral obligations, money worries, and hedonic eating primarily cause the guilt of wasting food.

However, when we can overcome these concerns, we can leave food on our plates, say ‘no’ when invited to eat more and stop eating when we’re full.

How To Fix It:

When we can acknowledge and appreciate the underlying triggers behind feeling guilt around wasting or leaving food, we can break free from that harmful overeating cycle.

When you can gain confidence in being satisfied with what you’ve already had and that your fulfillment isn’t necessarily going to increase the more you eat, you’ll be more likely to stop eating.

Instead of believing that wasting food equals ‘wasting money,’ consider reframing it as an investment in your health.

A willingness to throw food away can be good for your health because it means you’re not overeating. This has numerous benefits, including reducing disease, improving body composition, and having a better relationship with food.

Because Overeating Is Helping You

Paradoxically, overeating can provide benefits more significantly than removing the problem because food can provide us with protection and connection. When we keep eating, we’re connected to friends and family at mealtimes, which can reduce the chances of dropping weight.

If an individual’s identity is built on being ‘overweight’ or a ‘big eater,’ they won’t risk damaging that perception of themselves. However, if they improve their eating habits, they’ll lose their connection with others.

And, if you value connection more than weight loss, the benefits of that attachment will outweigh the advantages of stopping overeating.

If your overeating patterns are serving a greater purpose – a purpose that is often hidden below what we think is actually the problem – it’s going to be impossible to stop that overeating behavior.  

How To Fix It:

It’s crucial you gain awareness of any limiting beliefs you might be holding onto around food, weight, and body image. 

Start figuring out the positive benefits of stopping overeating and losing weight.

Similarly, figure out what positive benefits are to you, potentially not stopping overeating and losing weight.

You may discover you hold conflicting beliefs.

Such as, “I really want to lose weight because I’ll be more confident,” but also, “I’m going to lose that connection with others when I lose weight.” This is when self-sabotaging behaviors will surface.

Start to separate your conscious thoughts from your subconscious beliefs. 

Lacking Emotional Intelligence And Tolerance

Emotions help us motivate ourselves, understand ourselves and others, and aid decision-making. They are impossible to avoid. Unfortunately, negative emotions frequently get the better of us. It’s why we devour a whole cake when angry or turn to alcohol when feeling sad or stressed.

Negative emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness have been associated with increased impulsive eating and the consumption of ‘unhealthy’ foods.

Turning to food is a coping mechanism for those uncomfortable emotions.

However, understanding your emotions moment by moment is the essence of emotional awareness, a prerequisite for emotional tolerance.

Developing your emotional skillset – and learning how to deal with these emotions in ways other than turning to food – is crucial in addressing compulsive eating.

Emotional tolerance relates to tolerating uncomfortable emotions instead of turning to food as a coping mechanism. Tolerance and accepting negative emotions help you manage your eating rather than devour everything in sight.

How To Fix It:

Increasing our emotional knowledge can help us differentiate between negative emotions, allowing us to respond more effectively.

By spending time identifying, labeling, and interpreting emotions, you can reduce stressful reactions to situations and reduce the chances of eating.

Decipher your emotion, its intensity, any beliefs or assumptions about it, and your bodily sensations.

Pausing to explore one’s emotions with curiosity and patience is vital in refining emotional awareness and tolerance.

You Punish Yourself

When you overeat, it seems the smart thing to do is criticize yourself.

You fool, why do you keep overeating!’

‘Why can’t you use more self-control, you idiot!’

You’re useless!’

Unfortunately, this tactic backfires.

You wouldn’t berate a friend with harsh words and judgments should they make a mistake or encounter a significant obstacle, so why do it to yourself?

These punishing thoughts only serve to make us feel worse, leading to increased feelings of guilt and, therefore, a greater chance of eating.

The cycle continues.

Unfortunately, people believe being kind to themselves when they overeat is ‘giving up’—that they’re letting themselves off the hook.’ By removing that self-belittlement, however, you’re allowing yourself to accept the situation for what it is and improve next time.

How To Fix It:

When you make a mistake or overeat, it’s time to display some self-compassion.

Self-compassion eliminates these judgments and moves towards accepting that not everything will go according to plan.

You will overeat, and you will fall short of the high standards you set yourselves.

When we take a more balanced perspective of our journey, we avoid falling into the trap of acting upon raw emotion and can take a more mindful, sensible approach to the task at hand.

Try to be accepting and non-judgemental of your experience, not reprimanding it or making it unduly powerful.

For example, ‘I overate at the restaurant because I hadn’t eaten lunch and was rushing to get home.’

Write down different ways of viewing the situation that might be more realistic, kinder, or helpful. Be kind and understanding, jotting down words of comfort.

You Believe Your Thoughts

We hold a lot of thoughts around food, how we eat, and our bodies.

Unfortunately, these thoughts – which we can’t necessarily control – lead us to overeat.

Habitual thinking patterns that are usually imprecise and negatively biased mean we often feel like we’ve ruined our progress or are continually failing.

A few of these may include:

Emotional Reasoning: You believe something must be true because it feels true (i.e., ‘I feel fat today, so what’s the point? I should probably keep eating’)

Overgeneralisation: You draw an overarching conclusion derived from a small amount of evidence (i.e., ‘I struggled to stick to things today, so I’ve ruined everything’)

Catastrophising: Irrationally believing that something is far worse than it is (i.e., ‘I’ve overeaten, so I have probably gained a few pounds and have no chance of succeeding’)

Our thoughts don’t always reflect reality, yet we often treat them as gospel.

When we overcome these thoughts and examine the evidence for and against them, we’re less likely to fall into the overeating cycle.

How To Fix It:

When we learn to use more adaptive ways of thinking, we can think specific thoughts but still act in alignment with our goals. We believe things to be true despite no factual evidence supporting our beliefs.

Whenever you feel a dangerous thought causing an action you know you don’t want to take, consider:

What is the evidence for this thought? Against it?

Am I basing this thought on facts or feelings?

Is this thought black and white when reality is more complicated?

Could I be misinterpreting the evidence? Am I making any assumptions?

Could my thought be an exaggeration of what’s true?

Am I having this thought out of habit, or do the facts support it?


Daniel Harrod is an online fat loss coach, author, and huge fan of rest periods in the gym. He helps people work on their mindset and relationship with food and exercise, and – should the conditions be right – move people towards any body composition goals they have. He has won coaching awards and is funny. You can find out more about him here:

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