Hello Overeating, My Old Friend
How to deal when you occasionally overindulge.
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Oops, I did it again. I ate overate the Halloween candy.
To be clear, this could just as easily been the mac ’n’ cheese at Thanksgiving or the apple pie at Christmas.
Objectively, as someone who no longer diets and is supposed to be no longer be assigning positive or negative attributes to eating, that feels a little judgy.
I dipped into the stash of assorted goodies (but mostly Jolly Rancher gummies)—right there in the bowl next to me on the kitchen table—on Halloween afternoon as I attempted to power through work before picking up my daughter early for a nutritionist appointment. When I looked up, there were wads of empty wrappers surrounding my laptop.
How did this happen? What had possessed me? I contemplated my life decisions and came up with a few answers, which I’ll get to in a few, but first…here’s how the old me used to handle this.
I would have…
1. Beaten myself up with a barrage of vitriol and self-loathing and negative self-talk. “There goes all the good eating you did this week.” “This is why you can’t keep this kind of food around—you eat everything.” “This is why you look the way you do despite all of the exercise.”
2. Felt guilty and “off” from all the sugar and corn syrup yet also strangely empty. I wasn’t full, but I felt like I had eaten too much.
3. Vowed to restrict all of tomorrow and add in an extra long workout. If I had been off the wagon for a while, this would be the event to jump start me on the next diet… but tomorrow because today has been ruined.
And since I had already blown it for the day, I would just keep going, recklessly continuing to overeat, body discomfort and satiety cues be damned! The mentality was “might as well keep going now. Diet starts tomorrow.”
There are so many negatives going on here. It’s easy to see how this kind of black and white thinking keeps people stuck on the diet hamster wheel, not to mention the binging and restricting wheel.
Thanks to intuitive eating, the new me tackles these situations soooo differently. But let me be clear, my first reaction wasn’t positive.
In fact, my first thoughts were, “You know better than this” and “all it took was a little Halloween candy and you blew your shot at proving you’ve got this intuitive eating thing down.”
Yeah, not so good. And it would have been real bad if I had kept going with the negativity, but as I started the drive over to pick up my daughter, I put on what I like to call my “neutral detective hat.” The Neutral Detective is my version of the Food Anthropologist, a persona Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch describe in their book “Intuitive Eating” that we cultivate with time as we get better at intuitive eating. The neutral detective doesn’t get caught up in emotions. She doesn’t make judgments; she’s trying to piece together the facts and uncover what led to the behavior so she can learn.
Here are the facts:
I overate candy. I wasn’t mindful about it. I was sitting at my desk, trying to finish up work, and inhaled all the Jolly Rancher gummies I could easily access (and a few packets of cherry Twizzlers) without dumping out the bowl. I actually didn’t eat all the candy or even most of the candy, but I ate too much of a food that I knew wouldn’t nourish or fill me.
Why did I overeat the candy?
I didn’t have a big enough lunch. I had a small bowl of leftover beef stew and intended to get something else to go with it but never did. My body was still hungry. And instead of a more filling snack, I reached for the candy.
It was right there. Yep, that bowl right there on the kitchen table next to my laptop influenced my decision.
It was Halloween. I cringe at admitting this, but I fell for the “specialness” of the event. And because I rarely buy this kind of candy, I ate it like it would be gone tomorrow and not available again for another year (even though we still have half a bag in the pantry). I unintentionally set up a deprivation situation, and the gummies seduced me.
In the context of all these reasons, it makes sense why I overate the candy.
So what did I do after that?
I didn’t immediately hop on the Peloton. I didn’t vow to start a new diet. I didn’t skip dinner. I made chicken alfredo for the family and ate until I was satisfied. My husband and I picked out a scary movie, and we watched it with the girls as they did their homework. I had a few more pieces of candy. I went to bed, woke up and ate just like normal.
The point of all this is to share that we can cultivate a better relationship with ourselves when it comes to food. Instead of naturally thinking the worst of ourselves, we can take a more measured approach when we’ve overeaten. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world, and it doesn’t have to be a complete moral failing. Unlike diets, intuitive eating isn’t punitive, and this event doesn’t mark the end of this way of eating. It was a moment in time. I’ve accepted what has happened, learned what I can, and now it’s time to move on.
Here’s how to handle it when you overeat
No one enjoys the feeling of overeating, or eating too much of any one thing that isn’t going to nourish you, but it happens to everyone from time to time. If you’re constantly overeating, it’s a signal that the body is not getting enough of what it needs, and there is a different way to address it. This is for when you occasionally overindulge. You come home from the office starving and inhale a bag of chips or you go way past fullness at Thanksgiving.
Take a deep breath.
Allow the negative thoughts, rather than try to control, or change, them.
Take a walk, read a book, play with your dog, physically remove yourself from the kitchen and give yourself a break.
When you’re calm, put on your detective hat and explore the facts. What caused you to overeat?
The most common reasons for overeating are hunger, and physical or even emotional restriction. There can also be emotional reasons for overeating. You’re bored, sad, lonely, celebrating. If your emotional state is regularly contributing to you overeating, explore why and consider better ways to cope.
Show some compassion. No matter the reason, cut yourself some slack. Beating yourself up usually has negative repercussions and causes you to engage in further self-destruction.
Eat your next meal as usual. If you restrict, this sets you up for more overeating.
Don’t fall into the trap of “all or nothing” or “black and white” thinking. Don’t let a minor setback derail your progress.
Recognize that occasional overeating is a common experience, and it’s important to maintain a balanced and compassionate approach to your relationship with food.
Play the long game. Diet culture has taught us we should monitor every single bite, but when we’re viewing our eating habits from a daily, weekly or even monthly vantage point, one little misstep shouldn’t be a reason to overreact.
And now…it’s time for something different. I’m testing out some writing prompts and exercises after posts for those of you looking to cultivate a healthier relationship with yourself. Please drop me a line in comments and let me know what you think about it and how I could make it better!
Reflecting on Overeating—a Path to Better Eating Habits
Find a quiet place where you can focus on your thoughts without distractions.
Get out a notebook, piece of paper, phone or laptop.
Part 1: Self-Reflection
Describe the situation: Write about where you were, who you were with, and what you were eating. Be as detailed as possible.
Explore your emotions: Describe how you felt before, during, and after overeating. Were you stressed, bored, happy, sad or anxious?
Identify triggers: List any specific triggers or cues that led to overeating. This could be certain foods, external stressors, hunger or social situations.
Recognize the physical sensations: How did your body feel during and after overeating? Note any discomfort or other physical symptoms.
Part 2: Analysis
Explore patterns: Do you notice any recurring patterns or themes in this event? Is there a specific time of day or situation that tends to trigger overeating for you?
Part 3: Takeaways
Write down specific, actionable takeaways to help you reframe your eating habits. For example, "I will sit down at the kitchen table when I have a snack" or "I will eat more slowly and savor the taste of each bite."
Recognize your strengths: Identify any positive aspects or strengths that can help you make better choices in the future.