The vicious cycle – what makes us overeat?

It’s the downfall of every diet you try. You’re eating the right foods, you’re exercising, but you’re not seeing results. Most of the time, the answer is simple – you’re overeating. Each time you reach for a serving of apple pie, that second chicken cutlet, or another slice of pizza, you’re not thinking about how it might wreak havoc with your diet plans. But afterwards, you’ll regret it and it will leave you wondering just how much is too much.

Too many dieters fall into the trap of binge eating while on a diet. They’re not hungry, but they can’t stop themselves from reaching for more food.

How many times have you heard a person look at someone who has some weight to lose and say they have no willpower. That must be the reason they are overweight, right? If they’d only stop putting food in their mouth, they’d lose weight. Others may say that the person has developed habits that they need to change in order to be successful at losing weight. And it is not just overweight people that have an issue with overeating either. There is a strong difference between ‘skinny’ and ‘healthy’.

A person is overeating when they continue to eat, even when they are not hungry. Most people in North America overeat, which is why obesity has grown over the past few decades.

What makes a person overeat if they aren’t hungry? Is it lack of willpower, as some people assume? Or is it something that has become a habit that can be changed?

The definition of willpower is having control over ones actions, and being able to control impulses. Willpower is not a constant thing. It changes with your emotions. For instance, when you are feeling good about yourself, your willpower may be strong. When something has happened in your life that gets your down or causes stress, you may feel that you have to struggle to maintain your willpower.

The definition of habit is an acquired behaviour pattern that, when repeated often, becomes involuntary. A lot of people reach for food without even thinking. In fact, at the end of the day most people couldn’t tell you what they ate during the day because they weren’t paying attention.

So which is it that really keeps you overeating? To some degree, both willpower and habit contribute to overeating. You need to have willpower in order to break the pattern of overeating and change the habit. But there is more at play than just these two things.

When a person is unable to stay on a diet, for whatever reason, he or she becomes depressed. This works against their willpower and changes the psychology of the mind to believe there is no reason to try any longer, making it easier for the person to fall back on old habits. Developing new habits can help sustain your willpower.

Here are some strategies to stop overeating:

• Learn what a healthy portion size is and stick to it. We have gotten used to ‘super’ sizes, but we don’t need to eat that much. In fact, a healthy portion is much smaller and just as satisfying.

• Divide your plate into sections. Don’t deprive yourself from sampling your favourite foods. Instead of taking a big portion of lasagna to fill your plate, take a small portion and fill the rest of the plate with healthy vegetables or salad to help fill you.

• Drink water during a meal or when you are tempted to eat outside of a meal to create a feeling of being satisfied. You may be mistaking hunger for being dehydrated.

• Eat fiber rich foods. Fiber absorbs water and expands in the stomach, creating a feeling of being full.

• Don’t ‘taste-test’ your food while cooking. There are calories in those spoonfuls you’re taking during meal preparation. You may be testing so much that you’ve had half a meal before you even sit down at the dinner table.

• Eat healthy fruit desserts. Instead of chocolate cake, try a bowl of fruit salad. It’ll satisfy your sweet-tooth, while give you a feeling of indulgence.

• Keep a journal. Write down every bit of food you put in your mouth. It will be eye opening at first. After a while, your habits will change and you won’t need the journal anymore.

By changing just a few habits, you will find your willpower increases, you’ll lose weight and feel healthier.

You can do this! Don’t stop reaching for your goals and in this case, knowledge and planning ahead will help you from over-eating.

Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer.

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