As a personal trainer, trainees often ask questions around nutrition, macros, calorie consumption and overeating.
Overeating is an epidemic that can lead to obesity, depression and other major health issues. While overeating is often linked to sugar addiction, there are a number of strategies that can be used effectively to stop the debilitating effects and emotional rollercoaster caused by the eating disorder.
Hunger is the enemy when it comes fat loss plans. Without hunger, eating less would simply be a matter of choice without resistance. Fortunately, there are a number of ways that men and women can conquer overeating without sacrificing their lives.
This blog post will reveal those methods in addition to providing background to overeating, how it has become increasingly common and the ways overeating can be stopped.
Obesity & Overeating: Statistics
Obesity is one of the most noticeable side effects of overeating.
Obesity is defined as having a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 30 or higher, while a person is considered overweight if their BMI measures between 25 and 29.9. BMI is a measure of body fat calculated by measuring your weight in pounds against your height in inches.
Obesity from overeating and lack of exercise is becoming endemic in Australia as illustrated by the following statistics:
- 63.4% of Australians were obese in 2015, a staggering 6.7% increase from 1995 levels. (1)
- 70.8% of Australian men are obese, compared to 56.3% of women.
- While there was no significant increase in obesity levels between 2012 and 2015, obesity levels in Australia have more than doubled in the last 30 years.
- Older Australians are more likely to experience obesity and 79.4% men aged 45 and 65.7% women in the same age group had a BMI of 25 and above.
Overeating and the resulting obesity put you at risk of developing:
- Type II diabetes (obese people are 7 times more likely to develop diabetes)
- Increased risk of having a stroke
- Heart disease (obesity raises your risk of heart disease by up to 5 times)
- Liver disease
- Selected cancers such as kidney, breast and stomach cancer
While there are many causes of obesity- sedentary jobs, the easy availability of fatty foods, genetics- overeating remains a major cause of obesity that, if left unaddressed, can lead to significant health issues.
While overeating is often a taboo subject in the personal training environment, in this blog post I hope to shed light on the subject to help trainees address the root cause of overeating and develop long term strategies that can be used to stop overeating and promote long term health.
Why People Overeat
Renowned obesity researcher Stephan Guyenet says that human beings have evolved to seek calorie dense, non-toxic food in an energy scarce ancestral environment. This means that we seek satisfying, high calorie foods. In the era of convenience, these foods are easy to obtain where both location and cost are generally non-issues.
This causes overeating.
Our ancestors in the hunter gatherer era subsisted mainly on what they could trap or collect from forest floors. Before the advent of modern agriculture,people had to labour for long hours in small subsistence farms just to survive.
Toiling from dusk to dawn, having to travel long distances on foot and the laborious tasks that made up pre-industrial age life meant that most people simply could not overeat because food was scarcely available to overeat. Coupled with the exercise required to obtain such foods meant it was both difficult to overeat and difficult to not expend the calories gained from calorie dense meals.
Modern life, with its comforts and conveniences mean that people no longer have to expend as much energy to survive as they did before.
So what are the other causes of overeating?
Overeating Cause 1: Taste, Texture & Density of Food
Well prepared, palatable & available food is one of the major contributors to overeating. Fast food is a major example of this, where food is often high in salt, sugar and fat, all of which make add flavour, but ultimately easily cause eating more than what you need (or in many cases, want) to eat.
Overeating Cause 2: Pavlovian Reasons
Human beings are creatures of habit. This means that if you have conditioned your body to eat at certain times during the day, you will find yourself gravitating towards food even when you are not hungry. For example, if you regularly eat dessert, you will crave (and probably look forward to this) every night.
Overeating Cause 3: Erratic Sleeping Patterns
Sleep rhythms have a profound impact on your body’s ability to burn fat, as well as appetite. If you are not getting enough sleep, you may find that your appetite increases and that your metabolism has slowed, making it harder for your body to burn the extra calories you absorb during the day.
A simple example is if you wake up 3 hours earlier than you normally would, you will be craving food at the same intervals throughout the day, likely causing you to desire an additional meal later in the day.
Overeating Cause 4: Mindless Eating
The hectic pace of modern schedules means that people are more likely to shovel food down their throats without paying attention to what they are eating in order to get back to performing necessary daily tasks.
As a result, it's easy to consume more food and more calories almost unknowingly, especially while distracted by your environment. Watching TV, for example, can cause you to consume more food as you are distracted while you eat.
Overeating Cause 5: Executive Functioning
Executive Functioning is the process by which your mind organises tasks and prioritises the ones that need to be performed first. It involves activities such as impulse and emotional control, self monitoring, task initiation, organisation and others.
Executive functioning reduces during as you make decisions during the day, making it harder for you to override natural instincts as you get tired. This explains why it is easier to binge eat or flake out on plans to exercise towards the evening or as the day progresses.
Overeating Cause 6: Social Environment
Social norms and environmental conditioning can be a major contributor to overeating. For instance if you have grown up eating large portions or indulging in fatty foods, overcoming this type of conditioning can be difficult.
Further, peer pressure in a social setting, not wanting to stand out and the availability of food in social settings can cause eating when you don't need to eat or eating just because your acquaintances are.
How to Stop Overeating
There are several strategies you can start using today to avoid overeating and the accompanying weight gain. The following are the strategies I have found to be most effective in helping clients control how much they eat:
Stop Overeating Strategy 1: Mindful Eating
Take time to observe what goes into your mouth and to consciously control what goes into your mouth. Eat slowly and don't rush through your meal.
To do this, it may be necessary to eat away from distractions like television, work and other mind occupying activities.
Personally I find this challenging as I tend to eat food quickly. Instead, you want to chew slowly, allow the food to break down inside your mouth before digesting.
Stop Overeating Strategy 2: Stick to a Routine
Eat your meals at specified times during the day to avoid grazing and overeating. In addition, ensure to eat nutrient dense foods that keep you fuller for longer and help to avoid grazing during the day.
Stop Overeating Strategy 3: Reduce Decision Fatigue
Prepare meals well in advance, pre-package and store meal items to reduce instances where you reach for high fat or high sugar foods because there are no healthy alternatives available.
This is one of the reasons that clients with custom meal plans see results quickly. Meal plans eliminate choices and make it easy to eat healthily and stick to your recommended calorie intake and see the fastest results with your Hustler Fitness training program.
Stop Overeating Strategy 4: Get Enough Sleep
Sleeping for the recommended amount of time will help to avoid fluctuation in your metabolism rate, help to control your appetite and reduce hunger.
Stop Overeating Strategy 5: Limit Social Eating
Social environments and eating together can encourage overeating. Because of this, limiting social engagements can assist in overcoming excess calorie consumption and overeating.
While limiting social engagements is often necessary, the gold star and long term solution is the ability to say no to food or eating beforehand so feel less pressure and less interest in eating.
Stop Overeating Strategy 6: Awareness
Awareness is almost universally acknowledged as being the first step to any change. How can this be applied to overeating? By monitoring food consumption.
While there are a number of means that can assist with this, apps such as My Fitness Pal provide convenient ways to easily scan and track your daily intake, thus making you aware of what you are consuming on a daily basis and thus form the basis for change.
Stop Overeating Strategy 7: Changing Environment
As you become aware of when, where and why you overeat, you'll come to see patterns. Those patterns will assist in breaking the downward spiral of overeating.
For example, if you find buying excess food after work is a pattern, you can reduce this by travelling a different route, changing your work schedule.
An extreme preventive measure could be disabling your payment method. For example, placing your cards in ice in the freezer and deleting your accounts on takeaway mobile applications.
Stop Overeating Strategy 8: Water
Drink a minimum of 3 litres per day.
Stop Overeating Strategy 9: Eat Foods with High Satiety
Start incorporating foods that provide greater satisfaction, leading to less hunger. Look for foods that are high in:
- Volume with fewer calories per serve
- Viscosity (more solid than liquid)
Examples of foods to incorporate:
- Chicken breast
- Cottage cheese
- Green vegetables
This is one of the reasons I recommend trainees take chicken breast, turkey or another lean meat as opposed to a shake after their workout.
Stop Overeating Strategy 10: Accountability
Accountability means having someone to answer to for your food consumption. This can be a friend, family member, nutritionist or personal trainer. The ideal is a qualified professional with the sole interest of helping you overcome overeating, feel better and avoid the dozens of health issues associated with overeating.
Overeating Can Be Conquered
Overeating is a major contributor to a range of health issues that, if left unaddressed, can significantly impair a trainee's quality of life, health and results. Overeating and then attempting to train it off on a regular basis can still lead to a variety of health issues and overtraining.
Instead, use the strategies above to start becoming aware of what causes you to overeat and then start implementing the strategies to overcome overeating and start improving your quality of life.