The Three Reasons I Overeat

I've heard it said that you can't overeat on a whole food, plant-based diet.  And yet, I know that I oftentimes will eat when I'm not hungry. And while I've kept my weight within a five pound range for the last three and a half years since losing 150 pounds, I still feel that there's another ten pounds or so that I would like to lose. And it seems like eating when I'm not hungry might be the culprit that is keeping me from losing that last ten pounds.

Now, the good news is that I've had both Dr. Frank Sabatino and Dr. Alan Goldhamer stay at my house in the last year, and both of them have told me that I'm fine and I shouldn't stress about losing that last ten pounds. But I still want to, and so because of that, I think that conquering my overeating habit is important.

I've figured out that there are three reasons I overeat. And some of these may be things you do too. So, I thought it important to publish this. The first step in conquering any problem is to recognize that we have a problem and then identify the reasons (what we would have called the root causes back during my professional years) for the problem.

So, along those lines, here are my three reasons:

I overeat out of habit

This may be the biggest issue that I face. Over time, there are certain habits that I've formed. For example, I've enjoyed a big bowl of air-popped popcorn spiced with nutritional yeast while watching TV on many nights. This is probably a habit that I started even before going whole food, plant-based, except at that time I would eat a bag of microwave popcorn from the store (being oblivious to all the trans and saturated fats and salt I was consuming with that popcorn).

Or sometimes I'll get into the habit of having a bowl of nice cream for dessert after dinner. It's healthy, right? It's nothing but frozen fruit and bananas or frozen peanut butter and bananas. And it tastes like the old ice cream I used to enjoy. But the problem is, I first of all take big scoops of it and secondly, I eat it even though I'm entirely full from dinner.

And that's the real issue. We can't overeat on a whole food, plant-based diet if we stop when we're full (or as some people do, stop when they're 80% full). But I don't do that. Out of habit, I will eat foods even when I'm full.

Out of habit, I eat three bananas a day (full or not full). And that might be in addition to the nice cream.

So, the first order of business I've decided is to not eat when I'm not hungry. That's a conscious decision that I've made, and it's one that we have to make. Eat only when hungry.

The other conscious decision that I've made is to not eat after dinner at night (or after 7 pm if I've eaten an early dinner). That is the hardest resolution (so to speak) to keep, but I think it's an important one. I have all my life habitually eaten at night. In fact, I would bet that there are many times when I've consumed more calories after dinner than I did the whole rest of the day. So, I think that's important.

In making these decisions, it's good to change the events too that trigger them. For example, if watching television triggers a person to eat, then doing something else might make it easier to not eat. I find reading a book can work in that regard because it's more difficult to hold the book and turn the pages while also holding food and eating it (although it's not impossible; I have done it).

I overeat in anticipation of hunger

This problem is usually most prevalent to me at the beginning of the day; whereas, the habitual eating is a problem at the end of the day.

I generally make it a point to not eat until 11 am in the morning. I do that in order to intermittently fast. I want to get in a good 12 hour fast each day before I start to eat. And now that I've decided not to eat after 7 pm on most days, that fast extends to 16 hours.

What that means is I generally eat only two meals a day instead of three. But if I have an event in the morning that isn't going to allow me to eat at 11 am, then I will eat before the event. That's because I'm anticipating being hungry but not being able to eat at 11 am. That ends up doing two things usually. First, it causes me to break my fast earlier than I wanted to and usually when I'm not hungry. Plus it throws my schedule off and I will eat a second meal after the event and still then eat dinner that night. So, a scheduled event can easily add another meal into my day.

I think perhaps the answer to that might be to take something light, like a small bag of nuts or raisins to the event and feed my hunger when it arrives. But again, be conscious of when I'm hungry and don't feed myself when I'm not hungry.

I overeat in order to avoid wasting food

One of the problems with being whole food, plant-based is food really does expire. You can buy processed foods, that may have expiration dates stamped on them, but the truth is, the food (or should I say the chemicals they call food) will be around forever.  But one trait of a whole, plant-based food is that it does go bad. And oftentimes, that happens before we can eat it.

I never like to waste or throw out food, although I have heard it said that it gets wasted either way. It either is waste or it goes to your waist where it's also not needed.

And the answer is another conscious decision. I used to do all my shopping for a week at a time. And I tended to buy more than I needed because I could play all these "what if" scenarios in my head. What if the store is out of this item next time I go to buy it? What if I can't get to the store for whatever reason? What if there's an emergency?

So, I buy the food and then I feel compelled to eat it. And sometimes that means eating more food than I should. But that's the wrong answer.

I've now put all that to rest. I now only buy certain foods that spoil easily for a few days at a time. And if I'm faced with food expiring before I eat it, I give the excess away. I no longer feel compelled to eat it just to make good use of it.

So, those are my three reasons for why I overeat. I'm sure we each have our own reasons for it. Or maybe I'm unique and nobody else overeats. But in the interest of helping those who do, I think those might be three reasons that some others can identify with too.

And the one takeaway for me is to make sure I only eat when I really am hungry and not to eat when I'm not hungry, regardless of the reason I might have for doing so.