Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Dr Jessica Gunawan

How to Stop Overeating and Control Your Cravings

Overeating min scaled

Have you ever done an internet search on how to stop overeating? If so, you were probably overwhelmed with conflicting information.

People overeat for many reasons without even knowing it. Some use it to cope with stress, while most people accidentally do it because they didn’t portion their meals.

No matter the causes, overeating can result in bloating, stomach pain, and increased risks of type 2 diabetes and obesity.

This article provides information on signs of overeating, how to stop overeating, and natural ways to reduce digestive discomfort when you eat too much.

Signs That You’re Eating Too Much

Mindless, distracted, and emotional eating may cause us to accidentally over-consume the wrong calories.

It’s easier than you think to overeat. For example, if you often eat alone or in your car while running errands, it’s harder to track portion sizes.

Additionally, many Americans underestimate the calorie intake of common foods. In fact, some fast food sandwiches contain nearly all of your daily recommended intake of calories. When paired with a soft drink and French fries, you could be eating an entire day’s worth of food in one sitting without even realizing it.

Here are some signs that you are eating too much:

Being Overweight

One of the tell-tale signs of overeating is being overweight. It goes without saying that if you regularly overeat, then you are consuming more calories than you expend. You enter a caloric surplus, which turns into excessive body fat. Keep in mind that being overweight is not the same as being large. For example, many athletes have large bodies but are not overweight.

Lack of Energy

The human body is a marvel. Scientists have posited that we evolved to have the ability to overeat in anticipation of famines. But in these times, with access to food all year round, some of us overeat frequently. This is taxing on our digestive system and our body as a whole. Overeating takes up a lot of energy, leaving us feeling tired and sluggish. If you are constantly sluggish, it could be a sign of overeating because your body is going into digestion overdrive.

Poor Sleep

Another sign of overeating is poor, disrupted sleep. While digesting food after a meal can make you feel sleepy, you are unlikely to get good sleep. Normally, when you sleep, digestion is one of the processes that slow down, while other restorative activities take over. This is why restful sleep is so important to overall health. When you overeat close to bedtime, you’re effectively forcing your body to engage in an activity that it typically does during the day. Instead of getting restful sleep, you instead will have a fitful sleep because your body is unable to properly recuperate. 

Digestive Discomfort

One of the most common symptoms of overeating is heartburn. This is pain in the upper abdomen due to acid reflux. Eating too much food creates pressure and overproduction of acid in the stomach, making it more likely for you to develop a weak lower esophageal sphincter muscle. This allows some of the stomach acid to flow back up the esophagus, leading to heartburn. Along with heartburn, another sign is stomach bloating, as well as nausea, due to high pressure in the stomach. 

Emotional Eating

Over a long period of time, overeating can turn into an emotional crutch for you. There is a scientific explanation for this. Our endocrine (hormonal) system maintains a delicate balance to ensure our body does what it needs to do, at the right time. The hormone ghrelin increases when we need to eat, sending a signal to our brain that we’re hungry.

Once we’ve eaten, the hormone leptin increases, telling us that we’re full. When we overeat a lot of rich foods, this signaling system between ghrelin and leptin begins to break down. Our brain associates eating with the release of feel-good hormones, instead of sustenance. So, if you notice that you reach for food because it makes you feel better, you might be chronically overeating. 

Overeating, According to TCM

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), overeating is linked to impaired spleen function. The spleen organ system transforms nutrition from foods and liquids that we consume into qi (vital life energy), blood, and body fluids. When we overeat, we overburden the system. With excessive fluids, our body can develop excessive dampness which turns into phlegm, resulting in symptoms of phlegm-dampness. Digestive symptoms include acid reflux, feeling like your bowels can’t completely empty, feeling bloated, excess sweat and mucus, snoring, and strong body odor. 

According to physician Ng Qing Xiang from Eu Yan Sang clinic, “To manage acid reflux, first we have to stop the occurrence of acid reflux, while in the meantime protecting the stomach lining from further damage. Then, we will have to strengthen the function of the stomach to prevent acid reflux from happening.”

She added, “There are many herbs which are useful for descending the Stomach Qi, and hence relieve the acid reflux. These herbs include Xuan Fu Hua (inula flower), Hai Piao Xiao (Cuttlefish bone) and Wa Leng Zi (Cockle shell/Ark Shell). Studies have shown that herbs such as Pu Gong Yin (Dandelion) is able to protect the stomach lining. However, it is cooling in nature, and people who have weak spleen function (such as diarrhea easily or loss of appetite) should consume it with caution. A common formula to strengthen the function of stomach and spleen (which is closely related to stomach) includes Si Jun Zi Tang.”

How To Stop Overeating

Eat with friends to stick to healthy portion sizes and decrease the risk of overeating.

The best next course of action is to slowly re-establish your relationship with food by replacing bad habits with better ones. 

  • Start with relieving symptoms of overeating such as heartburn with over-the-counter medicines like antacids with TCM herbs such as Si Jun Zi Tang for acid reflux and strengthening spleen function. Feeling better and getting relief helps you proceed to the following steps. 
  • Eat a well-balanced meal with plenty of protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates, and satiating healthy fats. You can still snack, as long as the snack is a healthy one, such as a mixed nuts and grains protein and fiber drink that is both satisfying and nutritious.  
  • Develop healthy habits when eating out with friends or during festive occasions. Don’t get carried away eating indiscriminately in the excitement of the moment, and consider sharing a meal. Maintain mindful eating. Avoid drinking alcohol while eating out, as alcohol consumption has been linked to overeating.  
  • Manage your stress levels and get regular exercise, both of which promote well rested sleep. When you’re well-rested, you’re less likely to overeat to give your brain the temporary dopamine boost that you’ll end up regretting later.

What To Do If You Overeat

In the event that you accidentally overeat and experience digestive discomfort, you may benefit from taking an enzyme supplement to assist with the breakdown of food as well as a gastro-probiotic to promote digestion and clear food from the intestines. Sipping on hot Ginseng tea after a big meal may also provide relief.

Hence, watch out for signs of overeating beyond the occasional binge eating during the holiday season. We can link chronic overeating with many health issues that can worsen. However, these habits are manageable. Overeating is a behavior-related condition, and it is possible to kick this bad habit once and for all.

References

  1. Science Alert. 2020. Here’s What Happens in Your Body When You Overeat Just Once
  2. Cleveland Clinic. 2019. Ruled by Food? 5 Strategies to Break the Cycle of Overeating. 
  3. Sleep Foundation. 2020. Sleep and Overeating. 
  4. Diabetes UK. 2019. Polyphagia – Increased Appetite.
  5. Obesity. 2015. The apéritif effect : alcohol’s effects on the brain’s response to food aromas in women
  6. MD Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas. 2018.What happens when you overeat?.
  7. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2020. Efficacy of Chinese Herbal Formula Sini Zuojin Decoction in Treating Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: Clinical Evidence and Potential Mechanisms. 
  8. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2019/4202563/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5512334/

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