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Why do you still eat when you’re full?

I am sure I am not wrong in saying we have all had experiences of eating beyond the point of fullness and beyond our point of satisfaction. I can’t be the only one!! Interestingly, as human beings, we can override our innate biological impulses, unlike animals, who eat only until full and then stop.

As humans we have the ability to rationalize our actions, even when we don’t truly agree with them or when we know we will regret them later. I hear it so often that people don’t know why they do it, that it just “happens”, that they can’t change it. However, there are some reasons why you may be struggling with this and there are always solutions. To follow are 5 reasons why you may be eating past fullness and some suggestions on what you can do to turn this behaviour around:

1. You eat past fullness because the food is there:

We will often continue to eat past fullness simply because it is in front of us, regardless of hunger or fullness levels. Take popcorn in movie theatres – have you ever not finished a tub of popcorn, even though you were probably full halfway through. It’s there, on your lap, calling out to be eaten. Hard to stop? Another example, have you ever sat beside a co-worker who has a jar of lollies on their desk? They may be your least favourite lollies but you keep going back for more?

So what to do when the food is there and you can’t stop eating it?

I work a lot with the concept of crowding out. Essentially this means that at your meal and snack times, prioritise colour, prioritise protein and healthy fats that will nourish you and give your body what it needs. This means that you will at least be satiated. At the same time, move those trigger foods that you know are difficult to resist and put them somewhere where they aren’t easily seen – ie don’t leave them in a jar on the bench! More often when food is out of sight, it is often out of mind.

2. You eat past fullness because you eat too fast

I talk about fast eating a lot as it impacts us so much more than we realise. When you speed eat through a meal, you bypass the process that signals to the gut-brain - fullness. You, therefore, don’t notice fullness and can continue to eat past the point of satisfaction and it may only hit you 20 minutes later and then you feel overly full and uncomfortable.

So the solution? Simple, slow down the speed at which you eat, put your utensils down between mouthfuls, chew your food, pay attention to the eating process. Take your time, breathe, enjoy and get full satisfaction from your meal. Give yourself 20 minutes to register your meal.

3. You eat past fullness because you eat mindlessly

This goes hand in hand with fast eating. When we eat at any speed, we are often eating very mindlessly and therefore, it is much easier to lose track of the amount we have eaten and we’re more than likely to overeat. I often ask people, do you eat in front of screens or devices? Do you zone out when you eat? Do you pay attention to your food, taste your food, savour your food, or do you eat it without noticing or tasting it and not stopping until the plate is clean and then look for more?

If this is you, then I encourage you to not eat in front of a screen, or with distraction. Sit at a table to eat, not at your desk. Pay attention to your meal or snack. Taste your food, be present with your food, don’t check out. I promise you the eating experience for you will change for the better.

4. You eat past fullness because you are eating to find comfort

This is a good one, we all do it, some more frequently than others. We eat when we’re happy, when we’re sad, angry, upset, bored, or stressed. We eat for all kinds of reasons other than hunger. This is what is termed a short-term strategy that may comfort us for a brief period, but won’t ultimately help us long term. However this kind of relationship with food is often with us from birth – the thought process that says – feel bad, eat food, feel better. It’s common to default to this when we face difficulty dealing with emotions. In this case, even if we feel full we may continue to eat more to get that short-term comfort we are seeking from it.

This one can take some time and practice to work through but start by asking yourself what you need in the moment. If you know you aren’t hungry for food, then what are you hungry for? Are there other solutions you can take that will also relieve the emotion? Try writing down a list of things that give you happiness and comfort other than food, and choose one from your list to do in the moment. Be brave enough to sit with the urge to comfort eat. Can you let the emotion pass through you? Give it time and it will pass.

5. You eat past fullness because you are physically full but not emotionally satisfied

Have you ever eaten a full meal and then find yourself moments or hours later poking around the fridge and cupboards looking for something because you don’t feel satisfied and you feel like something is missing? This phenomenon is due to a lack of macronutrient-balanced foods. Many prescribed diets and programs work because they leave out entire food groups or nutrients in order to reduce calories, but our body needs these to feel full and satisfied. Low-fat diets and low-carb diets are perfect examples of this. If we’re not getting a balance of healthy fats, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates our body is going to crave these nutrients and cause us to continue eating despite being physically full.

So what to do? Eat more fat, protein and fiber. Your body needs both adequate healthy fats and proteins to feel completely full AND satisfied. The fiber is what bulks you up, is critical for gut health balance and helps keep blood sugars stable. So it is a perfect complement to fat and protein.

Those are some of the reasons we may keep eating past fullness. Do any of these resonate with you? If you would like to discuss this or anything else further, head over and click on the contact me page and I would be happy to chat.

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