Intuitive Eating

Why Overeating Isn't Bad + What To Do When You Overeat

I shared some about this on Instagram the other day, but I think it’s time to talk about overeating. Overeating gets a bad rap in our culture, I think because it’s associated with “failing a diet.” But overeating is a natural part of being human, and while it’s not the most comfortable feeling, there are some practical and compassionate ways you can meet yourself rather than falling back toward restricting or binging. Here’s some thoughts on why overeating is normal, as well as what to do when you overeat.

What even is overeating?

First of all, there is no set amount of food over which you’re eating “too much.” The amount you eat is influenced by a ton of nuance, including: how hungry you are, how well you can sense and respond to hunger/fullness (this can be impaired by dieting & disordered eating but healed over time), how filling your food is, if you’re distracted, how close your points of satisfaction and fullness are to each other (sometimes they’re the same and sometimes not).

So when it comes to overeating, a better term would probably be “past full” because if we’re using our internal cues to decide an amount to eat, you’ll know based on how full you are - rather than diets where it may be defined as past your portion size or calorie level, etc.

Overeating is normal

It’s normal to eat past fullness sometimes because food is more than fuel and sometimes it takes more to be satisfying... like at county fairs, I tend to get pretty dang full because it’s not every day you can find gyros and loaded fries and corn dogs and fair donuts all in one place. This can also feel more common around holidays or celebrations involving food, where there may be more options or you may be more distracted than you usually are - which is also normal. To say that overeating is to be avoided at all costs is to reduce food down to fuel and a weapon to use against our natural body size, which does a disservice to the culture, celebration, and bonding that food is and can be.

If you find yourself uncomfortably full frequently, it may be helpful to examine the factors influencing the situation. Do you frequently eat distracted or so quickly it’s hard to check in with your body? Is eating your primary or only form of comforting yourself? We’ll examine those things in future posts, but in the meantime - try to meet yourself with compassion and non-judgment.

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What to do when you overeat

It can be helpful to have strategies in place for when overeating happens ahead of time rather than trying to find strategies in the moment. Here are some ways you can care for yourself when overly full:

  • Make a self care box so you have a tangible set of options at your fingertips

  • Call a friend and talk about something other than overeating (one helpful tool may be turning the conversation to something happening with your friend or something in the world)

  • Take a walk and listening to some calming music

  • Watch something funny videos

  • Drink some ginger or peppermint tea, or something warm to help settle your stomach

Above all, remember that your body still needs to be fed regularly and that being overly full in one instance doesn’t mean you’re not “worthy” of respecting hunger cues the rest of the day/week/etc. If you find yourself regularly overly hungry full at certain times of the day, like dinner, it might be helpful to try eating a little more throughout the day so your hunger level pairs with your meal in a way that feels more fitting.

Have a question about overeating? Leave it in the comments below and I’ll answer it in a future post!


Catch me on the Nutrition Redefined Podcast!

Hi friends! Dropping in real quick to tell you that I’m on the latest episode of the Nutrition Redefined podcast and it’s quite the episode!

Amy Hanneke Nutrition Redefined Podcast

Stephanie and I cover everything from:

  • Why I hate the phrase “everything in moderation”

  • Why intuitive eating isn’t another diet

  • How to create big and small self-care that works for you

You can listen to the episode here or click the button below!

Extra Resources

I’ve gotten some questions about elaborating more on things I said in this episode, so I wanted to include some extra resources here in case they’re helpful for you, too!

Did you listen in? What questions do you have?

What To Do With All That Halloween Candy

Throughout this fall and winter, I’m sharing some perspective on intuitive eating during the holidays and some strategies for feeling less crazy around food.

If you have a hard time with the holiday season, if this post isn’t what you need today, or if it seems triggering - I hope you’ll close this screen and check back in for my next post, and know that my heart is with you.

Today, we’re talking about Halloween candy - including busting some myths around sugar, a way to make your selection more inclusive, and how to handle having it in your house.

Sugar, sugar addiction, and hyperactivity

I wrote a post that brought out some ~feelings~ about sugar addiction back in 2017. Here’s a quick rundown.

Why sugar addiction isn’t real

  • The evidence for sugar addiction is lacking. A review of existing literature making a case for sugar addiction found insufficient evidence against its existence and recommended against including this term in the literature.

  • Current research arguing for sugar addiction is flawed. It typically is conducted on rats, and while there’s some parallels between rat and human biology… humans aren’t rats, and vice versa. Rats given pure sugar in a controlled environment is a very different situation from humans, who consume sugar in varied foods and rely on social and internal cues to eat and may have a long and complex relationship with food. Rachael Hartley makes some great points in this post.

  • A lot of things make our bodies release dopamine (a feel-good hormone and typically a part of the argument made for sugar addiction), like sex and exercise and laughing.

  • Food habituation studies show that the more unconditional access we give ourselves to food, the more balanced our intake is over time. If that’s not a case for intuitive eating, I don’t know what is.

The scariest thing about sugar is how much power diet culture gives it, but by familiarizing ourselves with the science and embracing food freedom, we can take fear off the table.

Sugar & hyperactivity

This article has some great information about sugar and hyperactivity - basically, several blinded studies have shown no support for the notion that sugar changes children’s activity levels.

In a study with including parents and 5-to-7 year olds, children and their parents were split into two groups. Half of the parents were told their children drank a sugar solution while the other half were told their child had a placebo solution… and the parents of the children who “drank” the sugar were more likely to rate their child’s behavior as hyperactive.

I’m not sharing this information because I want to tell you how to parent or that you are making things up. But I thought this information may be helpful in dismantling some of the ways society has conditioned us to think and feel about sugar.

How to make your candy selection more inclusive

Handing out candy on Halloween is a pretty strong part of American culture around the holiday, and I think participating within your resources (which may mean passing on the candy and that’s okay, too) helps speak to the beautiful fact that food is not just fuel; it’s family and celebration and a huge part of our lives.

However, if you’re looking to add inclusivity to your Halloween selection, the Teal Pumpkin Project has some great resources on how you can include children with food allergies in your celebration. If you have or know a child with food allergies, this also may be helpful in giving you ideas to make them feel part of the holiday without missing out on key components.

What to do with all your Halloween candy

For yourself, this could be an opportunity to try some food challenges as a tool to help you in your intuitive eating journey.

With your children, this is a good opportunity to explore Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility, which outlines the roles parents and children play around eating:

Children

  • Whether or not eating happens

  • How much is eaten

Parents

  • When eating happens

  • What is eaten

  • Where eating happens

Emily Fonnesbeck gives some great tips in this article about how to handle Halloween candy with your children, including helping them check in with how they feel while eating. Using the division of responsibility, it may also be helpful to incorporate some loose structure by offering candy as snacks vs. letting kids graze.


I hope you find this helpful! Let me know your favorite Halloween candy in the comments - mine is caramel apple lollipops!

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