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Overeating means eating more than you intended, beyond satiety. You ate too much, maybe until you had a stomach ache, or maybe it ended in a binge. You may have felt guilty afterwards (‘I wish I hadn’t’). If I would advise one thing that can help you avoid this, it would be to learn to listen very carefully to your hunger and satiety signals. And of course to (dare to) act accordingly. Discover how to do this below. Also if you want to know how this relates to my dentist visit last Monday 🤔.

Overeating: hunger

Starting with that dentist visit. So I had two cavities (which I heard in October), and went to the appointment last Monday (yep, I procrastinate as long as I possibly can! Just kidding, that was because of an insurance thing).

Anesthetic here, an anesthetic there, and voilá, cavities were filled and invoices paid. Once home, the anesthesia started to really kick in. It crawled from my jaw all the way to under my left eye socket. Around 3 o’clock, I could feel the left side of my face again and, despite the fact that I had only eaten breakfast, I didn’t feel extremely hungry.


So I realized (what I’ve actually known for a long time, but don’t always really feel): I don’t need all that food that I spend all day eating like a construction worker with a tapeworm (I eat often and a lot. Don’t have tapeworm though). I am certainly not promoting that you should eat much less, for example to lose weight! What matters is that we’re often used to eating all day due to all kinds of habits. For example, we eat because it is 12.30 so lunch time, we eat because our partners are snacking (always blame someone else if you can 😉), or because we’re sitting in front of the tv. 


Biological hunger and hunger pangs

Before you eat, think about this question more often: are you hungry? By this I mean real, biological hunger that you feel in your stomach. Not those hunger pangs that come with lots of sweating and shaking (that sometimes happens to me when I’m in a place where I don’t have access to food for a while to come, like on a 40 km bike ride and I ate almost all my food at 10 km 🙄). If you start shaking and sweating from hunger, you are beyond hunger and actually too late. What I mean in this blog is the biological hunger you feel when you can eat a nice meal, that moment your stomach starts growling. (By the way, your stomach doesn’t growl, it can’t make a sound, that’s your intestines calling.)

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Grunting intestines

By the way, the fact that your stomach doesn’t growl is actually an important fact. The sound you hear and/or feel when something grumbles in your stomach actually comes from your intestines. They are then busy moving liquids and gases. The feeling of hunger is because your brain notices that certain nutrients need to be replenished. They therefore ensure that your stomach and intestines also process the last leftovers of food (just like I scrape the bottom leftovers of the peanut butter jar, a very efficient system).

Check in with your hunger cues

How do those hunger cues feel to you? Do you eat quite often (e.g. every two hours) and don’t really know what your hunger feels like? Then try to wait a little longer between meals and describe what your hunger feels like before you eat again. And where do you feel it?

If you find out that you are not hungry, but still want to eat, ask yourself why you want to eat. Do you want something to chew on? Are you bored? Did you just walk past the bakery and did it smell so good? Something is urging you to eat. Could be external reasons, such as that bakery, but also something internal, such as a certain emotion. Investigate what that is, what is behind that urge. Then see what you can do about it without eating (such as looking for distractions, taking a walk, exercising or taking a comforting shower). 

If you are hungry, you can ask yourself: how hungry am I? If you are not very hungry yet, you can decide to wait a little longer and, for example, finish some work first. Or you decide to eat something small if you no longer have the opportunity to do so later on, for example because to an appointment. This way you can make certain decisions for yourself, based on your feeling of hunger.


Overeating: satiety

If you don’t eat when you’re not hungry, you’ve taken the first step toward avoiding overeating and feelings of guilt and regret (this only goes for people who overeat regularly but do have a regular diet throughout. If you’re binge eating or not eating as much as you should and occassionally overeat, this doesn’t apply to you. Search the help of a doctor or nutritionist if you need help with this).

How do you ensure that you don’t eat too much during your meal? Basically by doing the same thing: halfway through your meal, check how hungry you still are. Or just before you want to go for seconds. How much more do you want to eat? You can play with this a bit. For example, first serve a little bit (more is always possible) and then check again whether you are already feeling full.

Does the food taste less delicious than the first bite? That’s because you’re becoming satiated

A subtle signal that indicates that you are becoming satiated is when the taste of the food diminishes. At first you taste everything very well, but during the meal it becomes less and less. You start to feel full.

At the end of the meal, pay attention to whether you are pleasantly satiated. The more often you practice this, the better you can judge whether eating more is actually too much.

What also helps is to say out loud to yourself or your table companions after the meal: “Wow, that was tasty, especially such and such (insert favorite food).” Talking out loud to yourself is really not strange! (right? 🤪). So just do it. This is how you mark the end of the meal; you’re done, you enjoyed it and you look back on it fondly.


Discover how you feel hungry (and prevent overeating) with a hunger diary

The above tips can help you a long way to combat overeating and feel good about the quantities you eat. I previously wrote a blog with tips to recognize your hunger cues and learn even better what your body needs.

In this blog you can also read how you can do this with a hunger diary that you keep for two days. This gives you insight into your hunger habits: for example, do you often eat when you are not yet hungry? Or when you are already too hungry?

Bonus tip: listen to your hunger cues when with others

Do the exercise above at least once a day. At some point you will notice that it becomes a habit. That suddenly, when someone offers you something tasty, you feel that you are not actually hungry. Fine, then just say that you would like to have something another time. “Party poop,” you may hear. So what? “I’m just not hungry right now”, you can say (I wouldn’t “So what” say to everyone, choose your audience well 😉).

And if someone continues to push on (which you can describe as disrespectful), you simply repeat what you already said but in different words (a trick every psychologist would teach you when dealing with difficult people).

Of course you can also choose to enjoy a snack with others (because that’s just fun!) , even when you’re not that hungry. Then it’s a conscious choice and you’ll know how you can listen to your hunger cues next time. 


Takeaway message

By listening more closely to your hunger and satiety signals, you can prevent overeating. Do you still eat too much sometimes? Or many times? Then don’t be too hard on yourself (you wouldn’t treat someone else like that either!), accept that things didn’t go the way you wanted (apparently, that was part of your learning process) and just try again next time. With this exercise you are well on your way.



About that dentist…

If you’ve been wondering how I got two cavities…me too! It seems that snacking doesn’t really help 😱, or eating more than seven times a day (another reason to listen carefully to your hunger cues). Unfortunately, next Monday I need to go to the dentist again, for two other cavities… (this is extreme, even for me!). In any case, I know I won’t starve to death 🤪.