A Quick Look at Overeating

This article was written in collaboration with TOVI's nutrition expert, Dr. Tara Coletta. Learn more about Dr. Coletta here.

Overeating starts with a very simple concept: eating more than your body needs. Overeating is a common problem in today’s society, and leads to weight gain, heartburn, and other long term conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Understanding why people overeat and how to help them stop, however, is more complicated. Overeating isn’t the same for everyone, but there are a few common reasons you might struggle with eating more than you need.


You’re not paying attention to your body’s signals.

When you’ve eaten enough, your body sends a signal to your brain, resulting in that familiar feeling of “fullness.” This signal is important, but if you’re distracted while you’re eating, or if you’re eating too quickly, you could miss it.  This results in you eating too much, giving you that feeling of being too full, or “stuffed”, at the end of your meal.


Your body’s signals are impaired.

You body releases chemical signals, called hormones, that control most of your body’s systems. There are two major hormones in your body that regulate appetite: leptin and ghrelin. The ways your body regulates and processes these hormones are very complex, but, generally, things like your body weight, diet, stress levels, and sleep can influence how much of them you have, impacting your ability to manage how much you eat.  


You’re managing your stress with food.

Turning to food when you’re stressed is a form of emotional eating.  Food can be a quick-fix in moments of stress, offering immediate comfort and reward, even when your body doesn’t need it. Emotional eating is a unique problem in and of itself. For more information about emotional eating and snacking when you’re stressed, check out this TOVI blog.


5 tips for addressing overeating

Overeating is a very complex issue. While we can’t give you the silver-bullet that is guaranteed to stop you from overeating, we can give you a few tips that will help you find your weaknesses so you can start making progress.


1. Eat ‘real,’ unprocessed foods.

You’re more likely to overeat when you choose ultra-processed foods (1). Instead, opt for filling, nutrient-dense foods, like foods high in fiber and protein. By choosing nutrient-dense foods, you’ll be giving your body the nutrients it needs and increasing your fullness.


2. Eat slowly.

Your body can give you a lot of information, if you listen. The next time you eat, give your brain time to process the signal that you’re full by taking your time. If you finish a meal and find yourself wanting more, wait an extra 20 minutes to see if your hunger goes away before you grab an extra serving.


3. Disconnect while you eat.

Eating in front of your computer, TV, or phone is a guaranteed way to lose track of how much you’re eating and of your body’s signal that it’s had enough. Have screen-free meals so you can concentrate on what you’re eating and how much you’re eating.


4. Control your portions.

Make a conscious decision to manage how much food you’re eating by controlling your portions.  There are a few ways to practice portion control, like eating from a smaller plate, putting less food on your plate, and cooking less food if you always feel obligated to go back for seconds.


5. Get support from friends.

Eating in social situations can have a variety of impacts on the way you approach your food (2,3).  Make mealtime a fun, social event by dining with friends and family that have similar health goals, like eating healthily or paying attention to how much they eat.


For more information about nutrition, check out these other TOVI blog posts:


  1.  Hall et al., 2019. Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake. Cell Metabolism. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2019.05.008.
  2. Herman. 2015. The social facilitation of eating. A review. Appetite. 86(1): 61-73. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2014.09.016.
  3. Ellison et al. 2013. Looking at the label and beyond: the effects of calorie labels, health consciousness, and demographics on caloric intake in restaurants. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 10(21). https://doi.org/10.1186/1479-5868-10-21.

Topics: Nutrition

Ashley Miller-Dykeman, MA

Written by Ashley Miller-Dykeman, MA

Ashley is a science communicator and writer with a background in biology (BA, Boston University) as well as bioethics and science policy (MA, Duke University). In addition to writing for TOVI, Ashley is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and a loving dog mom.