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Overeating:  Causes and Treatment


Nutritionist Ilene, I’ve been trying to lose weight, but I’m having a difficult time controlling my portions. Any suggestions?



Eating slower allows your stomach to feel full.

Overeating can seem harmless, but it runs deeper than simply “my eyes were bigger than my stomach”. It is a behavioral issue. Many of us were taught as children to “clean your plate” so the ability to recognize when we’re full was lost.

When you do overeat, there are a few things that happen to your body;

  1. You feel tired and sluggish. It takes energy to digest, which diverts blood from your muscles to your intestinal tract. That, along with the heat generated from digestion, and the hormones released when you eat, can make you feel drowsy and tired.
  2. You may feel bloated as your stomach produces gases during digestion and increases in volume.
  3. Many will experience acid reflux, especially if your meal was high in fat and protein.
  4. Your heart rate may increase as the vessels carrying blood to your intestinal tract increases.
  5. Some may become nauseous, dizzy or sweaty.
  6. Your stomach will stretch making it more likely to overeat at the next meal.
  7. You will experience weight gain, especially if you overeat regularly.

So what can you do about it?

  1. First, figure out if you’re actually hungry when reaching for food or feeding an emotion such as anger, loneliness or exhaustion.
  2. Next, take a look at what’s actually on your plate. A properly portioned meal that’s high in fiber will fill you up and leave you feeling satisfied and nourished.  Follow the plate method for balance: one-quarter of your meal should be lean protein like grilled salmon, one-quarter whole grains like quinoa and half from filling fiber like grilled veggies.
  3. Try eating on smaller plates when possible, since several studies have shown that portion sizes are relative to your plate size.
  4. Focus on slowing down and removing distractions like watching TV or playing on your phone.
  5. Choose to drink 2 glasses of water with your meals — it will help to slow you down and fill you up.
  6. Try to avoid refined sugars that stimulate appetite and break the habit of having dessert after meals.
  7. Aim to eat until you feel comfortably full. On a full scale of 0-10, where 0 is starving, and 10 is uncomfortably full,  you should start eating at a 3 and stop at an 8, so you’re never too hungry or too full.

Overeating is the best way to gain weight.  If it happens once in a while, don’t beat yourself up and starve the next day.  Just get back on track with your body and make sensible choices. If you find that overeating is chronic despite the above recommendations, reach out to someone who can help.


Have a nutrition related question? Contact Ilene Yalen, MSRD at

Ilene Yalen is the Registered Dietitian working with WellAmerica to help promote health and well being.