There are ways to improve eating habits. For example, you can try to track what you eat and choose more filling foods like proteins. Your doctor can recommend the best approach for you.
Eating too much in one sitting or taking in too many calories throughout the day are common habits that can be hard to break.
And while some people see these behaviors as habits that can be broken, they may indicate an eating disorder in others.
Over time, eating too much food can lead to weight gain and increase the risk of developing a chronic condition, such as diabetes or heart disease.
Regardless of whether you have an eating disorder, breaking the cycle of overeating can be challenging. However, some techniques can help.
The 23 tips below provide a starting point to reduce overeating.
Whether it’s working through lunch in front of the computer or noshing on chips while catching up on your favorite TV show, eating while distracted is a common occurrence for most people.
While this habit might seem harmless, it can contribute to overeating.
A review of 24 studies found that being distracted during a meal led people to consume more calories at that meal. It also caused them to eat more food later in the day, compared with people who paid attention to their food while eating (
Summary Make an effort to turn off
or put away potential distractions like phones, computers, and magazines. Concentrating
on your meal during mealtime can help prevent overeating.
Pinpointing which foods can trigger overeating and avoiding them can help decrease the chances of overeating.
For example, if ice cream is likely to trigger a binge or episode of overeating, it’s a good idea to stop storing it in the freezer. The harder it is to access something, the less likely you might be to overeat that food.
Preparing healthy options like a sliced apple with peanut butter, hummus and veggies, or homemade trail mix can encourage better choices when snacking.
Another helpful tip is to keep unhealthy snack foods like chips, candy, and cookies out of sight so there’s no temptation to grab a handful when walking past them.
Summary Identify the unhealthy foods
that trigger overeating. Keep them out of the home or far out of sight, and
make healthy options easily accessible instead.
Restrictive eating patterns that eliminate many of your favorite foods may cause you to feel deprived, potentially leading you to binge on forbidden treats.
Diets that concentrate on whole, unprocessed foods are always best, but making room for an occasional treat is perfectly healthy.
Swearing to never have a scoop of ice cream, slice of pizza, or piece of chocolate again is not realistic for most people.
That said, in the case of food addiction, a person may need to permanently abstain from trigger foods. In this case, it’s a good idea to find healthy substitutes that are satisfying.
Focus on providing your body with mostly healthy, nutritious food while giving yourself the freedom to truly enjoy a treat here and there.
Summary Eating patterns that are too
restrictive may drive binges. The key to a sustainable, healthy diet is to
concentrate on eating whole, unprocessed foods most of the time while allowing for
a treat here and there.
Volumetrics is a way to eat that focuses on filling up on low calorie, high fiber foods like non-starchy vegetables.
Consuming foods that are low in calories and high in fiber and water before meals can help you feel full, which might decrease overeating.
Examples of volumetrics-friendly foods include grapefruit, salad greens, broccoli, beans, tomatoes, and low-sodium broth.
Eating a large salad or bowl of low-sodium, broth-based soup before lunch and dinner may be an effective way to prevent overeating.
Summary Use the volumetrics method
of eating — fill up on healthy, low-calorie, high-fiber foods to help promote feeling
Eating chips out of the bag, ice cream out of the carton, or takeout straight from the box can lead to consuming more food than is recommended as a serving size.
Instead, portion out a single serving size on a plate or in a bowl to help control the number of calories you consume in one sitting.
Use measuring tools to train your eye on what a normal portion should look like for different types of foods.
Summary Instead of eating food
straight from the package, portion it into a dish. Try measuring out
appropriate serving sizes to help train your eye to identify how much food is recommended
as an average portion.
Stress can lead to overeating, so it’s important to find ways to reduce the amount of stress in your daily life.
Chronic stress drives up levels of cortisol, a hormone that increases appetite. Studies have shown that being stressed can lead to overeating, increased hunger, binge eating, and weight gain (
There are many simple ways to reduce your everyday stress levels. Consider listening to music, gardening, exercising, or practicing yoga, meditation, or breathing techniques.
Summary Stress can lead to
overeating, so reducing the stress in your everyday life is one important step
to reduce overeating.
Choosing foods that are rich in fiber, such as beans, vegetables, oats, and fruit, can help keep your body feeling satisfied longer and reduce the urge to overeat.
For example, one study found that people who ate fiber-rich oatmeal for breakfast felt fuller and ate less at lunch than those who consumed cornflakes for breakfast (
Snacking on nuts, adding beans to your salad, and eating vegetables at every meal may help reduce the amount of food you consume.
Summary Add fiber-rich foods to your
diet to keep your body feeling satisfied longer. Studies show this may help
reduce the urge to overeat.
When attempting to lose weight, many people cut out meals in hopes that it will decrease the number of calories they take in.
While this may work in some instances, such as intermittent fasting, restricting meals may cause you to eat more later in the day.
Studies have demonstrated that eating more frequently throughout the day may decrease hunger and overall food intake (
For example, some people may skip lunch to restrict calories, only to find themselves overeating at dinner. However, eating a balanced lunch may help reduce the chances of eating too much later in the day (
Summary Skipping meals may cause you
to eat more later in the day. Instead, focus on keeping your body feeling
satisfied by eating balanced meals made with whole foods.
Keeping track of what you eat in a food diary or mobile app may help reduce overeating.
Many studies have shown that using self-monitoring techniques like keeping a food diary may aid weight loss (
Plus, using a food journal can help identify situations and emotional triggers that contribute to overeating, as well as foods that are likely to provoke binge eating.
Summary Studies have shown that
tracking your food intake may help you lose weight. It will also help you become
more aware of your habits.
The food choices of your dining companions may have a greater effect on your food intake than you realize.
Numerous studies have found that people’s food choices are heavily influenced by the people they eat with.
People may tend to eat portions similar to those of their dining companions, so dining out with friends who overeat may cause them to overeat as well (
Plus, studies have shown that a person is more inclined to order unhealthy options if their dining partner does (
Choosing to eat with family and friends who have similar health goals can help you stay on track and reduce your chances of overeating.
Summary With whom you choose to eat
may majorly impact your food choices. Try to dine with people who also want to
eat healthy meals in moderate portions.
Protein helps keep your body full throughout the day and can decrease the desire to overeat.
For example, eating a high protein breakfast has been shown to reduce hunger and snacking later in the day (
Choosing a protein-rich breakfast like eggs tends to lower levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates hunger (
Adding higher protein snacks like Greek yogurt to your routine can also help you eat less throughout the day and keep hunger under control (
Summary Eating protein-rich foods
may help stave off hunger and cravings. Starting the day with a high protein
breakfast can also help fight hunger later in the day.
Eating white bread, cookies, candy, and other carbs with high glycemic indexes will likely cause blood sugar levels to spike, then fall quickly.
This rapid blood sugar fluctuation has been shown to promote hunger and can lead to overeating (
Choosing foods with lower glycemic indexes will help prevent blood sugar spikes and may reduce overeating. Beans, oats, and brown rice are all great options.
Summary Eat foods that help keep blood
sugar levels constant. High-glycemic foods like candy and white bread can make
blood sugar spike then drop, which may lead to overeating. Instead, choose
foods like beans, oats, and brown rice.
Eating too quickly may cause overeating and lead to weight gain over time.
Slower-paced eating is associated with increased fullness and decreased hunger and can serve as a useful tool for controlling overeating (
Taking the time to thoroughly chew food has also been shown to reduce overall food intake and increase feelings of fullness (
Summary Focusing on eating more
slowly and chewing food thoroughly may help you recognize signs of fullness and
Drinking alcohol may cause overeating by lowering your inhibitions and stimulating appetite (
While having a drink or two with a meal generally won’t have a huge effect, having several drinks in one sitting may lead to increased levels of hunger.
One study found that college students who drank four to five drinks at a time more than once per week were more likely to overeat after drinking, compared with students who drank one to two drinks at a time (
Cutting back on drinking alcohol may be a good way to minimize overeating.
Summary Studies show that drinking
several drinks in one sitting may lead to overeating. Instead, stick to just
one or two drinks, or forgo drinking alcohol entirely.
Being unprepared when hunger strikes can make it more likely that you’ll make poor food choices that can lead to overeating.
Purchasing meals and snacks at the last minute from restaurants or delis increases the likelihood of making unhealthy choices and eating more.
Instead, keep healthy snacks on hand, pack home-cooked lunches, and stock the fridge with healthy options to prepare dinner at home.
These strategies can help decrease overeating. Plus, making more meals at home can save money and time.
Summary The more prepared you are to
eat healthily, the less likely you are to overeat. Keep the fridge and pantry
stocked with healthy, filling foods.
Drinking sugary beverages like soda and juice could lead to weight gain and increase the risk of certain diseases like diabetes (
Studies have shown that consuming sweetened drinks with meals may be linked to overeating as well.
A review of 17 studies found that adults who drank sugar-sweetened beverages with meals consumed 7.8% more food than adults who consumed water with meals (
Choosing water or unsweetened seltzer over sweetened beverages may help reduce overeating.
Summary Avoid sugary beverages.
They’ve been linked to an increased risk of diabetes and other diseases and may
be linked to overeating. Drink water instead.
Overeating in the absence of hunger could be a sign that something deeper is going on.
Depression and boredom are two common issues that have been linked to the urge to overeat (
Fortunately, taking certain actions can help. For example, try taking on a new activity that’s enjoyable. It may help prevent boredom and distract from the urge to nibble.
Also, spending some time thinking about what triggers overeating can help determine the type of help to seek. If depression and anxiety are contributors, getting proper treatment from a mental health professional might assist with reducing overeating.
Every person is different, so it’s important to find the right treatment plan for your needs.
Summary Think about the feelings
during episodes of overeating and seek help to address the issues behind the
behavior. Depression and boredom are two common reasons. A mental health
professional can provide guidance.
Fad diets probably won’t help you stop overeating in the long run. Short-term, restrictive diets may lead to rapid weight loss, but they are often unsustainable and can set you up for failure.
Instead, make long-term lifestyle changes that promote health and wellness. It’s the best way to create a balanced relationship with food and prevent habits like overeating.
Summary Instead of going on fad
diets to curb overeating, find a sustainable way of eating that nourishes your
body and helps it reach optimal health.
Habits can be hard to break, especially when they involve food.
Many people get into comfortable routines, like eating dinner in front of the TV or having a bowl of ice cream every night.
It may take time to identify unhealthy behaviors that lead to overeating and replace them with new, healthy habits, but it’s well worth the effort.
For example, make it a point to eat at the dinner table instead of in front of the TV, or replace a nightly bowl of ice cream with a hot cup of tea. These replacements will become healthy habits over time.
Summary Identify unhealthy habits
and gradually replace them with new, more positive behaviors.
Although high fat foods are often associated with weight gain and overeating, choosing foods rich in healthy fats can help you eat less.
Several studies have shown that adults who consume high fat, low carb diets are less hungry 3–4 hours after meals and lose more weight over time, compared with people who consume diets high in carbs and low in fat (
Adding healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, nut butters, and olive oil to your diet may help you feel more satisfied after meals and reduce overeating.
Summary Try adding more healthy fats
to your diet. Studies have shown doing so may help you feel fuller after meals
and lose weight over time.
Setting short- and long-term goals and referring to them often may help you stay on track and reduce the urge to overeat.
Knowing the reason for overcoming overeating and how overeating is preventing you from reaching your health and wellness goals can motivate you to work toward establishing new eating patterns.
Jotting down motivational quotes and hanging them in prominent places around your living space can help inspire you to stick to a plan throughout the day.
Summary Identify specific short- and
long-term eating goals and refer to them often. It can even be helpful to place
motivational quotes around your home.
It’s important to distinguish overeating from binge eating disorder (BED).
Binge eating disorder (BED) is recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM-5) as a psychiatric disorder. This means someone who has BED will likely need treatment from a team of medical professionals to overcome it.
BED is characterized by ongoing episodes of eating a large amount of food very quickly to the point of discomfort, despite not being hungry. After a binge, a person might feel shame or guilt surrounding the behavior.
It affects millions of people worldwide and is the most common eating disorder in the United States (
If you feel that you might have BED, it’s important to get help. Speak with your healthcare provider about treatment options.
Summary If you regularly binge on
large quantities of food, lack control, and experience feelings of guilt, you
may have binge eating disorder and should seek professional help.
Adopting mindful eating techniques is one of the best ways to prevent overeating.
The practice of mindful eating stresses the importance of focusing on the moment and being aware of thoughts, emotions, and senses while consuming food.
Many studies have shown that mindful eating is an effective way to reduce binge eating behaviors, overeating, and emotional eating (
Eating more slowly, taking small bites, chewing thoroughly, being aware of your senses, and appreciating food are all simple mindfulness practices to incorporate into a daily routine.
Summary The practice of mindful
eating has been shown to help reduce binge eating behaviors. Mindful eating
focuses on being aware of your thoughts and senses while eating.
Many people struggle with overeating.
Fortunately, there are ways to improve eating habits and overcome eating disorders.
Healthcare professionals like psychologists, doctors, or registered dietitians can also provide counseling and guidance to help you get back on track.
Overeating can be a hard habit to break, but you can do it. Use these tips as a starting point to help establish a new, healthy routine, and make sure to seek professional help if you need it.
Editor’s note: This piece was originally published on April 16, 2018. Its current publication date reflects an update, which includes a medical review by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD.