Diet Optimization Food Psychology Weight Loss Strategies

What To Do After Overeating: It’s Not as Big of a Deal as You Think

Eating more than you planned to can feel extremely frustrating and disappointing, especially if you’re working hard to make healthy changes to your eating habits and lifestyle. Read on to learn exactly what to do after overeating to leverage your motivation and get back to making progress towards your goals.

Eating more than you planned to can feel extremely frustrating and disappointing, especially if you’re working hard to make healthy changes to your eating habits and lifestyle. Read on to learn exactly what to do after overeating to leverage your motivation and get back to making progress towards your goals.

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How a Clinical Psychologist (Me!) Can Help

Have you ever had a bite of something that you didn’t plan on eating, and it suddenly feels like Pandora’s box opens with permission to eat whatever you want? You might make promises that you’ll get back on track later in the day, tomorrow, or next week as a way to rationalize it but ultimately end up feeling guilty and out of control.

If this resonates with you, like it does for most people, then I believe I can help you.

This is a common example that illustrates why I approach healthy behavior change as a clinical psychologist. You can receive incredibly beneficial advice from dietitians regarding the best foods to eat or receive a custom physical activity program from exercise physiologists… but most people still struggle to follow through with these instructions!

This is where psychology matters– helping you stick to the behaviors you already know would help you reach your goals.

One of the most important ways to reduce overeating that feels out of control is to know what to do after that initial moment of overeating, before that Pandora’s box opens.

Step #1: Create a Pause

Eating a little more than you intend to and having that turn into eating a lot more than you intend to is an example of an “all-or-nothing” thought. It’s a mind game that our brains play to tell us that if you can’t stick to your goals perfectly, then you might as well forget about it.

However, if you could stop yourself after you ate just a little bit more than you planned on, it wouldn’t be a very big deal at all.

For example, if you eat a chocolate chip cookie at a party (around 250 calories) and that automatically triggers your “all-or-nothing” mindset, you may end up eating all of the other foods at that party you were trying not to eat. This could easily lead to you eating 1000+ calories that you didn’t intend to and feeling guilty about losing control over your eating.

But, what if you could create a pause before that all-or-nothing mindset kicks in? Then, you may just eat a 250 calorie cookie, which is no big deal in comparison!

I always explain this to my patients by reminding them that if they noticed their car had one flat tire, they wouldn’t slash the other three and decide to start over with a new car. Instead, you’d fix the one tire, not make the situation any worse, and keep driving.

I encourage you to use this metaphor to create that pause in your mindset right when you begin to overeat. Say to yourself out loud: “Don’t slash the other three tires. Fix the one flat tire and then keep driving.”

Step #2: Have a Go-To Meal and Snack in Mind

After the moment when you create a pause in your mindset after starting to overeat (using the metaphor described above), the next step is to have a very clear plan for what you will eat next.

This next meal or snack is key for setting the tone of getting back on track towards your goals. The key components of these go-to foods are:

  • Foods high in protein and healthy sources of fats, which will be satiating for any hunger you may experience and can help reduce cravings and urges for continuing to overeat
  • Foods that bring you enjoyment, so you will be satisfied by these foods and more likely to actually choose them instead of continuing to overeat
  • Foods you can always have on hand, so you are ready to use these foods at any time when overeating may occur

Some examples might be:

Step #3: Go on a 15-Minute Walk

You’ve created a pause to stop overeating as soon as it starts, and you know exactly what you’ll eat next to get back on track.

Your last step is to go on a brief, 15-minute walk to lower the blood sugar spike that may have occurred based on the food(s) you ate more of than you intended.

I’ve written about this in detail in another blog post. The summary is that walking is an evidence-based way to help your body process glucose (sugar) in the foods you eat at meals, which can help offset the likelihood that a bit of overeating will turn into weight gain.

I encourage you to take 15 minutes after you eat more than you planned to and go for a walk. This is also a powerful strategy for creating some space to prevent you from continuing to overeat.

Dr. Schulte’s Summary

When you eat more than you planned to, it is important to take steps to prevent a small amount of overeating from turning into a weekend free-for-all. The three steps I described above will help you create a pause in your mindset right when overeating begins, have a plan in place for what you will eat next to get back on track, and biologically help your body process the higher amounts of glucose from the foods you may have eaten. Remember to be patient with yourself as you try to use these strategies. These skills take practice and get easier over time. You’ve got this.

What do you do after overeating? Are there new strategies you want to try?

Click here to get my free guide that outlines the first three specific steps you should take ASAP to kickstart your weight loss journey!

Follow me on Instagram @drericaschulte and the Weight Management, Optimized Facebook page!

Disclaimer: all opinions are my own and are not affiliated with my employers. Please seek medical guidance before pursuing weight loss or making significant changes to the way you eat or your physical activity routine.

6 replies on “What To Do After Overeating: It’s Not as Big of a Deal as You Think”

You bring up some great ideas that can help people who may feel frustrated and upset after eating too much. Even people who are not trying to lose weight can do this at times, and even without mental frustration, there is a physical discomfort that comes along with being too full. 

I have found that your suggestion to take a 15-minute walk is extremely helpful. Hopefully, others will remember this great tip when they feel they may have overdone it. 

Hi Aly, thanks for reading and providing such a thoughtful reflection! I also love the habit of walking after larger meals to create that pause to prevent additional overeating.

This is a great post!  I also speak to people about healthy eating and I have written about some of the things you say here.  First, we’re going to go off track every now and again. In my opinion, the  “all-or-nothing” mindset you refer to is a sort of self-flagellation, a way to punish ourselves for being weak.  We need to learn to be kind to ourselves.  It also helps, as you said, to keep healthy food on hand.

I couldn’t agree worse with the importance of being kind to ourselves. It truly is the key to finding a way to enjoy your healthy lifestyle!

Hi Erica. It is a very useful article. It happens to all of us to eat more than we need. Especially if we’re on a diet. You have revealed real tricks to us for the situations in which we have exceeded the food measure. It is very true that everything starts from the mind.

Thank you for your positive feedback, Carmen! I am happy to hear that this resonated with you.

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