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:
- Amy’s low-sodium canned soups- a good meal option with veggies on a busy day
- Canned wild-caught salmon (SafeCatch brand tests every single salmon for mercury)
- Canned wild-caught tuna (again, SafeCatch has the lowest mercury tuna versus any other brand)
- Frozen grilled chicken strips
- Frozen vegetables
- Low-sugar oatmeal (look for fewer than 3g sugar per packet), I recommend adding protein powder to oatmeal to reduce the blood sugar spike, check out my top picks for protein powder here
- Orgain is one of the top brands for protein powder, and they are offering my readers 25% off of their best selling protein powders
- Protein shake (here are my top recommendations)
- Frozen fruit
- Greek yogurt (look for unsweetened or fewer than 10g of sugar)
- Raw cashews
- Raw almonds
- Raw walnuts
- Raw pecans
- Lesser Evil’s Himalayan Salt Popcorn
- Quest protein chips
- Dry-roasted edamame
- Seaweed snack packs
- Protein bars- my favorite brands are Quest and RX Bars
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?
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.