5 reasons why you still eat when you’re full (and what to do about it)

We have all had the experience of eating beyond the point of being hungry and beyond what our body needs.  As an intelligent species we can override innate biological impulses, unlike, say a lion.  We can rationalize why we do the things we do, even when we don’t really want to do them, or even when we know we’ll regret it later.  So many clients have told me that they don’t know why they keep eating even when they’re no longer hungry.  It does seem absurd that we would overeat to the point of being stuffed or eat for any other reason than what is biologically necessary.  We’ll never see a pride of lions laying back, patting their bellies and groaning because they ate too much of the antelope that afternoon.  So why on earth is this something that human beings do?



I’ve got 5 reasons why we do this and 5 solutions on what to do about it.


Because we eat mindlessly

When we eat fast and mindlessly we are much more likely to lose track of how much we’ve consumed and we’re definitely more likely to overeat.  Why?  Because it takes 20 minutes for your brain to get the message that you’ve had enough to eat.  Specifically, ghrelin, a hunger hormone that is triggered when your stomach is empty drops and gives your brain the message to stop eating.  The problem is that if you’re snarfing your food down quickly you may overeat before your brain gets that critical message and this can result in that uncomfortable bloated feeling later.


Solution #1: Drink a glass of water before eating.  Not only will this aid in digestion but it will also help give your body some sense of fullness before eating and serve as a means to slow you down as well.  It will also give you time to consider how you can mindfully approach this meal so you will enjoy it and feel comfortable.


Because it’s there

In Brian Wansink’s book, “Mindless Eating”, he describes this phenomenon in which human beings will continue eating something simply because it is in front of them, irrespective of the presence of hunger.  They did a study with 2 groups of people eating stale popcorn in a movie theater.  Group #1 had a small bucket of stale popcorn and group #2 had a large bucket of stale popcorn.  Who do you think ate more popcorn?  Yep, group #2, and even though it was stale, they ate 30% more popcorn than group #1.  People often eat food just because it’s there.


Solution #2 – Put healthy food in front of you to crowd out less healthy foods.  So, if you are to eat more than you intend, you will hopefully be getting more fiber, protein, healthy fat and lots of phytonutrients that help nourish your body with what it truly needs.  You can also move the trigger foods away.  For example, ask the waiter to remove the chips and salsa, the bread, etc., or choose to dance at a party rather than stand right next to the food table.  


Because we’re eating to comfort ourselves

Let’s face it:  We eat when we’re sad, when we’re happy, when we’re bored, when we’re stressed, when it’s flag day! (kidding on that one).  But, you get what I mean.  We don’t need a good reason to eat when it brings us comfort.  And it’s a strategy that works, albeit short-term.  We have been conditioned since we were children to eat our emotions.  So much so that it is a common default reflex when faced with uncomfortable feelings.


Solution #3 – Sample taking a few deep breaths before beginning to eat.  Close your eyes and think about why you are eating right now.  If it’s hunger, you’ll have physical symptoms that you’ll begin to recognize. If its emotional eating, you’ll experience those symptoms from the neck up.  If you’re eating emotionally, try the following techniques:

-10 minutes of mindfulness meditation

– surfing the urge (I’ll put a link here to explain what that is)

– writing down a list of things that give you happiness and comfort other than food, and choosing    one from your list

– deciding to eat it anyway, but slowly and mindfully savoring every bite.

– downloading my FREE 6 part video series on how to stop emotional eating
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Because you feel social pressure to eat

My grandmother used to make huge elaborate meals for me and my cousins.  It would bring her so much pleasure watching us eat her delicacies but she’d be offended if we didn’t finish our plates or take seconds or try everything.  Certainly we need not be controlled by other people’s expectations of us and ignore our own internal hunger clock to make someone else happy, but the social pressure is there and it does force us to eat more than we sometimes want.  Other examples of social pressure to eat beyond the point of hunger: you have dinner at a friend’s house and don’t want to offend them with an unfinished plate;  you’re guessing that your dining partner feels self-conscious that he or she is still eating and you are done, so you continue to pick at your plate.  


Solution #4 – Say that the food is delicious but that you’re getting really full and need to stop. Be honest with yourself. You’ve overeaten in the past and know it feels bad, so realize that you’re working on learning how to tune in more and respect your bodily cues regardless of outside influences.


Because you’re physically full but not satisfied

This is actually really common.  Have you ever eaten a full meal and then find yourself moments or hours later poking around the fridge and cabinets looking for something because you don’t feel satisfied and you feel like something is missing?  This phenomenon is due to a lack of macronutrient-balanced foods.  Many prescribed diets and programs work because they leave out entire food groups or nutrients in order to reduce calories, but our body needs these to feel full and satisfied.  Low-fat diets and low-carb diets are perfect examples of this. If we’re not getting a harmonious balance of healthy fats, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates at every meal and snack, our body is going to crave these nutrients and cause us to continue eating despite being physically full.  


Solutions #5 – Eat fat and protein!  We have become a culture that is afraid of fat.  There are more and more studies coming out now that debunk the myth that fat in your food creates fat on your body and to avoid it at all costs.  Your body needs both adequate healthy fats and proteins to feel completely full AND satisfied to the point of being able to push the chair away from the table with a happy and satisfied sigh and go on to the next activity.  


So, raise your hand if one of these resonates with you and in the comments section, tell me which one and why?  Which of these solutions would you like to try?  Would love to hear any additional thoughts about why we tend to eat after we’re full too!  Sound off below!