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Why We Overeat and What We Can Do About It
Food is an essential element of life and can be one of the most pleasurable. In theory, the feeding system is simple: We’re hungry. We eat. We stop. Several hours later, we might feel hungry again and so repeat the process. If only it stayed as simple as this.
The system breaks down for everyone on occasion: holiday gatherings or a delectable restaurant meal can tempt even the healthiest among us to eat past the point of fullness. But eating too much occasionally can easily become overeating chronically when we miss (or ignore) the cues to stop eating when we’re full, or when we eat when we’re not even hungry. This is the essence of overeating.
Of course, it is possible to be hefty and healthy, but if we could just stop eating when we are full, or not eat when we aren’t hungry, it might put a stop to the pounds that creep on year by year to the point where it’s not so healthy anymore. Overeating is the main factor contributing to obesity. When we begin to overeat regularly – perhaps snacking at a certain time of the day as a “pick-me-up” or when a midnight snack becomes a ritual – this can be a problem for our physical health, and even our mental health.
The source of the problem of overeating is this: We have an innate drive to eat in response to both internal and external cues. Not only do our bodies set off the “hungry” signal when energy stores are low, but so does the outside environment. Images of food or, worse, the scent of food (think catching a whiff of a bakery, or French fries) can trigger the desire to eat. All of these triggers can easily lead to overeating – and overweight.
Since the expanding waistline of the country is becoming a real health concern, learning what the common triggers for overeating are and how to manage them is your best defense. Here are some of the top reasons it’s so easy to eat too much, and a few of the most effective methods for resisting the urge.
Not all internal drives to eat are about hunger. We may eat for the pleasure of it. We may also use the pleasure of eating to make ourselves feel better.
Using Food To Make Yourself HappyMany people have used food to cheer themselves up at some point in life, perhaps downing a pint of ice cream to make problems seem a little less bad. But why does this help? There’s something in the act of eating itself that is inherently calming: feeding holds a lot of power as a tool for comfort and nurture, which likely goes back to the mother-infant connection.
But there’s more to it than just the act of eating. The chemicals in foods can also buck us up. Carbohydrates are known to enhance the levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which is the target of many antidepressant medications.(1)(2)(3) If you crave carbs (muffins, breads, and pasta) when your mood is low, your brain may be “asking” for a serotonin boost.
Comfort foods tend to be packed with fats, which may be what makes them so appealing to a person who’s feeling blue. Research shows that fatty acids even by themselves, when infused directly into people’s stomachs (so as to remove the act of eating from the equation), make people feel less sad, and change the way the brain reacts to sad images.(4) This suggests that the specific compounds in foods can have a mood-boosting effect.
Because the act of eating has soothing properties and food itself has certain “medicinal” properties, it can be very easy to use it to use for a mood booster a little too often.