Obesity is essentially an epidemic in the western civilization. We’ve all heard how bad junk food is for us. We know the risks, and I don’t really know of anyone who enjoys being overweight. So why do we keep overeating, and why can’t we quit junk food?
Do we lack willpower, or is it something greater than that? Understanding what happens with our bodies creates a mind-body connection that helps us to overcome overeating behaviors. Let’s take a look at just a few of the reasons we humans overeat and what we can do about them.
You Overeat Because Your Body Isn’t Being “Fed”
This doesn’t make sense–we are stuffing ourselves because we aren’t being fed? That’s right–our bodies are begging us for the nutrients we need to function and thrive, and so it never sends our brain the signal to stop eating.
Most junk food is calorie-rich and nutrient-sparse, so we eat and eat and eat while our bodies search for those crucial vitamins and minerals that it can only derive from food, packing in the calories and storing them as fat.
Our bodies are truly amazing machines that want us to survive and be healthy, but so many of us are out of touch with those signals that we miss them. Have you ever sat down with a bag of apples and eaten the entire thing? What about stuffing yourself on too much salad? You don’t, because you receive the nutrients and your brain releases leptin to signal that it got what it needed, and makes us feel full  .
This explains how we can sit down with a bag of chips and before we know it, look down and realize that they’re gone and we’ve just ingested 1,000 calories without even feeling it. The next time you sit down to a really healthy meal, pay attention to how you feel afterwards. You will feel satisfied, calm and energized, but not stuffed.
You Overeat Because Your Brain Is Seeking Pleasure
Similar if not identical to addiction, our brains become dependent on the sensory pleasure we receive when we eat loads of sugar and fat. The feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine is released in the brain when we overeat, which makes it habit-forming .
We seek that pleasure over and over again, even though we KNOW it is making us fat and unhealthy. It becomes an addiction, and fat and sugar are EVERYWHERE – thus making it the most widely available drug AND a socially acceptable form of addiction. This would explain why so many people seem to really be struggling with losing weight and getting their unhealthy eating under control.
You Overeat Because Your Body Confuses Stress With Famine
Our ancestors did not have an environment where they could run out to the nearest fast food restaurant and grab food when the mood struck. They hunted, and food was not always available. When the threat of famine presented itself, their bodies released stress hormones, which in turn signaled to their brains that they needed to eat and store fat .
This instinct is still present in the hypothalamus, or the ancient section of our brains. When we get stressed about traffic, deadlines, money, and relationships, our ancient brains interpret that as “FAMINE!” and we instinctively begin to look not just for food, but for high calorie food that will help us store the most fat so we won’t starve.
In this day and age of excess, this translates to grabbing ice cream from the fridge or driving through a fast food restaurant instead of hunting for a saber tooth tiger or finding a banana tree.
So How Do We Stop?
As you can see, overeating is not just as simple as “Stop overeating” (my biggest pet peeve!). We have multiple factors working against us, and I haven’t even touched on the food industry and its never-ending quest to addict you to their “food” products.
Understanding the physiological reasons why we overeat is the first step to overcoming it. Why? Because you can begin to work WITH your body and nature instead of against it. You can also stop beating yourself up for your behaviors, and instead begin to understand yourself and have more patience. Your body is trying to help you, so stop hating it so much!
Improve Your Diet
Instead of dieting, try slowly removing processed foods from your diet, as they are the biggest culprit in our chronic overeating behavior. Once we begin to feed our bodies the nutrients it needs with these foods and removing the addicting, nutrient-sparse calorie-dense foods, we will lose the compulsive need to seek them out. Our brains will feel satisfied and eating won’t feel so out-of-control.
Just removing the processed foods will be a game-changer for those struggling with their weight. Seek out foods that are simple, in their purest form. If you’re not ready for this, start by adding IN the nutrient-dense foods like green leafy vegetables, fruit, lean protein, legumes, whole grains, and healthy fats without cutting anything out yet. You may be surprised what happens to your cravings when you are giving your body what it REALLY wants-nutrition!
Taking control of stress is also essential in eliminating overeating. Try listing out different ways of coping with stress. I’m always amazed that just walking for 10 minutes instead of reaching for candy stops my craving every. single. time.
You can also meditate, practice deep breathing, watch a funny show, read a book, take a hot shower, or even just take an inventory of your life and eliminate anything unnecessary. Sleeping for 7-8 hours every night also decreases your stress hormones, so make sure you sleep enough every night!
Knowledge is power, right? Understanding your body is key in freedom from compulsions. Do you tend to overeat? What foods do you overeat? How do you deal with it?