Many of my clients want help with their tendency to eat past fullness, and I'm not surprised. Eating to the point of discomfort is not an enjoyable experience, especially when you can't figure out why you keep doing it.
Despite diet culture's messaging that eating past fullness is a result of “lack of control” or “food addiction,” in my experience, this eating inclination has little to do with the food itself and more to do with a person's mindset around food and available coping mechanisms.
How We Respond to Eating Past Fullness Matters More Than How Much We Ate
When you eat past fullness, it can feel all-consuming both during and after. We are centered on eating the food until the food is gone. Then, once it is and we realize why it's gone, we usually become centered on how awful we feel, both physically and mentally.
This can lead to:
- Beating ourselves up with negative self-talk and drowning in guilt or shame;
- Calculating out the calories or macros of what we ate in despair;
- Restricting our food intake the day after to “balance out” what we ate; or
- Punishing ourselves with exercise to “burn off” the offending foods.
These responses are only natural in a society that is hyper-fixated on the idea that eating should be a controlled, reserved experience. But the truth is, how we respond to eating past fullness matters far more than what we ate. The key to interrupting this pattern is to stop thinking about it as something that should be met with punishment, and start thinking about it as an opportunity to learn more about your relationship with food.
Even the most intuitive of eaters among us still eat to the point of discomfort sometimes (myself included)! The difference is that intuitive eaters view these instances as objective data that they can get curious about in a nonjudgmental way.
Change Your Approach to Eating to Include Curiosity and Self-Compassion
Understandably, when you're knee-deep in cheese or cupcakes, it can be difficult to imagine what lessons might be hidden in the aftermath and ensuing stomachache. However, if every time you ate past fullness you viewed the experience as a learning opportunity instead of a failure, you would discover a lot about yourself and your relationship with food in the process.
Remember—your body is incredibly smart. You're not eating past fullness as a way of torturing yourself. You're doing so because it's serving you in some way! Investigating the behavior further can help you figure out what's going and what to do about it.
The next time it seems like you're eating past a level of comfortable fullness, instead of restricting your calories or forcing yourself to exercise for atonement (actions that will only keep the cycle going), try some of these practices and see how it changes the experience for you*:
1. Slow down.
The out-of-control nature of eating past fullness comes from going on autopilot and eating the food as quickly as possible without really feeling or tasting any of it. Slowing down, even just a little bit at first, can make for a very different experience. Try to chew more slowly and put your utensils or the piece of food down in between bites. Focus on the sensation of the food on your tongue, trying to truly taste it (and even enjoy it!).
2. Check in with yourself.
You can bring more awareness to a food frenzy by continuing to check in with yourself while you're eating (as well as after). How do you physically feel? What is your mental state? Are you meeting a physical hunger need or a different kind of need? Are you full or close to it? Does the food taste as good as you thought it would? Maybe even take notes or write about what you're experiencing in a journal.
3. Embrace self-compassion.
After you've recognized that you're experiencing an episode of eating past fullness, be kind and gentle with yourself. The more you try to tell yourself not to do it, the harder it will be to stop.
Try to redirect negative self-talk to self-talk that is more neutral or positive. If you find yourself thinking something like, “I'm such an idiot failure. I can't believe I ate that entire cake,” you might redirect your thoughts to something like, “While I'm upset with myself for eating the cake, I know that eating the cake served a purpose for me, and what I eat does not determine my intelligence or self-worth.”
4. Be the scientist and gather data.
The best time to gather information about what triggers eating past fullness for you is during the experience and right after. Some things you might think about include:
- What was going on around you?
- Were you experiencing any heightened emotions?
- Were you experiencing any particular physical sensations?
- What and how much did you eat during the day before your eating felt out of control?
- Were you satisfied with the foods you ate prior to eating past fullness?
- How much did you move that day?
- What did you really need in that moment?
As you gather data over time, you'll likely be able to spot patterns, which may help you think of changes you could make to lessen the impact when you find yourself wanting to eat past fullness.
*Please note that these practices are intended to help those whose eating behavior does not amount to a psychological disorder such as binge eating disorder or bulimia, both of which are conditions that require treatment by medical and mental health professionals. If you think you might have an eating disorder, there is help available.
Your Mind and Body Can Be Great Teachers If You Can Learn To Listen To Them
While eating past fullness can make you feel powerless, utilizing the above strategies will help you reconnect with your body and step back into your power. Our bodies are incredibly wise, and when we strengthen our level of communication with them we can learn a lot.
Don't worry if you try some of these tactics and they don't feel like a slam dunk at first. If you consistently use these tools, eating past fullness will start to feel a lot less scary over time.
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