Some people do their best to come up with their own solutions to lose weight and avoid overeating while obsessing nonstop about food. It is a stressful tug-of-war between craving and self control that can drive one insane. Needless to say, these desperate attempts are bound to fail because the body usually wins.
In this article, we will discuss some effective ways to control overeating. But first, let’s talk about the science of overeating.
The Science of Overeating
For many people, overeating is a strangely liberating experience which makes one happy. However, the need for satisfaction and release from stress through food often turns into a vicious cycle that traps them in an infinite loop of stress eating, satisfaction, guilt, and shame. Some even develop eating disorders, like bulimia, in their attempt to eliminate the feeling of disappointment for giving in to their craving.
What is the science behind overeating? Food stimulates many different neurons simultaneously. One set of neurons may react at sugary taste, some respond to creamy texture, and still others are triggered by aroma.
This cumulative effect shows that sensory stimuli amplify the neurons, getting them to fire up even more. The message to eat becomes stronger, motivating the eater to act more vigorously in pursuit of the stimulus. Thus, taste has the most direct connection to the body’s reward system and it is hardwired into brain cells that prompt the strongest emotional response like pleasure.
There exists a term called “orosensory self-stimulation” which is coined by Gerard Smith, a pioneer in the study of ingestive behaviour at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. It refers to a cyclical process in which eating delicious foods tells the brain to make us want more of those foods.
“If you’re talking about the things that drive eating or make food more appetizing, you’re always talking about orosensory effects,” says Smith. The “opioids” or known as endorphins are chemicals produced in the brain that have rewarding effects similar to drugs such as morphine and heroin. When we stimulate opioid circuitry with food, this drives us to eat. If pleasure from food is created by opioids, dopamine motivates our behaviour and impels us toward food.
Moreover, Gaetano Di Chiara, an expert in neuroscience and pharmacology at the University of Cagliari in Italy explained that the complexity of the stimulus increases its association to a reward. Tastes that are familiar and well-liked especially ones which are not always readily available, involve a multitude of sensory inputs, and the learning associated with having had a pleasurable experience with the same food in the past, are considered to be the elements. So, doing this can strengthen the reinforcing effect as the more potent and multisensory foods become, the greater the rewards they may offer.
The excitement of hunger eating is made in the orbitofrontal cortex which is the brain region where neurons fire in response to rewarding foods. The more someone wants to eat highly-palatable foods, the more activity we see in the orbitofrontal cortex. So, when that excitement fuels up, it increases our desire for further stimulation.
Ways and Methods to Control Overeating
- 1. Get started now. – Take the first step and get started with easily attainable goal like eating one piece of fruit a day. Build on your success by working your way into eating more healthy foods and exercising more tomorrow.
- Consider keeping a water bottle with you all the time. By drinking a glass of water before meals, you will feel fuller faster, which can result in eating less so long as you have the right amount of willpower. It also keeps you hydrated, providing your body with the energy it needs to power it through the day.
- 3. Use a “to-do” approach. – Start adding healthy foods and behaviours one by one. Start with the action items that you can do right now. Once you start a new healthy behaviour, continue doing this until it becomes a habit and part of your regular routine then add another action item. The more often you make time for it, the better. If you want to know how to reinforce habits effectively, we have a guide in this page.
- 4. Understand what you are up against. – According from researchers of the University of Marburg in Germany, knowledge helps people lose weight because they acquire insight about their bodies and what they can do to tip the scales in their favor. Be knowledgeable about the genetics of obesity and how your body works.
- 5. Set realistic goals. – Plan your meals and snacks in advance. Write down your menu and display it so you can see what you will eat and when. Be as specific as possible but be realistic. Try to focus on small improvements instead of expecting a perfect score. Overloading yourself with very high expectation will demotivate and burn you out.
- a. Keep a food journal with a plan for what and when you are going to eat.
- b. Make a short-term plan (one day or even one hour at a time)
- c. Focus on long-term success by adding sustainable behaviours.
- d. Commit to your goals and follow your plan.
- e. Think and remind yourself about your goals everyday and find the time to act on them.
- f. Avoid situations that will tempt you to deviate from your goals.
- 6. Anticipate regret to help you act on your intentions. – If you plan on doing something unhealthy, think long and hard about how that will make you feel. Think about how disappointed you’ll be in failing to achieve your goal. Studies have shown that this is a powerful cue to help you stay on track to accomplish your health goals.
- 7. Buy healthy foods. – Clean out your refrigerator and pantry. Throw away the unhealthy foods and replace them with organic foods. Plan to shop at least once a week so that you can have fresh foods on hand.
- 8. Eat the right amount of food and balance of nutrients. – Regulate your hormones by eating balanced meals and balanced calories throughout the day. A balanced meal includes about 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat.
- a. Aim for five servings of vegetables and five servings of fruits every day.
- b. Eat a big breakfast with protein.
- c. Eat a healthy balanced lunch.
- d. Eat an afternoon snack with protein.
- e. Eat healthy comfort foods at dinner.
- f. Eat a sweet, slow-carbohydrate dessert.
- 9. Speak with the doctor – If all else fails, you should see a doctor about your problem overeating to see if he or she may be able to provide you with additional tips and prescribe some medications that will curb your appetite.
Therefore, understanding our brain’s response to food and how it drives our lack of control is essential in order to change our approach to eating. We must think more consciously and observe our eating patterns carefully. Recognize the triggers of stress-eating and consider the long-term health implications of our choices. Most importantly learn to reward yourself for successfully reaching your health goals.
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