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Click here for the “24 Reasons Why We Overeat” Checklist and Action Guide

If I could sum up healthy, sustainable weight loss in just two points of crucial advice, it would be this:

  • Listen to your body’s hunger signals and eat accordingly
  • Eat mostly whole, unprocessed foods and limit refined, processed foods (as they tend to mess with those signals.)

It seems much easier for people to do #2 than #1, and in fact, many people take #2 to the extreme.

“Mostly whole unprocessed foods” does NOT mean:

  • Avoid carbs
  • Avoid fruit
  • Avoid dairy
  • Cut out grains
  • Cut out fats
  • Go vegetarian/vegan
  • Avoid all sugar all the time.

It actually means: limit things that come in boxes and bags, that don’t look like they would in nature: easy mac, oreos, cheese whiz, fruit snacks, granola bars…

Notice, I didn’t say to completely avoid them or feel guilty for eating them. Just don’t plan your life around them. Because these foods are designed for taste, designed to make us want more, and cause us to never feel like we’ve had enough. Too much reliance on these processed foods messes with our body’s natural hunger responses, and makes a healthy weight much more difficult to achieve.

Before we continue, can we all agree that this is a much more sane approach than the extreme plans listed above?

So what if you’re eating high quality food, but you’re still not losing weight?

This was a big struggle for me for many, many years. I remember a time right after college where I was literally NOT eating anything out of a box, ever. Yet still I struggled with weight. I remember my naturally thin roommate Michelle (the one I talked about in this mindbodygreen post) actually surprised that I was struggling with weight loss, because “you eat better than anyone I know.”

The missing piece for me (and for many others I’ve worked with) was understanding and addressing overeating. Most the time when people think about addressing overeating, they think “portion control,” “smaller plates,” “go hungry” or “eat less.” Those thoughts revert them back to the diet mindset of control and deprive. So let’s not even go there.

But what if I were to tell you there’s a better way to address overeating? A way that doesn’t feel forced or diet-like.

The healthiest, and most sustainable way to address overeating is to look at the underlying factors for overeating, and then resolving them.

I’ve worked with clients for many years on this topic, and it always takes some time and curiosity to figure out what’s really going on. But recently, I’ve discovered something new. If I provide my clients with a list of many of the different ways they could be overeating, it becomes much easier to spot the concerns and areas to address.

So today I’m sharing this list with you. But before I get there I want to say something about this list. Looking through this list may make you a little uncomfortable, especially if you find that that a lot of it applies to you. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself. Use this list to help you create a better awareness of your habits and patterns, and then begin to resolve the underlying issues. Don’t use at as a tool to beat yourself up, or set rigid rules of eating.

Got it? Ok! let’s do this!

24 reasons why we overeat

1. Eating to feel happy or comforted –

You just got out of an awful and humiliating meeting at work and you need some cheer and comfort, So you head to the vending machine for a candy bar.

Your kids have been throwing temper tantrums all day, so after you put them to bed you decide you need to sit down with a container of mint chocolate chip to cheer you up.

2. Fear of missing out –

When you go to a party you just HAVE to try one of everything, because that looks awesome, and so does that, and so does that… and what if you miss out on something amazing?

You’re already full at the family meal, but then someone brings out their famous pumpkin pie. You have to have a piece even though you know you’ll feel stuffed.

Someone else is eating that amazing looking appetizer at the next table over. You weren’t planning on apps… but you wouldn’t want to miss out!

3. Food as a reward –

You feel like you “earned” your food after a grueling workout.

You finally finished that tough project. Now it’s time for a candy bar to celebrate.

The kids are finally in bed, and everyone’s still alive. Now, it’s time to reward yourself with a big bowl of ice cream.

4. Food obligation –

You feel satisfied, full even. But there’s still food on your plate, so you have to eat. Because starving children in Africa.

You were offered dessert at a dinner party. You think you really should eat some even though it doesn’t even look that good. They put so much time and effort into preparing it.

You can’t stand to see food go to waste, so you eat every last bite, even if you really don’t want it.

5. Free food –

Your boss orders pizza. Not the gourmet, delicious stuff from the local pizzeria. The five dollar kind. And it’s three hours old by the time you make it to the breakroom. The cheese looks like rubber by this point, but you eat some anyways, because free food!

You stop at a reception after a delicious and filling dinner. Even though there’s no need for food, you stop by the refreshment table for store bought cookies and punch. Because free food!

6. Procrastin-eating –

In front of you is a long list of chores that need to happen. But before we get started, let’s see what there is to eat in the fridge.

Instead of making that uncomfortable phone call, you rummage around your desk looking for snacks.

7. Eating for entertainment –

You get home from work, feed the dogs, eat some dinner, then realize that there’s nothing good on TV. So you go to the fridge looking for some excitement and fun.

You’re on a long road trip, with nothing to see for miles. So you keep a big bag of m&m’s on the front seat to keep you company.

8. Ritual eating –

You sit down at the TV and automatically reach for a snack. Regardless of whether or not your body is hungry, TV just isn’t the same without a treat.

You always bring a bag of snacks with you when you take the kids to the park. While they’re playing, it’s your time to snack, hungry or not

9. Scarcity eating —

You only get pumpkin pie once a year at Thanksgiving, so you better go all out and eat an extra serving

You’ve sworn off sweets, except for on special occasions. So those occasions tend to go overboard.

10. Food pushers —

When you visit your in-laws, they are always offering seconds, deserts, breads… no matter how full you are, you feel obligated to eat more

11. Fear of hunger –

You’re heading out the door to dinner with a friend, but realized you already feel hungry. Rather than wait a half an hour or so for your meal, you grab a snack to eat on the way.

You keep small snacks and tiny meals with you everywhere you go because the thought of being even a little hungry terrifies you.

12. “Need a break” eating —

You’ve been studying for hours, and you need a mental break. So you head to the fridge to whip up a snack.

You break up your long workday by snacks, enduring from one snack break to the next.

13. Last supper eating —

You’re planning on starting a new diet on Monday, so in the meantime, you eat everything and anything in sight.

14. Diet starved eating —

You finally gave up on a diet, and have been so deprived for so long that you just have to go get a hamburger… and large fries… and a milkshake… and a candy bar for the way home…. And you know you’ll probably do the same for a week.

15. Eating because you ate —

You weren’t actually hungry, but had a bite of that pizza. But since you started it, you might as well finish the whole slice.

You started a new diet with good intentions, but then forgot when someone offered you a bite of their desert, well, since you “screwed up” anyways, you might as well order your own desert.

16. Secret eating —

You eat really well when you’re in public and with others. But when it’s just you and the fridge, anything goes.

You eat a small amount at dinner, but then come home starving, so you hit the fridge and eat way too much.

17. Grazing and munching –

You are constantly snacking throughout the day. A little of this, a little of that, yet never truly satisfied.

18. Rebellious eating —

When you were young, there were a lot of food rules at your house, so now that you’re an adult, you are going to eat what you want, when you want. And nobody can stop you.

Your friend mentions that they are starting a new “healthy eating plan,” part of you feels guilty for not doing it too, but somehow it leads to you ordering desert in front of them, when you weren’t actually wanting desert.  

19. Autopilot eating —

If someone sets a bowl of nuts or chips down, you grab and munch. You’re halfway through the bowl before you even realize that you even ate. You don’t remember ever making a choice to eat that food, it just happened.

When you eat your meal, you eat everything that is set in front of you with no thought as to whether or not you are actually hungry. Your meal is over when the food is gone.

20. Worry and stress eating —

Your dear friend is in the hospital, and you feel helpless and worried sick. So you eat to ease the feeling.

You are waiting for a very important phone call and you’re not sure how its going to go, so you reach for chocolate to calm your mind.

21. Overboard foodie —

You love trying new things, visiting new restaurants, and sampling gourmet food. Unfortunately, you also often leave a dining experience feeling overfull and lethargic.

You are a great baker and love making new recipes. Unfortunately, that tends to lead to lots of trial runs and lots of leftovers. So naturally, you have to eat more to make sure they’re not going to waste.

22. Special occasion overeating —

It’s your birthday, so you order an appetizer, desert, and that special main dish. You may leave the meal feeling awful, but birthdays only come once a year, right?

Christmas isn’t the same without hot cocoa. Not once in a while, but every night for the entire season.

23. Energy boost —

You’ve been up all night with a sick baby and you just need an energy boost to get you through the day. So you grab the bag of chocolate chips from the freezer and graze throughout the day.

It’s 3 pm and you’re dragging, so you grab a bite to eat for a little pick me up.

24. Eating by the clock —

From when you wake up to when you go to bed, you eat every three hours around the clock. No exceptions.

You wake up and the first thing you do is eat breakfast, even though your meal last night was rather large and you don’t feel particularly hungry, it’s breakfast time.

Your lunch hour rolls around and you realize you’re not particularly hungry yet. But you eat anyways, because it’s time.

Once you know what is causing your overeating it becomes much easier to support yourself in resolving the underlying issues that propel us to overeat.

To download a condensed version of this checklist, plus an action guide for what to do next once you know your overeating triggers, click the pink box below: 

Click here for the “24 Reasons Why We Overeat” Checklist and Action Guide

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Ashley Palmer
Ashley is a Registered Nurse with a Master’s Degree in Human Nutrition. Ashley loves her son, her husband, and lifting heavy things then putting them back down repeatedly. She is a nutrition, fitness and weight loss coach and blogs at


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