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How to stop "overeating"

From holidays and celebrations to special occasions, many people indulge in eating a bigger meal than they’d normally eat from time to time. But for some people, eating much more than their body needs can become a common experience that creates disruption or distress.

When “overeating” becomes a weekly or daily occurrence it can cause additional physical and mental health concerns. But there are some ways to address and help reduce regular “overeating” episodes.

Food journaling, meal planning, and mindfulness practices can all help create an improved sense of awareness around food, eating, and potential triggers, helping someone gain added insight and control over their actions.

But if you or a loved one are experiencing these occasions alongside other concerns, including depression or anxiety, low self-esteem, or other types of disordered eating behavior, it may be a sign of an underlying medical condition, such as an eating disorder.

Learn more about Within's remote treatment program and how it can help you.

Get help today

Seeking out professional help in these cases is a crucial step for being as proactive as possible about your mental and physical health.

 minute read
Last updated on 
November 20, 2023
How to stop overeating
In this article

What is overeating?

“Overeating” is not an official medical condition, so its definition is open to interpretation, though it generally refers to eating more calories than the body needs for energy, or eating even after feeling full.1,2

The term is commonly lumped in with "compulsive overeating," though they have separate meanings. While “overeating” explains the simple act of eating beyond the amount of food the body requires, “compulsive overeating” is a more complex concept, involving habitual “overeating” episodes, despite negative consequences, as an attempt to help alleviate negative thoughts and emotions.3

“Overeating” also can get confused with binge eating, though, once again, the two are slightly different. Medically, binge eating constitutes the amount of food eaten over a certain period of time, and the behavior must be marked by the loss of a sense of control over how much or what is eaten, along with additional traits, such as eating rapidly or eating when not feeling physically hungry.4

How to stop overeating

What causes overeating?

In many cases, “overeating” is driven by social occasions that revolve around or heavily involve food, including holidays, celebrations, and other types of get-togethers.

But when the behavior becomes more regular, there can be additional causes and triggers behind it.

Emotional eating

Overeating symptoms & signs

Occasionally eating more than the body requires is a normal behavior with minimal consequences. But consistently “overeating” may have more noticeable impacts. One reason people ask how to stop “overeating” is to help alleviate some of these issues.

Common “overeating” symptoms include:1

  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Acid reflux
  • Heartburn
  • Gas
  • Fatigue
  • Bloating
  • Weight gain

Many signs of “overeating” are experienced directly by the person going through the eating episodes, including issues like stomach discomfort. Some people may also feel or express guilt or embarrassment about their eating behaviors.2

More outward signs that someone is struggling with “overeating,” or starting to binge eat, include:4

  • Eating large amounts of food in a short period of time
  • Eating much more rapidly than normal
  • Losing control over how much or what is eaten
  • Eating in private to hide behaviors
  • Eating until uncomfortably full
  • Eating a lot without feeling physically hungry

How to stop overeating

“Overeating” on a regular basis can take an emotional and physical toll. If you or a loved one are struggling with this behavior or find it becoming more severe or frequent, it may be a sign of an eating disorder. In these cases, it's vital to seek out professional help for what may be disordered eating or another psychological concern.

But there are some tips you can utilize to help you curb this behavior, before the point of entering therapy or alongside the new skills you learn in therapy sessions.

Practice mindful eating

Mindful eating is an element of mindfulness, a practice which implores people to remain in the present moment, experiencing and observing it without judgment. When applied to eating, this practice involves savoring food and paying attention to every detail of it, from its texture and smell to its taste and even any memories it may bring up.11

In general, the practice is thought to help people eat more slowly and increase attention, which can help counteract “overeating,” allowing the brain time to receive and respond to the body's hunger and satiety cues.11

Mindfulness practices in general have also been linked to stress reduction.15 Incorporating these behaviors and others that help alleviate stress can help cut off a powerful driver of “overeating.”

Start food journaling

Keeping a food journal is a classic way to help expand awareness around how much and what kind of food is being eaten, and when meals occur. This can not only help bring patterns of “overeating” to light, but help you understand what drives these patterns.

A good way to help flesh out psychological factors that may be at play is noting down how you're feeling when you're eating and how hungry you are when you start eating.8 You can also journal about events of the day, which may help you determine which situations may be driving these feelings or causing you stress.

Food journaling can also help you identify triggers, whether they be certain types of food that often lead to “overeating,” or certain emotions or situations that bring about these episodes.

Use meal planning

Meal planning may not be able to break the psychological connection between food and emotions, but it can help you get a more well-rounded diet that can promote a feeling of fullness throughout the day.

Eating foods high in protein and fiber, especially early on in the day, can increase feelings of fullness and reduce snacking throughout the day.12,13 And research has shown that eating regular meals throughout the day can also help reduce overall food intake.14 You can also make adjustments like adding more healthy snacks to your pantry.

Still, it's important to not eliminate foods you love completely. Restricting a diet too heavily can actually lead to binge eating behavior, and depriving yourself of foods you love on a regular basis promotes an unhealthy relationship with food.10

Mind your emotional state

“Overeating” may cause physical and emotional discomfort, but holding on to feelings of guilt, shame, or embarrassment about the behavior will only make you feel worse. Instead, try to treat setbacks as learning opportunities and focus on the positive aspects of what you're doing, like the progress you're making toward embracing healthier behaviors.8

If you're feeling sad, angry, upset, or otherwise triggered, you may also want to avoid going to a restaurant, the grocery store, or even your own pantry. Instead, try some other outlets for these types of emotions, like going for a walk, writing in a journal, or calling a friend.8

And if you're feeling the urge to eat, take a moment to think: Are you actually feeling hungry, or are you having an emotional reaction? Try to think of the last time you ate, and how much you ate, to see if your feelings of hunger make sense.8

Is overeating an eating disorder?

Despite sometimes being referred to as "overeating disorder”, “overeating”, in and of itself, is not an eating disorder. The term describes a type of behavior—eating beyond the energetic needs of the body—which may or may not be related to a specific mental health condition.

Rather, “overeating” can be better understood as a symptom of an eating disorder. In fact, “overeating,” in the form of binge eating, is a key aspect of binge-eating disorder (BED) and bulimia nervosa (BN), among other conditions.

Often, when presenting as part of an eating disorder, overeating functions as a maladaptive coping mechanism, a learned behavior that helps someone deal with the mental health issues they're facing as part of their condition.

Overeating in response to stress can have a similar function, but it doesn't account for the consistent disturbed or distressful thoughts about body image and eating that accompany and drive eating disorders.16

How to get help for overeating

If you or a loved one are struggling with “overeating” especially if you're also dealing with mental health concerns like depression or low self-esteem, it's important to seek out help.

Your primary care physician or a mental health professional can offer good places to start. These experts can screen you for additional eating disorder behaviors and give you an official diagnosis, if necessary, as well as direct you toward programs that can help you address any underlying issues that may be driving your “overeating” behavior.

Remote treatment for eating disorders

At Within, we also strive to help. Our team of multidisciplinary experts can help address the physical, psychological, and emotional aspects at play, and will create an individualized treatment plan based on your specific needs and history.

Our program offers several levels and types of care, as well, and our app and online tools make your treatment entirely accessible from home.

Get help today

Regardless of where you look for help, however, looking for it at all is the most important step you can take to stop “overeating.” Often, it's the first step on the way to a future where you feel healthier and happier.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.


  1. Overeating. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. 
  2. What Is Overeating? How to Control Your Portions. (2022, September 12). University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Accessed September 2023.
  3. Moore, C. F., Sabino, V., Koob, G. F., & Cottone, P. (2017). Pathological Overeating: Emerging Evidence for a Compulsivity Construct. Neuropsychopharmacology, 42(7), 1375–1389.
  4. DSM-IV and DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for binge-eating disorder. (2015). Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Accessed September 2023. 
  5. Fuente González, C. E., Chávez-Servín, J. L., de la Torre-Carbot, K., Ronquillo González, D., Aguilera Barreiro, M. L. Á., & Ojeda Navarro, L. R. (2022). Relationship between Emotional Eating, Consumption of Hyperpalatable Energy-Dense Foods, and Indicators of Nutritional Status: A Systematic Review. Journal of Obesity, 4243868. 
  6. Reichenberger, J., Schnepper, R., Arend, A. K., & Blechert, J. (2020). Emotional eating in healthy individuals and patients with an eating disorder: evidence from psychometric, experimental and naturalistic studies. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 79(3), 290–299.
  7. Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS): What it is & function. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. 
  8. Tips to stop emotional eating. (2022, December 2). Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 
  9. Disordered Eating & Dieting. (n.d.). National Eating Disorders Collaboration. Accessed September 2023. 
  10. Stewart, T. M., Martin, C. K., & Williamson, D. A. (2022). The Complicated Relationship between Dieting, Dietary Restraint, Caloric Restriction, and Eating Disorders: Is a Shift in Public Health Messaging Warranted? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(1), 491.
  11. Godman, H. (2022, March 28). Overeating? Mindfulness exercises may help. Harvard Health Publishing. Accessed September 2023. 
  12. Leidy, H. J., Ortinau, L. C., Douglas, S. M., & Hoertel, H. A. (2013). Beneficial effects of a higher-protein breakfast on the appetitive, hormonal, and neural signals controlling energy intake regulation in overweight/obese, "breakfast-skipping," late-adolescent girls. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 97(4), 677–688.
  13. Geliebter, A., Grillot, C. L., Aviram-Friedman, R., Haq, S., Yahav, E., & Hashim, S. A. (2015). Effects of oatmeal and corn flakes cereal breakfasts on satiety, gastric emptying, glucose, and appetite-related hormones. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism, 66(2-3), 93–103.
  14. La Bounty, P. M., Campbell, B. I., Wilson, J., Galvan, E., Berardi, J., Kleiner, S. M., Kreider, R. B., Stout, J. R., Ziegenfuss, T., Spano, M., Smith, A., & Antonio, J. (2011). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: meal frequency. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 8, 4.
  15. Khoury, B., Sharma, M., Rush, S.E., Fournier, C. (2015). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for healthy individuals: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 78(6), 519-528. 
  16. What are eating disorders? (n.d.). Psychiatry.org.


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