Overeating --Why You Eat Too Much --
Causes and Cures
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July 18, 2009, last updated May 23, 2016

By Susan M. Callahan, Health Editor and Featured Columnist

Ever wonder why some of us never eat more than we have
to, while others can't seem to stop eating, long after we are
full? We can't stop eating until we literally are bursting at
the seams, and have to unbutton our pants to give our
bellies more room.  

Why is it that you can be totally under control with your
eating until, suddenly, one day out of the blue, you want to
eat everything in sight? You simply can't stop overeating.
And why is it that creep out of our beds at night to eat
more? Why do so many of us overeat at night?

The Size of Your Stomach

You probably have heard the rule of thumb that your
stomach is about the size of your fist. Some sources also
approximate the size of the stomach as about the size of a
football. However, the average size of the human stomach
has actually been the subject of some debate. One of the
most detailed studies was completed over 60 years ago in
1945 by Dr. Alan Cox of the
Stanford Medical School. In that
study, Dr. Cox found that the size of the human stomach
does not vary much after you become an adult, and does not
vary that much between men and women.

However, other studies disagree. These studies show that,
even if the "normal" size of every person's stomach is about
the same, that eating too much or eating too little can indeed
"stretch" or "shrink" your stomach. For example, one 1996
study from doctors at Columbia University College of
Physicians and Surgeons found that obese people who were
put on a restricted diet of 600 calories a day for 4 weeks lost
36% of their stomach capacity.

There is also a correlation between the size of your stomach
are various diseases and conditions. For example, a person
with diabetes mellitus have a stomach size about 23% larger
than someone who does not have diabetes. Here, we don't
know the cause-and-effect relationship. That is, we don't
know whether diabetes makes the stomachs of diabetics
larger. Or, does the fact that you already have a larger
stomach mean that you eat more, which in turn leads to
higher rates of diabetes?

Whatever the cause-and-effect relationship, you should be
take care to not eat more than a normal stomach is designed
to hold. That means, you should try to limit the size of your
meals to the amount that can be comfortably fitted into a
medium bowl. That's it. Anything more is asking for trouble.

Why? The answer lies in how your body knows when to
stop eating. How do you know when you're full? Normally,
when you eat and fill your stomach to capacity, the
stretched muscles of the stomach pouch send a signal to
your brain which tell your brain "I'm full".  You then feel
uncomfortable and stop eating. In fact, if you continue
eating beyond this point, you feel nauseous and may throw

However, many studies have found that, if you practice by
overeating, you can train your body to delay the nausea
response. That is why those men and women who engage in
the hot dog eating contests are able to devour 60 or more
hot dogs in one setting. Over time, they have obliterated the
natural "stop eating" mechanisms of their bodies.

Why Do We Overeat?

Research from several universities from around the world
has found some startling clues as to why we overeat.

Drawing on that research, we have compiled the Top 10  
Reasons You Overeat and the natural remedies that can help
you stop eating too much.  You'll find that many of these
simple rules of eating are followed subconsciously by people
who are skinny:

Sugar.  Sugar is a leading cause of over-eating. Sugar
acts like an opiate in your body, and , much like other drugs,
causes addictive behavior. Sugar increases your appetite. A
2002 study from Princeton University found that mice who
repeatedly eat excessive amounts of sugar become addicted,
to the point where denial of sugar to them caused
behavioral and neurochemical signs of opiod withdrawal.  
They displayed severe  anxiety when they were denied their
sugar quotas.  The symptoms of anxiety and DA/ACh
imbalance were qualitatively similar to withdrawal from
morphine or nicotine.  

Diet Sodas and Diet Drinks.  Diet sodas increase your
appetite and sugar dependency. That is, it's not just the
actual sugar which causes an increase in your appetite. The
mere taste of sugar increases your appetite and sugar
dependency.  In 2008, researchers at Princeton University
found that mice who were given a "sham feeding" of sugar,
nevertheless developed sugar dependency. In a "sham
feeding, a feeding tube exits the stomach, so that no actual
sugar is ingested-- just the taste.  The researchers found
that, even though no actual sugar reached the stomachs, the
mere taste of sugar can increase extracellular dopamine,
causing sugar dependency.

The real-world equivalent of a "sham feeding"? Eating sweet
food with zero sugar in it. Diet sodas. Diet cookies. Diet
candy. All these can trigger increases in your appetite and
increase your dependency on sugar.  As a result, you will eat
more than someone without a "sweet tooth".  Bottom line:
"Sugar free" is not a green light to eat. In fact, it may be the
red light which sabotages your plans for long-term weight

Not Enough Volume.  People who eat food with more
volume, but with the same amount of calories, eat less.  
Even if the volume is made up of just air.  

In 2000, researchers at Pennsylvania State University fed
women 3 different yogurt-based milk shakes for breakfast
mixed with different volumes of air so that the ultimate
shakes had 3 sizes-- 300 ml, 450, ml and 600 ml a day.
Other than the air mixed in, the shakes were identical in
ingredients and calories. The results were startling. The
women who drank shakes with the most air ate an average
of 12% fewer calories at lunch later in the day, when
compared with the women who drank the smallest shakes.
These woman also reported being less hungry than the
women who drank the smallest shakes.

How can you incorporate this dieting tip into your daily life?
Start your day with a shake of plain yogurt and a cup of
blueberries or a half a banana. Blend the shake long enough
to increase the "frothiness", usually at least 45 seconds on
medium to high speed.

Not Enough Protein. Protein satisfies the appetite more
than carbohydrates. We should eat about 4 ounces of
protein for each of our 3 main meals.  The protein you
choose should be high quality, low fat protein for best
weight loss results-- skinless chicken, turkey, fish, soy
burgers and

Not Enough Time. It takes 20 minutes between the time
you finish eating before your body knows that you have
eaten. During that 20 minutes your food makes it down into
your stomach. Your stomach is only about the size of your
fist. When it gets full, it stretches a little, and a signal is sent
from your stomach to your brain, telling your brain to
release chemicals that tell you "You're full, stop eating". One
way to slow your eating down is to put your fork down
between bites. Finish chewing and swallowing before you
pick up your fork or spoon again.  It may also help you if
you try to chew at least 20 times per bite.

Dehydration. Many people confuse being thirst with being
hungry. Make sure that you
drink 8 glasses of water a day.
Most of us drink between 3 and 4 glasses a day. We literally
are walking around thirsty. When we eat, we get some
water from the food itself but this is not nearly enough.  So,
start your meal with a glass of water --before you eat. You'll
end up eating far less.


Eat Soup Before Your Meal to Reduce Overeating

Several studies have found that people who eat soup before
they eat a meal end up eating far less. A 2011 study from
Pennsylvania State University found that children who were
fed 150 grams of soup prior to eating a meal ate far less. In
particular, the researchers noted that children who are fed
vegetable soup prior to a meal ended up eating far less

Other, earlier studies have also found that eating soup
dampens your appetite. A 2007 study also from
Pennsylvania State University of 60 adults found that eating
any type of soup --watery, chunky, broth, anything ---
lowered the amount of calories alter eaten by 20%.]

Too Much White Food. Refined carbohydrates stimulate
your appetite. The reason is that, inside your body, refined
carbohydrates are converted to glucose. In fact, some
refined carboihydrates convert to glucose as fast as white
table sugar. Most of these fast0covreting carbohydrates are
white foods. Don't eat any white foods for a week and you'll
feel calmer (white sugar, white bread, white rice, potatoes
or pasta). The sugar in white foods drives up your blood
sugar levels which is why you overeat.

Not Enough Fiber.  High fiber foods make your digestive
system work.  Some types of fiber are in fact indigestible.
But your digestive system doesn't know this. So, your
stomach spends time trying to break down the fiber. Your
intestines spend time trying to massage the fiber into
submission. To no avail of course. But the process of
attempting to break down fiber slows digestion overall. As a
result, you feel full. And you eat less. Also, some fiber
absorbs water and oil, becoming sponge-like in your
stomach and intestines, taking up space. That in itself also
makes you feel full.

New research has found that a certain kind of fiber may just
be a superfood for weight loss. Fermentable fiber is fiber
which is fermented in your colon, releasing acetate. One
cuch fermentable fiber is inulin, contained naturally infoods
such as chicory and artichokes. (Read more about
artichokes' ability to "turn off" your appetite.)

Excess Anxiety. Anxiety makes you overeat. It is the
underlying cause of much overeating, especially at night. We
overeat at night because, during the day, activities distract
us from the stress we feel. Too bust to worry. But, at night,
when the day slows down, our worries catch up with us.  
Stress and anxiety are natural parts of life.  

Since the time we were infants, we have been on a lifelong
quest to find ways to soothe anxiety.  Our mothers used to
do it for us, feeding us, stroking our cheeks, humming to us,
patting pour backs while she rocked us on her knee.  

But once we grow up, of course, we have to learn how to
self-soothe. Many of us never do. We use food to soothe our
daily anxiety.  If you are to be successful in managing your
body weight, you have to consciously develop ways to
self-soothe other than food.

Start out with recreating what used to work when we were
infants. A nice, warm bubble bath is one of the best ways to
soothe anxiety.

Include a bath at least 3 times a week to build up your
reserves of calm. Walking and other daily exercise is another
excellent way to soothe anxiety. After walking about 30
minutes continuously, you may notice that you take an
involuntary deep breath. That's the anxiety leaving your

The key is to find the emotional trigger that is causing you to
overeat. Some people overeat because they are anxious and
they use food as a sedative. Others overeat because they are
bored and use food almost as a distraction from life. Either
way, you have to self-analyze to try to get to the bottom of
the reason you are overeating. Then, once you get to that
reason, you can develop alternative ways to soothe yourself
or calm your self down or find entertainment.

Too Much Variety. Variety may be the spice of life, but it
also may be what's sabotaging your diet. Studies have found
that people who eat the same things tend to eat less. They
speculate that the reason this is so is that a lot of variety in
our foods stimulates the appetite, with the result that we eat
more calories over the course of the month. So, make a
decision what you like for breakfast. And stick with it for a
month. Boredom helps to de-stimulate your appetite, helping
you to eat less.

You Neglect to Weigh Yourself Every Day. Weighing
yourself everyday is associated with more weight loss,
according to a 2016 study led by Dr. Dori Steinberg of the
Duke Obesity Prevention Program, Duke Global Health
Institute, Duke University.

The study asked 47 overweight men and women to weigh
themselves. Half weighed themselves daily. The other half
weighed themselves an average of 5 days per week. At the
end of six months, the group which weighed themselves
everyday had lost 6.6 kilograms (13.4 pounds ) more than
those who weighed themselves 5 days a week.

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