We all overeat sometimes, and yes, of course I do too. Being a dietitian doesn’t exclude me from typical human behavior!

Some triggers for overeating are obvious, such as being around food that you love, or certain holidays (think Thanksgiving). The following are some overeating triggers that you may not have thought of, but probably should.

You’re thirsty

Ever crave ice cream? Have a drink of water first, because some ice cream cravings are nothing more than fluid cravings! Being thirsty is widely mistaken for being hungry, and if you aren’t getting enough water or other fluids during the day, you may be increasing your food intake to compensate.

The lesson? Make sure you’re getting 6-8 cups of fluids a day (preferably water or other non-caloric ones).

You’re distracted

Eating a bag of chips in front of the TV. Scarfing down a can of nuts while you’re driving. Eating your entire dinner in 12 seconds while reading your I Pad. Distraction is a common reason for overeating, and even though you might be hungry in the car, eating in there not only distracts you from how much you’re consuming, it also distracts you from driving…which requires your full attention!

The lesson? Eat mindfully. I know ‘mindful’ is such a buzzword these days, but you know I’m right when I say to put down the I Pad, turn off the TV, or get out of the car before you eat. Concentrate on what you’re putting in your body, and on your natural hunger and satiety cues. Remember those?

You’re tired

Oh boy, how many new moms (and dads) know this one well? When you’re tired, your body goes looking for quick energy, which is why after a terrible nights’ sleep, most people crave starchy or sweet foods. When you’re tired, you lose focus on eating as well, and you tend to get lazy about making healthy meals – both of which don’t bode very well for the portion control/good choices part of eating healthy.

The lesson? Go to sleep! Practice good sleep hygiene and turn your phone/I Pad/computer /TV off an hour before bed, and establish a healthy bedtime routine.

You have the ‘Licensing Effect’.

Do you go to the gym and then eat more because you think you deserve it? There are so many of you who do this that the behavior actually has a name: the Licensing Effect. That basically means that you treat yourself with food because you think you deserve it after working hard. Also a big fan of the Licensing Effect: those of you who reward yourselves with a big bag of candy while you’re studying or doing some unpleasant task.

The lesson? Come on, you don’t deserve to eat a Chipotle burrito just because you went to the gym. Are you serious?

Your food placement is all wrong

You eat what you see, as I always say, so if your unhealthy foods are prominently displayed in your home or office, guess who is more likely to mindlessly munch all day long?

I could never understand how people could have huge candy bowls and clear glass cookie jars stocked with cookies lying around their counters.

The lesson? Keep the junk in a high cabinet, or better yet don’t buy it at all! Make fresh, whole foods the focus of your kitchen. Put healthy snacks front and centre in the fridge and on the counter, and arrange the other kitchen spaces so that the healthy choices are the first things you see.


Overeating is inevitable for all of us, but making it happen less frequently can be a matter of making a few small changes.