A few years ago, I stopped overeating. By doing that, I lost around 50 pounds.
I had overeaten for pretty much my entire life until then. I hadn’t even realized I had been doing it. I thought I was just eating “normally.”
Looking back on those days, I had this realization. Overeating IS normal in our culture.
That’s why obesity rates in the United States and elsewhere keep going up. And the US diet industry was $64 billion in 2014. $64 billion!
All you have to do is look around you to see why this is. It’s because we accept overeating as a way of life.
When I say “overeating,” I mean two things: continuing to eat until your stomach feels distended and overly full, or eating when you aren’t hungry.
Notice yourself when you’re eating. Be the observer and watch what you do without judgment. Do you eat regardless of whether you are hungry? Do you keep eating because something tastes good, even though you know you’ll feel like crap if you don’t stop? Or do you listen to your body’s signals and stop when sated? Don’t berate yourself. Just observe, like a scientist.
Observe other people eating. Notice how a few different people eat.
Here’s what I bet you’ll notice. Most people overeat regularly. Like the former me, they don’t think about it and probably barely realize what they're doing, except when they really stuff themselves, like on Thanksgiving. That's because we consider it normal. By the way, I don’t overeat on Thanksgiving anymore. But I’m the only one at the table who doesn’t!
I’ll give you some examples. First, there’s someone I’ll call Emma. Emma is a diet-thin eater. She takes pride in being able to keep herself from becoming fat and talks about others who don’t as “letting themselves go.”
But Emma is a habitual overeater. She’s a victim of the cultural norm of overeating. At any given time, she’s either overeating or dieting.
Emma is usually depriving herself of various foods that she loves. Then when she arrives someplace where there is free food, especially sweets, she almost always eats some, regardless of whether she’s hungry. Deprivation makes us want those "forbidden foods" more.
At meals, Emma usually cleans her plate, regardless of how much food she’s served. She was taught not to waste food, but wasn’t taught that eating food after her body has had enough is more of a waste than throwing the food away. I call that using your body as a trash can.
Because she eats without paying attention to her body’s signals, Emma gains weight. Then she goes on a diet and eventually loses it. That’s why I call Emma “diet-thin.” There is a lot of research confirming that yo-yo dieting can be worse for your health than being overweight.
The next example is Marie. Marie overeats the way Emma does, except that when she tries the diet and deprivation thing, she loses her resolve before she loses much weight. If you observe other people as I suggested, you’ll notice that lots of people overeat like Emma and Marie. Marie just keeps gaining, putting herself at risk of obesity-related illnesses. Emma puts herself through the misery of one strict diet after another.
The last example I’ll call Leslie. Observing people like Leslie has taught me the most. Unfortunately, nowadays these people are the outliers—they actually eat in response to their body’s hunger and fullness signals and stay a healthy weight without dieting or obsessing about food.
Leslie eats what she loves. She doesn’t think about how many calories or carbs are in her food. She doesn’t eat just because “it’s there.” If you offer her a chocolate chip cookie when she isn’t hungry, she’ll say “No, thank you.” She knows that there is no shortage of yummy food around that she can have when she is hungry for it.
Leslie doesn’t gain weight because she doesn’t overeat. In fact, she doesn’t like that crappy stuffed feeling that comes with overeating so she stops when she feels lightly full.
It’s easy to see why most of us eat like Emma or Marie. We are the recipients of billions of dollars of constant food marketing, mostly for junk food and fast food. We’re told to eat because it’s there. We’re served ridiculously large portions because people actually believe that they are receiving more value for their money that way. The purveyors of unhealthy food not only target their advertising to us, but also to very young children.
So what happens? We learn from an early age to disconnect hunger and eating. We eat for entertainment. We eat because we’re bored. We eat to distract ourselves from our problems, rather than solving them.
We develop bad eating habits, and become members of the culture of overeating. And we become overweight. And we go on diets, which usually just make us fatter.
What really fascinates me is that when someone drinks too much alcohol, we notice and we see it as a problem. We think they need help. But when people consume too much food, that’s normal.
As someone who has learned to eat like Leslie, I have concluded that it’s time we stopped treating overeating like it’s normal. Let’s start noticing how we eat, and why. Then let’s practice eating the way Leslie does. I assure you that if you do that, you WILL lose weight without dieting or giving up the foods you love. You’ll be able to stop obsessing about food and your body. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
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