12 Tips For Beating the Social Overeating Habit

Post written by Leo Babauta.

While I’ve learned to eat much healthier over the last six or seven years, one of my biggest challenges has been overeating on social occasions.

There are holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but there are many more: my kids’ birthday parties, going out to dinner with my wife Eva, get-togethers with friends, social gatherings of business colleagues, drinking with best friends.

I’ve always tended to overeat, because:

  1. I am distracted by conversation and so I eat mindlessly; and
  2. unlike at home, where I’ve created a healthy eating environment, I tend to be surrounded at these occasions by boatloads of tempting but unhealthy foods.

I’ve gotten better recently, though, and have been teaching myself healthier habits.

My main habit is simple on the surface: mindful eating.

Mindful eating is simply being aware of your eating, of your body’s actual hunger signals as opposed to your brain saying “eat all that sugar and fried stuff!”, of your urges to eat more when you’re not hungry, of your snacking even when your stomach isn’t asking for more.

Mindful eating is eating slowly, fully tasting the food, appreciating every bite, being conscious of what you’re putting into your body, savoring but not overdoing.

Mindful eating, though, can be tough to do when you are distracted by talking to friends and family. So I asked readers (on Google+) to share their tips for beating the social overeating habit. You came up with some great ones.

I share these tips in hopes that you’ll find use for them during these holidays, and beyond.

  1. Constant awareness of bodily feedback and sensation. Ask yourself, “Am I hungry? Do I need more? Etc.” Being aware of your body’s hunger signals is a skill that has been overridden by years of overeating due to food reward properties like sugar, salt, fat, etc., but it’s a skill that can be relearned with practice. (from Brian Johnson)
  2. Don’t go to an event hungry. Eat something healthy and at least somewhat filling before you go. This way you’re less likely to mindlessly snack. This was one of the most popular tips submitted by readers, including Cyndi Pauwels, Cameron Chapman and many others.
  3. Eat until you’re 80 percent full. This is a cultural habit that the Okinawans have, and it famously helps them stay healthy well into old age. (from Leo)
  4. Don’t linger near the food table. Make a conscious choice to eat whatever you want to eat, but don’t eat just because other people are eating or because it’s convenient. (from Cameron Chapman)
  5. Actually engage socially with someone. If your mouth is talking, it can’t eat. (from Kenneth Cummins)
  6. At a standing event, keep one hand in your pocket, and the other holding a glass of water. Unless it’s a high-end, Roman-esque event with personal serving maidens, you can’t eat what you can’t pick up. (from Kenneth Cummins)
  7. Cheat without guilt. For one or two occasions a year, allow yourself to eat as much as you want, which doesn’t necessarily mean to stuff yourself, but to eat without thinking too much about consequences. Two big meals on Christmas or similar occasions don’t spoil a year-long habit of healthy eating. Don`t overanalyze, just enjoy, without any bad conscience. (from Alessandro Shobeazzo)
  8. Plan behavior beforehand, and plan it specifically. If going to a place of feasting (holiday, buffet, free lunch, etc), make a specific plan for what you will allow yourself to do. For example, plan to eat a good portion of protein, one starch, and lots of green vegetables. With your plan, you can then acknowledge the urge to overeat, but not give in. Make sure to make a specific plan BEFORE the event and NOT on an empty stomach. (from Jonathan Pishner)
  9. Place your two palms together. Whatever fits in between is the approximate size of your stomach. Project that on to your plate and put only this much food on it. (from Ivan Staroversky)
  10. Drink lots of water and eat s-l-o-w-l-y. Eating slowly allows you time to hear the faint but clear ‘enough! enough!’ cries coming from the belly. (from maggie dodson and Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti)
  11. Get over the idea of finishing your plate and be stubborn about stopping when you’re full. Most people are conditioned from childhood to finish everything on their plate so will keep eating when full. Be warned though that other people will sometimes get upset at you for not eating everything. Stick to ‘it was great but I can’t fit anymore in’ until they move on. (from Rhiiannon Dwyer)
  12. Try to count up to 15 chews per each mouthful. That will really slow you down. (from Hudson Gardner)