How to Address the Psychology of Overeating in 10 Science-Backed Steps

the psychology behind overeating: 10 psychological reasons for overeating rooted in thoughts, feelings, & beliefs

Delving into the psychological reasons for overeating can provide us with profound insights – far more than focusing on food or exercise. While eating well and moving our bodies are undoubtedly helpful steps for overall wellness, it does not address the psychology behind overeating tendencies.

Someone can have the knowledge to make healthy, informed dietary and exercise choices, and yet compulsively do the opposite of what they intend. To me, this describes the ‘compulsion’ behind compulsive eating. To gain traction with stopping unwanted eating patterns, it is far more effective to turn to the psychology of overeating instead of dieting. 

By shedding light on the underlying factors that drive overeating, we can embark on a transformative journey towards long-term behavior change. After all, clinical studies have shown that diets don’t work long-term.[1] It is time we turned our attention to the elements that motivate our actions: our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs — aka, our psychology.

The Psychology of Overeating Explained

Before we dive into the psychological reasons for overeating, I’d like to explain the most prevalent one: emotional eating. While there are many types of emotional eating such as boredom eating or guilty eating, a defining characteristic of emotional eating is using food to cope with difficult emotions rather than addressing them directly.

For example, compulsive snacking is a common problem, especially in the workplace where there are a bounty of stressors. Individuals in high-stress workplaces often cannot take a break (though they should) which means that these difficult emotions have no time nor space to be expressed. 

Instead of constructively coping with these emotions, it is common to feel pushed towards food – either consciously or subconsciously – to avoid or “numb” negative emotions. When the drive to overeat to avoid emotion happens subconsciously, individuals may berate themselves as having low willpower or “weakness” around food.

However, when we look at the psychology of overeating, we often find that individuals have plenty of willpower; they just lack the right tool to demonstrate it.

Overeaters often feel like they lack willpower because diets don’t work — but the diet industry doesn’t tell us this. (They make a lot of money not telling us this.) One of the biggest reasons why restrictive diets like Weight Watchers don’t work is because the body is wired to rebel against restriction.

When the body doesn’t get enough food, it ramps up production of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, while simultaneously decreasing production of the fullness hormone, leptin.[2] While dieting, you’re left feeling hungrier than normal and less satisfied. It’s no wonder you reach for food – your body needs it.

The problem happens when we overeat after a period of restriction, fueling the restrict-binge cycle and constantly gaining and losing weight (“weight cycling”). Even someone with higher-than-average willpower cannot white-knuckle their way past biology. When the body needs to eat, it will do everything it can to motivate eating.

But what if you already eat enough? What if you’ve already given up dieting and still struggle with mastering how to stop eating when full? This is where the psychology of overeating comes into play. Once biology has been addressed, the layer to unravel is emotional eating. There are many ways that we consciously or subconsciously use food to avoid negative emotion, and the psychological reasons for overeating listed below unpack the most common ones.

Psychological Reasons for Overeating: Mastering Your Mindset

Exploring the various psychological reasons for overeating can provide you with a deeper understanding of your own behaviors and motivations around food. By gaining insights into the underlying factors that contribute to overeating habits, you can pave the way for effective interventions and long-term behavior change.

Here are some of the most common psychological reasons for overeating:

1. Limiting Beliefs Are Fueling Self-Sabotage by Overeating

One of the biggest psychological reasons for overeating is somehow getting a greater positive benefit from struggling with overeating than being without the problem. I know this sounds preposterous — after all, how can overeating (which is often the bane of one’s existence) provide any kind of positive benefit?

Yet, when we peel back the layers, we can find some convoluted way that food is providing protection or some other benefit. All of this happens subconsciously though, and that’s another reason why overeating is so frustrating. When we aren’t aware of the beliefs driving self-sabotage around food, we remain stuck in the cycle all while beating ourselves up for supposedly lacking willpower.

Now, what does all of this look like? What does it mean when we get a greater benefit from overeating? Let’s use an example that drills straight into the heart of it: the human need for connection. Humans are wired for connection, and if that connection is threatened by losing weight, we may self-sabotage.

For example, if someone has friendships build on the shared struggle with weight loss, and those friends start to create distance once you lose weight, you won’t want it to happen. If you value connection more than weight loss, the benefit of connection will outweigh the benefit of stopping overeating.

This is why it’s important to become aware of the limiting beliefs you might be holding around food, weight, and body image. Until you know what your “positive benefits” are, it remains difficult to stop self-sabotage patterns around weight loss.

2. Emotional Hunger Is Confused with Physical Hunger

While hunger itself is biological, emotional hunger is psychological. However, even when emotional hunger leads to emotional eating, there could be another layer for people with long histories of dieting.

If you have lots of experience following food rules and denying your hunger while on a diet, you might have detached from physical hunger out of necessity – after all, it’s a requisite of most diets. For those who have long histories of dieting, you may have completely lost touch of what hunger feels like, making it difficult to differentiate between emotional and physical hunger.

emotional hunger: can occur suddenly, crave a specific food, often occurs with mindless eating
physical hunger: happens gradually, satisfied by any food, growling stomach or low energy
  • Physical hungeris the body’s biological signal for energy replenishment. It typically develops gradually and can manifest as physical sensations such as an empty feeling or growling in the stomach, light-headedness, or difficulty concentrating. 
  • Emotional hunger, in contrast, is driven by emotions rather than the body’s need for sustenance. It can emerge suddenly and intensely in response to strong emotions, whether negative or positive. 

Physical hunger can be accompanied by a craving for a specific food, but it can be quelled by any type of substantial, nourishing food. Emotional hunger, however, is often associated with specific cravings for comfort foods high in sugar, fat, or both – and sometimes it can persist if the specific craved food is not eaten.[3]

3. Stress Triggers Hormones That Can Lead to Overeating

Stress can impact overeating behaviors, mainly through its effect on hormone release. The hormone cortisol, known as the “stress hormone,” is released when you are under stress. This hormone has been linked to increased appetite and a preference for high-calorie “comfort foods.” [4] Indeed, emotional eating is just as biological as it is psychological.

Moreover, stress influences the hormone insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels. When cortisol levels rise, they can contribute to insulin resistance, a condition where the body’s cells don’t respond effectively to insulin. As a result, individuals might feel hungrier and crave foods high in carbohydrates and sugar.

Furthermore, prolonged or chronic stress can lead to an increase in ghrelin levels and a decrease in leptin sensitivity.[5] This hormonal imbalance can heighten hunger and reduced fullness, potentially triggering overeating.

If you find yourself craving comfort foods when you’re stressed, stress hormones could be the culprit. It’s a great example of how a psychological trigger for overeating can have a biological impact on the body.

4. The Restrict-Binge Cycle & The Psychology of Overeating

Overeating is often accompanied by yo-yo dieting, or phases of restrictive eating and weight loss followed by overeating and weight gain. Other phrases for this phenomenon include weight cycling and the restrict-binge cycle.

While it may seem like a result of low willpower, the restrict-binge cycle is actually caused by a complex cascade of biological and psychological triggers. On a biological level, food restriction increases levels of ghrelin, the “hunger hormone,” triggering cravings and feelings of hunger that are even more heightened.[6] This hormonal response is a survival mechanism, driving us to seek out high-calorie, high-reward foods to ensure our energy needs are met.

Psychologically, restriction triggers feelings of deprivation, which can increase preoccupation with food and subsequent overeating. Studies have shown that, when we restrict certain foods, we become even more preoccupied with them.[7]

When we make a food off-limits, we also give it more “air time,” which increases the likelihood of overeating.

It helps to view all foods as neutral, instead of in terms of “good” and “bad.” If you label chocolate as “bad” and try to resist it, you’ll only want it more.[8] Instead of using your willpower to resist certain foods, which does not work, redirect your willpower to the psychology of overeating. There will be plenty of tips coming up to help you put these concepts into action!

5. Seeking Foods High in Fat, Sugar, or Carbs Could Be “Hedonic Eating”

Hedonic eating, also known as “eating for pleasure,” is deeply intertwined with the psychology of overeating and the reward process in the brain. When high-reward foods are consumed — such as those rich in fat, carbs, or sugar — it triggers a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward.[9]

When we engage in this type of eating, the brain associates the consumption of high-reward foods with a pleasurable experience, creating a strong desire to repeat the behavior.[10] This is partly the reason why we find it challenging to resist or stop eating foods rich in fat, carbs, or sugar once we start.

The reward process also contributes to the formation of habits in relation to hedonic eating. Each time we indulge in these foods, our brain commits the experience to memory and associates it with pleasure.[11] This creates a reinforcing loop that can lead to a habit of overeating and reaching for high-reward foods.

6. The Fear Wasting Food Is One of the Biggest Psychological Reasons for Overeating

Some of us overeat because we feel a deep sense of guilt if we don’t eat every last bit of food on our plate. The fear of wasting food can be significant. To exacerbate the problem, restaurants serve portions larger than necessary, which can lead to frequent overeating when dining out.

Hedonic eating can also contribute to the fear of wasting food. If you’re anything like me, you don’t like the idea of sacrificing the flavor in a meal (i.e. the pleasure of a meal) by saving it for later. “It would just be better if I eat it now,” I used to argue with myself. This is an example of how the pursuit of pleasure, or resistance to feelings of deprivation, can drive the psychology of overeating.

The fear of wasting food can also be driven by early childhood experiences. Perhaps you were forced to finish your plate before you could be excused from the table. Early family dynamics can heavily reinforce eating behaviors well into adulthood, perpetuating one of the biggest psychological reasons for overeating.

7. Sugar Addiction May or May Not Have a Place in Eating Psychology

Sugar addiction is a controversial topic in the debate over the psychology of overeating. While some studies argue that sugar possesses addictive qualities stronger than drug addiction, other studies question the validity of food addiction as a reason for overeating.[12], [13] Let’s explore both sides of the argument.

Proponents of sugar addiction argue that sugar can trigger a release of dopamine in the brain similar to addictive substances like drugs, which reinforces the desire to seek out more sugar. Over time, individuals may develop a tolerance to sugar, requiring larger amounts to experience the same level of satisfaction. 

On the other side of the argument, a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition reviewed the evidence surrounding sugar addiction and found “little evidence” for its existence in humans.[14] Why? Because most studies conducted on sugar addiction were conducted in rats.

The study suggested that addiction-like behaviors associated with sugar, such as overeating, are more likely caused by intermittent access to sugar rather than the neurochemical effects of sugar itself.

In other words, while the clinical evidence in support of sugar addiction is weak, there is strong evidence that restricting sugar leads to overeating sugar.7, 8, 12

Instead of focusing on whether or not sugar is addicting, let’s shift our focus to the psychology of overeating. I talk more about this in my workbook, Stopping Sugar Addiction the Psycho-Spiritual Way, which dives deep into the psychology of sugar cravings — and I don’t discredit the addicting qualities of sugar, either.

If hedonic eating taught us anything, it’s that sugar triggers a fierce reward circuit in the brain. However, instead of getting hung up here, I illustrate a more powerful way to apply the psychology of overeating.

8. Eating Too Fast Can Lead to Overeating

When we eat quickly, we often don’t have enough time to register feelings of fullness, which can lead to consuming more food than necessary. Studies have even found that eating while distracted not only leads to overeating in the moment but also leads to overeating later on.[15]

Mindful eating, therefore, is often recommended as a solution to help stop distraction-related overeating. However, in my experience, compulsion can make mindful eating challenging and, because overeating is often compulsive, I find mindful eating ineffective, at least for myself and the majority of my coaching clients.

Here’s a video where I explain this further and offer a different tool to try instead:

The good news is that you don’t have to force yourself to eat mindfully in order to slow down your eating. According to renowned author in the field of emotional eating, Geneen Roth, “The way we do one thing is often the way we do everything.”

This means that slowing down other aspects of your life can inadvertently lead to eating slower as well. If you’re someone that rushes from one thing to the next, learning how to slow down your day may have a positive effect on your eating habits. This is a great example of addressing the psychological reasons for overeating without resorting to dieting.

9. Satisfaction Is Not a Luxury — It’s a Necessity to Stop Overeating

Satisfaction goes beyond mere physical fullness and encompasses mealtime enjoyment, pleasure, and contentment. When we feel satisfied at the end of a meal, both physically and emotionally, we’re more likely to stop eating and move onto the next activity.

However, when dieters continuously deprive themselves of the foods they find satisfying, they create a state of dissatisfaction. Even if they are physically full, the lack of satisfaction after eating can leave them unfulfilled and craving the very foods they have been denying.

If you lack satisfaction in eating, you may find yourself following patterns of “eating around.” This describes eating everything but the item you want in order to avoid “bad” foods. For example, burritos used to be one of my forbidden foods, because I knew that I could not stop halfway – I would always eat the entire thing.

When faced with a craving for a burrito, I’d have something else for dinner like a calorie-controlled Lean Cuisine. After finishing that and feeling unsatisfied, I’d set out to find healthy and well-meaning snacks – like pita chips with hummus or rice cakes – to take the edge off my emotional hunger.

However, after all was said and done, I’d still feel unsatisfied and would go out and get the burrito I was initially craving and eat the entire thing. The final result was eating more food overall – the Lean Cuisine, crackers with hummus, rice cakes, and the burrito – than if I had just eaten what I wanted to begin with.

Can you relate? We will dig into steps to address these psychological reasons for overeating very soon. Just one more step!

10. Limiting Beliefs: The Hidden Psychological Reasons for Overeating

Your Unlived Life, or the life you think you’ll have once the food- or weight-struggle is over, holds strong implications for the psychology of overeating. Sometimes your Unlived Life can actually trigger for overeating, even if it’s not your intention.

For instance, when one of my clients was younger and thinner, she faced harsh, jealous remarks from her family. This unpleasant experience created associations between thinness and bullying in her mind, fostering the limiting belief: “being thin means getting bullied.”

If she associates being thin with negative experiences, why would she want to stop overeating? Although she was eager to heal her relationship with food, her overeating patterns were actually serving a greater purpose: protection.

This is where the psychology of overeating and spirituality intersect. In my work, which applies a psycho-spiritual approach to stopping overeating, I’ve found that the spiritual root of weight gain is a deep-seated need for protection.

For my client, it was a need to protect herself from being bullied. For you, it might be something completely different. How can you discover what your hidden beliefs are? We will discuss this next.

The Psychology of Overeating Is Best Explained by Someone Who’s Been There

Now that you understand some of the biggest psychological reasons for overeating, we can discuss the steps you can take to overcome unwanted eating patterns. While I have plenty of tips, I first need to set the record straight about some unfortunate advice on this particular topic from Psychology Today

In their article the author states, “From speaking to adults and children, I came up with 40 rationalizations for why individuals justify their overeating. They include ‘watching what I eat is too hard,’ ‘it’s low-fat/fat-free,’ ‘I will make up for it later,’ ‘I’ll burn it off later,’ ‘I don’t usually eat this,’ ‘it’s free,’ ‘everyone else is eating it,’… ‘healthy food doesn’t taste as good’…” The list goes on (last accessed January 17, 2024).

I was shocked when I read this article, which was written by a psychologist. That quote is unrelatable at best and offensive at worst. The author accuses overeaters of using rationalizations to “justify” overeating behavior — as if overeating is something that we want to be doing.

While many psychologists are compassionate, that article was not written from a point of compassion. It was written from a place of disconnection and a lack of empathy. In all my years as an eating psychology coach, no one has ever shared rationalizations like that with me.

In fact, the problems I see most frequently are people trying too hard to “eat perfectly” and they are restricting their diets too much. Then, the restriction causes unintended biological backlash in the form of compulsive eating.

From what I have seen, overeaters don’t think that watching what they eat is too hard; they arguably care about it too much, to the point of preoccupation and obsession with food.

They don’t focus on low-fat/fat-free; they are petrified of carbs and yet they crave carbs so much that they binge.

They don’t struggle with not “making up for it later,” they might be using overworking as a coping mechanism for their emotions and so they run themselves ragged at work and have no energy left over for even basic self-care.

From what I have seen in my line of work, we almost know too much about what good food and exercise entails, and it motivates us to push our bodies too far and focus all our energy on diets that don’t work instead of the psychology behind overeating.

Perhaps that psychologist only came to her misinformed conclusion because many compulsive eaters struggle with shame. When talking about something as personal and vulnerable as overeating, we might “armor up” to protect ourselves from judgment by sharing “rationalizations” to deflect ownership of our problems. 

In short, I strongly disagree that most overeaters “rationalize” their eating habits. Most overeaters berate themselves and are their own worst critic when it comes to eating past fullness. To help with this, let’s look at steps to stop overeating rooted in self-compassion.

Steps to Address the Psychological Reasons for Overeating

The best path to overcome the psychological reasons for overeating is to find compassion. When we feel true empathy — which can come from someone that has been there, or from someone willing to put themselves in your shoes — we can open ourselves up to true change.

Here are some steps you can take to address the psychological reasons for overeating and develop a healthier and more balanced relationship with food:

Cultivate Emotional Tolerance

psychological tools to stop overeating: emotional tolerance. practice sitting still with edgy emotions to develop resilience and tolerance

Emotional eating stems from a desire to avoid or numb difficult emotions. To address this, it’s crucial to cultivate the ability to sit still with discomfort — which I call emotional tolerance — and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Instead of turning to food to suppress emotions, practice holding space for those difficult emotions. 

Emotional tolerance does not mean ‘wallowing’ in our negative emotions. Rather, it means allowing life to have a natural ebb and flow. What we resist, persists. Many people will find that when they resist negative emotion, it makes the emotion stronger and the desire to overeat also grows stronger.

By developing tolerance for negative emotions, we allow ourselves to develop resilience, which in turn reduces the desire to numb negative emotions with food. Up next, I will share my best tool for developing emotional tolerance.

Utilize the Stop, Drop, & Feel Technique

psychological tools to stop overeating: stop, drop, & feel®️. even if you still eat after the SDF, you also put a marble in the bucket and you're still building emotional tolerance

The Stop, Drop, & Feel technique is a powerful tool to interrupt the automatic response of turning to food during emotional distress. The premise behind this tool is that whenever there is a desire to eat when you aren’t hungry, there is an emotion that you are resisting. By training in feeling that feeling, you can develop emotional tolerance.

Here are the steps you can take to practice the Stop, Drop, & Feel:

how to stop a binge in its tracks with the Stop, Drop, & Feel®️

When you feel the urge to eat without hunger, do the Stop, Drop, & Feel by following these steps:

  • Stop: Pause before you reach for the food. Promise yourself that you can still eat once the SDF is over. This element of permission is key to making the tool work, otherwise it just becomes another form of restriction.
  • Drop: Get curious about how you’re feeling and practice compassion with what comes up.
  • Feel: Allow yourself to fully experience and explore your emotions. Don’t analyze why you’re feeling that way you’re feeling. Just let yourself feel what you’re feeling without resistance.

The Stop, Drop, & Feel is the bread and butter of my approach to stopping compulsive eating called Psycho-Spiritual Wellness. It directly addresses the emotions behind emotional eating and helps you stop overeating when practiced long-term.

New to Psycho-Spiritual Wellness? I have a short 13-page (and beautifully illustrated) ebook titled The Spiritual Seeker’s Guide to Stop Binge Eating that explains everything.

Stop Dieting and Eat What Satisfies You

psychological tools to stop overeating: no more "diet food". opt for foods that nourish and satisfy you so that you don't seek additional food after eating

Emotional tolerance can also help you develop the courage to stop dieting. As previously discussed, dieting itself is a significant contributor to the psychological reasons for overeating. However, many people are afraid that giving up dieting will lead to weight gain. 

Along similar lines, some people are afraid to give up dieting because it feels like giving up control. Fortunately, when we develop emotional tolerance, we will be able to hold space for the groundlessness that often accompanies the journey of giving up dieting.

If you need more guidance on this process, I have plenty of resources that can help:

Challenge Restrictive Beliefs

psychological tools to stop overeating: challenge limiting beliefs. use pen and paper to separate your conscious thoughts from subconscious beliefs

To truly master the psychology of overeating, you need to address any hidden limiting beliefs. Many of us are holding subconscious beliefs that trigger self-sabotage around food.

When our beliefs are subconscious, we cannot discover them by thinking things through in our heads. We need to write it down. This is where self-inquiry tools can help, like my bestselling workbook, Why We Do the Things We Do.

Through 10 days of guided self-inquiry, the workbook asks you to explore what you believe about a variety of topics such as thinness and worthiness, and how social dynamics affect your relationship with food.

Awareness is the first step towards change. Once you can identify any limiting beliefs that you’re holding, you can work on releasing them.

Some say “feel it to heal it” and this workbook takes it a step further and helps you “see it to heal it.”

When I completed the workbook (like any good chef that tastes their own cooking) I still had some epiphanies because that is the power of separating your thoughts onto paper. You can discover beliefs that you didn’t even know you had!

Seek Support and Professional Guidance

psychological tools to stop overeating: talk to an expert. seek support from someone who will treat you with empathy and understanding

Reaching out for support can accelerate your journey to overcome the psychological reasons for overeating. Connect with trusted friends, therapists, registered dietitians, eating psychology coaches like me, or support groups who can provide encouragement and understanding. 

If you struggle with an eating disorder or suspect that you might, seek professional guidance from a healthcare professional that specializes in eating disorder treatment. They can provide the right kind of support and personalized strategies to help you navigate your relationship with food.

Engage in Self-Care and Stress Management

psychological tools to stop overeating: take care of yourself. even Netflix can be a form of self-care if it's what you need after a long day

Finally, addressing the psychology of overeating also involves nurturing your overall well-being. Pursue joyful activities to avoid eating for pleasure. Overeaters often exert excessive pressure on themselves, so incorporating relaxation techniques can aid in curbing the urge to overeat too. When you feel nurtured and relaxed, you’ll have a greater capacity to do the hard work outlined in the other steps here.

Also, in the image above I mention that Netflix can be a form of self-care. This is noteworthy because many of my coaching clients want all their spare time to be productive, but that’s just one more drain on your energy and emotional tolerance. Something effortless and unproductive like Netflix can provide self-care, too!

Addressing the Psychology of Overeating

Addressing the psychological reasons for overeating is a journey that requires a comprehensive approach. Make sure that you’re addressing the root cause of overeating by practicing the Stop, Drop, & Feel. Give yourself permission to eat what appeals to you and give up dieting to prevent the restrict-binge cycle.

Finally, use tools like my workbook, Why We Do the Things We Do, to discover what you truly believe about food, body image, and social dynamics around eating. By implementing these steps, you can create positive changes in your eating patterns and slowly overcome the tendency to eat past fullness.

  1. Lowe, Michael R et al. “Dieting and restrained eating as prospective predictors of weight gain.” Frontiers in psychology 4 577. 2 Sep. 2013, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00577
  2. Sumithran, Priya et al. “Long-term persistence of hormonal adaptations to weight loss.” The New England journal of medicine 365,17 (2011): 1597-604. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1105816
  3. Weltens, N et al. “Where is the comfort in comfort foods? Mechanisms linking fat signaling, reward, and emotion.” Neurogastroenterology and motility 26,3 (2014): 303-15. doi:10.1111/nmo.12309
  4. Tryon, Matthew S et al. “Chronic stress exposure may affect the brain’s response to high calorie food cues and predispose to obesogenic eating habits.” Physiology & behavior 120 (2013): 233-42. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2013.08.010
  5. Bouillon-Minois, Jean-Baptiste et al. “Ghrelin as a Biomarker of Stress: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Nutrients 13,3 784. 27 Feb. 2021, doi:10.3390/nu13030784
  6. Tschöp, M et al. “Ghrelin induces adiposity in rodents.” Nature 407,6806 (2000): 908-13. doi:10.1038/35038090
  7. Mann, T, and A Ward. “Forbidden fruit: does thinking about a prohibited food lead to its consumption?.” The International journal of eating disorders 29,3 (2001): 319-27. doi:10.1002/eat.1025
  8. Richard, Anna et al. “Effects of Chocolate Deprivation on Implicit and Explicit Evaluation of Chocolate in High and Low Trait Chocolate Cravers.” Frontiers in psychology 8 1591. 12 Sep. 2017, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01591
  9. Fazzino, Tera L et al. “Hyper-Palatable Foods: Development of a Quantitative Definition and Application to the US Food System Database.” Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.) 27,11 (2019): 1761-1768. doi:10.1002/oby.22639
  10. Blechert, Jens et al. “To eat or not to eat: Effects of food availability on reward system activity during food picture viewing.” Appetite 99 (2016): 254-261. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2016.01.006
  11. Morris, Margaret J et al. “Why is obesity such a problem in the 21st century? The intersection of palatable food, cues and reward pathways, stress, and cognition.” Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews 58 (2015): 36-45. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.12.002
  12. Madsen, Heather B, and Serge H Ahmed. “Drug versus sweet reward: greater attraction to and preference for sweet versus drug cues.” Addiction biology 20,3 (2015): 433-44. doi:10.1111/adb.12134
  13. Westwater, Margaret L et al. “Sugar addiction: the state of the science.” European journal of nutrition 55,Suppl 2 (2016): 55-69. doi:10.1007/s00394-016-1229-6
  14. Westwater, Margaret L et al. “Sugar addiction: the state of the science.” European journal of nutrition 55,Suppl 2 (2016): 55-69. doi:10.1007/s00394-016-1229-6
  15. Robinson, Eric et al. “Eating attentively: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of food intake memory and awareness on eating.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 97,4 (2013): 728-42. doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.045245

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Some say ‘feel it to heal it’ but this workbook takes it a step deeper and helps you ‘see it to heal it.’ If you’re the kind of person who logically knows how to live a healthy lifestyle but you compulsively do the opposite, this workbook will illuminate what’s standing in the way. Then, you know exactly where to focus your energy.

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26 thoughts on "How to Address the Psychology of Overeating in 10 Science-Backed Steps"

  1. Marysays:

    I am finding this post today, and it is making a lot of sense to me. I’ve never heard of you before, but I like how you write and explain things. It’s a Sunday morning, and I am reading anything I can find on the emotional reasons for overeating. Yesterday was extremely tough for me, with uncomfortable emotions swirling around – lots of self-doubt, self-recrimination, lack of self-love. Lots of tears of anguish. Today I know I have work to do, and I found your pages and I am understanding what I am reading. I will go on to read all of your posts. You are doing a good thing. Keep going. There are those of us who need it. It is helping. Thank you.

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Oh my goodness Mary thank you so much for your comment! It means so much know that this helped you. These are the lessons that took me a long time to figure out, and I’m SO happy to hear that they’re what you needed to.

      I completely get your struggle, both with overeating and lack of self-love. It’s intimately connected with the reason why we compulsively and emotionally eat. Thank you for sharing part of your story with me. We are in this together!

  2. Dianesays:

    Thank you so much for this encouragement. It can be very difficult to stop dieting. I always seem to need some form of guideline to eat by. I can never keep it up for long though, then I binge. I’ve sort of resigned myself to that fact as I’ve been doing this for over 40 years.
    I know de o down that dieting isn’t the answer but I can’t seem to help myself sometimes.
    These suggestions you’ve given seem good, reasonable and sensible. I will give it a try and let you know how it goes. Diane

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      I completely understand you Diane. Thanks for the comment 🙂 I will be very interested to know how it goes for you! Please do keep me posted.

  3. Georgiasays:

    Hi Kari!
    I’ve recently started this whole psycho spiritual, intuitive eating thing for about a week. I’m having trouble determining whether my cravings for eating are my body actually telling myself to eat, or if they’re the urge to eat to emotionally numb myself or if its hedonic eating. How do you read your hunger cues?

    I’ve also read Geneen Roth’s book ‘When you eat at the refrigeraor pull up a chair’, and she talks about ‘fat and ugly attacks’. I’m wondering how you deal with this?


    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      The confusion around hunger is totally normal. I would actually encourage you to start focusing on emotion whenever you’re confused by your hunger. In time, you’ll get back in touch with the physical sensations of hunger, and focusing on emotion (right now) will help you untangle emotional hunger from hunger-hunger. (Also, hedonic eating is the same as emotional eating, except the main emotion is boredom or void.) As far as the ‘fat and ugly attacks’ I’m not exaaactly sure because I haven’t read that particular book : ) but the insecurities around body image tend to unwind as we unravel the food rules and find peace with ourselves. I hope this helps!!!

  4. Audreysays:

    This is very insightful and makes sense. I am going to practice it. Thankyou.

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Thanks Audrey!

  5. Joy Walkersays:

    I read your article in October 2019 and practiced it for the last 2 months. I was in tune with my desire to eat. It was definitely the effort to soften emotional pain. Since then I’ve gained an additional 10 lbs. it hurts to see the real you. I’m practicing self-love and willing to be uncomfortable. I’m determined to resolve the deeper problem. I can’t find your info on stop dieting, please share the link. Thank you for helping us avoid being miserable from now on. I needed this.

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Joy this is amazing! I know the early stages are tough, but keep going.

  6. WendyL ????says:

    I just started to follow your blog. Moment ago, I had peanuts quite an amount (I love nuts it makes me crazy) . Think back, due to my still undergoing IBS symptoms, I stop eating peanuts for more than 4 years… after almost finish I felt yuck… I always felt so and den my desire over the comfort food was gone. Lately my intakes was abit haywire due to anxiety… sigh

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      It’s not an easy time for many of us, so this all seems quite understandable right?! I hope you can find compassion for yourself <3

  7. Heidisays:

    I’m new here as well and I’m trying to dig deeper into my why’s of my eating and weight gain. I’ve really never been at my ideal weight and have always LOVED sugar and truly feel addicted to it. I know it holds me back from feeling my best but yeah I feel addicted to it and have a hard time eating it in healthy ranges. I did the whole conversation with my fat exercise thing and am hoping to be inspired by it but I’m also nervous that my many years of habit will prevail. I want to have a healthy relationship with sugar but not sure that I can because I definitely enjoy the pleasure of eating it. I’m not sure that my convo with my fat went as it should have but I just kinda let the pen roll across the paper. Anyway. I intend on checking out more of your work. I have paid for the Eat Right now app which sounds like it may have similar roots but I didn’t stick with it. I want out of the cycle but my addiction makes me feel like I don’t. Help! Haha

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Hi Heidi, I wish I could coach you so that I could learn more about how the dialogue with Fat went. Do you have my book or workbook? The workbook is probably the most powerful option for you, because it helps us understand why we do all the things that we’re frustrated about doing. I personally don’t think sugar addiction is the real problem — it always comes back to a feeling or a belief. Once we get the psychology taken care of, the “sugar addiction” becomes very easy to overcome.

  8. Heidisays:

    I am just finding you today. I have never been willing to tackle my overeating as an adult because I eat for love, I think. I was the correct weight as a child as I was a swimmer. But, I was never loved as a child, never nurtured, never touched. It continues today despite my best efforts searching for a male partner for decades. I have a true sugar addition and now having medical issues, but it change my behaviors.

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Oh Heidi! I wish I could reach through the screen and give you a big hug right now!!! You are a true warrior for going through what you have gone through, and I admire your strength. And I hope you can see how strong you are too <3

  9. Nancy Johnsonsays:

    I have purchased the workbook, etc. but it does not let me type into the blocks provided. Do I have to print it out and then write by hand in response to the questions?

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Hi Nancy! I emailed you directly with some extra help here. Thanks for supporting my work 🙂

  10. Cheyennesays:

    Hello 🙂

    This article was really helpful. I never really did any kind of diet, because I didn’t want to struggle with food the way I struggle with other problems life has to offer. But I am now at a place in my life where I want to adres all my emotional problems and to do so I have to start with the way I cope with these emotions, which is eating. So this article is exactly what I needed!

    Everytime I try to become the person I know I am I get stuck, because I can’t seem to get rid of this cycle I created to keep myself safe. But now it’s time so realize I’m safe and stop resisting the emotions and feel and understand them.

    Thanks to this article I have got a place to start.


    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      I am so glad you found this article helpful Cheyenne. I was considering condensing it because it is one of the longest posts that I have, but it sounds like it’s helpful as it is 🙂 so thanks for your feedback, and I wish you the best of luck on this brand new journey! Keep me posted. Feeling the feels is one of the hardest decisions I ever made (and repeatedly have to make) but also the most rewarding.

  11. Brett Rsays:

    I thought this was a great piece. Well laid out. My son has an overeating problem, and I was looking for help. There’s a lot of great info and truth here. I’d never made the connection to ‘people pleasing’ but it makes sense. Thank you for this.

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Thanks Brett! I am glad it was helpful, and it means a lot that you made it to the end of the article 🙂 it’s one of the longest ones I have!

  12. Kim Thompsonsays:

    Kari, I’ve known when and what set me down to overeating I’m just not sure how to rewire myself? My now ex-husband was insecure before we married and I remember the comment he made about the way I dressed (ironically that’s what got his attention). The short of it was I didn’t want him to feel that way which changed everything about the person he supposedly fell in love with. Snowballing into who I am after 25 years of marriage and countless other women he’d actually move me out to move them in. I’d become frozen and the last affair he had I had to live in the driveway because I’d become disabled and while I was in the hospital he moved her in and spent everything I’d saved. This was my fault because I felt guilty because I was in the hospital and I wanted to comfort him so I gave him access to my savings. I kept telling myself that my illness was hard on him because I’d been the breadwinner and took care of everything till the disease put me down. I could always find excuses for him doing me wrong. And he’d eventually be back asking for another chance. The only good thing I have achieved is actually moving away and divorcing him. It’s only paper though because I still let him in any time he wants. Anyway, I’m rambling. I just know where it started just not how to make it end. I have such a sick opinion of myself and can’t shake it. I weighed 105 before then 170 while married and now I’m 202. I blame my health but my health should be motivating. I know I’d probably feel less pain if I lost weight. I’d probably actually feel like I didn’t have to settle for being used and shut the door on my ex. And be confident in me like I used to be.
    Sorry for the rambling . I appreciate your information and I’m going to keep moving towards finding the cure for my self inflicted insanity.
    Greatly appreciated,

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Hi Kim, thank you so much for bravely sharing your story. I am sure that anyone who reads this will feel enormous compassion for you – I know I do! You have been through so much. And even if it doesn’t feel like it, you are showing up for yourself. You are showing up for yourself by looking around for the answer. To me, this is incredible because it means you’re ready for change, and I am confident that you’ll find it. Those who don’t look for answers often can’t make the breakthrough; but those who search are the ones who discover. I’m being cheesy, but I feel compelled to shine a light on how far you’ve come versus focusing on how far there is to go. You have lots of heavy emotions to move through, and perhaps you can start there. Feeling and healing. <3 I send so many hugs your way!!!

  13. Helen Evanssays:

    I’m sitting at my son’s home enjoying the holidays. I shared with my son and daughter in law I must work on why i emotionally over eat. I’m 100 lbs overweight. This excess weight is causing many health issues. I’ve dieted many times. Yo-Yo, lose weight, go back to eating, gain even more weight back. I googled the subject and there you were. The article was spot on and I will begin to evaluate and become more aware of “what empty space” I’m trying to fill. Saying that right there brings on so many emotions, memories and low self worth. I’m excited about taking these baby steps to a healthier life. Thank you so much.

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Helen, this is such a meaningful story. You are so brave!! Knowing that it brings up heavy emotions as you type it, I know you’re onto something big. And it warms my heart that you already know this to be true. Your intuition is strong, and I have no doubt that this inner work will unlock something big for you <3 This is so powerful!!

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