Why Do We Overeat?

Why Do We Overeat?

Filed Under: Overeating

26 April 2016 | Written by Xenia Ayiotis

I spent this weekend away in one of the most beautiful parts of the Little Karoo, a charming town called Montagu (famous for its nuts, fruit and wine). The highlight of the trip was a unique bicycle ride called L’Eroica. On the flight home I was reflecting on the fair amount of mindless eating I did and how easy it is to go unconscious around food, even when you work with mindful eating every day! I am a bit of an anxious flyer, so I decided to spend the time in the air writing on what triggers us to overeat or eat when we are not hungry.

It’s time

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You must eat to speed up your metabolism”. It’s lunch time! It’s supper time! Or for many, late nights are a trigger, working late alone or bored and everyone’s asleep!


It has been a long hard stressful week…. the weekend has arrived, it’s Friday, it’s Sunday lunch! Or it’s the holidays… Easter, Christmas, Eid, Hannuka! Birthdays, weddings, funerals, anniversaries, days off… How do you cope with this? Find out here.

Our senses

The food looks good, the recipe or dish sounds delicious, it smells so good!! You can read more about how your hunger is affected by your senses in The 8 Types of Hunger.

Entertainment and distraction

We use food as entertainment or to add to entertainment. Eating whilst reading, watching a movie, watching TV, whilst driving to relieve the boredom, to pass the time, while doing boring admin or whilst studying… Eating distracts us from unpleasant tasks or adds to the entertainment of other activities. Eating then becomes a reward for doing an unpleasant task.


Everyone else is eating – so if we don’t eat, we feel as if we are missing out. Or we decide we are not eating and we get pressure from everyone else at the table… “How can you not eat? Just have something small! You must have something!”

You may have a “junk food friend” always up for French fries or a “sweet friend” you always have cake with or a “gourmet food connoisseur” friend that you experiment with at new trendy restaurants.

The Weather

Cold rainy weather means hot chocolate and pancakes. Warm balmy weather means picnics or drinks and snacks.

Fear of Missing Out

Everyone else is eating so why shouldn’t we eat? It’s unfair! FOMO around food is such a biggie for so many of us. Let’s think about it for a moment… When you eat when you aren’t hungry or when you eat to the point of pain – what exactly are you missing out on? Yes the pizza or the sushi or whatever, but what we are really missing out on is the pain, the discomfort, the guilt and the regret that so often accompanies overeating.

Fear of the “hunger to come”

You aren’t hungry but you have a lot of running around to do or you have to go into a meeting that may drag on and you are scared you will get hungry later…so you grab a banana or eat a sandwich “just in case” you are hungry later… That is the equivalent of filling your car up with fuel at every station on your route in case you need fuel later! For many of us with a history of restriction, diets and deprivation, the possibility of hunger can be very scary. Seriously though, think about it…how far are we from the nearest snack or opportunity to eat?

Physical sensations

We are tired, recovering from flu, feel headachy, feel tension or pain in our bodies – often our immediate response is to turn to food to temporarily soothe the pain away.

Cruella, that critical inner voice

That nasty voice is saying “you shouldn’t, you mustn’t eat…” for every time you say shouldn’t, that inner rebel in you will do just the opposite. If you are beating yourself up for what you didn’t do and what you “shoulda, coulda, woulda” done, chances are you will end up comfort eating… The main principle of Intuitive Eating is “Give yourself unconditional permission to eat what you want”, so the minute you restrict yourself (whether it’s emotional, physical or mental), chances are high you will end up overeating behind your own back – you know like when you don’t sit down to eat the cake – you eat small little pieces standing up because that doesn’t count!

You can read more about taming those critical inner voices, here.

Dieting, Detoxes, Elimination and Restriction

More on why they don’t work, here.

As Geneen Roth says, “for every diet there is it’s equal and opposite binge.” If you have been banting, chances are high that somewhere down the line you will eat an entire baguette in one sitting! Enough said on this topic. You can learn about getting off of the diet roller coaster, here.

Our thoughts

If the thoughts we are thinking make us feel awful, well, the easiest escape from those nasty pesky thoughts is food! Especially if the thoughts are around weight or body size. “Compare and despair” thoughts are the biggest culprit when it comes to non-hunger eating – pay attention to your thoughts and don’t believe them all. If you want to learn more about this, read The 7 Most Common Thoughts That Lead to Overeating.

Money and waste

So often we overeat because we are paying for the food, so we need to get our “money’s worth” or someone else is paying for it, or because the food is free… Think of the money you have spent over the years on dieting, gym memberships and diet programmes – was that not money wasted? We eat to the point of discomfort because we don’t want to waste the food because of the starving children in the world. How exactly are we helping the starving children by overeating? When you eat to beyond a certain point, the food is still wasted. The difference is it’s wasted on your body and not in the bin – why do we treat our bodies like rubbish bins?

“If it’s on your waist or in the waste, it’s still waste.”


The good, the bad and the ugly! We eat for all emotions: boredom, frustration, irritation, loneliness, sadness, vulnerability, uncertainty, depression, anger and stress, to name a few. There are many articles out there on “how to overcome emotional eating” or to end emotional eating. I am not sure it’s possible for everyone. If eating is your thing, it will always be your thing! I like the idea of “legitimising” emotional eating – accepting that it’s a way to cope with difficulty in the same way we take a pill for  headaches – however emotional eating does not need to mean emotional overeating. The ideal approach is to feel the emotion and the difficulty and be with it, but sometimes it is just too damn hard. How do you eat emotionally without overeating? Find out here.

It’s impossible to be a perfect eater. There will be times when we overeat and eat mindlessly. If we are aware of our triggers, it can help prevent some overeating but sometimes it may take you by surprise, like it did with me this weekend!

Whatever you do, the most important thing is to be kind and patient with yourself. Practice fierce compassion! You are not weak because you overeat, just learn from the experience and let go…

“From our first meeting - two faces on Zoom across the world from each other, there was a sense of familiarity and comfort that was a healing balm for a lifetime of food struggles and dieting. Without realizing how much damage I had done to myself by adhering, for decades, to restrictive food plans and rigid diet programs, Xen had a way of redirecting the harsh and negative self-talk and sending me forth each week with compassion, mindfulness and a new way of seeing myself in the here and now. Gone are the maybe somedays, and if-only, and when-I’m-smaller thinking. Now I am committed to the imperfect and rocky path to listening to my body, accepting my perfect imperfections, and rejecting diet mentality. Those negative voices will revisit me from time to time, I know, but Xen has offered valuable tools for meeting each day as a fresh start - another choice, another chance. Her devotion to this work and her belief in her clients is a remarkable gift; I am so fortunate to have found her. It is never too late to let go of the drama and embrace joy, ease and self-acceptance.”

Karen L, Denver, USA

“I felt hopeless and helpless in my daily struggle with mindless eating for many years. Then I found Xen which is exactly what I needed! My decision to work with her helped me to finally repair my relationship with food. It's changing my life for the better, one day at a time. Now I have control over the food, instead of it having control over me, which is the way it should be. I highly recommend Xen to anyone who has a desire to overcome similar food struggles. Xen, thank you from the bottom of my heart!”

Karen J, Colorado, USA

“I reached out to Xenia because 2021 started on a tumultuous note for me. Between deaths, businesses suffering, hospitalizations, and job losses in our personal circle, I felt depleted and found myself being available for everyone but myself. Then I was hit with an unexpected health diagnosis, which was the last straw as it meant giving up “healthy foods” and workouts that I leaned on for my well-being and stability. Despite working in wellness (Yes, coaches and healers are vulnerable too!), I found myself reaching out to desserts for comfort. I like to live a life of permissions (not labels or deprivation leading to bingeing), so I wanted to work with someone who approached healing from a place of mindful compassion. I didn’t want to be my own client. Xenia was great in reminding me to be kind to myself. Working with her, brought me peace and helped shift my mindset. I love how desserts and I look at each other now.”

Sweta Vikram, New York, USA

“Working with Xenia was amazing. She armed me with a bunch of tools to help me through difficult times. Xenia is the kind of person who really cares for helping you in the long run. Her work will forever have an impact in my life.”

Daniela Velásquez, Ottawa, Canada

“Working with Xen was a game changer for me. After working together for a few months my relationship with food radically changed. I no longer felt like a failure. I now have the tools to nourish my body with foods that feel good in my body. I don’t feel guilty about eating cake or chocolate, I also don’t overeat cake and chocolate. I no longer feel the need to exercise to compensate for my eating. I feel much more free around eating and I am more accepting of my body. Xen has a nonjudgmental and compassionate approach to coaching and really supports you in the process.”

Rachel, Dublin, Ireland

“Working with Xen has been very empowering. Her approach is so refreshing from the usual. I have learned that I am in charge and that I get to choose what I put in my body and how to move my body in a way that I like! I get to make my own choices. It’s so liberating. Once you get a taste of freedom with food, there is no turning back to old ways! Thanks Xen for guiding me along the way to freedom.”

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“This is the answer for those of you that struggle with food and all that surrounds it. Xenia said that I could make peace with food and it seemed at the time like an impossible dream. Turns out it isn’t. I recommend Xen and the mindful eating / intuitive eating approach unreservedly. If you have any questions about my experience, please get in touch. Thank you Xen. My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐”

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Diana, Vancouver, Canada

“I don’t obsess about food like I used to. I am thinking differently about food and feeling so much more relaxed around all types of food. It’s wonderful to have pleasure and satisfaction from eating.”

Sarah, Illinois, USA

“I learned a new way of thinking about food. I have learned that food is not the enemy and that it can actually be enjoyed with no guilt.”

Sandy, London, United Kingdom

Certified by The Life Coach School Certified and Trained by The Original Intuitive Eating Pro Professional Member of The Center for Mindful Eating