There aren’t many individuals who haven’t found themselves, at least once in their lives, uncomfortable after eating more than they intended. A bloated feeling where your stomach is so distended you almost have to lean back to catch your breath, digesting feels like you are running a marathon and sleeping seems like an impossible task.
Commercially available food portion sizes are growing by the day. And our reliance on them is increasing due to our forever hastening pace of life. So what used to be an occasional discomfort, for many, has now become so frequent that the bloated feeling almost becomes accepted normality. Normality that can have many negative health consequences long term.
The good news is that almost all overeating causes are simply an accumulation of acquired habits. And habits, with reflection and persistence, can be changed for the better.
Here are our top tips to address overeating and banish the bloat for good.
1) Limit the distractions while eating
It may seem hard to find time to stop to eat. However, there is a reason we put this as our number one tip. Distraction whilst eating has been scientifically shown to increase immediate food intake (cue a bloated belly). AND because the taste buds and brains were not tuned into the process of eating the meal there is also an increased intake of foods later in the day, to ‘satisfy’ your brain and palate. Distractions come in all forms. Most notable, are watching television, scrolling or talking on your phone or device and eating in front of your computer.
2) Identify trigger foods and keep out of your daily reach (just don’t ban fully)
It happens to the best of us. Out-of-control eating (aka a blowout) that feels indulgent and exciting at the time, but is quickly followed by both a psychological and physiological regret. Trigger foods are ones that we find truly difficult to stop eating – think chips, chocolates biscuits etc. and are the foods we typically reach for more often when we aren’t actually hungry.
When establishing habits that reduce the risk of overeating, it is often suggested to enjoy a small planned amount of your favourite foods occasionally and preferably out of the home, so you aren’t open to pantry temptation.
3) Eat regularly
Skipping meals, especially for the purpose of shedding weight can often lead to a blowout size food portion at the next available meal. If unmeasured, studies show most of us would eat ‘more’ than what we would have should we have eaten two small meals in the first place.
4) Eat from a plate
Banquets and meals where you can top up your plates from the middle of the table, often lead to overeating behaviours and a bloated gut. With tip #5, it’s important to keep to your first dinner plate portion and resist the temptation to go back for more.
This includes serving yourself a snack portion rather than eating from a packet. Nuts and chips are the biggest culprits here.
5) Learn your portions- How much is too much?
Less than 5% of Australian adults meet their daily fruit and vegetable requirement. Whilst more than 50% exceed their energy needs. When you focus on eating plenty of fibre-rich fruit and vegetables, lean meat, whole grains and healthy fats, overeating actually becomes quite difficult.
6) Slow down and pay attention!
It takes about 20 minutes from the time you start eating for your brain to send signals telling you that you’re full. Eating slowly is important in allowing this process to occur, but also to allow proper chewing, enzyme release and digestion to take place. Eating slowly also helps not only our physical hunger BUT helps to satisfy our brain and keeps a bloated belly at bay.
7) Check our hunger cues
The reason so many of us are susceptible to overeating is complex. For many, it’s an emotional coping strategy, and food becomes a source of comfort when things get tough. By checking-in with ourselves prior to eating, true physiological hunger can be better interpreted. By identifying emotions which cause our comfort eating (and triggers for those emotions), strategies can be put in place to change our habits.
8) Plan ahead
Impulsive food decisions are rarely good ones. Last-minute meals are typically calorie-dense, nutritionally poor decisions, and often a trigger for our overeating behaviours. Preparing your meals and snacks ahead of time and preparing your home and work environment to support this, will help create healthy eating habits and reduce the risk of overeating.
It must be mentioned that for some, overeating and feeling bloated can be a symptom of a health condition. So if you feel out of control, seeking support from a qualified doctor, psychologist or dietitian would be my recommendation.