Pinpointing why we overeat.

For me, overeating doesn’t have as much to do with how good the food tastes as it does with how much anxiety I’m having at the time of the binge.   Being anxious and stressed out has a LOT to do with why I crave comfort foods.   I’ve also been doing quite a bit of thinking about the type of overeater I am.  I read somewhere that pinpointing why we overeat is the first step in learning how to manage it better. 

According to Dr. Daniel Amen, MD  there are 5 types of overeaters.  Truthfully, I see a part of me in all of these categories.

  • The Sad Overeater: this type of overeater tends to eat by self-medicating.  Usually the underlying condition is due to depression, boredom, or loneliness. People with Seasonal Affective Disorder fall into this category as well.
      • The Compulsive Overeater:  this type of overeater thinks about food all of the time. It is difficult to change their focus to something else.  Nighttime-eaters fit into this category.  These people tend to overeat and/or gorge during the night.
      • The Impulsive Overeater:  this type of overeater sees food and just takes it without any afterthought.  They intend to eat well, but when they don’t, they use the old saying, ‘I’ll just start my diet tomorrow.’  This type of person usually has problems focusing, being inattentive and is often bored.  People with ADD can fall into this category, according to Dr. Amen.
      • The Anxious Overeater:  this type eats to calm down feelings of anxiety, tension, feelings of being nervous or fear. 
      • The Impulsive-Compulsive Overeater:  this type of person is a combination of the compulsive overeater and the impulsive overeater.  He or she may be disorganized, easily distracted, have a short attention span; also may focus on anxious or depressing thoughts.

These little drops of heaven are truly my kryptonite.

The one that I struggle with these days is Anxious Overeating.  What’s strange is that I morphed into this category; when I began my long, destructive road into morbid obesity I was clearly a Sad Overeater. 

Maybe, as periods in our lives change so then do our eating habits.  The one constant that remains sadly, is the food itself.  We can’t cut food out of our lives, so we have no other choices other than to stay on the same destructive path or make better decisions about what we eat.

Do you agree with this methodology on defining why we overeat? What kind of overeater are you?  What foods are your kryptonite?

28 thoughts on “Pinpointing why we overeat.

  1. Michele @ Healthy Cultivations

    I’d say I fall mostly in the Anxious category here, but frankly, I think these categories are too clearly defined and leave a lot of information out. I do think it’s important to examine why we overeat — but not just so we can place ourselves in a category. It’s so we can learn to recognize our patterns early so we can then learn to behave differently in those situations. It’s about learning what we need emotionally… because as they say, “If you’re not hungry, food isn’t going to fix it.”

    Reply
  2. Ellen Post author

    I agree that this is too cut and dry. As I mentioned, I see a little bit of myself in all of these categories, although clearly I could place myself into one and be OK with that representation of me (at least for the moment). It is important to examine why we overeat; some people don’t take the time to stop and think about it (that can be me, too) especially if he/she is using food to block a particular emotion. I think this is where a good therapist comes in; someone who can then pinpoint what’s really going on….a very complex issue.

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  3. Amanda

    Hmmm I kind of fall into the sad overeater category only because it includes the boredom. That is my biggest problem, eating when I am bored. When I read them all I felt like I could go into every single category one way or another. Currently I am only going to school and not working. So when I get home and husband isn’t there all I want to do is eat while I do homework. But I also agree with what Ellen says about having a good therapist to help you pinpoint. I’m positive it is something underlying within myself.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Oh, I do this too, Amanda. If I am doing anything other than cooking in the kitchen, I could stand around and easily graze all day long. I know I’m not hungry but it’s almost as though it’s just by impulse. Thank you so much for your comment today :)

      Reply
  4. Darla

    Interesting read. Of course there is a lot more to it, but you wouldn’t want to bore us with a thousand page dissertation. I see a little of my self in sad/compulsive and anxious – probably leaning more to the sad. Yeah, I don’t see the impulsive in me. I do think that knowing why you overeat is an important key to permanent weight loss. If you are so unaware you can keep blaming external forces and not look at yourself and your own issues.

    My Kryptonite seems to be sugar…one bad thing leads to another and away we go.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      My thing is sugar too, Darla….that and bread. Actually, the two mixed together! lol Donuts are one of my biggest enemies. Even after all these years, I still cannot turn one down. I have to stay far, far away.

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  5. Karen

    I have asked myself many times this past year why I overeat. And then I ask myself it it matters. I guess it does, since I still do it. I think from your list I am the compulsive overeater. I also think I eat out of habit and boredom. Sigh.

    My kryptonite list is growing. Bread products of all kind are one there, and crackers.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      I completely understand about the bread. I’ve got a post that I’m working on about Joseph’s Bakery….have you heard of their breads, Karen? They have pita and Lavash bread that is good and quite low in calories. It’s my new found LOVE.

      Reply
  6. Girly Girl

    I am not sure that I cleanly fall into one category, but I think that the type that describes me the most is being an impulsive overeater. In the past I have often done the, “I can start tomorrow,” or “If I eat bad one day and get on track tomorrow it is okay.” The problem with this is that the last time I did this it was a three week over-indulgence. Oops.

    I agree with you Ellen that knowing why we over-eat and what cues us will help us overcome this problem. As far as fod that is my kryptonite? Salty, savory food like french fries, sandwiches and chips. That is my krytonite. Great post Ellen!

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      I think people can easily morph from one to another, as I clearly did. When I crave salt, it’s generally during TOM, but then I crave chocolate too, so I end up with potato chips dipped in chocolate :(

      Reply
  7. Cammy@TippyToeDiet

    All of the above? No, probably not, although I’ve probably been in one or more of those categories at some point or other in the past. When I overeat these days, it’s typically out of boredom…or impulsiveness…or availability. Or Christmas. :)

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      I’m so glad that the holidays are over, Cammy. Now I can finally breathe a bit easier. Although there are three birthdays in our family during the month of February, but at least I get a breather during January!

      Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      I’ve been all of them at one time or another, too. It just depends on my mood, I guess. Typically though, I can always find an excuse to overeat because I’m like you, I just love everything about food. Maybe that’s why I’m a food addict….hmm. LOL

      Reply
  8. Miesha

    Thank you for sharing this post. I believe I’m finally at a stage in my journey where I recognize emotional eating when it happens. It is what it is, I don’t let it consume me anymore. Food is not my “end all be all,” but my bottom line is.

    Ellen as soon as I start working on my art again I’ll post pics! I’m taking baby steps :-).

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      You really do have an understanding of what you need to do in order to maintain your weight, Miesha. I can tell that through reading your blog. I strive to be more like that.
      And PLEASE do let me know when you’re comfortable enough to share your art, I’d love to see it :)

      Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Thank you so much for your comment, Michele. You must be doing WW, I assume? I loved having points saved to use for whatever I wanted. That was heaven to me! And it works!

      Reply
  9. Jules Big Girl Bombshell

    Nice list. I realized recently that mine was an unconscious anxiety eating that usually got stirred up by boredom. Idle hands..idle mind – anxiety equals fill with food… Yes it is important to identify WHY we eat but also why we DONT eat. Its a mixed bag…and most of it for me has boiled down to learning NEW ways of self-care other than food.

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  10. Sasha

    I don’t identify with any of those. Mine was definitely a total lack of portion control and falling into bad habits type of overeating. Bad habits meaning, not wanting to cook, then later when I was caring for my mother, not wanting to cook meals for her then cook meals for me and Travis. And too much unhealthy eating out. I don’t fear overeating anymore now that I understand what I was doing. It’s good to have knowledge, to use that knowledge to our benefit.

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  11. vickie

    My first reaction is this is helpful information at the beginning of one’s journey.

    I have read many a newbie discovering they pretty much eat all the time. Reining things in to only eat at meal time and to eat portions and to eat evenly from the food groups often is a foreign language to our past habits.

    But I think these categories are helpful all the way through our journey as sort of a ‘what just happened?’ moment when we start to wander off our paths.

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  12. Tim

    I can probably see myself in all of them too but my biggest problem now is knowing how big a portion should be for different types of food. It doesn’t help that I eat everything that is on my plate too. I keep thinking that it’s rude to leave anything but I know I have to break that habit.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      Oh, I was that way too, Tim. We weren’t allowed to leave the table unless our plates were clean. As an adult I always feel like if I don’t finish what’s on my plate while at a friend’s house then they may think I didn’t like what they made. So many habits learned from childhood.

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  13. Leslie

    I’m compulsive all the way. Emotional components waft through, but when it said “think about food all the time”, and nighttime eating – those clinched it. I never eat in the middle of the night – just the evening eating until I go to sleep. Great post – my first visit to your blog. I’ll be back.

    Reply
  14. Mayhem Mama

    I would say that I am the Sad Overeater – one, I do have seasonal affective disorder. But the other thing is that I have GERD (wish I could say it was totally related to wt, but it is not). It is really hard sometimes to differentiate between actually being hungry and the discomfort from the GERD. I know that sounds weird, but it is the truth! My Kryptonite is anything creamy (ice cream, anything with whipped topping) and salt. In fact, I will usually take the salt before I take the sugar! Does anyone else feel like they need to eat something salty after they eat something sweet?

    Reply
  15. Screaming Fat Girl

    I think “the anxious overeater” is a category which needs to be considered with greater depth because people eat when anxious in many cases for the same reason that they smoke. There is a biological or psychological cue to do so (or both). Our bodies adapt to our life’s rhythms. If we feed them at regular intervals in certain amounts, they “expect” it and send cues to engage in those behaviors when they are not forthcoming. This goes for eating, sleeping, and even exercise. We don’t have to be hungry for the body to seek to keep the eating rhythms in place and it will respond with anxiety when we try to break these biological patterns. The body likes routine since that tends to assist with survival.

    Additionally, if you eat regularly for various reasons, you establish a psychological routine. If you divest your routine of eating (like not eating when you watch T.V. when you usually do), you will feel anxiety about the change in routine. It’s not that you are eating because you are anxious but rather you are anxious because you are not eating.

    Smokers have to go through these types of anxiety. Those who smoke after eating have a strong impulse to engage in this behavior because it is habitual. They get caught in the same loop as people who overeat. They don’t smoke because they are anxious, but are anxious because they don’t smoke.

    The order of these things is critical. If you eat because you are anxious about something in your life (a common thing as all animals gorge when stressed), then the approach to changing how you cope is different than if you are eating because a change in routine is causing stress. Breaking the cycle for one is far harder than the other. With actual stress due to life circumstances, you can generally replace the unhealthy coping behavior more effective than the stress that results from breaking your routine of eating. Our habits are very powerful and most people don’t realize that the lifestyle changes themselves, even when they are very aware of them and desire them, cause the very upheaval that makes them hard to maintain.

    Reply
    1. Ellen Post author

      I was completely blown away by this comment. I think you describe it better than the doctor himself. And you are certainly right about anxiety and stress contributing especially if there is change involved. I fit nicely into that category because I do not deal well with change and I know that is one of my ‘triggers’. Very interesting to compare it to smoking as well. I think an addict is an addict. I know that I am a food addict and that there are many similarities to that of those who smoke. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Very much appreciated!

      Reply

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