It’s easy to sit down on the couch with a large portion of [insert your favorite food here] and without realizing it, eat every last bite. Or maybe you’re bored at work or feel a little awkward at a networking event and find yourself snacking on whatever is within reach when you’re not even that hungry to begin with.
“As active individuals, we eat to fuel our bodies, but as unique humans, we eat for so many other reasons,” says Claire Shorenstein, NYC-based registered dietitian at Find Your Trainer. But determining how much to eat can be tricky—especially if you work out on the reg. “You’re expending all this energy, may experience changes in appetite and may also be juggling performance or weight-related goals.”
While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer since your nutrition needs vary based on size, gender, age, metabolism and other factors, it is important to recognize the telling signs that you’re consuming too many calories.
Worried that you’re overdoing it, but don’t know for sure? Check out these indicators:
You continue eating even after you feel satisfied
Sometimes it really is #nomtastic, but it’s important to listen to your body. In fact, your stomach knows when you’ve had just the right amount or way too much. You shouldn’t feel like you’re bursting from the seams, but instead, no longer feel hungry.
“This is something most of us do from time to time and a lot of it has to do with habits around eating, for example, eating too quickly and being distracted while we eat,” says Isabel Smith, R.D., a New York City-based celebrity dietitian and fitness expert. “It takes about 20 minutes for your brain and stomach to communicate that you’re full, so if you’re shoveling food down too quickly, this can contribute to overeating.”
The best approach is to practice mindful eating. “This means, pay attention to your hunger and fullness and stop eating once you reach the point of satisfaction, but not to the point of being uncomfortable,” says Pam Bonney, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., and founder of Tried and True Nutrition, Inc.
You feel so full you actually need to take a breather before your next bite
We’ve all been there before—whether it’s a late-night pizza binge or a giant rice bowl from Chipotle. But if you find yourself stopping before continuing to finish your meal because you’re getting too full, take this as a sign you’re overdoing it.
“This isn’t always easy to do, but taking a pause when we’re already feeling full can help us feel more satisfied more quickly without additional food,” says Smith. “When you take your pause, get up and do something else—don’t just sit at the table—as this will certainly cause you to eat more and make it harder to push the food away.” If you’re at a restaurant and can’t just go for a walk or leave the room, excuse yourself to go to the bathroom—any little sign that you’re telling yourself you’ve had enough will help your body realize it.
You barely pay attention to the meal in front of you
This might not be a surefire sign of overeating, but it can definitely lead you down the path towards overindulging. “Your body needs a bit of time to produce leptin, a hormone that signals satiety to your brain,” says Kayleen St. John, R.D., M.S., nutritional and culinary advisor for Euphebe. “If you’re eating quickly and not paying attention to your meal, you can overeat before your satiety hormone even signals to your brain that you’re full.”
Word to the wise eater: Try to focus during mealtimes by really tasting your food—aim for 15 to 30 minutes when possible. And don’t just munch while multitasking. That means shutting off the electronics, putting away the phone and turning off other means of distraction, says Smith.
The thought of having a big appetite gives you anxiety
“If you’re afraid of having an appetite, it might be because you tend to eat too much at each meal, or you think that having an appetite will make you eat too much and therefore gain weight,” says Bonney.
More food for thought: Most of us have been fortunate enough to never experience true hunger. And because it’s a foreign feeling, we might have a fear of having a true appetite or being truly hungry. “A reminder I give clients is that if you’re truly hungry, you would be excited to eat a plate of boiled broccoli and beans (no seasoning or salt),” says St. John. “If that meal sounds appealing to you, you’re likely to be truly hungry and not eating out of boredom or habit.”
Another way to overcome this feeling is to try and make mealtimes more positive experiences by spreading out your meals so you end up eating less at each meal, or inviting a friend to join you to make the time more enjoyable.
You feel heavy or weighed down after you finish a meal
If you have that post-Thanksgiving-dinner feeling on the reg, you definitely need to rethink portions. “This is a sign you may be choosing heavier foods or eating too much at one sitting,” says Smith. “Try lightening up on your choices, for example, by choosing lighter, salad- and protein-based foods instead of high-starch, high-fat items.” Not only are they lower in calories, but they’re also higher in fiber, so you feel full faster than lower-fiber foods. Think whole grains, legumes and tons of veggies!
You usually eat alone to avoid feelings of guilt or shame
If you live alone or work from home, you’re definitely going to be consuming the majority of your meals solo. But if you’re constantly dodging group lunches and always eating meals at your desk, it may be because you’re eating certain things you wouldn’t normally eat in front of others or eating behaviors you wouldn’t normally do (like eating with our hands or right out of the bag instead of putting something on a plate and eating with a fork). “This eating behavior can tend to make us feel guilty or shameful for choices we’ve made,” says Bonney. “Choosing a healthy, nutritious meal usually helps us feel more positive, confident and virtuous about our choices.”
You can’t keep your favorite food in the house without eating it all in one sitting
This definitely varies for everyone. For you it might be a box of Oreos and for your friend it might be a family-sized bag of Cheetos. But regardless of what your ‘trigger food’ is, you shouldn’t have a love-hate relationships with it or feel unable to stop eating once you start. “Trigger foods do just that—they trigger us to eat too much,” says Bonney. “Become aware and recognize what your trigger foods are, and keep them out of the house until you’re able to enjoy them more slowly over a longer period of time.”