We’ve worked with clients for many years and overeating is one of the largest barriers that prevent people from being able to lose weight.
Figuring out how to stop overeating is a complicated topic. Because it's so complex, you're probably going to need different strategies at different times and certain strategies work well for different people.
With that in mind, I will go through one specific technique that I learned while doing some of my education through Precision Nutrition.
I have found this technique incredibly effective with clients who are trying to figure out how to stop overeating.
It is called Red Light, Yellow Light, Green Light Foods.
Red light foods are the ones that don’t work well for you.
What does that mean?
Red light foods can be foods that cause any of the following.
You feel you can’t control yourself when eating them
When you eat them you don’t feel very good afterwards (ie. bloating, gas, lower energy, etc)
Eating them is causing you to move farther away from your goals
Red Light Foods are Likely to Trigger Overeating
I’d recommend being careful when selecting your red light foods.
I’ve found many clients consider foods such as ice cream and chocolate as red-light foods because they feel they can’t control themselves around these foods or these foods stop them from reaching their goals.
However, a lot of that has to do with the strategies they're using to try and lose weight not the foods themselves.
For example, they're dieting and going to extremes and taking out all carbs and all sugar and they start feeling deprived.
This leads them to no longer having control around these types of foods.
I’d suggest asking yourself “am I actually struggling with control around these foods or is it how I’m trying to lose weight.”
Another important note with red light foods, you can have healthy foods still fall into the red-light category.
For example, cheese can be healthy. However, it might give you digestion issues or you find you can’t eat it in the proper serving size.
Some examples of red light foods that we found common with clients over the years are like potato chips, chocolate bars, ice cream, soda, pop pizza, or a lot of other highly processed very calorie-dense foods that aren't very nutritious.
Obviously, your red light foods list is going to be very individual these are just common examples.
Proceed with Caution for Yellow Light Foods
Yellow light foods might work well for you sometimes but in other times they don’t work for you.
For example, if you eat them in smaller amounts, you’re fine but if you consume them larger amounts, you get digestive or negative effects.
For example, it could be a food that you have control around in certain situations or environments.
Maybe you can eat cheesecake in moderate amounts while dining at a restaurant. However, when you're home alone and you have an entire cheesecake at your disposal you lose control and overeat.
Another common factor that affects your control around food is your mental-emotional state at the time of eating the food.
For example, if you're feeling stressed, you might not have control over certain foods.
But if you are relaxed, you have control around those exact same foods.
If this is the case these are yellow light foods for you. The factor is stress.
Similar to red light foods, your yellow light foods are very individual.
Green Light Foods are a Go!
Greenlight foods have you looking and feeling your best.
They're super nutritious, they leave you feeling satisfied physically and mentally. Finally, you have lots of energy when eating green light foods.
These are the foods helping you move closer towards your goal.
Obviously, these are the foods you want to try and eat more of.
Build Awareness of What You Overeat
How do you use red, yellow and green light foods to help you figure out how to stop overeating?
It is a tool to help you build better awareness which is for most people and important first step to stop overeating.
Get out a piece of paper and a pen.
Draw 3 columns on your piece of paper and label them red light, yellow light and green light.
Start filling in the different foods you feel should be in each column.
Take your time in considering which foods go in which column.
With red light foods, ask yourself “Why don't I have control around those foods!?”
If you're not sure that's okay. For now, leave it the red-light category.
By slowing down and asking yourself “why?” It might help you to develop better awareness such as realizing that you can eat ice cream moderately at an ice cream parlour but can’t control yourself when you have a tub of it at home.
Hopefully, this is starting to help you have a better awareness.
One of the biggest things with figuring out how to stop overeating is understanding your triggers around that.
Next, look at your red light foods, are there any of those foods you can take out and remove from your household?
This isn't always an option.
For example, you have potato chips in your red light food category because you have no control around them.
But your partner absolutely loves potato chips and feels like they need them in the house. You can have a conversation with them about it, but if they're not comfortable with removing potato chips that might not be a viable option.
What Can You Do if You Can’t Remove the Food?
If you can’t remove the food you’ll have to start relying on other strategies.
For example, you could increase the barrier to eating the food.
You could ask your partner to keep that food somewhere separate the house and away from your where you would generally see the food and be tempted by it.
Some examples we’ve had our clients who are shorter than their partners, ask their partner to place it on a higher shelf or a place that would require a small ladder or chair so it is difficult to reach.
It sounds silly but these small barriers have worked and help get you away from unconscious eating, which often happens with overeating.
You actually have to stop and think or stop and go get a chair and that little bit of a barrier can prevent you from eating it.
Strategies and Barriers to Stop Overeating
Here’s another example, I remember years ago, I had a client who had trouble with overeating ice cream.
She didn't want to remove ice cream from her house though.
What she did was she had a deep freeze in her basement and she would bury it in the bottom of the freezer.
She found that 90% of the time that would be enough to stop her from eating the ice cream.
She thought that she did not want to go all the way downstairs, pull everything out of the freezer and get it. It was simple and it worked.
Small things can make a big difference.
You just need to figure out what techniques work best for you.
If You Can Remove Red-Light Foods
That doesn’t mean you can never eat your red-light food again.
A strategy that works well for a lot of people who take red-light foods out of their household is going to the store and purchasing a serving size of the red-light food and then brining it home to eat.
This does a couple of things.
You only have a serving size portion of the food making it easier to avoid overeating.
Also, if you find you want to eat even more food after you’ve finished your serving size you would have to go back to the store again.
This is usually enough of a barrier to prevent someone from overeating.
Often people will buy a lot of their red-light foods in large bulk sizes to save money.
stop and think about this and ask yourself “would it be worth spending a little bit of extra money to get the serving size packages if it's going to help to stop you from overeating?”
It’s important to understand just because this strategy is simple, doesn't mean it's easy.
Actually implementing this is tough.
Managing to figure out how to stop overeating is hard work.
But I know you could do this if you take the time to start actually getting better awareness you can start getting better and better and controlling overeating.
If you’re struggling with overeating it may be related to emotional eating. Check out this video on tools to help manage emotional eating.