How to Stop Compulsive Overeating

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Before you can lose weight, you must address when, how, and why you overeat or binge. This post describes what is compulsive overeating how to stop.

This post is not intended as medical advice or to treat eating disorders. It is intended to provide information and is the opinion of the author.

I’m a certified life and weight loss coach this post is based on my own work and experience. I believe in healthy habits before weight loss.

What is Compulsive Overeating

First, let’s define what I am talking about. Many women eat in a way, that causes them to feel physically bad, carry too much weight, and also feel shame about how they eat.

Compulsive overeating consists of a few things:

  • Eating large amounts of food past when you feel full
  • Eating in secret so no one can see how much you eat
  • Feeling embarrassed or ashamed about how much you eat

The term compulsive eating is often used interchangeably with binge eating. Binge eating disorder is a medical condition and includes compulsive eating as a symptom.

But you may eat compulsively at times and not have a medical disorder. That is what I am addressing here.

Why a Diet Won’t Stop Compulsive Eating

Most women think that going on the “right” diet will finally solve their urge to overeat. It doesn’t. Diets, with their cycle of deprivation, set you up for eventual failure and even more compulsive overeating in your future!

This post is also an introduction to more mindful eating and intuitive eating. This information has the potential to change your life forever.

If you have lost weight with a diet and are worried about regaining it; this can be really helpful information.

Many women report that at some point they just can’t quit overeating and they panic as the weight begins to come back

I know for some of you, compulsive overeating or even binging at times seems totally out of your control. However, it isn’t.

Right now, you might think, “Sara, I just want to lose weight!” I hear you; I really do. But you just can’t be successful long-term if you don’t address the root causes of that weight first.

I want to FREE you from the painful cycle of depriving yourself then binging, then feeling shame, then beating yourself up t daily. Let’s get off that merry go round for good!

Picture of a smiling woman holding a bowl of food with the words: How to stop compulsive overeating

What is Compulsive Overeating?

My personal definition of overeating in simplest terms is when we eat more than our bodies need of foods that we don’t want or need, past when when we are full.

Based on working with women, it is when they eat more of foods that they really don’t want to eat but feel compelled to eat at times.

What I don’t mean by overeating is when we have a few more fries once we’re full. Or we have a few bites of ice-cream after dinner on occasion.

My description of overeating is that it feels compulsive, and it feels necessary. There is also an emotional component to it. You might feel embarrassed or ashamed when you eat like this.

It also may feel like you have no choice in the matter. It also feels yucky. You probably feel shame and prefer to do it alone and not in front of others. It can almost feel like you are eating against your will.

Why do I Overeat?

Have you asked yourself this recently?

Here’s what I believe. Overeating is more complex than not having willpower. It is a combination of eating foods that mess up your brain AND the impulse to manage feelings with food.

Some foods act like drugs in your body.

We can look at someone that over drinks and think they have a problem.

I’ll tell you this. Women who are using sugar as their drug are in exactly the same boat. Sugar and foods that act like sugar are powerful substances that help numb us.

If you don’t believe me, go without your substance for a while and see what happens. You will probably notice restlessness, strong urges to eat the substance, and perhaps even a little panic at not having your thing.

That’s totally normal—not something to freak out about.

The reason you overeat is that you have taught your brain that certain foods solve problems.

You have practiced the habit of overeating or binging for so long, your brain and body think that it is actually necessary for your SURVIVAL.

This belief that you have to have it; is why you continue to overeat.

Why It is Important to Understand Overeating and Binging

The cycle of depriving and compulsive overeating is a living hell for many women. I want to free you from this prison.

I want you to finally have the freedom to just eat. I want you to eat foods you like and that support your body. I want you to have some treats.

What I want the most is for you to not be stuck in hopelessness and shame. Yep, that’s how most women describe it. Hopeless. They overeat or binge and they feel shame and hopelessness.

If you take nothing else away from this, take some HOPE!

Now, here is my list of things you can begin to believe right now. Also, as you read these tips, bear in mind that I believe in eating two or three meals a day with no snacks.

If you find yourself hungry and need a snack, by all means, eat it. However, the goal is to eat enough at meals that you don’t reach for snacks.

You Are Not What and How You Eat

I know, we hear all the time, “You are what you eat.” You, the real you is not what you eat. You are worthy, amazing, unique, beautiful, smart, and lovable as you are. You don’t have to change a thing.

Yet, this habit has you believing something is wrong with you. What is wrong is a combination of mental, emotional, and physical reactions that have created this cycle that feels impossible to break free from.

While you might not believe it yet—you are enough, you are worthy, and you can still choose to change if you want.

We Overeat to Avoid Feeling Uncomfortable

Once upon a time people ate because they were hungry. Occasionally hunger and eating go together but for most of us these days we eat for a lot of other reasons. We eat because:

  • We’re bored
  • We crave something
  • Everyone else is eating it
  • It’s time to eat
  • We don’t want to get hungry later
  • We didn’t eat enough and now we’re over-hungry
  • We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings
  • We just can’t stop ourselves
  • We would rather eat food that we don’t want and don’t need rather than feeling an uncomfortable feeling.

How many times have you said yes to a food that someone insisted you eat?

Can you remember a time that you ate rather than hurt someone’s feelings or to “fit in?”

Do you sometimes eat just because you feel restless or bored?

Those are examples of eating so you won’t feel uncomfortable. Yet the ironic part is that this kind of overeating ALWAYS feels uncomfortable too. I recommend that you choose to feel uncomfortable in support of your own goals.

Foods Are Not Good or Bad

Okay, I have written about 50 posts over the years, on food, and to be honest, you’ll find me calling some foods bad.

Back in the day, I did think some foods were Bad with a capital B. I still believe that sugar and foods like sugar are damaging in certain quantities, and we can live without them.

However, I’ve quit labeling any foods as bad or good. They are just food.

If we label foods as good or bad, then we end up eating foods we don’t like because they are “good” and avoiding perfectly good foods because we think they are “bad.”

How many times have you looked for “good” options on the restaurant menu?

Or how many times have you eaten that “good” food and then went crazy later eating some “bad” foods later?

I teach women to treat all food as neutral, neither good nor bad.

Now of course, some of us need to avoid certain foods because they really do make us sick. That doesn’t necessarily make the food bad though it can be bad for individuals.

So for the time being, as you begin this process, it’s best to just think of all food as food. And that you can have ANY of it that you want.

Yes, I just wrote that!

You can eat any food you want to.

Here’s the thing. When we outlaw foods, they don’t just disappear. They are out there calling our names. When everything is okay, then we don’t have to be rebellious. We get to make choices!

You Probably Need to Eat More

It’s ironic that in my work with women who hire me to help them lose weight, that I often start with having them eat more. So let me explain.

For the first couple of weeks when I coach a woman, I have them write down everything they eat. When I look at what they are eating, I often see that they are not eating enough food at meals or the kinds of food that will keep them satisfied.

When I say they need to eat more, I mean they need to eat more food, more healthy fat, and usually more protein and/or vegetables at their meals.

Most women do not eat enough food at their meals to keep them satisfied until the next meal. This is part of the physical component of this. You really do need to eat.

Not only do you need to eat—you are allowed to eat. It is your birthright to eat food and enough food that you are not hungry.

Eating enough food at meals, eating foods you enjoy, and eating enough fat is key to ending your overeating and binging habit.

Eat When You Are Hungry

When I was growing up, my family ate three meals a day.

My mom just accepted that we would be hungry at mealtime. And I usually was. I was hungry and I ate until I was full. Done until the next meal, which I usually eagerly anticipated.

Now as an adult, I don’t have a particular schedule. However, I have one rule. I don’t eat until I feel hungry.

This is a beautiful thing!

It may feel weird at first to listen to your body about when to eat. We’re not used to that.

Hunger is not something to be feared!

Hunger is your body’s signal that it is time to eat. Hunger means a green light on eating. Hunger means your body is ready to process more food.

However, most of you have trained yourselves that hunger is a bad thing. Or you might have trained yourself that it is a good thing, as in my hunger means I am losing weight.

Your hunger just means it is time to eat. Dieting sets us up to be artificially hungry. We don’t eat enough, then we get so hungry we eat everything we are allowed, and we eat until our allowed foods are gone.

Eating when you are hungry is powerful. You begin to trust your body and you begin to honor your body and its signals.

Another great thing about not eating until you are hungry is that you can actually tell when you are satisfied.

When we start eating for other reasons, we don’t get the same signal that tells us we’ve had enough. If we start from a somewhat full place, we just get fuller and we don’t know when to stop. Usually, we don’t stop until we’ve had too much.

The follow up to eating when you are hungry is stopping when you are full. This tip alone can change your eating forever in a positive way. When you get the hang of this, you really can eat anything you want at your meals.

Eat Foods You Like

Believe it or not, you can eat foods that taste good and not overeat. As you practice these tips you will begin to trust your body.

Sometimes you’ll pick foods that are objectively nutritious. Sometimes you won’t. You’ll find your balance.

I aim for 80% of the foods I eat to be nutritious and support my health goals. The other 20% can be anything I want.

If I want some pizza or ice-cream that is part of my 20%. I have no trouble maintaining my weight with this balance.

If my treat foods or eating out cause me to start gaining weight, I might spend some time being more careful and do 90/10. I never tell myself I can’t have foods I like though.

And I never punish myself for what I eat!

If you aren’t worried that you’ll be out of control, you can begin to enjoy all food, not just the ones you’ve labeled as good. You can begin to understand how foods make you feel.

You can also use this knowledge to make decisions about how you want to feel rather than what you want to avoid feeling.

Learning to Feel Uncomfortable 101

Now to the most important thing. Making these changes can feel uncomfortable. It can be scary to trust your body, maybe for the first time since you were a child or teenager.

Here are some places where you might feel uncomfortable:

  • Eating more fat
  • Not snacking at night
  • Telling someone “No thank you” to something they’ve made for you
  • Not eating when you are bored or restless
  • Eating foods that you previously labeled bad
  • Waiting to eat until you are hungry
  • Eating enough at your meals
  • Eating meals
  • Processing your feelings rather than eating

Many women believe that if they could only lose weight, all their problems would be solved.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

You will have problems and uncomfortable feelings all of your life. There is no way to bypass the human experience.

Why feelings are important

If you manage to lose weight with a diet, you’ll drag your shitty mindset with you and eventually give up. Almost everyone that loses weight with a diet, gains all the weight back. This isn’t my opinion, research backs this up.

Diets promise that life will be wonderful if only we are thin. This just isn’t true. You WILL NOT be any happier overall.

But you know what does create the perception of more happiness and a better quality of life? Not overeating and binging!

Not being out of control with your eating. Eating food you like and being comfortable in your body.

Here is something to keep in mind. No matter how uncomfortable you feel, your body is designed to handle it.

We’ve come to believe that feeling uncomfortable means something is wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s just a part of life and one that is manageable.

Does This Stuff Really Work?

Yes, it does.

My clients often quit overeating within a couple of months. They are amazed when years of overeating and binging naturally resolves itself when they practice the above tips.

I love hearing women tell me that they are eating and loving it and how freeing it is.

You might wonder about their weight?

During the holidays of 2021, none of my clients gained weight, even ones who told me they always gained weight over the holidays.

Some clients start losing weight immediately. For some it takes longer for that to start. Some might gain a couple of pounds as they transition to not dieting.

However, 100% of clients have more peace and less shame. They begin LIVING life rather than obsessing over food.

When I say diets don’t work; I am not saying you won’t ever lose weight. You might eventually begin losing weight as your mind and body begin working as a team.

If you have lost weight and you are worried about maintaining this loss, these tips will help you too. I believe that learning to eat is what will free you from the diet/gaining weight back cycle.

When you are back in control of how you eat; you will feel powerful, and the mindset work you did to get there will open up so many possibilities for you.

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I'm a certified life and weight loss coach who helps women feel better and get the most out of their lives! The process of life coaching teaches you to love yourself and gain self confidence in a safe effective way.

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Hi, I'm Sara Garska and I'm so happy you're here! Big changes can happen with a shift in thinking. Over time, you transform your life into the one you always dreamed of having. As a certified life and weight loss coach, I can help you create a life you love. Click here to schedule a free 50-minute coaching session.