Most people who are overeaters are totally unaware that they are. This is until they realize that they have a weight or health problem and start questioning why.

People, by and large, are creatures of habit and often overeating is done subconsciously from habit. Fortunately, the human brain is able to relearn and change, so old habits can be eliminated and new healthy habits acquired to take their place.

We will explore what are the four types of people who are most likely to have an overeating habit, the reasons why and how to counter this habit with a healthy alternative eating pattern.

1. Sensitive People

Some people are highly sensitive. They pick up more from their environment and other people around them than the average person does. This sensitivity causes them to become aware of and feel things, both of their own and from other people, often quite strongly. They also tend to think about their immediate situation and reflect on the consequences of things before acting. This attention to detail, the higher levels of consciousness in their immediate environment – as well as being aware of other people’s feelings, emotions, requirements, and actions – leave them open to being overwhelmed, over-aroused and overstimulated.

One of the first things sensitive people come across is the sudden realization that most people they meet are not very sensitive. In fact, the modern world has very little room for sensitivity. We live in a culture that is emotion phobic, the vast majority of people are just not aware of what life is about for a sensitive person.

When someone feels overwhelmed, over-aroused and overstimulated, they seek a way to diminish these feelings. One of the simplest ways, apart from running away, is to eat something, a comfort food, usually something sweet and creamy or just sweet, anything that gives them a sugar rush and a sense of being lost in the moment. The more of this comfort food you eat, the more lost in the act of eating you become to the point that your sense of reality is reduced, a form of escape much like drinking or taking drugs.

Most of us instinctively feel or think that the more we eat, the more energy we will have. This can be true if eating healthy, wholesome food, up to a point. However, the compulsive overeater goes way past that point. Because of the excess food in their system, they start to feel tired, lethargic and sleepy. The reason for this is that when eating in a normal fashion, the gut and small intestines naturally stretch until full.

Once a certain amount of food has entered your stomach, a nerve, the Vagus or pneumogastric nerve (the longest nerve of our autonomic nervous system, which has many functions), sends messages to the brain to tell the brain that there is food coming. When the stomach has stretched enough to contain the necessary amount of food to provide the body with all its nutritional requirements, the message to stop eating is sent. When this happens, the message goes from your stomach to your brain to say stop eating, an overeater will have already consumed far more food than someone eating in a normal fashion. This is because of the time it takes for the message to travel, usually between 10 and 20 minutes. A normal or slow eater will take the time to chew each mouthful and savor the taste, most overeaters eat very quickly.

For the majority of human history and evolution, humans were hunters and gatherers. They would eat what they could hunt, find or scavenge. Because often it required a lot of effort to reach fruits and berries containing essential nutrients important for optimum health, they needed a good reason to put in the extra effort required to find them. Most fruits and berries have a high level of natural sugars, so our ancestors, through necessity, developed a sweet tooth or the desire for sweet foods. Whether these sugars are there by design to attract predators, so they can devour the fruit and spread their seeds or they just happen to be part of the makeup of the plant is unknown. Regardless of the reason, many fruits are very sweet and early man found great pleasure in finding and eating these fruits. The brain releases pleasure producing compounds when the taste receptors encounter the sweetness of sugars. This encourages the search for more of the same, ensuring an ample supply of the compounds and nutrients contained in the fruit.

A sensitive person often looks for relief from being overwhelmed by situations such as being out at social events, having to put up with bright lights, loud sounds, enticing displays and the general noise found in shopping centers, supermarkets, and other commercial centers. This sensory pollution can cause sensitive people to have sensory overload and seek relief. One of the easiest and quickest forms of relief they can find is the eating of some sweet rich comfort food. The brain loves these foods and rewards the body by producing calming and pleasuring compounds. It is no surprise that many people love to indulge in these taste experiences, especially when stressed. Unfortunately, if you indulge too often is can lead to overeating, food addiction, and obesity.

It is rare to find anyone who has chosen to be fat, but we are all biologically programmed to crave sweet, sugary and even processed foods because of the pleasure we gain from eating them. People who struggle with a sugar craving, are trying to avoid having sugar binges or get past a sugar addiction are not alone. In fact, they are fast becoming the majority thanks to the increasing availability of highly processed, super sweet and yes delicious, but incredibly bad for you junk foods.

No wonder sensitive people are prone to be overeaters and overweight.

Many sensitive people feel confusion and shame when they get stressed or are unhappy, this leads to them developing an uncontrollable, overwhelming and urgent urge or craving to overeat.

Sensitive people, usually crave sweet, creamy and crunchy type foods such as chocolate and ice-cream, cream-filled pastries or sugary desserts. It is not often they will pick savory or spicy things.

In order to help relieve these feelings and lower the tendency to overeat there are a few things, an individual can do.

Probably the most important thing is to try to come to terms with your anxiety.

This can be done in a number of positive ways, such as recognizing the different situations where you feel stressed and overstimulated. Once you can recognize the cause of your stress, then you can address it in a calm and logical way.

These feelings often come to sensitive people because they are always trying to control things and make their world fit into what they perceive as the right way. They have a need to try to be in control.

Things to do or avoid doing to relieve stress

  • Try to avoid trying to control your environment and the people in it, just try and accept that things happen and you cannot be or are not in control of a situation and let it pass. Many situations are random, no one’s fault and unavoidable.
  • If you are in a situation that you find threatening or uncomfortable, then the best option is to quietly leave if possible.
  • Instead of trying to control your feelings and inner experiences such as reactions and emotions, try and observe them and recognize them for what they are. They are not you, they are the thoughts you have. Try to control your thoughts.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated, try to see it for what it is, it’s your thoughts you’re feeling. Instead of your thoughts controlling you, relax if possible, and take several breaths and look through your thoughts and see them for what they are. They are just your thoughts, they are not you.
  • Do not be judgmental about your feelings. Recognize that is all they are, feelings, not fact. If you are feeling overwhelmed, then say to yourself “I’m just feeling overstimulated or over-aroused” which is a positive way of looking at it. Instead of taking a negative view of the situation and feeling like “Here I go again, this is all too much for me.” This way, you’re not being so self-critical, which in itself, can cause lots of stress.

When you think about these types of situations, it is often a good idea to try and think about what someone in your life who has been supportive of you would say. Try using their voice in your imagination to suggest to yourself to relax.

2. Neurotic People

Being the type of person who has neurotic tendencies is very likely to result in overeating for many. This is for the same reasons sensitive people overeat. The nature of a neurotic person gives them a tendency to have an addictive personality. Neurotic people also often have other mental health issues that can not only affect their eating patterns but give them a desire to overeat to compensate for feelings of inadequacy.

Most people have been, at one time or another, accused of being neurotic. This is a term that people use to explain a range of behavioral idiosyncrasies, from a fear of mice, spiders and the dark, to excessively washing their hands or plates and eating utensils.

Being slightly neurotic can lead people to eat impulsively and often even lose self-control when they are faced with an anxiety situation.

  • Being subject to depression
  • Being self-centered
  • Being subject to self-abuse
  • Being a binge eater
  • Tending to over-indulge in alcohol or drugs

When you find that you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed by things or situations that you feel you do not have any control over or are in an environment that makes you feel uncomfortable and vulnerable such as:

  • Being overwhelmed because of the intense, negative, feelings of loneliness, sadness, fear or self-doubt
  • By being in an environment that is very loud or noisy
  • Having the feeling you are off-balance because of traveling, shopping in large, busy places or being at a social event with unknown people
  • Having to rush to an appointment or meeting
  • Having the feeling that you are under pressure to perform and an unfamiliar task
  • Being just too busy to complete the tasks required
  • Being overworked or working long hours without sufficient time to recharge and relax
  • Thinking or worrying about things you have no control over and are unable to change
  • Being placed in charge of others
  • Having to train or teach others
  • Having to be a caretaker for someone
  • Taking an exam or test
  • Having to do some public speaking or performing in front of peopleIf you can relate to some of these types of experiences and reading this list causes you some apprehension, then it is possible that you are neurotic to some degree.

3. People Pleasers

Some people hate to be involved with any type of conflict. They usually go out of their way to please everyone and are great social eaters. People pleasers will eat more food when in another’s company in order to be sure others are comfortable. They do not want to be the one who is eating a salad while everyone else is eating pizza and burgers.

People pleasers are often the nicest people to have around. They are helpful and never say no. These types of people are prone to overeating because they are so busy trying to please everyone, they just do not have time to relax and look after themselves.

Often the intense need or feel they have to please and care for or take care of others comes from a personal fear of being rejected or the fear of failing. These feelings or fears often stem from events that happened in early life.

Sometimes, people pleasers think they have to do anything and everything they can, to make a person happy or else that person may leave and stop caring. Another fear people pleasers have is that if they make a mistake or do something wrong, they will disappoint people and be punished.

These feelings usually stem from harsh punishment or criticisms when young or from being abandoned by someone they loved and were dependent upon. But regardless of the reason, origins or motives of people-pleasers, the result is often similar for each of them, they are very likely to become overeaters.

People pleasers’ hearts are in the right place. It’s a pity that a little of the “being helpful to others” that people pleasers have cannot be distributed more evenly amongst all people and the world, it would be a better place.

Some of the consequences and solutions for overeating, people pleasers are:

  • People pleasers devote so much of their time to looking after others, they often neglect to look after themselves and are prone to health and eating disorders such as overeating. What is needed is for them to slow down and take proper care of themselves and eat slowly. Then they will be better equipped to devote their time to looking after others.
  • Many people-pleasers develop anger or resentment at people in their lives because they feel that they are constantly being taken advantage of, but their underlying need or desire to be kind and helpful causes them to suppress these feelings. Often they will manifest as passive aggression when a few of these feelings escape in the form of sarcasm or sharp comments. Alternatively, the people-pleasers resort to overeating as a way of making themselves feel good and coping with their resentment. The only way to deal with this is to find a way to speak out and communicate the real way you feel to those you care about. If done in a sensitive and caring way, it does not matter if they are not happy to hear this or if they reject it and say that it is not their responsibility. What matters is that you have made a conscious decision to do something positive about it.
  • Often people pleasers will go to events, visit people they really do not want to or just do not enjoy. They will listen to a recital or concert that grates on them; they will put up with it, although they would rather be anywhere else or listen to anything else. But they do this because they do not want to upset or offend the person. It would be much better for them to have an excuse prepared for these occasions as most normal people do. People can usually tell when you are not enthusiastic about something or are present, but disengaged with the event.
  • When you spend all your time trying to please everyone it can turn into a vicious circle of being over-stressed causing unhealthy behavior. This can lead to depression with the feeling that you are always doing things for others, but have no time to look after yourself. Changing is often very difficult as you are unable to let anyone down or upset those who have grown to rely on you. The best solution is to find one area of responsibility you can reduce or share with another to get a little free time. At the same time try and find just one person, often a person who is like you a people pleaser (as they will understand the issues you face) who you can talk with, share the problems you have and work together.
  • It is interesting and not well understood that we actually teach other people how we want to be treated by the way we treat them. This does not always work, but people-pleasers give out the vibe or feeling they will try and accommodate your requests and that they just cannot so no. Most people are just not aware that you are overextended already and will take things at face value and accept an offer of help or assistance.However, there are also people who look for people-pleasers that they can take advantage of as they know you will not say no.If someone takes advantage of you once, then it is their fault, but if you allow them to do it again, it becomes your fault for letting them.It is a problem to say no because everyone is expecting you to say yes. You have to learn to not feel guilty when helping someone is beyond what can be reasonably expected and you must help yourself first.It is a bit like in a plane when the flight attendants do a safety check and drills. They say, “If you have small children, secure your own life jacket and oxygen mask first.” This because if you do theirs first, you may not live and survive long enough to be able to help them.

4. Extroverts

Extraverts are likely candidates for overeating because they are social animals. They like to mingle and become involved with people often dining or eating in social settings. Because of this, they are more likely to eat and even drink more than other types of people. Although sweet sugary types of foods are particularly addictive to most overeaters, many extroverts tend to like more fatty and spicy foods which are in contrast to the likes of sensitive or neurotic people.

Many extroverted over eaters fall into the old trap of carefully planning the usual three healthy meals each day, but neglecting to count the extra calories they get from extra snacks and drinks during the day. These can add up very quickly and soon cause a person to inadvertently overeat.

The different ingredients added to processed foods can have properties that are able to chemically change some of the physiological factors of the hormones in our body. This includes those hormones that regulate a person’s appetite and the different neurotransmitters of the brain, especially the chemical known as “the feel-good chemical dopamine.

Many types of processed and junk foods that are heavily promoted contain compounds and substances that closely mirror those of other addictive substances. Although they do not have the intoxicating effect of drugs, they are by nature very hazardous to a person’s overall wellbeing and encourage overeating in general.

It is a sad fact that many overeaters or compulsive overeaters tend to obsess over their food and feel compelled to eat food with very little self-control.

The Anterior Cingulate Gyrus is the part of the brain responsible for the ability to move between thoughts; it allows us to see errors and problems, it acts a bit like a gearshift, problems with the anterior cingulate gyrus can be caused by a poor diet, genetics or emotional trauma.

A combination of certain foods and eating patterns has been shown to promote or prompt reactions that are usually associated with addictions from alcohol and drugs.

Other Causes of Overeating

Studies have revealed that the vast majority of people are sleep deprived either because of lack of sleep or because of low quality sleep. It is now known that the same hormones affected when someone is suffering from sleep deprivation are closely related to those that regulate your hunger. Ghrelin is the hormone that triggers hunger and is produced when someone is overtired or lacking sleep. Conversely, leptin, the hormone that is used to signal to the brain that our stomach is reaching full capacity, is reduced so the strong, “we’re full, stop eating” message does not get to the brain, causing us to overeat. Even if we do not need any food, without this hormone leptin regulating our needs, the brain thinks it needs a quick energy fix, so goes in search of carbohydrates. Once an easy source of carbohydrates is found, then eating begins. As there is no internal regulatory control to tell the brain to stop eating, the food is consumed until the supply is exhausted or there just is no more room to stuff more in.

Many people eat to make themselves feel better. This is understandable as it is a direct result of their early mother, baby connection when the mother comforts and feeds her baby.

There is much more to eating than just the physical act, although it is in its own right very soothing for many people. Some of the chemicals in common foods can also help to improve our overall moods and disposition. Many natural carbohydrates will enhance or increase the level of serotonin – a necessary brain chemical. Many antidepressant medications are designed to do the same thing, so maybe, when you have a craving for some extra sweet carbohydrate type junk food, it’s your brain telling you that you need some more serotonin.

It is also widely believed that adding fat to the diet can reduce the feeling of being sad because the fatty acids contain mood-changing compounds that can boost a person’s mood. Unfortunately, if you use this too often it will increase your weight and can lead to overeating.

Many people, when bored, will look for food and eating to help reduce this feeling.

One of the most overlooked reasons people overeat is that it is actually a natural instinct that is encoded into our DNA. No, I do not mean heading to the fast-food restaurant.

Our early ancestors lived in a world that was very different. The foods they had available were largely what they could hunt down, gather or scavenge. Foods that naturally contain sugars, fats and salt were very scarce and, when found, they would have been totally consumed. There was no waste allowed, as no one knew when the next food source would be found and rich, tasty food sources, full of necessary nutrients, would not be allowed to remain uneaten. So our early ancestors would have on occasion overeaten, but it would have been a very rare occasion.

Some Ways to Help Limit Overeating

1.     Try and eat slowly and taste each mouthful, a good suggestion is to try and chew each mouthful a minimum of ten times. This helps because it gives your mind a chance to keep up with or at least catch up with your stomach and make eating much more enjoyable. Chewing your food adds saliva to aid in digestion and to help create hormones as well as allowing your brain to monitor your satiation.

2.   When people allow themselves to get very hungry, they tend to overeat. Having a few healthy snacks between meals will mean you are not that hungry so you will not feel like overeating.

3.   Many people are always dehydrated simply because they do not drink enough water. Drinking soda does not really hydrate you but gives a sugar spike which in turn causes an insulin spike. This then later results in low insulin levels. Often when dehydrated it feels like you are hungry.

If you drink a glass of water 20 or 30 minutes before a meal, then it will stop you feeling so hungry and reduce the urge to overeat.

4. Because a person’s willpower can be severely reduced when they are hungry, keep a selection of healthy snacks on hand. When you are out and about, it is so easy to spot a snack for sale. They are everywhere to tempt you. If you are filled up on healthy snacks you will not feel the urge to overeat on junk food or processed snacks.

5. Do not skip breakfast as you will be hungry at lunchtime and if you do not overeat then, by the time dinner time rolls around you could be ravenous and start to eat everything in sight – drastically overeating.

6.   Very few people will sit down and eat 4 bowls of steamed vegetables, but quite a lot of people will have a little problem eating the same amount of ice cream or some other sugar-packed dessert. This is not a matter of will power or greed. It is genetically programmed behavior, developed by evolution, and our neurochemical reward centers. These are designed to override willpower and common sense in the interest of self-preservation of our species. Unfortunately, evolution did not anticipate man meddling with the food chain and adding all the toxic chemicals we now eat daily.

7.   If you try to eat real minimally processed foods, you will find they are more satisfying and filling and you will not be tempted to overeat.

8. Try writing a food journal of all the food you eat and how you feel before during and after eating so you can consider whether your overall eating enjoyment is improving and have a record of your not overeating.

9.   Exercise is not only for weight reduction and overall fitness, but you will also be able to metabolize your food better and have more control over your appetite.

I hope it has enlightened you on who are the most likely people to overeat. When you become aware of your eating habits and the reason you eat or overeat, you are then in a position to change and become a regular eater.

Mindfulness is a very handy tool to use to address the problem of overeating. Essentially what this does is when you feel the need to eat, instead of just rushing to the nearest food source and munching, take the time to relax and examine the reason you feel hungry. Use a simple breathing meditation to relax your mind and center on your mind rather than your thoughts and emotions.

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