Physical overeating vs mental overeating

Today I had an experience that sparked a topic that I haven’t seen many people talk about and that is overeating.

I think the first thing worth mentioning is that everyone overeats once in a while. Sometimes the food is just so good you simply can’t refuse another serving, or that extra slice of cake. Of course when it comes time to leave the table you usually end up feeling stuffed as opposed to just full – occasionally with a stomach ache to boot. But most of the time it’s worth it, because hey – you gotta live a little.

Most people treat overeating pretty flippantly – although that word comes with a pretty bad connotation. When we think of overeating we think of stuffing ourselves till we can’t move, or (worse yet) intense emotional eating or binging. But the fact of the matter is that overeating is a part of life – something that everyone does once in a while. Having such a horrible stigma attached to the word definitely doesn’t help us feel any better about ourselves when we do.

In my opinion there are also 2 different kinds of overeating. There’s the physical kind, where you feel extremely full, maybe bloated and with a bit of stomach trouble. And then there’s the mental kind – where we beat ourselves up because we ate too much of a “bad” food. This is usually something like eating too many bowls of cereal in one sitting, or stealing one scoop of ice-cream to many, or “tasting” one too many cookies. They are not one and the same and should not be treated as such.

Overeating is something that happens occasionally and should be tolerated and laughed about. If it occurs on a regular basis perhaps it’s a good idea to examine the cause of it, and become more in tune with your body. Mental overeating on the other hand, is a battle that needs to be won primarily in the mind. I think people that have suffered from eating disorders are particularly affected by this, because of the way we tend to overthink and analyze everything we eat. Occasionally we’ll eat something that is a normal occurrence for everyday people, but because we “dared” to eat it we feel guilty, dirty and out of control.

After yesterdays oatmeal dinner, I wasn’t particularly feeling oats in the morning. I decided to switch it up a little and try something new – a protein muffin with yogurt and a banana on the side.

This breakfast – although delicious, didn’t have much staying power for me. About two hours later I was already hungry. I needed to bake some cookies for my co-workers, and since they were going to be Mama Pea’s health cookies I figured I could enjoy one for snack once they were ready.

Well turns out I couldn’t wait – the hunger beast was insatiable. I ended up eating a cookie nearly raw because I was so hungry, and then a few more to make up for the first one.

That’s when the guilt set in “You fat pig – how could you let yourself eat so many cookies. You’re overeating again, just as you have in times past. Now you’ll never be able to control yourself and your eating habits ever again. You should skip lunch and restrict the rest of the day, just to make up for this little stunt”. Well, it’s obvious where THOSE voices were coming from. So I stopped for a moment and thought about it. Did I feel like I overate? No, I was perfectly satiated. Did I feel like eating more – no I had enough. This was no binge, or emotional overeating. This was my bodies way of telling me I needed more calories now that I’ve switched to a pretty intense weight training routine.

I ate a smaller lunch then usual, because I was still kind of full, but I didn’t want to skip it all together. Then I had a kick-ass workout, followed up by a solid post workout snack. Gotta fuel those growing muscles you know?

Kaths oatmeal pancake with various topics - verrry filling with great staying power 🙂

And I fully intend to have a decent, normal sized dinner and maybe a glass of Rose wine for dessert. I’m happy I had yet another chance to put my new, healthy eating habits into action and that I have the opportunity to talk about this.

(And by the way all my co-workers ended up eating 4-5 cookies in one sitting, which kind of proved to me that it really was just all in my head.)

I think a good criteria for defining physical overeating vs mental overeating is to ask yourself these questions:

–          How do you feel physically? Do you feel sluggish and weighed down or energetic? Are you stuffed or uncomfortably full? Is your stomach distended, in pain or bloated? If not, chances are you didn’t actually eat that much and it’s all in your mind. Which brings me to the next question…

–          How much did you really eat? If you had eaten the same amount of fruit, or salad, or any other lower calorie food – would you still consider it overeating?

–          Why do you feel bad about eating as much as you did? Is it because of any unspoken mental “food rules” you laid out for yourself? And why did you even make those rules in the first place?

These questions helped me get my feet back on the ground and ignore the guilt my old ED mindset tried to place on me. Life was meant to be enjoyed, a few indulgences now and then included. Healthy eating and living doesn’t change from day to day – it’s the overall sum of your choices, decisions and actions. And you shouldn’t let anyone (or anything) else dictate the way you are “allowed” to treat yourself. So go ahead, have that extra cookie once in a while. Eat another scoop of ice-cream if that’s what you want. Go to town and break all those stupid food rules once in a while, just because you can.

You only have one life – so live it up a little?

Do you think there is such a thing as “mental overeating”? Any thoughts or opinions on the matter? 



  1. YES YES YES!! I so needed this right now! It’s hard when you’ve suffered from an eating disorder for so long because you find it difficult to distinguish between eating a lot of something because it tastes good or eating because it’s emotionally related. Just last night I felt like I overate where in reality, all I had extra was a couple of cookies and a hot chocolate. Wow, if that’s a binge then I would hate to think what a normal snack looks like. Silly thoughts.

    I am definitely going to use your tips. Thank you so much for posting this!


  2. Really great topic, girl. I remember when my appetite first started going out of control when I started lifting, I ended up basically being hungry every hour and constantly munching on things. It scared the heck out of me, and I tried to deny it at first until my body basically rebelled and FORCED me to eat more. It was nowhere near a binge, but after suffering with an ED for so long, it certainly felt like one. I felt guilty at for a while until I realized that I was eating more because I was genuinely hungry – my body needed more to build the muscles that I was tearing up while working out. What’s wrong with that? Pft. Nothing. And there’s nothing wrong with grabbing an extra cookie or two, even if you’re not hungry, just because you want to experience the taste of it. I hate how eating just to make yourself smile has such a negative connotation. If such a simple thing can make you feel better, then why the heck shouldn’t you do it?

  3. Great post! I’ve been dealing with this feeling alot lately because I’ve been trying to gain a bit of weight and build some muscle. So I’ve been adding a little more to my diet and guess what? I’m not even that much fuller than before! This made me realize that I very, very rarely physically overeat even when I have something “extra”. Mostly it’s just me being silly and feeling “mentally overstuffed”.

    Thanks for putting into words that I’ve been feeling lately. This was really helpful for me!

  4. Never have I read a more relate-able/helpful/comforting post!
    Honestly, I needed to read this.
    You have a way of writing so that it feels as though it was meant for me.
    And I just wanted to thank you, genuinely!


    • Wow, that comment just made me smile, thanks so much! I’m so happy you were able to relate. I guess we all go through simular things and if my experiences were able to help you I’m really happy.

  5. You have so many amazing posts and you just keep adding to them! I totally believe in mental and physical overeating. I’ve eated when I thought was a large amount of bad food but I fell completely satisfied. I still beat myself up over it, but I now that this has been brought to my attention I won’t so much anymore. Great tips, I’m going to use them.

  6. okay first of all i am in love with the comments above mine- wow are they insightful or what! yes i definitely think there is so much truth to mental overeating and so much is related to just not knowing or trusting ourselves for what is right or wrong. we could sit 10 different people down and ask them what they would consider overeating and you would definitely be given 10 different responses. And if you already have a past with food issues, then the spectrum would vary on a greater scale. Wow I loved this post so much, thank you for sharing it with us and actually opening ourselves up to have a personal inward look into ourselves!

    xoxo ❤

  7. Oh I love this. There is nothing wrong with eating an extra cookie, an extra piece of cake or a double scoop of ice cream cone. People seem to be so concerned about balance but honestly, sometimes that has to be thrown out the window because that cookie is just so damn good 😉

  8. this is so great to think about – i think you made a really important distinction. i think these questions are great to ask yourself if you ARE overthinking the whole overeating thing – i think the ultimate goal is to get to a point where it just doesn’t matter anymore and that mental overeating doesn’t really occur anymore! i love all your posts – they are so thoughtful =)

  9. Pingback: The journey so far (operation GBB update) | A new start

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