4 Ways to Avoid Overeating at Meals

Sometimes those holiday feasts are just amazing. And it’s not just the abundance of delicious food but also the people, the decorations, and the ambiance. It is way too easy (and common) to indulge on those days, but it doesn’t always stop there, does it?

Sometimes we overeat on regular days.

Or at regular meals.

Or All. The. Time.

So, why do we do this? We may sit down at the table or at a restaurant with every intention of stopping when we’re full, only to clean the plate and feel awful afterward.

Triggers for Overeating

We know it while we’re doing it, but that often isn’t enough to stop us. What contributes? Just a few common culprits include:

  • Mindless eating
  • Big plates
  • Too much junk food – Junk food is addictive
  • We treat food like it’s a reward – Have you ever treated yourself to a treat after a workout?
  • We keep the naughty foods where we can see them…and eat them
  • We’re tired, stressed or bored
  • We skip meals and then go crazy when we finally eat

Why we overeat is important and it probably changes depending on the situation, but there are some very simple things you can do to cut down on the chances of eating too much.

Here are 4 tips to avoid overeating at meals.

(Psst, turn these into habits and ditch the willpower!)

Tip #1: Start with some water

When your stomach is growling and you smell amazingly delicious food it’s too easy to fill a plate (or grab some samples with your bare hands) and dive into the food. But did you know that it’s possible to sometimes confuse the feeling of thirst with that of hunger? Your stomach may actually be craving a big glass of water rather than a feast.

Some studies have shown that drinking a glass or two of water before a meal can help reduce the amount of food eaten. And this super-simple tip may even help with weight loss (…just sayin’).

Not only will the water start to fill up your stomach before your meal, leaving less room for the not-so-healthy stuff, but drinking enough water has been shown to slightly increase your metabolism.

And of course, you’re hydrating so your body, so you’re getting more energy. That doesn’t suck.


Tip #2: …Or start with some umami

You know that foods all have different tastes: Sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. But there’s another taste out there, what the Japanese call ‘umami.’ This includes foods that tend to be savory and include high protein foods like fish, meat and some dairy products.

What makes something umami? One key ingredient is glutamate, which is an amino acid…think of the miso soup or the soy sauce at a sushi place. That flavor is all umami and there’s some thought that having umami broth or soup supplemented with MSG may help you lose weight.

In one study published in the journal of Neuropsychopharmacology researchers gave healthy women either regular chicken broth or chicken broth with MSG. They evaluated changes after they ate and found that those who ate the broth-MSG combo ate less overall and even ate less saturated fat during their meal.

Other studies have shown the same thing, that broth and MSG prior to a meal can decrease appetite and food intake, especially in women with a propensity to overeat and gain weight.

Now you’ve probably heard that MSG is bad for your health, mostly because it’s blamed for causing allergic reactions. But, most experts today agree that MSG doesn’t cause sickness or allergic reactions…just one of those old wive’s tales that get passed around until we believe it’s true.

To get started, check out 8 Tips for Using MSG in Cooking and in Recipes. You can get some at Amazon – just like everything else!

Tip #3: Try eating “mindfully”

You’ve heard of mindfulness but have you applied that to your eating habits? This can totally help you avoid overeating as well as having the added bonus of helping your digestion. Just as being mindful when you meditate helps to focus your attention on your breathing and the present moment, being mindful when you eat helps to focus your attention on your meal.

In one study published in The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior experts studied 2 groups – Women who focused on mindful eating whenever they went out to eat and a control group who didn’t change anything.

The findings are pretty interesting – The mindful group lost significantly more weight, ate fewer calories and less fat, improved diet-related capability and had fewer barriers to losing weight when eating out.

Do this by taking smaller bites, eating more slowly, chewing more thoroughly, and savoring every mouthful. Notice and appreciate the smell, taste, and texture.


This can help prevent overeating because eating slower often means eating less. When you eat quickly you can easily overeat because it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to know that your stomach is full.

So take your time, pay attention to your food and enjoy every bite.

Bonus points: Eat at a table (not in front of the screen), off of a small plate, and put your fork down between bites.

More: 6 Ways to Practice Mindful Eating

Tip #4: Start with the salad or veggies

You may be ready to dig into the main meal, but hold up a second. You can have that…but after your salad.

Veggies are a great way to start any meal because they’re full of not only vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and health-promoting phytochemicals but they also have some secret satiety weapons: fiber and water.

Fiber and water are known to help fill you up and make you feel fuller. They’re “satiating.”

And these secret weapons are great to have on your side whether it’s a one-time event or something you struggle with daily.


Have your glass of water, try umami broth, eat mindfully, and start with your salad to help avoid overeating at meals.

Recipe (Water): Tasty (and beautiful) Pre-Meal Water Ideas

If you’re not much of a plain water drinker or need your water to be more appealing to your senses here are five delicious (and beautiful looking) fruit combos to add to your large glass of water:

  • Slices of lemon & ginger
  • Slices of strawberries & orange
  • Slices of apple & a cinnamon stick
  • Chopped pineapple & mango
  • Blueberries & raspberries

Tip: You can buy a bag (or several bags) of frozen chopped fruit and throw those into your cup, thermos, or uber-cool mason jar in the morning. They’re already washed and cut and will help keep your water colder longer.


Magerowski G, Giacona G, Patriarca L, et al. Neurocognitive effects of umami: association with eating behavior and food choice. Neuropsychopharmacology. March 2018:1. doi:10.1038/s41386-018-0044-6

Timmerman GM, Brown A. The Effect of a Mindful Restaurant Eating Intervention on Weight Management in Women. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2012;44(1):22-28. doi:10.1016/j.jneb.2011.03.143