Tape Mouth

Why You Struggle To Control Overeating!

posted on: June 13, 2018. posted in: Weight loss, Nutrition

We've had a question on our fan page...

"What happens if you don’t diet and you just over eat? How do you control that."

All overeating has its roots in caloric uncertainty.

Which means that if you overeat, somewhere in your past or present your calorie intake has been uncertain. Your brain has been convinced that you might run out of calories at some point, so it has overeaten as a backup.

As a simple example, if I told you that from tomorrow you are going on a 400 calorie a day diet for the next six months, how do you think you'll spend this evening...

a) Chilling out with a salad? or

b) Eating everything in sight?

For many people, even the mere thought of starting a diet creates enough caloric uncertainty to trigger a binge, before you've even started reducing your calorie intake!

Caloric uncertainty comes in many forms.

Not just crash diets.

It's basically anything that poses a threat to your caloric intake, increasing your risk of potential starvation. So think of overeating as a kind of natural, instinctive defence mechanism against starvation.

Now I appreciate this is complex!!

So I'm going to share a story that might help...


Growing up I was very lucky to be well nourished and well fed, and if anything I was taught to "finish my plate" at every meal, which of course made my calorie intake very certain.

When you sit down to meals and you know that you have to finish whatever's in front of you, you never feel anxious about where your next meal is coming from, which creates a heightened state of caloric certainty.

This, of course, is highly appetite suppressing.

To put it simply...

The more regular your meals.

The more predictable your meals.

The more nutritious your meals.

The higher the level of caloric certainty, the lower the risk of starvation and the more your brain responds by suppressing your appetite and binging.

Compare this to a child who was less fortunate, and who instead of being told to "finish your plate" was lucky to even have a meal put in front of them.

In this example...

Their meals are not regular.

Their meals are not predictable.

Their meals are not nutritious.

Which of course creates a higher level of caloric uncertainty, and a higher risk of starvation, so their brain responds by increasing their appetite and binging.

This explains why poverty is a major driving force for obesity. In short, the poorer someone is the higher their caloric uncertainty and the greater their appetite and binging, leading to weight gain.

So a lot of our eating behaviour, and overeating behaviour, is learned and developed in the environment we grew up in as children.

If you grew up in an environment where meals were regular, predictable and nutritious, you're less likely to overeat and less likely to become obese.

If you grew up in an environment where meals were irregular, unpredictable and poor quality, you're more likely to overeat and more likely to become obese.

Which means our level of caloric certainty in any given environment determines our level of appetite and binging within any given environment.

Which explains why...

If you grew up in an environment where you were shamed for eating or forced into dieting or generally made to feel guilty around food, the level of caloric uncertainty will be so high that the inevitable consequence is uncontrollable bingeing and weight gain that drives you eventually to morbid obesity.

(So don't put your kids on diets please!)


Interestingly, I have one pattern of overeating that I developed as a child and remains with me today.

Although I was lucky to be well fed, well nourished and have regular meals, there was one part of my nutrition that was highly restricted.


There was a cupboard in our house that was literally like a kind of sweet shop, that had various sweets and treats, from Clubs to Viscounts to Liquorice All Sorts.

You know, all the classics!

But I was not allowed anywhere near this cupboard, unless it was a weekend.

So here was a bounty of calories that was highly restricted, creating a kind of caloric uncertainty around this particular type of food.

Which meant when the opportunity arose to have this particular type of food, I inevitably binged on it.

What's really interesting is that even as an adult, returning to my parent's home, I still feel the drive to binge on sweets whenever I go near that cupboard.

For years I never understood why.

I would recall walking into my parents house, walking straight towards that cupboard, picking up a few chocolate bars, scoffing them, then thinking to myself...

"Why did I just bosh three chocolate bars?! I didn't even want them??!!"

The behaviour was completely automatic.

But now, having studied the evolutionary basis of eating behaviour, I completely understand why.


It turns out that even though I was well fed, well nourished and had a high level of caloric certainty in general...

By banning me from the sweets in that cupboard my parents created a kind of caloric uncertainty around that particular type of food.

Sweets became a "forbidden fruit".

The human brain is hard wired to maximise our calorie intake, through binge eating, when we have access to what the brain perceives as a rare or novel foods.

If you think back to ancient times, when food and calories were scarce, it would make perfect evolutionary sense that if you stumbled across a rare bounty of food, you should binge on it, to maximise your nutrition and calorie intake, because you might not eat again for days.

The higher your caloric uncertainty, for example, if you hadn't eaten for a number of days, the stronger the urge to binge when you come across rare foods.

The brain is very quickly able to identify what is a "rare food" by a mechanism we're all familiar with.


So it turns out that the flavour of foods is information about our environment, giving our brains feedback on the level of caloric certainty within that environment.

Where meals are regular, predictable and taste the same, this tells the brain there is a high level of caloric certainty in that environment, causing it to reduce our appetite and binging.

Where meals are irregular, unpredictable and taste new, this tells the brain there is a high level of caloric uncertainty in that environment, causing it to increase our appetite and binging.

It's as though the brain is thinking...

"OMG! This is new! We've not tasted this before! This might contain different vitamins and minerals and other nutrients that we might not have access to ever again! OMG!! Caloric uncertainty overload, let's binge on it now!"

So going back to my parent's sweetie cupboard...

Through the combination of banning me from that cupboard, and that cupboard containing a diverse mix of novel flavours, my parents had inadvertently created an uncertain caloric environment, driving my binge eating.

This then became a learned behaviour that repeated itself whenever I was in that same uncertain caloric environment, the room with the sweetie cupboard.

I very rarely binge.

But when I do?

It's usually visiting my parents and it's usually face first into that sweetie cupboard!

Fascinating stuff!!

Well, at least it is if you're a nutrition geek like me.


The point I'm trying to get to is this...

Sometimes it's hard to understand why we overeat, and sometimes we even feel stressed about not understanding why we overeat.

But the roots of all overeating lie in...


Your brain not being certain about your future calorie intake, triggering impulsive eating and binge eating, to get calories in while you still can.

The solution you're seeking, to control your overeating, lies in creating a heightened state of...



Don't ban foods. Don't starve yourself on diets. Don't expose yourself to regular new flavours. This creates an uncertain caloric environment, pushing your appetite, binging and overeating up.


Allow all foods. Nourish and fuel your body. And try to make your flavours repetitive. This creates a certain caloric environment, bringing your appetite, binging and overeating under control.

The more regular, the more predictable and the more nutritious you can make your food environment (at home and at work) the more you will see a reduction in your overeating and weight gain.


p.s. If anyone out there is interested in learning more about controlling their overeating, we're going to be sharing some appetite suppressing meal plans on our Summer Strip™ mission! Check it out!

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