The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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Why Overeat?

What are the psychological causes of overeating?

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner:      Here is a question I received on eating. Do you ever have eating problems? You feel like you eat too much or too little or you’re so focused on dieting that it takes the pleasure out of life. Here’s a question on that topic. “Dear Dr. Kenner. What are some of the psychological causes of overeating and how can I stop? Thanks, Megan.” 


Okay, what are the psychological causes of overeating? Well, most of us could probably rattle them off – food tastes good, so it feels like it’s self-nurturing. And you might find yourself saying, “Food is my one pleasure and I deserve that pleasure in my life.” Can you hear the edge in my voice? It’s like, keep away from me, I am going to eat this chocolate cake. I am going to drink another glass of high caloric alcohol and just stay away from me. So, partly, you might experience eating as a gift to yourself.


Another could be a reward. It’s not so much self-nurturing – it is in a way – but you’re adding another layer. You know, I had a busy day today and I just want to reward myself with a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. Maybe two pounds of spaghetti.


Another is escape. When I eat I just forget my problems with my family. It’s my escape. Don’t take it away from me. Don’t you dare touch my eating. You may not say that to a person, but you may be saying that in your own mind. If you really feel like you’ve got a weight problem and you want to get it under control, if you’ve got these wonderful values – escape and worth and self-nurturing, man, that’s going to be a tough challenge.


Here’s another reason, a psychological cause of overeating. It reduces anxiety. You might hear yourself saying, “I don’t know why a bag of cookies helps me relax, but it does.” You could use it as distraction. “I’m a procrastinator and when I don’t want to get something done, I go into the kitchen and find something to eat.”


I have three more reasons – the social reason. I enjoy being with my buddies and we always go out to dine. It’s either at good restaurants or we eat at fast food joints. I like those big sizes, those big portions and we’re there a long time and we eat. Another is denial. You might be saying to yourself, “I don’t eat that much. It’s just my genetics.” Or you might have the clean the plate club. I can’t let food go to waste.


So there are different triggers, different thoughts you’re having that cause you to eat. You make a decision and then you decide to eat. How can you turn that around? Well, you need to list all the advantages of losing weight, because they’re wonderful advantages for eating. So on little cards, you could read the Beck Diet Solution, Judy Beck recommends writing little advantage cards on index cards. Or writing your advantages and carrying them with you. You need a good eating plan. You need to give yourself credit every time you make a healthy choice for yourself. You need to arrange your environment, including food pushers in your life, people who, “Just eat a little bit more! I made this for you. You’ve got to eat the whole pie.” You need to deal with food pushers and be able to say no to them. You want to exercise. You want to resist unplanned eating. You want to prepare for eating when you’re going out and stay in control when you’re out. If you’re traveling, make a travel plan for eating. And most importantly, you want to take pride in the fact that you are working toward your unhappiness. A goal that you’ve always wanted, to get fit, to love the body that you’re living in. It’s your house for life, so why not take care of it? Those are some skills.


Those skills can be found in the Beck Diet Solution by Dr. Judy Beck. You can go to my website,


Movie clip       

Male:               Come back here. We’re not finished. You don’t care anymore, is that it?

Female:           It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what I feel.

Male:               Then tell me you don’t love me. Say it!

Female:           Is that what you need to hear? I don’t. I don’t. Now let me go.

Male:               No, a person doesn’t just wake up one day and stop loving somebody.



Dr. Kenner:      That is so true. You don’t just one day wake up and stop loving your partner or your kids or your parents. It builds up over time. There are reasons in your mind for why you have ceased to value that person. They’ve betrayed you, they’ve hurt you or they have bad character traits or you’ve grown apart. There are reasons. How do you avoid that? That was from Buffy. How do you avoid that situation in your own life so that you’re not hit with these baffling and terrorizing surprises in your personal life. The, “I don’t love you anymore,” or, “We haven’t been getting along.” How do you avoid that? You need to know how to communicate and not just when there’s tension. Not just when there’s conflict. But communicate daily. Figure out how to weave your lives together – we’re talking about a romantic partner in this case – but to let each other know when there are small resentments or hurts or doubts or question marks. Let each other know when they’re small so that you don’t build up more and more and more resentment and then at a certain point, you explode.