How Undereating Causes Overeating – Strategies To Break The Cycle

by Marsha Hudnall

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In this day of weight loss camps and no-diet diets (think marketing campaigns of large diet companies and spas), many of us may think we’ve given up dieting.  But we’re still counting calories or points, weighing ourselves frequently…and trying to cut back when we see our weights going in a direction we don’t want them to go.

On the face of it, this may seem like a smart strategy to keep yourself healthy and happy.  But the truth is, it may send you in the exact opposite direction than you want to go.  Here’s why.

Making Up for Overeating

undereat-overeatSay you overate yesterday, and decide that today, you’ll cut back to make up for it. You don’t skip breakfast because you know you’ll be too hungry later.  But you do eat less.

Mid-morning rolls around, and you’re quite hungry, but you decide to forgo eating because lunch is only a couple hours away.

Lunch arrives and you choose a well-balanced salad with a light dressing.  You feel satisfied after you finish, but in an hour, you feel hungry again.

The day goes on, and you successfully make it through the day eating less.  You’ve been a bit hungry all day but you feel good, knowing you are making up for yesterday’s overeating.

But does it really make up for it?

Ignoring Our Hunger Cues Leads to Overeating & Weight Gain

The typical thinking is that we gain weight when we overeat consistently.  And that’s true – when we consistently ignore our cues for fullness and eat more than we need, we exceed bodies’ need for energy, and the extra gets stored as fat.  It’s the body’s way of maintaining balance in the system, and balance – also known as homeostasis – is what the body thrives on.

What’s not understood, however, is that the opposite happens, too.  When we consistently ignore our cues for hunger, the body is knocked out of balance.  It sets in motion a complex physiological dance that evolved to help ensure survival in times of famine.

In simplistic terms, when we consistently don’t eat when we’re hungry, biologic responses kick in and setup for eating or even overeating.

Hormonal Responses to Being Hungry

  • Levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin rise, often leading to intense feelings of hunger and overeating.
  • Consistent overeating can then negatively affect the satiety hormone PYY, essentially “turning off” fullness cues so that an individual has a hard time determining when they are satisfied.
  • Then there’s the satiety hormone leptin, which appears not to work well when we overeat or undereat consistently.

On a psychological level, similar forces are at work.  When we consciously don’t eat in an effort to control our weight, or don’t let ourselves eat the foods we want, we “inhibit” our natural tendencies towards food.  But inhibition is followed by disinhibition, which means we usually end up not just eating, but overeating.

So How Can We Eat to Manage Our Weight?

The simplest route is by listening to our bodies’ cues for when, what and how much to eat.

It’s a system that served humankind well until the advent of weight loss diets, the central theme of which is to not listen to your body.

But if you’re like many women who come to Green Mountain, you may not know when you’re hungry, or when you’ve had enough.  It may seem all you want is hot fudge sundaes and French fries. But you can get your cues functioning again.

Structured eating helps many women

  • It’s eating a balanced meal/snack every 3-5 hours until your body starts clearly telling you it’s time to eat and when you’ve had enough.
  • It may also require looking at the nutritional quality of what you eat, to make sure you provide your body the nutrients it needs for cues to work properly.
  • It’s important not to forbid foods, even if they seem inconsistent with healthy eating; that just leads to overeating the forbidden food.


If emotional eating gets in the way, structured eating can also help a person become clear when their hunger is physical and when it’s emotional.

Many people might think structured eating looks like just another weight loss or fat farm diet, but it is a far cry from the advice of just cutting back to manage our weight.

It’s about supporting our bodies, helping them function in the way we were designed to thrive.  It calls on automatic responses that can’t be controlled through willpower.  And it offers a real hope for those struggling with eating, weight and health.

Learn more how Green Mountain Can Make the Difference you deserve and want.


See Our Balanced, Structured, Non-Diet Program
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