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Overeating versus Loss of Control Eating

  • Eating

A while back, I read about a research project studying loss of control (LOC) eating and got to thinking about the study’s need to distinguish it from garden variety overeating. The subject can be confusing. For example, the concept of loss of control eating may be helpful for overeaters, but it is problematic for highly restrictive eaters who are too in control when they eat and need to cut themselves some slack around food. So for strict undereaters LOC eating might actually be a good thing. To be clear then, today’s blog is for overeaters who lose control around food to their detriment.

The way I see it is that all overeating isn’t LOC eating, and all LOC eating isn’t overeating. Overeating is continuing to consume food past fullness or satisfaction. Of course, sometimes we consciously take a few more bites than we really need, but it doesn’t make a huge difference to overall fullness; we’ve had enough but go for a bite or two more and stop, with no harm done. That’s how a “normal” eater might behave and promptly forget that they’d “overeaten.” LOC eating, on the other hand, may or may not involve overeating. You may not be in control when you take a few extra bites which lead to a few more bites, etc. etc. or eat when you’re not hungry. At these times you may not overeat, but you’re not in control of all the nibbling and noshing going on.

There’s a great deal of vagueness about this subject. I hear questions about it from clients and read them on my message boards. Perhaps the issue rides on what control is. To me, eating in healthy control means making choices that benefit your physical and psychological health, choosing to have non-nutritious foods occasionally because some are just plain yummy, remaining aware and connected to appetite signals, and translating your desires and intent around food into conscious behavior. That means you consider, “I’m satisfied and want to stop eating now,” and stop. With LOC eating, you don’t feel as if you can not eat which can be unhealthy, disregulates appetite, and leaves you feeling crummy.

Control is a major issue for all of us throughout life—from infancy through old age. We strive to have just the right amount of it and, to be emotionally healthy, need to vary exertion of control depending on situations. We don’t want to be stuck in LOC eating, nor do we want to overly control our appetites. So, how do you know when you’re eating out of control? Is there a difference for you between LOC eating and overeating? What does the word control mean to you and does it help or get in the way when you think about regulating your food intake? Interesting points to ponder and discuss.