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“I Literally Can’t Stop Eating”

By Katherine Kimber, Registered Dietitian | October 16, 2020
Baby face in cake

So you’re struggling to stop eating… do any of the following sound familiar? 

“When I start eating, I literally can’t stop eating even when full. Is there something wrong with me?”


The biggest struggle is to stop eating when I am full already and do not feel like eating anymore. Even when I fell totally stuffed I have this stupid “all or nothing” mentality and try to use the situation to eat as much “forbidden” food as I can. 🙁 I would love to let myself eat some sweets or eat more food than usual and be able to STOP when I am simply full.”

If so, you’re not alone.

There are challenges I hear in clinic time and time again, and I know that it can feel so frustrating.

For this week’s article, I interviewed Isa Robinson who is a Registered Associate Nutritionist (Anutr) and qualified Nutritional Therapist (BANT, CNHC) with a special interest in disordered eating, food anxieties, body image and nutrition for mental health.

Below, Isa shares her top tips in response to “I literally can’t stop eating”, to help you understand why you feel you can’t stop eating, even when full.

“So how can I learn how to stop eating?”

Tip 1: Ditch the diet mentality and give yourself unconditional permission to eat

Before we even start thinking about fullness, we have to zoom out. We have to consider our relationship with food and eating behaviours more broadly. How on earth can we expect to stop eating a certain food if neither our minds or bodies believe we’re ever going to get that food again. This is an all too common trap of the “good” and “bad” food mentality. It can set us up to eat past the point of comfortable fullness.

How can we stop at one slice of cake on a cheat day when we know we’re not going to get that food again for some time? It can sound like:

“Well I’ve blown it now, I might as well eat X, Y and Z too because today is a bad day, but tomorrow I’ll be good”.

We can end up eating vast quantities of foods just to fit them in before they’re all banished to the “off limits” list.

The worst part?

We often blame ourselves for lack of control or willpower. The problem is not you, it’s diet culture.

Therefore, before we even start thinking about fullness, we will need to ditch the diet mentality. That’s the idea of “good” and “bad” foods, “off-limits” foods, cheat days etc. We will need to nourish our body’s with a range of different food and food groups to meet our needs. This includes making peace with certain foods so that our mind, body and soul can truly trust that we can have them again. When we know we can have a certain food whenever we like, it become easier to stop when we feel satisfied.

It is important to acknowledge that for individuals with a history of food insecurity, the impact of this deprivation can linger.  It may be helpful to work with a psychologist as well as a nutrition professional to support you.

Tip 2: Learn what fullness feels like for you

How can you aim for a target of stopping eating when full if you don’t know what the target is? Part of learning to respect comfortable fullness, is learning what fullness uniquely feels like for us. And doing so in from a non-judgemental and curious stance.

ACTIVITY: What is fullness?

  • What comes into your mind when I say comfortable fullness?
  • Are there already some judgements coming up? If so, what do you notice?
  • Does this have positive / negative connotations?
  • Perhaps you might think of an extreme like Christmas day / thanksgiving fullness?

Ultimately, it’s going to feel a bit different for all of us. Some common descriptions to help us get started include some distention in the stomach, pleasant associations of contentedness, completeness or satisfaction. Remembering that we will likely want to feel full and not just the absence of hunger.

Of course, there can be many factors that interfere with being able to recognise or respond to fullness signals. For example, eating when distracted, being conditioned to finish our plates and a history of food insecurity.

ACTIVITY: distraction free meals

Practicing some distraction free meals and mid meal pauses. This can help to identify emerging sensations of fullness.

Tip 3: Respond to hunger appropriately  

“One minute I am ravenously hungry and the next minute I am extremely full. Is there something wrong with me?”

This scenario pops up all the time in clinic. So if it resonates, please know that you’re not alone. A really important part of being able to stop eating when full is how we respond to hunger.

Diet culture encourages us to stave off our hunger rather than act and respond to it appropriately. We can trick our body’s into this in the short term, but actually, our cells will take over. When we start dipping into our primal or extreme hunger, it’s very common to experience rebound eating.

If we think of a petrol tank on a car getting to zero, rebound eating is then eating all the way up to full. This is commonly way past the point of comfortable fullness. It is a normal response to hunger that’s hardwired into our DNA. When we were hunter-gathers on the savannah having experienced a period of famine, we weren’t going to stop at comfortable fullness. We needed to eat in excess in case we weren’t able to eat again soon. Our bodies don’t know the difference between this and now where there’s pretty much a Pret on every street.

Either way, it’s going to be impossible to stop eating when full if we’re not eating adequately or responding to our hunger cues appropriately.

Tip 4: Check the staying power of your food and take caution with air foods

Unfortunately, our current diet/wellness culture has normalised under-eating. Like including low carbohydrate, low calorie, diety tiny portion sizes. Or large mainly lettuce leafy salads with little dressing or other ingredients.

It’s made “diet eating” look like “normal” eating. Subsequently leaving us to feel like we’ve failed when we can’t stick to it. It’s therefore, unlikely that those “diety meals” are going to really hit the spot. I don’t blame anyone who’s had lettuce cups for lunch and subsequently spent an afternoon deep in a box of celebrations.

Part of stopping when we’re full or respecting fullness is going to mean picking foods with staying power. So considering meals and snacks with “staying power” will be important to feel satisfied.

Meals with staying power tend to be those with fat, protein, carbohydrates and fibre. Fats add flavour, taste and texture, whilst increasing physical feelings of satiety. Protein also has a satiating impact. Carbohydrates help to balance blood sugars and fibre may add bulk whilst slowing down the absorption of glucose for slow-release energy.

Going low carb (aka swapping bread for leaves) and/or low fat (aka removing the salad dressing) means removing some of the staying power. And tasty bits! Subsequently, it’s likely we’ll be on the prowl for something to fill the void. When some bread or croutons might otherwise have helped with feeling satisfied.

We also want to be careful of foods with little staying power. These are either foods that barely touch the sides. Authors of intuitive eating call these air foods (rice cakes I’m looking at you). Or, they’re foods that may physically fill up the stomach causing a sense of artificial fullness that doesn’t last very long.

For example, a veggie soup. This may leave us feeling full one moment, but not long doesn’t stay. Not long after we find ourselves hungry again due to low the protein, fat or carbohydrate content. High volumes of fruits and veggies, diet foods and artificially sweetened foods also fall into this camp. The latter tend to replace carbohydrates but come with sugar-alcohols and indigestible fibres. This can result in a lot of digestive discomforts like bloating, gas and diarrhoea.

Considering foods with staying power, as well as actually having the delicious parts of the meal that hit the spot is important. It will mean that both our stomachs and our cells will feel satisfied. This can give us that feeling of comfortable fullness. When we also know that we can have those foods again, it will become much easier to stop eating when full.

Tip 5: Don’t turn it into a rigid rule – (Pssst…It’s okay to eat granny’s apple pie)

A very important reminder when it comes to the concern “I literally can’t stop eating” is that this process is about respecting our bodies and our fullness.

It’s not about having to stop as soon as we’re full as a rule.

Intuitive Eating is not the hunger and fullness diet. It’s incredibly important that the diet mentality doesn’t get its claws into this part of the process. Because we know that this can backfire making it harder to tune into our body’s needs.

Food is about so much more than obtaining nutrients and energy. It’s inherently social, pleasurable, a way of experiencing new places and celebrating various traditions. There will be times in our lives when we are comfortably full, but we still want to eat. For example, birthday cake, Christmas pudding or Grandma’s apple pie on Sunday lunch because no one can make it as good as she does.

Remember there is no such thing as perfect so in these circumstances trust that your body is smart and that the fullness will pass. You don’t need to self-flagellate, you haven’t done anything wrong, you are just a human being.

So what do I do if I literally can’t stop eating?

Each of the tips above provided by Isa, offer some excellent insight into why you feel like you literally can’t stop eating. From giving yourself more permission around foods, to noticing and responding to natural hunger signals, and checking that you’re not filling up on “air foods”. One of the most important steps in my experience, is eating enough food throughout the day, by noticing and responding to natural hunger signals. 

If you feel you need some more support, check out my FREE and favourite tool below to help if you “literally can’t stop eating”.


Welcome to Nude Nutrition

I am Katherine Kimber, a Registered Dietitian, and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor with a first-class Undergraduate and Masters’s degree from Kings College London.

Are you fed up with not knowing what you should or shouldn’t be eating? Perhaps relying on external tools such as the time of day, points systems, calorie tracking or rigid rules to show you the way.

If you’re ready to get out of your head when it comes to food decisions, and more into your body then you’ve come to the right place. I’m here to strip the nonsense, so you can feel better in your body and figure out a sustainable approach to movement and nutrition.

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