Programmed to Overeat: 6 Reasons You Do It & How to Stop It

Programmed to Overeat: 6 Reasons You Do It & How to Stop It

Video | Eating Stimulates Appetite | Brain’s Reward Center | ATP Trapping | Sensory Specific Satiety | Decision Fatigue | Low Blood Sugar

You need food to survive so your body has built-in mechanisms that encourage you to eat. That is a good thing. However, in this world where high-calorie, low-nutrient foods are available 24/7, it is easy to breeze past survival and overeat. Over time, you can develop conditions that impact your appetite.

With that said, for this blog post, we’ll focus on the built-in eating mechanisms that are programmed into every one of us and provide you with a few simple tweaks that will allow you to survive and thrive in our modern world without overeating. 

Programmed to Overeat – At-A-Glance


  • Eating stimulates your appetite. 
    • Tip #1: It is easier to fast than to snack. 
  • Your Brain’s Reward Center is triggered by certain foods.
    • Tip #2: Trying to crush a craving by eating junk food is a slippery slope. You are better off with none than with some. 
  • ATP Trapping destroys the same energy needed to process foods with added fructose.
    • Tip #3: To prevent overeating, cut out soda, sweetened drinks, and processed foods with added fructose. 
  • Sensory Specific Satiety keeps renewing your appetite even though your body has no need for more food.
    • Tip #4: Out-of-sight, out-of-mind. 
  • Decision Fatigue makes it difficult to control behaviors, like eating, making it more likely that you’ll opt for the easy choice instead of the best choice.
    • Tip #5: Lessen the burden of decision-making by eating the same lunch every day. 
  • Low Blood Sugar that comes on quickly causes intense hunger that is hard to dismiss.
    • Tip #6: Fill up on foods that stabilize your blood sugar.

Programmed to Overeat [Video]

In this video, you’ll learn…

  • What causes us to want to eat.
  • Tips to help you combat those urges!
  • An additional strategy that will help you on your weight loss journey.

Reason #1: Eating Stimulates Your Appetite

We have been hardwired from our primitive days to eat when food is available. So, the mere act of eating makes you want to keep eating.

If overeating is something you are trying to avoid, this first tip may surprise you. 

Reason #1: Eating Stimulates Your Appetite

Hunger is a fickle thing. It will rise and fall throughout your day based on hormone and blood sugar levels as well as environmental cues. For instance, you smell pizza baking in the restaurant oven and instantly feel hungry for pizza.

Because of its come-and-go nature, you can expect to experience twinges of hunger between meals or during your fasting window if you are practicing intermittent fasting. However, you can also count on those hunger signals to subside. In other words, you don’t always need to feed hunger to satisfy hunger.

If you are in general good health and eating enough of the right foods at mealtimes, which we’ll touch on more in this post, it is okay to ride out hunger. In fact, you will likely find it to be the easier option.

Have you ever told yourself that you’ll just have a small snack to stave off hunger only to end up consuming that small snack and five more? That doesn’t mean that you are weak. It is simply demonstrating how your brain and body are wired for food. 

The fact that snacking leads to more snacking is made worse by your food choices. 

Reason #2: Your Brain’s Reward Center

Let’s say that your coworker brings in cupcakes to share. That sweet treat contains the perfect mix of addictive ingredients to activate the reward center of your brain, known as the nucleus accumbens. Now, you are not only fighting hunger hormones, but you’re also fighting pleasure hormones in your brain that are screaming, “eat more of that!”

Reason #2: Your Brain’s Reward Center

Not only will the refined treat hijack your brain, it may also hijack your liver. 

Reason #3: ATP Trapping

Have you ever been amazed at how much junk food you can eat in one session? 

There is a process called ATP trapping that takes place in your liver when you consume processed foods and drinks sweetened with fructose. 

Fructose is often added to packaged foods because it is cheap and sweet. Unlike a piece of fruit that has natural fructose locked inside a fibrous matrix, processed foods with added fructose have nothing to slow absorption. Therefore, when you eat junk food or drink a sugary soda or juice, your liver is faced with a flood of fructose. 

It takes a lot of energy to deal with that flood. ATP is the source of that energy. It is the energy your body runs on, and there is a lot of it. So, we should be fine, right? Unfortunately, we are not fine because the flood of fructose “traps” ATP before it can be used.

The nerdy explanation is that ATP trapping causes the high-energy ATP molecules to lose a phosphate group, turning them into lower energy ADP molecules.

The clearer explanation is that when you eat junk food, it destroys the same energy required to process it. So, if you are grabbing a cookie, a piece of candy, or a sweetened drink in hopes that it will stave off hunger, it won’t. 

Even though you will take in hundreds of calories, your liver will tell your brain that you need to keep eating because there is not enough energy. 

Reason #3: ATP Trapping

These items not only leave you feeling as if your stomach is a bottomless pit, but they also invite the next overeating obstacle known as sensory specific satiety. 

Reason #4: Sensory Specific Satiety

Sensory specific satiety refers to the declining satisfaction we get from eating a particular type of food and the subsequent increase in appetite that we get when we switch to a new taste or texture (1).

When you eat, you not only feed your body, you feed your senses. Foods vary in many ways. They can be savory or sweet, crunchy or smooth, visually appealing or aromatic.  

The trap of sensory specific satiety is that it keeps renewing your appetite even though your body has no need for more food. If you’ve ever finished off a big bowl of crunchy potato chips yet felt like you’d still love some creamy ice cream, you’ve experienced this phenomenon. Your body did not need additional calories, but the promised change of taste and texture kept your desire to keep eating alive.  

I will add that putting keto-friendly or all-natural on the label doesn’t eliminate the problem. Food manufacturers know how to push our buttons when it comes to making foods palatable. 

Reason #4: Sensory Specific Satiety

When drivers of sensory specific satiety were studied, the research team found that availability matters (1)

In other words, if multiple desirable foods are accessible, the desire to keep eating is enhanced. Plainly stated, you can’t eat what isn’t there, so don’t bring snack foods into your house even if the label tries to convince you that they are healthy. Keeping these foods out of sight will not only allow you to move away from overeating, but it will also save you from relying on willpower. 

Reason #5: Decision Fatigue

Willpower is a fragile thing. It is easily lost through everyday things like low blood sugar, fatigue, and stress. One of the most stressful and tiring things we do in a day is making decisions. It is estimated that an adult living in America makes 35,000 decisions a day.

This constant burden leads to a phenomenon called decision fatigue (2).

Willpower is no match for decision fatigue. When it is reached, it is difficult to control behaviors, like eating, making it more likely that you’ll opt for the easy or convenient choice instead of the best choice. 

Reason #5: Decision Fatigue

Tip #5 lessen the burden of decision-making by eating the same lunch every day. 

Take a page from Steve Job’s playbook. He famously wore a black turtleneck each day. The reason? It reduced the number of decisions he had to make, reducing decision fatigue.

What is a good lunchtime choice? A salad topped with plenty of healthy fats. If you are familiar with my 0,1,2,3 strategy, you know that it provides four daily habits that encourage weight loss. The “1” of the strategy stands for one large salad. I encourage you to put this salad-as-a-meal concept to the test for one week to experience how it automates decision-making. If you’d like a guide, you can download the strategy for free here.

It comes with a video series that describes how to build a satisfying meal-size salad that you will not grow tired of eating. I do this in my life, eating the same salad most days of the week. My mornings are busy. Removing the burden of deciding what’s for lunch saves my energy for more important decisions. Having a large healthy, mid-day meal will also set your body up to prevent overeating in the afternoon.

Reason #6: Low Blood Sugar

Salad greens and other non-starchy vegetables take up a lot of space. When you eat them, they fill up your stomach, taking a long time to digest. This is something you want because it delays the onset of hunger after your meal. If you top that salad with healthy fats and protein, such as meat, chicken, fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, and cheese, you further slow down digestion.

That slow breakdown of nutrients keeps energy trickling into your bloodstream for hours. So, a salad gives overeating a one-two punch by filling your stomach and stabilizing your blood sugar. When your blood sugar rises and falls gradually, hunger ebbs and flows gradually, keeping you in control. When blood sugar spikes and crashes, hunger blindsides you, forcing you to eat. 

Reason #6: Low Blood Sugar

It is the dips in blood sugar that bring on that intense hunger that’s hard to dismiss. By filling up at mealtime with non-starchy vegetables, healthy fats, and protein, you prevent the crashes and stay in control. 

Takeaway

Your physiology is programmed to eat. This was vital when food was hard to come by but problematic in our modern food environment. Eat the wrong foods, and you pick a fight with your body and brain that you cannot win. Start working with your body to provide it with the foods it needs to stay satisfied. If you need a place to start, download my 0,1,2,3 strategy.

Thank you for reading and have a wonderful week!

References: 

(1) Wilkinson, Laura L., and Jeffrey M. Brunstrom. “Sensory specific satiety: More than ‘just’habituation?.” Appetite 103 (2016): 221-228.

(2) Pignatiello, Grant A., Richard J. Martin, and Ronald L. Hickman Jr. “Decision fatigue: A conceptual analysis.” Journal of health psychology 25.1 (2020): 123-135.

About the Author

Becky Gillaspy, DC, is the author of The Intermittent Fasting Guide and Cookbook. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991. 

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