“Why Do I Eat So Much?”

Woman with vegetarian food

This would be even better if she grew her own vegetables.

Scientific research suggests that perception and portion size are key reasons why people eat too much. Don’t fret. You can eat less with a few strategic tweaks. First, let’s look at the science of overeating…

Studies Link Oversized Portions To Overeating

In 2006, Geier, Rozin, and Doros placed bowls of snacks with m&ms, pretzels, and tootsie rolls on a table for public consumption. But they alternated the amount of snacks available in the bowl. The results were surprising.

Result: When more food was present, more food was consumed by a significant degree.

Another study had two snack jars – one clear and one nearly opaque – out in the open for free consumption. They contained the same type and amount of food.

Result: The snacks in the clear jar were eaten 46% faster than the snacks in the opaque jar (Wansink, 2004).

“This again illustrates that when a portion appears greater, greater consumption will occur. Environmental factors, like the perceptual characteristics of food, may increase appetite, food intake and consumption (Wansink 2006).”

These studies are from the Journal of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Science (Volume 1, issue 1, 2009). Opaquely Clearly, there’s more to this equation than hunger.

Nearly 70% Of America Is Overweight

I’m an American, and we’re taught the consumption lifestyle from an early age. Here are the fruits of our labor overconsumption:

“The researchers in the adult study found that overall, 33.8 percent of Americans were obese in 2007-2008, while 68 percent were considered either overweight or obese.” (source – emphasis added)

Seven out of every ten people are overweight in America. And yet, the dieting industry is booming. So as dieting gets more popular, America continues to gain weight and overeat. It’s because being healthy is a lifelong pursuit and lifestyle, not a temporary 30 day diet, and those who intend to stay healthy are the ones you see continuing the lifestyle even after they’ve made it.

If you currently overeat or are overweight, you don’t need to feel bad about it. Guilt about anything tends to make problems worse. Put the past aside, use the following techniques to change your habits and lifestyle, and you’ll eat less.

How To Eat Less

From the studies, you could conceivably put small portions of food in opaque containers to eat less. But to make real progress, the change has to come from within. By default, you eat based on instinct, portion size, and perception (as seen in the studies). This won’t work if you want to eat less, so you’ll have to outwit these forces to win.

Here are some no-nonsense tips to eat less (and eat better):

    • The battle begins at the grocery store. Don’t buy food you know you shouldn’t eat. This first filter is the difference between a pantry full of vegetables or candy. If you overeat vegetables, it isn’t so bad. They’re generally low in calories and nutrient dense.
    • Choose portion sizes wisely – knowing that humans have a tendency to “eat what is in front of them,” take less than you think you’ll want.  If you’re hungry, take even less than that, because hunger makes us take more food than we need.
    • If you must buy snacks, keep these impulse foods out of sight (and in opaque containers).
    • Who hasn’t mindlessly eaten an entire bag of chips? 🙂 Don’t take the entire box or bag when you eat a snack – remove your portion from the container so you know exactly what you’ll be eating.
    • Think about every eating decision you make. A step further, think about every bite you take. Being conscious of eating can make a big difference by cutting back on mindless snacking. It takes little effort and will make a huge difference in your quality of life over time.
    • Making healthy foods a habit. Why reach for the cookie instead of an apple? The latter has fewer calories and better nutrition.
Man eating cookie

Cookie Man: “B…but Stephen, it has cranberries in it!”

  • Be conscious of the social pressure for you to “finish your plate.”  This is a horrible tradition passed down in so many families that it is a part of American culture.  It wouldn’t be such a problem if the portion sizes served weren’t enormous. This is especially important at restaurants where your portion size is chosen for you. A good idea is to separate your plate before you start eating to decide how much you want to eat. Take the rest to go. Two meals are better than one!
  • If you want your kids to eat vegetables, have them eat them first.  This way, you’re not training your kids to overeat as you force them to stuff themselves with broccoli after they filled up on mac and cheese.
  • The Japanese popularized the “eat to 80% full” rule.  This is tremendous advice and I remember feeling pretty awesome in the past after following this rule (I’m going to do it with my next meal).

Understand Your Body

It is very helpful to understand why your body reacts in the way it does. Your body knows it needs food to survive.  Even if you’re well off, your body doesn’t know that you have plenty of food to eat.  This causes you to eat “for rainy days” and store up unnecessary fat.

Our body is incredible with directing us to take necessary actions.

  • We get tired when we need to sleep
  • We get hungry when we need essential energy and nutrients
  • We get thirsty when we need to hydrate
  • We get painful notifications when we injure ourselves and need to pay attention

For these reasons, we naturally trust our bodies to know when to stop eating. But instincts aren’t good enough. Horses can die of grain overload from one session of overeating (if untreated). Fun fact: horses are unable to vomit, hence the danger of overeating. We know that humans can outpace their fullness meter by eating fast, which most of us do with busy lives. We have to rise above the complete reliance on instincts that other animals use.

The excess food you consume harms you. Give your body enough food, but not too much.

How To Live Longer – Eat Less

Not all the research I did was about the negative aspects of food consumptionI wondered, “what role does food intake play in lifespan?”

“Calorie restriction is pretty much the only thing out there that we know will not just prevent disease but also extend maximal life span.” ~ Dr. Marc Hellerstein

Would you believe that the key to living longer is eating less?  The research suggests that eating less even to the point of being hungry actually gives a person greater health and a longer life.  Even more surprising to me, the data suggests it is more effective than eating a “normal amount” and exercising. Don’t go and starve yourself, because the results will not be desirable if you’re not getting essential nutrients.

This data is ironic considering that our instincts are to eat as much food as we can stuff ourselves with. 

“Why Do I Eat So Much?”

You’re letting instinct dictate your eating habits, eating out of clear containers, choosing large portion sizes, buying the wrong food, or perhaps you’re feeling pressured to “clear your plate.” There are other emotional or psychological issues that can affect eating habits, such as stress, and for those you might need professional help. But for the reasons most of us struggle with, the solution is simple…

Think about every bite of food you take. Ask questions. What food is it? Is it necessary? Am I eating it because I’m bored? Am I hungry?

You can eat less, starting today.

As an aside, don’t use the USDA Food Pyramid as a healthy eating guide. Harvard Medical School (and the New England Journal Of Medicine) both agree the food pyramid is outdated and biased towards subsidized food (according to Eat, Drink, And Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating).

Recommended action: Today, tomorrow, and for the next 62 years, eat to 80% fullness. You’ll gain more energy. And if weight loss is your goal, it certainly helps to eat less.

About the Author

I'm lazy, but you can call me Stephen. When you're as lazy as I am, you need superior strategies to live well. My strategies are so effective that I'm productive every single day. As the world tries to figure out how to always stay motivated, I create strategies that don't require it.


Another good idea is to recognise that comfort eating is pretty comforting, so if you need comfort, find something else to do that you enjoy.


I agree. That is one of the psychological issues that affects our eating habits and it is very helpful to know if you have that tendency or not. Thanks Claire!

Hugo Martins

I don’t know to which point it is true but I heard about a study that found out eating chocolate stimulates our emotions and that may be one of the reasons why most people eat chocolate when they are depressed.

Just a thought!


That is very interesting! Makes sense too. I eat chocolate because it’s delicious. 🙂

Stephen inventionaddict.com

I think the same principle applies to shampoo. The more I have, the more I use. As for food, I’m giving the slow carb diet a go. Tim Ferris writes about it in the 4 Hour Body.


Hello Stephen,

Do people spell your name wrong all the time too?

I checked out that diet and it actually looks pretty good from a glance. I am a huge skeptic of fad diets because most of them are horrible for your body (and give temporary results). I’d love to hear how that works for you. It sounds like it worked well for Mr. Ferriss.


Archan Mehta


Thank You.

Oftentimes, visitors are surprised by the portion sizes at Denny’s and Applebees and other American restaurants. They cannot believe what has been served on their plates.

In contrast, the portion sizes tend to be much smaller in other cultures or countries. The French are especially fussy eaters: they tend to be touchy-feely about the size of portions on their plates.
If you ever travel to Europe, you will know what I mean. Stuffing yourself is unheard of there.

You also do not drink “to get wasted.” You drink because it is the sociable thing to do. In Britain, pubs have been designed for after office hours, where people gather just to talk and have one drink and one drink only. Then, they would go home to eat their dinner and be with their families.

Ancient cultures have had a tradition of fasting: it is nothing new. In fact, this notion is thousands of years old. It is well-known in China, India and other ancient civilizations and societies. Fasting once or twice a week is considered a good thing. That rids your body of toxins and impurities.

We are not designed to eat and drink so much. We should eat in proportion to our needs. “The earth provides for everybody’s needs, but not for everybody’s greed,” wrote the great Mahatma Gandhi. There is so much waste in America today, which is a shame. Have a good one. Cheers.


Hi Stephan,
You have said it perfect. There is no need to eat more than you require. I especially dislike “finish the plate” scenario often perpetrated by parents mostly using guilt( so many people do not get food , poverty blah blah). I find it amusing for them to increase the food capacity of their kids .
In America, obesity problem is a big problem and probably that is because of portions of food companies are offering. I was amazed by quarter pounder in McDo when I was once in USA. It was so huge. The size of ice cream tubs, coke glasses is phenomenal. In San Francisco, I had a “brain freeze” eating sugar infected ice creams at Girarhdelly. Around me however, I saw so many people eating sugar laden stuff with so much glee.
In Bangalore, there is an ice cream called as “Death by Chocolate” or DBC like a heavy metal band. It is so full of sugar, chocolate and milk and my over – obese cousin gloats over it. His enthusiasm is so infectious, we really dont know how to stop him.
Eating in controlled way is the right way to healthy living

Armand Polanski

I actually saw a post about the 4 hour body compared to another work out program, here:


I think this programs really did well on both authors but may or may no work for just any one because a key to create a perfect program for anyone is to specifically design it for that specific person.


Being from Europe myself, this seems to me as a bigger problem in the USA than the rest of the world. Nowhere else in the world you get the question “Do you wan’t the supersize”, when ordering food at Mc-Donalds….

Back to subject… The main problem is that the majority look upon food as entertainment, not as fuel for our body. The day people change their mindset to belive the latter, all problems with overweight and overeating will disappear.


Hi Steve,
This is something I have been working hard to improving in my life recently using the same techniques you talked about here. I have been filling my fridge with fresh fruit and veg instead of junk and I replaced my jumbo lunch container with one that is just the right size. Unfortunately I went to a party on the weekend and indulged a few of my bad habits. This post has come at just the right time for me to re-evaluate and regain my focus so thanks.



Hello Stephen,
I like the 80% full concept. Part of my morning ritual is going to the gym and part of the gym ritual is weighing myself. This basic form of accountability keeps me in control of my weight.


Hey Archan,

Thank you for the insight on other cultures. I LOVE to travel because of the opportunity to immerse myself in other, interesting cultures. I suppose this article is mostly relevant to Americans. We are obviously the worst country when it comes to this.

Drinking to get wasted is really sad to me. I’ve been drunk before to experience it, but why would anyone do that as a lifestyle? Great Gandhi quote, thanks!


Oh, I can’t stand that guilt-driven philosophy to eat more food. When someone mentions starving kids in 3rd world countries, I invite them to ship the uneaten food to them. It just isn’t logical to fault someone thousands of miles away for wasting food that couldn’t help others anyways.

America is the country of excess, unfortunately.


That’s true. I’ve been doing P90X, which is pretty popular. Being someone who is looking to gain muscle mass, I’ve found the program is better suited for those looking to lose weight and tone up. That said, I still do the workouts sometimes because they are excellent.


Hi Einar,

That seems to be the consensus so far that Americans are the main ones with this problem. You are so right! Food is NOT entertainment. It is associated with it very often though (parties, movie theaters, etc.). If we thought gas pumps were entertainment, we’d probably have gas fights like the one in Zoolander.


Hey Tom! I know what that’s like. It’s easy to cave in to bad habits and tendencies. As such, regaining focus is a big part of life – it turns a potential string of bad decisions into a single slip-up. You gave me a post idea. 🙂


I like that, Riley. You’re constantly aware of how your decisions are impacting your weight. Going to the gym every morning is a great ritual!

Chris Barba

So I was recently over in Portugal and as I was traveling, exploring, eating, meeting new people and enjoying myself I noticed something: no one was really morbidly obese. Sure there were the people who had a little bit of a belly, but no one was dangerously overweight.

I felt like there was just a different mindset on life over there. It’s no secret that we in the US are binger’s. We binge on food, work, partying, TV, exercise, etc. Out there, everything they did was out of enjoyment. So when they ate, they took their time to enjoy their food. You would rarely catch someone eating on the run or in their office. They would look forward to their meals, take their time, and thus not binge as they would realize as they got full.

Here, I feel like our relationship with food is different. Food is either the enemy or just the fastest and easiest thing available. Perhaps if we change our mindsets on our eating, we can have a better relationship with our food.



Hey Chris,

I noticed then when I went to Germany! I really liked how they ate over there. Our dinners were leisurely like you experienced. The people I stayed with had a TV downstairs that nobody watched in the entire month I was there. Their rooms would have a couch, a light, and nothing else. It was beautifully minimalist.

I love to hear about others’ knowledge of different cultures and I appreciate you sharing that Chris! I agree that our relationship with food is different.

I hope that America’s mindset is changing about food (quality/quantity), but it’s difficult to determine if that is really the case. Fast food joints are still doing very well and yet we also have the healthy food and exercise movement happening.


I take the minimalist approach to food (working on overcoming my resistance to applying it to my sewing and craft items—gah!) I read somewhere that nature provided us with a built-in portion control measurement: eat in one sitting only as much as you can hold in both hands. That’s why the buffet is a rare, rare treat for us. And when we do go to a buffet restaurant, you can be sure we only put food on our plate that we fully intend to consume. Because yes, I did grow up with the mommyism that children are starving in Ethiopia, plus the Filipino attitude that food is holy—it’s grace from God one should never waste.


Wow, we really are on the same wavelength here! I’ve been really paying attention to portion sizes and how much I eat recently, and I have been amazed at the difference it is making in my life! At dinner, we’ve been trying to put smaller portions on our plates, and take our time with the meal, so we’ll realize we’re full sooner. One night I still misjudged my portion size, and I was able to scoop up the remaining 5ish bites of my dinner and put it in a tupperware container for the next day! I could easily have finished it, but I knew that I would feel worse, and that I didn’t “need” it. Boy was I right!

Also, just this week I decided not to eat anything after 8:00pm. I’ve been feeling icky when I go to bed, because generally I eat dinner, and then a while later I decide to have something hot to drink, and maybe a little dessert to go with it, and I always end up regretting it. Goodness, I had NO idea how much food I eat after 8pm until I started to pay attention. It’s crazy! Just that one thing has already been making a noticeable difference in things like weight and how I feel, and it’s only been a week! I would encourage everyone to try something like that, just to see what happens. Also, for some reason when I’m more aware of portion sizes, and when I’m eating, it makes me want to eat healthier foods. I guess I’m just much more attentive to what I’m putting in my body.

Stephen Guise

I like that “natural portion control” – two hands. That’s subtly brilliant. I thought that portion control was how many chips are in one bag. 🙂

Buffets are lose/lose for me too. If I get my money’s worth, I’m overstuffed. If I eat to 80% fullness, I don’t get my money’s worth. The big buffet benefit (The BBB) is being able to sample different foods.

I read somewhere recently that 50% of food is wasted in America or something crazy like that. It was an article about food expiration dates and what to do with “expired food” that may be perfectly fine. I do hate being wasteful with food too. It’s weird to throw something as valuable as food in the trash.

Stephen Guise

Great. I’m glad to hear you’re thinking about portion sizes (except for guacamole portions, obviously those are unlimited). That tiny decision to save that “too small to save” portion is genius. I want to save one bite of food in the fridge once just to make a point to myself. There is no portion too small to save for later!

No eating after 8 is good advice for most people. I can’t sleep hungry, but I try to not eat at least an hour before bed if not two. Not eating before bed is one of the primary treatments for heartburn.

I’m going to go cook a frozen pizza (not healthy, but hey, it’s organic). I will not eat the whole thing. Promise. Unless it’s really good. Ok, fine. I won’t. I’ll eat 60% of it.

Douglas Prater

I just finished (on Wednesday Mar. 6) a six week cycle of the Tim Ferris inspired slow carb diet. I managed to lose the bodyfat I’d gained over the holidays and I didn’t feel like I was depriving myself in the process. One of best advantages of his approach is that you’ll find yourself naturally limiting your daily calories after you adjust to the initial two to three days of feeling a bit hungry.

If, after a fair period of evaluation,you’re not seeing the results you want, I’d also recommend taking a page from “targeted keto”: Limit your slow carbs to the periods immediately before and immediately after a workout, when your body in most in need of nutrients and least likely to store them as fat.


When I was a fresh immigrant to California I worked for seven months at Burger King. We had to throw out burgers after they had been on the warming rack for TEN MINUTES! And I mean not just the meat patties—the entire sandwich. I felt sick. At the end of the day someone tallied up the waste. It usually came to two big buckets full.

Stephen Guise

That’s terrible. Really.


I eat too much because the dishes are great. Can’t help myself.

Edward Gaviola

Portion control is very important. I totally agree. Until we realize what we are actually doing we will never change. We need to break away from our bad habits and and instead of complaining about it we need to start doing something about it. Create change, don’t let change create you.

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