Overdesire: the second main cause of overeating (strategy #1: avoid processed foods)

Picture of Dr. Jen Kerns

Dr. Jen Kerns

This month I am focusing on what I would argue that there are 3 main things driving us to overeat:

  1. Overhunger
  2. Overdesire
  3. Eating for emotional reasons (whether consciously, in response to a craving, or on autopilot)

As I mentioned previously, the solution to your overeating has to address all 3 of these components, or it will not work in the long term. I’ve discovered that the diet/weight loss industry and even most doctors (including obesity medicine specialists) focus on the WHAT of eating — types of foods to eat or not eat, when to eat, how much to eat. No one seems to be focusing on the WHY of eating, which is the true underlying cause of overweight. So that’s what I am doing with you here in my blog, and in more depth with my clients: helping you understand why you are overeating, and addressing each component so that you can lose body fat in a healthy way, for good.

Over the past few weeks we have talked about various things that promote overhunger. When your body is physically hungrier all the time, you will naturally want to eat more food and more often, whether it’s “healthy” food or junk food. There are probably thousands of things that can improve hunger levels, but we focused on what I view as the highest impact pieces: limiting sugars and refined grains, adding in more proteinavoiding liquid caloriessleeping better, eating foods rich in fiber and water, and minimizing medications that drive appetite.

Today I shift to the second main reason why we overeat: overdesire. Our bodies are pretty good at actually telling us how much we need to eat to maintain a normal body weight when we are eating naturally-occurring whole foods, and we have complex hunger and satiety signals that regulate that. But The Humans are smart creatures, and have figured out how to manufacture processed foods that are much more rewarding to our primitive brains, foods that evade those naturals checks and balances! If you are anything like me, you can be over-full from a big satisfying dinner and yet still find room for dessert. It’s not that you’re physically hungry, it’s just that the food is so damn rewarding that you eat it in spite of satiety. That is overdesire. Our brains love sugar, love fat, and love salt. In fact, the only food found in nature that I can think of that combines both fat and sugar in a single item is breast milk, which makes sense because we want our infants to survive before they are old enough to hunt and gather their own foods! Sugar, fat and salt are things that were relatively scarce when we were evolving as hunter-gatherers, and if we came across a bee hive full of honey, it was a huge jackpot. To this day, hunter-gatherers will binge on pints of honey after braving the bees if they’re lucky enough to come across a hive. When food was scarce, binging whenever we found something calorically valuable kept our species alive. Our modern brains are no longer living in an environment of food scarcity, but still have this same reward mechanism to fire off pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters like dopamine and endorphins every time we do something that historically promoted our species’ survival, whether it be having sex or eating calorie-dense foods. Food manufacturers have realized that processing and concentrating the sugar and grains into easily-digestible sweet, salty, fatty bits of concentrated pleasure sets off the reward pathways in our brain much more intensely than naturally-occurring foods, and makes us want them more. MUCH more.

Getting my sugar fix

This is how the food manufacturers make money, of course: by getting us to buy more of their products by making their products crave-inducing. Of note, homemade baked good are still made from processed foods like flour (a refined grain) and sugar, so don’t delude yourself into thinking that homemade is exempt from the pleasure trap! So, the bottom line is, one of the greatest things you could do to start to tackle your overdesire is to eliminate addictive processed foods (including refined grains and added sugar) from your daily diet, and save them for occasional planned special treats.

If you are interested in more one-on-one coaching help from me, you can contact me at [email protected] to set up a free mini session over Zoom!

Happy Friday! 😊




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