How Being Too Productive Can Lead to Overeating (and How to Stop It)

by | Dec 5, 2016


Shelbey came to me wondering why she has the habit of overeating when she’s alone and supposed to be studying. She sits down to eat and turns on the TV, planning to finish dinner and then hit the books. But instead she usually keeps eating through the entire show until she feels so sicks she can’t do anything at all.

To her credit Shelbey has already thought through possible psychological reasons she’s doing this, but hasn’t come up with any solutions. She’s a very hard working woman who is always pushing herself for self-improvement. She’s a good student, exercises regularly, and meditates often. What she never does is give herself permission to relax.

One of the symptoms of being too productive is having anxiety about down time. All humans need to relax and recharge both physically and mentally, but highly productive people often feel guilty and anxious about taking these much needed breaks. If this goes on for too long it can lead to avoidance behaviors like overeating.

It can be difficult to acknowledge that rest is needed, but Shelbey and I come up with a plan for her to recognize her anxiety and give her the space to unwind.

Wish you had more time to listen to the podcast? I use an app called Overcast (no affiliation) to play back my favorite podcasts at faster speeds, dynamically shortening silences in talk shows so it doesn’t sound weird. It’s pretty rad.


Related links:

Imposter Syndrome

What I Learned from 10 Days of Silence



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3 Responses to “How Being Too Productive Can Lead to Overeating (and How to Stop It)”

  1. Tasha says:

    I love this episode. I am a graduate student and I eat to avoid all my guilt of not working.

  2. Hannah says:

    I enjoyed this episode. I realized within the last year that eating to avoid working is something that I do too. I have a pretty flexible schedule and work mostly from home. The only breaks from work, parenting and housework that I usually give myself on typical weekdays from the time I get up to the time my kids go to bed (and sometimes until the time I go to bed) are the times I sit down to eat. I know it’s not very mindful, but I almost always read while I eat if I’m alone because I just love it and otherwise I’d be bored and lonely. The problem is that I don’t want to quit reading and go back to work, so I keep eating as an excuse to keep reading. Now that I know that’s what I’m doing I only allow myself to eat a normal portion of food and once I feel full I will let myself read a little longer so that I don’t feel like I have to keep eating. It’s still hard to go back to work, but at least I’m not overeating so much anymore. I also am really working on making sure I get down time frequently and trying to let go of the guilt for taking it. I was thinking that it might be helpful for Shelbey to think about if there are any hobbies or activities that she’s ever been interested in besides reading but not pursued because they’re not “productive”. If there are, maybe she could consider using some of her down time towards those things as well. Things like crocheting, knitting, learning to play a musical instrument, doing puzzles, hanging out with other friends, hula hooping, whatever.

  3. Serena says:

    In the past, I dealt with a similar issue as Shelbey, but it was more severe in the form of binge-eating. Over the course of a very long year, I eventually figured out that the eating was actually a subconscious way to avoid feeling lonely, to avoid having to do anything productive after a 10-hour day, or a way for my body to force myself to rest when I was too wired.

    I found that the overeating died down once I made sure I got 8 hours of sleep, scheduled time to hang out with friends in the evenings, and gave time to just shut myself up in my room and draw/watch TV/ogle pretty Instagram pictures. Maybe Shelbey could also try incorporating a few nights out during the week? It wouldn’t even have to be for hanging out with friends; she could eat dinner and study at a cafe that’s open late.

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