A New Recipe for Weight Loss Success: Meet the 7 Overeating Styles


Part 1 of 2: Overcoming Overeating Series


— By Deborah Kesten and Larry Scherwitz —


Something has changed in our relatively recent past that has tipped overeating and obesity into a relentless—and worsening—epidemic that has made more than two-thirds of Americans either overweight or obese. Surely changes in our external and internal environments over the last few decades—what we consume, how much we eat or physical activity, even our genes and hormones—are likely working together to make us fat.

Our own research has identified yet more changes in our relationship with food and eating over the last few decades. These changes are so profound that they alter not only weight and physical health but also psychological, spiritual, and social well-being. We call these “new normal” ways of eating the “seven overeating styles.” Not only do they all appear to powerfully influence your weight in different ways, they reveal the underlying reasons many of us overeat and gain weight.

We are excited to tell you about the overeating styles—in part because most of them have been overlooked by dieters, health professionals, and the diet industry, but also because our research has shown all seven to be statistically significant. Without a doubt, they are linked to overeating.


Meet the 7 Overeating Styles

Have you thought much about your relationship to food? The complex of behaviors, feelings, and thoughts we bring to food are what comprise the seven overeating styles we’ve identified. If you’re a “food fretter,” for instance, you may diet a lot and judge food as “good” or “bad.” Perhaps you’re a “task snacker” who eats while you watch TV, work, or drive. Are you an “emotional eater” who binges when you’re bored, anxious, or depressed? Is fast food, eaten alone and so quickly that you don’t really taste it, your most-of-the time fare? Or do you typically relate to food with all—or none—of the overeating styles?

The seven overeating styles we discovered gave us new insights into the underlying reasons so many of us overeat and gain weight.1,2 We call these patterns of eating “styles” because they are sets of related behaviors that occur consistently over time. The more you follow each overeating style—each of which is a “new normal”—the more likely you are to overeat and gain weight; conversely, the more you return to the culinary heritage that served humankind for millennia, the more likely you are to stop overeating and achieve normal weight…for life.

#1. Food Fretting. Good food, bad food. Legal food, illegal food. Sinful food, pure food. The food fretting overeating style is overly concerned about and focused on food, projecting moral judgment onto what we and others eat. If you are often filled with thoughts about what you or anyone else should or shouldn’t eat, traditional dieting, or the “right” way to eat, or if you tend to base your self-worth and that of others on what or how much is eaten, the food fretting style is a key contributor to your overeating. (See “Lose Weight Without Dieting”)

#2. Task Snacking. Some call it “multitasking,” the French call it “vagabond eating,” and many in America think it’s “normal.” However it’s perceived, if you often eat while working by yourself in front of your computer or while driving, watching TV, standing at the kitchen counter, shopping, or talking on the phone, it’s likely that the “task snacking” eating style is increasing your likelihood of becoming overweight. (See “The Weight Loss Power of Mindfulness”)

#3. Emotional Eating. Most of us are familiar with the phrase “emotional eating,” turning to comfort food to soothe negative feelings (such as depression, anxiety, or loneliness) but also to enhance joyous, celebratory emotions (in response, let’s say, to a wedding, birthday, or promotion). If you often eat to manage your feelings and to self-soothe—in other words, for reasons other than hunger—it’s likely you’re an emotional eater.

It may not come as a surprise that our research pinpointed emotional eating as the strongest predictor of overeating—and, therefore, the key contributor to weight gain. What is groundbreaking are the specific emotions we’ve identified—the family of emotions—that are strongly linked with the likelihood that you’ll overeat. (See “Overcoming Emotional Eating”)

#4. Fast Foodism. A donut or sugary cereal for breakfast; a McDonald’s double burger with fries for lunch; and a supersized pizza, perhaps placed casually on the dining table in its cardboard box, for dinner—add several soft drinks throughout the day, and you have a profile of the fast-food cuisine that’s typical for many Americans. Not surprisingly, this way of eating is strongly linked with overeating, overweight, and obesity—and it threatens more than your waistline. (See “Eat Fresh, Weigh Less”)

#5. Solo Dining. Dining alone more often than not can contribute to overeating and ensuing weight gain. In other words, the “solo dining” overeating style means you’re not reaping the rewards of creating and sharing enjoyable dining experiences with others. Dining with others in a pleasant atmosphere (see “Unappetizing Atmosphere,” below) can be a balm for body, heart, and soul. It may even improve your relationships—with others as well as with food and your weight. (See “Eat with Others, Eat Less”)

#6. Unappetizing Atmosphere. Our research revealed that the psychological and physical dining aesthetics of your life can contribute to satiety or lead to overeating. The psychological element refers to the emotions you experience within yourself and from others when you eat—feelings such as joy and happiness versus anger, fear, depression, and so on. The physical atmosphere includes your surroundings when you eat—at home, at the office, in restaurants, in your car, or at the homes of family and friends. (See “Stress More, Eat More”)

#7. Sensory Disregard. How often do you focus on the aromas, colors, or flavors of food? Do you “eat with your senses” by appreciating the presentation, “tasting” the textures, or being grateful for the life-giving gift inherent in food? In our research, we found that those who ate the most actually enjoyed their food the least.

Sensory disregard is a powerful predictor of overeating and weight gain, because if you’re not enjoying your food—indeed, savoring it— you’re likely to keep eating until you finally do feel a sense of satisfaction. Of all the overeating styles we’ve identified, sensory and spiritual disregard is associated with the largest number of food-related behaviors linked with overeating. (See “Nourish Your Senses, Lose Weight”)


A New Recipe for Weight Loss Success

The point is this: With the discovery of the overeating styles, we look beyond conventional wisdom by thinking of weight in terms of a family of eating behaviors and lifestyle choices. Unraveling all the elements we discussed in this post, identifying the ones that fit you—and then turning them around (we give you step-by-step guidelines for how to do this with our “Whole Person Weight Loss Program”) —is your best insurance for a lifetime of weight-loss success.

Another way of looking at the overeating styles is this: they decode the many reasons so many of us overeat and gain weight. By knowing your own overeating style(s), you’re poised to practice the solutions we provide in our blogs, in our Special Weight Loss Edition, books, and more.


What’s Your Overeating Style?

Part 2 of 2: Overcoming Overeating

So you can discover the degree to which you are practicing—or not—each overeating style, we created our “What’s Your Overeating Style? quiz for the next post. In the quiz, you’ll discover how the food choices you make work together with eating behaviors you typically practice that contribute to overeating and weight gain.    

Once you find your trouble spots and the areas in which you can improve, our Special Weight Loss Edition —our Whole Person Nutrition Workbook, and each blog throughout MakeWeightLossLast.com–will give you the scientifically sound insights you need to turn trouble areas into strengths. The end result: you’ll be empowered to turn your personal team of eating styles into a new relationship to food that empowers you to make weight loss last.


  1. Larry Scherwitz and Deborah Kesten, “Seven Eating Styles Linked to Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity,” Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing 1, no. 5 (2005): 342–59.
  2. Deborah Kesten and Larry Scherwitz, Make Weight Loss Last: 10 Solutions That Nourish Body, Mind, & Soul (Amherst, MA: White River Press, 2012).


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Next post:
Think outside the diet to make weight loss last with “Your Personal Overeating Style Profile” (Part 2 of 2: Overcoming Overeating Series) posted on our NewView blog.

What are your thoughts about “A NEW RECIPE FOR WEIGHT LOSS: MEET THE OVEREATING STYLES?” Tell us about them in the Comments section below.