The physics of overeating

An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an external force.

– Sir Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion

(as it is most commonly paraphrased in modern language)


My mouth is a textbook example of Newton’s First Law of Motion: Once activated, it doesn’t stop eating until it encounters some kind of resistance.

Some people seem to come equipped with an internal braking system that helps them slow down and eventually stop eating when they start to get full. I was well into my 40s before I realized I was missing not only brakes but a fuel gauge as well.

There’s no point in wallowing in shame over this defect. My time is better spent figuring out what can function as an “external force” to stop my mouth. In eight years of research, here are a few of the things I’ve come up with:

Finish something off – This is a bad habit that I’ve managed to (sometimes) convert to a useful purpose. One day last week I found myself going crazy over cornbread. I was only cutting small pieces, but I couldn’t seem to stop. Given my innate need to finish off a container of food perceived as being almost empty, I was afraid I’d just keep going until the cornbread was gone.

I’d been drizzling honey on my cornbread, but for dinner that night I’d also set out a small bottle of crappy pancake syrup I’d picked up on sale somewhere. Realizing that was nearly empty, I squeezed out the last of the syrup and tossed the container. The finality of that act broke the spell.

Construct an end note – In sheet music, a bold double-bar line signals the end of a song. I remember one day in the middle of my 2010 weight loss I stopped a would-be binge by visualizing two pieces of string cheese as that musical symbol signalling “stop.”


Shock your palette – If you’ve been eating something sweet and/or carby, grab an orange, a tart apple (Granny Smith works nicely) or a pickle.

Stop on a dime – When I was counting Weight Watchers points, I noticed that if I planned out the last thing I intended to eat for the day so that it would use up exactly how many points I had left, I would feel satisfied. But if I was even one point under – or over – it would nag at me subconsciously even if I thought it wasn’t (or shouldn’t be) that big of a deal.

Channel Bugs Bunny – I’m rarely organized enough to keep a container of cleaned carrots in the fridge, but when I do, I always leave a few full-sized rather than cutting them into sticks. Gnawing on a giant “Bugs Bunny” carrot is quite a workout for your mouth. I’m almost always ready to stop eating before I get to the end of that thing. 



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2 Responses to The physics of overeating

  1. bgddyjim says:

    That’s an interesting post! Thanks for the perspective. And the visual (fuel gauge, off switch).

  2. zoeforman says:

    This is so me – no filter / valve or measures !

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