3 Strategies to Prevent Overeating
Feeling the need to cleanse your body after the holidays is common. I constantly hear from people taking a break from drinking alcohol and eating sweets. During the early part of the year, there are simply a lot of people that are trying to prevent overeating by cutting back on their consumption of food.
There is nothing inherently wrong with taking a break from foods that are known to be higher in calories. This helps reset our mind and body a bit especially because during the holidays, we tend to overindulge. It happens to all of us.
The challenge we all have is that food is always around us and having the willpower stick to our resolutions and not overeat (or over-drink) can be hard. Food marketing is often designed to make us eat more. Super-sized meals, commercials, and colorful packaging at the grocery store are designed to entice us, and as a result, we end up eating when we’re not hungry, or eating far beyond our actual appetites. Additionally, many commercially prepared foods are highly processed and are high in sugar, salt and unhealthy fat which can trick our taste buds into wanting more.
Do any of these examples sound familiar to you?
- Coming home from a long day, you prop your feet up, turn the TV on and enjoy some pizza for dinner. Thinking back, maybe you ate half the pizza.
- Skipping the beer and dessert may not stop us from diving into the chicken strips, fries and maybe even the cheese sticks for an appetizer. Thinking back, maybe you ate to many fries and didn’t need to order an appetizer.
- After a stressful day at work, you come home eat dinner quickly knowing you have to finish to some work once the kids go to bed. While doing work, you grab the ice-cream out of the freezer to have some dessert. Thinking back, maybe you weren’t really hungry for dessert, you just felt stressed and needed something sweet.
3 Strategies to Prevent Overeating
1. Be screen-free when eating a meal
Pay attention to the food you’re about to put in your mouth. Stop everything else you’re doing, and when you’re eating, just eat. Enjoy the food and the eating experience. This is a moment for you to relax and recharge. Of course, there are times we are out at a sports bar watching a game during a meal. The idea is for the majority of the time, we want to be focused on the food in front of us and not both the meal and screen. Research has shown that eating attentively can influence food intake. This is one of the simplest approaches one can take to prevent overeating.
- Skip the Tech. Leave your desk, and take a break from all electronics (computer, phone and tablet). Not only is this a great opportunity to reduce your “sit time” and boost your physical health, it’s also a chance to give your mind a break to simply enjoy your meal. You may even discover that you’re more productive as a result.
- Distraction free: During meals outside of work, disconnect from your job – and other screens too. Keep your phone off the table and on silent. This will help you reconnect with your own hunger and satiety levels.
- Be Mindful: At home, take a few extra minutes preparing and plating your meal. Even if you get take out, use a real plate instead of eating from the carton. Sit at a table and avoid looking at screens. Instead, focus on the food in front of you and how it can nourish your body.
2. Beware of the S’s: Sugar and salt
Sugar and salt are tastebud tantalizers, and as such, it’s easy to overeat sweet and salty food products, which are often highly processed. As you cut down on highly processed foods, your palate will adjust so that over time, you’re satisfied with far lower amounts of sugar and salt.
- Slow down: If you really want to indulge in high “S-factor” fare, start with only three bites, savoring each bite.
- Think about the flavor: Is this a complex flavor, or does the sugar or salt dominate? After noting that, ask yourself: will this food truly satisfy me?
- Empty promises? You may realize that high-sugar and high-salt foods, while easy to overeat, aren’t nearly as flavorful or as satisfying as real, unprocessed foods. Does it nourish you, or make you hungry for more?
3. Change your response to comfort-food cravings
We want to eat when we’re truly hungry. This may sound like common sense, but the truth is that many people eat for reasons other than hunger, including when bored, anxious, stressed or angry. Eating a meal or a snack should be a way to satisfy real hunger, not a way to soothe your feelings. For food-free ways to handle emotional ups and downs, consider going for a walk, meditating, talking to a friend, writing in a journal, or listening to music.
Results from a research study showed that exposure to persistent stress may alter the brain’s response to food in ways that can lead to poor eating habits.
- Prompt the question: When tempted to turn to “comfort food” for emotional reasons, ask yourself if you’re really hungry.
- Purposefully pause: If not, but you’re still tempted to eat, wait 10 minutes before you prepare anything. Do something else in the meantime. Whether at work or at home, take a few minutes to walk or stretch. Sometimes when stressed, we operate on autopilot. Teaching ourselves to “purposefully pause” can help us become more mindful and less stress-driven.
- Condition by repetition: By gradually lengthening your response time, you may find that you’re able to change your habit from “crave & cave” to “pause & pass.”
I hope you feel empowered by these tips to prevent overeating and include them to your New Year New You resolutions!
– Kari Martinez, MS, RD, LDN