Ever look down and bam – you demolished an entire bag of chips while watching TV? You’re not alone! That’s what can happen when you’re not purposeful—fully aware—of what you’re doing. Instead of eating unconsciously, focus on what you’re eating, how you’re eating, and when you’re eating. Staying purposeful is the key to healthy weight control!
Don’t Bring It Home
If it’s not in the house, you can’t eat it, right? Keep these tips in mind before you head out to the grocery store.
- Never shop when you’re hungry. You’ll have less willpower and be much more tempted by the bakery department’s free cookie, samples.
- Make a list so you’ll be less likely to roam the store and buy on impulse.
- Load your cart with fresh foods — around the perimeter of the store — before you look at packaged or frozen foods.
- Read labels. Check nutritional information, portion size, and watch out for ingredients like trans fats in cheese and processed food. Trans fats increase inflammation, a risk factor for depression and heart disease. They also raise “bad” cholesterol and lower your amount of “good” cholesterol.
- Don’t fall for the fat-free trap. Some of these foods are actually higher in salt and calories than regular versions!
- Go easy on bulk purchases. They may save money, but having larger amounts of food around increases the odds you’ll overindulge.
Practice Portion Control
From fast food to restaurants, portion sizes in this country have been getting bigger by the decade. Back in the 1950’s, a typical burger was less than 3 ounces. Today, a typical serving is two to five times larger! Problem is: our brains are conditioned to view whatever is in front of us as a portion — regardless of the actual amount of food. In a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, people who were given larger bowls and spoons automatically served themselves larger amounts of ice cream — and then ate the whole thing! If you’re eating out, divide the food in half and bring the remainder home for another time. At home, use the following method to plan your plate and train yourself to start eating less.
- Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables
- Fill one quarter of the plate with low-glycemic starches, fruits or dairy
- About 20% (3 to 4 ounces) should be lean protein—meat, poultry or fish
- Allow no more than 5% for healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds
Watch Out For Hidden Salt and Sugar
If you’re trying to cut calories, be aware of hidden sugar (we’re talking to you, carbs!) and salt. Your brain is wired to reward salty, sugary, fatty foods by releasing endogenous opioids that comfort and satisfy — much like addictive drugs. Research shows that above a certain level the reward feeling doesn’t decrease once it’s stimulated, so you want more and more even when you’re full. No wonder you can’t “eat just one” potato chip!
The US Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg (1.5 teaspoons) a day. But the average American consumes more than twice that amount. Salt is everywhere, so check labels. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that one tablespoon of soy sauce has about 1000 mg of sodium. But even 1 cup of low-fat milk contains more than 100 mg.
As for sugar, the American Heart Association has found that the average American consumes more than 22 teaspoons of added sugar every day — way more than recommended — on top of the natural sugars in milk, fruits, and vegetables. Treat your sweet tooth with fresh fruits and veggies. Added sugar should be limited to 5 teaspoons (20 grams) for women and 9 teaspoons for men.
Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t look like a supermodel! If you set reasonable goals, you’re much more likely to succeed. In one study, women who had a positive body image lost 6% more weight than those who described themselves as less confident. You’ll do better treating yourself once or twice a week than giving up all your favorite foods. Just don’t go off the deep end — have a small amount of whatever you’re craving followed by something healthier. And once you reach your goal, phase your favorite foods back in so that you can enjoy them in moderation.
Put Serving Dishes Aside
Did you grow up automatically having seconds, or belonging to the “clean plate club”? Here’s the problem: your stomach doesn’t tell you you’re full; your eyes do! Scientists now know that your brain only begins to register fullness 10 minutes after eating, as blood sugar and insulin levels increase. Keep serving dishes out of sight on your stove or counter. You’ll eat 19% less than if food is on the table, according to a recent study.
Write It Down
Keeping a food journal is one of the most effective weight loss tools because it helps you stay aware of what you’re eating. Let’s face it — who wants to see “giant piece of cake” written down! Seeing what you eat in black and white is a great deterrent to over-indulging. And if you’re feeling discouraged, read back over the days you stayed on track; it’s a great motivator!
At the same time, eating right will fuel your body with essential vitamins and minerals. Whole grains, low-fat dairy, olive oil, lean meat, fish and poultry, and lots of fruits and veggies should form the cornerstone of any healthy eating plan. Since it can be a challenge to get all the nutrients you need from food alone, we recommend supplementing with a multivitamin.
Know Your Triggers
Do you reach for the chips along with the remote? Can’t visit the movie theater without a trip to the concession stand? It’s not easy to change your behavior but being aware of your unconscious associations is the first step towards breaking high-calorie snacking patterns. Try watching TV while sitting on a balance ball — it strengthens your abs and makes it harder to keep eating.
Another common trigger is stress. As we said earlier, brain chemistry is the reason that fatty, salty and sweet foods are “comfort foods”. Exercise regularly — it’s a great stress reliever that produces feel-good endorphins.
Eating while you’re doing something else can add up to a lot of extra calories. So slow down, enjoy your meal, and focus on the pleasures of healthy food. You’ve earned it!