If you feel like you can’t get a handle on your relationship with food and find yourself eating more than your body needs, then try one or more of these strategies and see for yourself how little changes can go a long way in creating better awareness, and as a result, better choices.
1. Eat Regular, Healthy, Balanced Meals and Snacks
Chaotically eating during the day is one of the primary causes of disordered eating, and involve skipping meals or restricting food intake during the day, grazing when not hungry, and/or eating most of the day’s food intake at night. Eating in a chaotic way dysregulates our appetite hormones, which throws off our appetite cues. Not to mention, there may be a nutrition malnourishment based on the types of foods that are predominantly eaten. The first step is to regulate the eating pattern by eating three nutritious, balanced meals and a couple FitBites per day, most days to help to prevent the physiological contributors that lead to overeating. By ‘balanced’ I’m talking about using the MyPlate approach for choosing types and moderating food portions. Learning how to eat in a health-supportive way consistently (not perfectly!) serves to regulate appetite hormones, decrease food cravings, and to lessen compulsive overeating that results from chaotic eating or nutrition malnourishment.
2. Stop Relying on Willpower
Willpower is like a muscle, it fatigues. Add in the habit of mindlessly eating or eating for emotional reasons, and willpower tends to go completely out the window. Instead of trying to rely on willpower and ‘white knuckling’ it while trying to shift ingrained behavior, it’s more effective to manage our environment and to tune into what we are really hungry for (hint: it’s probably not food). Here are two strategies to try:
- Manage your environment by deciding what type and how much of your favorite snack or trigger foods are readily available to you during your more vulnerable times of the day. For example, at night if you typically eat ice cream or chips while watching TV, either don’t have those foods in the house, or if you choose to have them, only have a single serving in your home at any given time so that there is an endpoint with your favorite snack or comfort food.
- Create a toolbox of non-food alternatives to try and do FIRST, when the urge to eat strikes (and you aren’t physically hungry). For example, do your stretching exercises while watching TV, or work on a jigsaw puzzle, knit or crochet a scarf, or try a type of mindful doodling called Zentangle. If you are feeling tired or lonely – instead of reaching for food as the ‘false fix’, instead call a friend, go on a walk, or take a hot bubble bath to soothe your body. When you can practice diverting your attention to a non-food activity first, this will help to change the reaction in the habit of the moment, and/or will enable you to self-soothe around what you REALLY need in the moment.
3. Eat Mindfully
Mindful eating isn’t ‘woo-woo’, it’s about eating with intention while paying attention, and this important practice significantly helps to turn off auto-pilot with eating behavior. Mindful eating allows us to become our own authority around food by becoming more aware of what is fueling our urges to eat (physical, habitual or emotional hunger), and then how to respond accordingly. A research article published in the Obesity journal in 2016 highlights clinical trials that reveal the powerful impact of mind-body practices on weight loss and improving the overall quality of life. Lead researcher and a post-doctorate fellow with the Preventative Medicine Research Institute, Dr. Jennifer Daubenmier, states:
"Whether eating snacks while watching the game or grazing by the dessert tray at the office event, we often find ourselves overeating not because we're hungry, but because the food looks delicious, we're distracted, or we wish to soothe away unpleasant feelings," explains Dr. Daubenmier. "Our study suggests that mindful eating can go further than making healthy food choices and recognizing when we're full; it could improve glucose levels and heart health to a greater extent than behavioral weight-loss programs that do not teach mindful eating."
Mindful Eating isn’t rocket-science, but it takes the choice to be different and to tune IN before and during eating. The simple act of putting your fork down between bites and focusing on chewing your food thoroughly and swallowing before going in for your next bite is just one effective strategy for becoming more mindful while eating.