Eating habits and patterns can be hard to break. For many people, making simple behavioral changes can be very helpful in battling the temptation to overeat. Following are some tips to help you slow down, eat mindfully, consume the portion sizes your body needs, and make healthier choices.
Listen to your body’s hunger and fullness signals.
Before grabbing something to munch on, stop and ask yourself this question. “Am I truly physically hungry, or am I trying to use food to meet another need?” When you are hungry, eat slowly and savor your snack. Give your brain time to process how much food is consumed, and don’t miss out on the pleasure of it. The same is true for meals, which should take at least 20 minutes to eat. Stop when you are comfortably full, even if that means leaving some food on the plate. This will help you become more aware of appropriate portion sizes to meet your physical needs.
Eat regularly, and don’t deprive yourself.
Stick to a routine of three balanced, wholesome meals, with healthy snacks as needed. This will help you avoid reaching the point of extreme hunger, which often leads to bingeing. Don’t forbid yourself the pleasure of enjoying favorite foods on occasion. For many people, trying to eliminate a food leads to preoccupation with it–and ultimately bingeing on it.
Practice “mindful eating.”
As per some of the suggestions above, avoid any distractions when you are eating, so you can pay attention to how much you are consuming–and enjoy it. Unless it’s a rare exception due to a time crunch, don’t multi-task while you eat. This will also help with portion control.
Take the focus off of food; enjoy activities and people.
Analyze your habits. Do you find yourself putting food at the center of most everything you do? Learn to enjoy social interactions, friends, events, fun times, games, activities and entertainment–without always having to eat. Life will seem richer when you take the focus off of food and put it on the people and fun. But if you are hungry and need to eat during those situations, by all means do so–and enjoy it!
Identify “emotional triggers” for overeating, and substitute healthy alternatives.
Food can only meet our physical needs; emotional eating leads to feelings of guilt, confusion, isolation and shame. Substitute appropriate alternatives to deal with your emotions. If you are frustrated and angry, do some exercise. If you are overwrought and stressed, enjoy a soothing bubble bath, sew or escape with a good book. If you are sad and lonely, call a friend, volunteer or seek the solace of prayer. The options are countless. But more importantly, get to the root of your emotions. Discuss and resolve issues with people. Get support from someone who cares for you.
Know when to say “no, thank you.”
If you are not hungry and someone offers you food, you should not feel obligated to eat. You also don’t have to “clean your plate” out of politeness or because you should be thankful that you are not a “starving child in India”. If you are concerned about the other person’s feelings, ask if you may wrap the goodie, to be better enjoyed when you are hungry at another time.
Breaking the cycle of overeating and incorporating lifestyle changes takes work, determination and commitment. It is easier to go through this journey with a friend or group, with whom success is much more likely. For some people, overeating is so out of control and there are deep issues that even their closest friend isn’t equipped to handle. If this is the case for you, seek the support of a counselor who specializes in disordered eating.
Take Care of Your Whole Self.
We are whole people, with physical, relational, emotional and spiritual needs. Don’t neglect any parts, including the latter. Turn to God when you need strength, comfort companionship and guidance. Let Him fill the void in your life. Don’t let food have so much power over you. Know when you need to fill the soul, not the mouth.
Here are some other simple, practical changes you can make to help curb overeating:
- Whenever possible, eat your meals and snacks at the table only.
- Serve meals from the kitchen counter instead of putting extra food on the table.
- Eat off of a smaller plate to help control portion sizes.
- Put your fork down between bites; give yourself time to chew all your food slowly and thoroughly.
- Feel free to leave some food on your plate when you become comfortably full.
- Tightly wrap leftovers immediately after a meal, and refrigerate or freeze them.
- Avoid reading, driving, working at the computer, or watching television while eating.
- Instead of eating snacks directly out of the bag or box, grab a handful and sit down to enjoy.
- Grocery shop with a pre-made list and stick to it. Try to avoid going grocery shopping when you’re hungry – this leads to impulsive buys.
- Pre-plan what treats you’ll enjoy at social events.
- When eating out where portion sizes are large, split a meal with your companion or ask for a doggie bag and eat the rest the next day for lunch.
- Brush your teeth or chew sugarless gum immediately after eating.