Growing up with an Italian family, I loved food from a very early age. I was gifted with the ability to eat huge amounts of food in a very short time span and had issues leaving anything on my plate. These enjoyable, yet poor eating habits made weight loss and weight maintenance very difficult later in life.
While I can't say that I am totally cured of my love for eating copious amounts of food, I can say that I have learned a few tricks along the way to keep myself in control (most of the time).
1. Eat Slower
I have a hard time with this one because I am genetically programmed to inhale my food (thanks Daddy). The faster you eat, the more you tend to eat. This is because there is a delay between the point at which your stomach gets full and the time when your brain actually realizes that you’re full. Chew slower or take breaks when eating to give yourself time to register that you’ve eaten enough. I find the only way I’m able to do this is to have a conversation with someone while I’m eating.
2. Plan Ahead
If you’re heading to a restaurant or a friend’s for dinner, try to eat something before you get there so you are not super hungry. On an empty stomach, you are more inclined to make poor food choices or overeat. I can easily justify eating a 2,000 calorie meal if I get to a restaurant on an empty stomach – diet be damned! If possible, check the menu in advance and pick your meal before you get to there so you are not tempted to pick a higher calorie option.
3. Prepare Low-Cal Substitutes
One of my eating weaknesses is starches – pasta, rice, potatoes. It’s very difficult for me to stick to the recommended serving size for starches, which is half a cup (or a handful). To compensate, I prepare lower calorie options to eat with my pasta or rice. For example, if I’m having pasta for dinner, I’ll use a potato peeler to shred strands of zucchini into veggie noodles. I’ll mix the zucchini strands with the pasta sauce for flavour, and then add my half a cup serving of pasta on top. The zucchini and pasta mixture fills me up and lets me enjoy my pasta without going over board.
Another low-carb option is cauliflower. Steam cauliflower until soft and puree in a food processor for a great mashed potato substitute. Add a little olive oil, margarine or butter for flavour and enjoy as much cauliflower as you want. It’s surprisingly better than it sounds!
4. Cravings – Thirsty, Hungry or Bored?
There are certain points in the day (usually around 3pm) when we start to get a little tired and start foraging for those sugary or salty snacks. If you start to feel hungry, try drinking a full glass of water first. Thirst is often confused with hunger.
Still feeling like you need a snack? Rate how hungry you actually are on a scale from 1 to 10; 1 being starving like you haven’t eaten for a week and 10 being full. Most food cravings come from being bored, tired, stressed or other emotions as opposed to actually being hungry. If you fall into this emotional eating category, be prepared! Pack low-calorie snacks that you can easily grab to fulfill your craving. I keep a bag of Russell Stover Sugar-Free Hard Candies on my desk at work. They are only 13 calories each and I’ll usually have a couple to hold me over. Keep a backup (non-perishable) snack in your bag as well for when you get stuck on the go and a craving hits.
In a pinch with no healthy snacks on hand? Keep busy. Find something to do to take your mind off your cravings. Most cravings will pass after 15 minutes, so go for a walk, read a book, start cleaning, anything to distract yourself from the bag of chips on the top shelf of the pantry that you told your husband several times not to leave there for you to find.
5. Out of Sight, Out of Mind
I grew up eating everything put on my plate and have a hard time leaving food behind. To avoid this compulsory habit, I will often pack half of my food for lunch the next day before sitting down to dinner. Once it’s packed, I no longer have the temptation to eat everything in sight and have a better chance of sticking to my calorie targets.
Not packing a lunch? Don’t leave the serving dishes full of food on the table. You may be less inclined to add more food to your plate if you have to get up to get it or if it’s not in your line of sight.
Eating out? Don’t feel bad to ask for a takeaway container to bring your food home. I’ll be honest – when I eat out I like to finish my entire meal, but this tip is more a “do as I say and not as I do” kind of tip. Avoid the guilt that comes with over-eating and take the food home instead (or use Tip #2 – Plan Ahead!).
What tips do you use to keep your eating in check?