Use this six-step strategy to make sure you avoid eating mindlessly.
1. Look for patterns
“Notice the reasons behind the choices you’re making,” says Sarah-Jane Holt, performance nutritionist at Matt Roberts. “So many of us make food choices in reaction to an emotion – if we have had a bad day, feel stressed or unhappy we’ll go for a glass of wine, chocolate or a meal that we might consider a treat.”
Spotting the link will allow you to address this. “Next time this situation arises, see if you can create some space between the emotion and the reaction. Once you know why you want to make a certain food choice, think about how it will make you feel afterwards and allow yourself to become more aware of the choice.” Ready to accept that sugar crash for the sake of a brief high? Well, if you’re sure it’s worth it…
2. Stave off urges
It’s easier to avoid the temptation of waistline-expanding treats if your stomach isn’t growling. “To help appetite control it’s a good idea to make sure you are getting enough protein in your diet,” says Holt. “It’ll help you feel fuller for longer. Step two is to stay hydrated – drink two to three litres of water a day to avoid mistaking thirst for hunger.” This even works in the short term – if you’re desperate for a Mars bar, promise yourself you’ll have it if you still want it after a Granny Smith and a glass of sparkling water. Once you get them down, you’ll usually find the urge subsides.
3. Rethink meal prep
A few tweaks to the way you put meals together can make the difference between serious fat loss and failure. “Invest in proper food containers,” suggests Sam Yassin, managing director of Back2Fitness. “Single-serving sizes will make carrying your own healthy lunch easier. Set a phone reminder so you don’t forget to take your carefully prepared meals with you – and always shop with a list to avoid temptation.” Keep a note or email draft on your phone with your preferred recipes or ingredients so it’s always accessible.
4. Chew your food
It sounds a bit “my granny used to tell me…” but chewing your food thoroughly does lead to better nutrient absorption – and it also prevents overeating. In a 2014 study, researchers found that one group of volunteers ate 88 fewer calories simply by slowing down – but they still felt less hungry at the end of their meals, partly thanks to the release of appetite-regulating hormones. Most studies indicate 40 chews per mouthful is ideal, but there’s no serious need to count – just chew your food until it’s an easy-to-swallow mulch.
5. Retool your kitchen
No, there’s no need for an expensive refit – just rethink your habits. In a study from Cornell University in the US, families who self-served their food from the oven top or counter ate 19% less than those who took their food at the table – even bowls with lids reduced second helpings. If you want to step it up, get smaller plates: another Cornell study found that people using bigger bowls, glasses and ice-cream scoops served themselves more food. Reverse all this for vegetables, salad and anything else you’re aiming to eat more of.
6. Eliminate distractions
Mindfulness doesn’t have to mean meditation. “Try to sit down without any distractions and just focus on the food you are eating – that means no social media or box sets,” says Holt. “Pay attention to when you start to feel full – this may be before your plate is clear. Try to notice when you stop enjoying the meal quite as much as when you started, and when the enjoyment starts to fall away stop eating. Just being aware of these signals can help you avoid overeating.”