By Louisa Downs, physiologist at AXA PPP healthcare.
If you’re prone to overindulging ‒ snacking on unhealthy foods, comfort eating, or grazing when you’re not even hungry – it may be time to change your attitude towards food. When you ask someone why they overeat, or snack, they hardly ever say it’s because they’re hungry.
Louisa Downs, physiologist at AXA PPP healthcare, explains: “Many people overeat because they’re bored, lonely or upset. There’s often a tendency to eat to make ourselves feel better if we’re stressed or sad and use the food to satisfy our emotional needs, rather than actual hunger. And some snacking is done unconsciously or simply out of habit, for example, while standing at the fridge, watching television, or at our work desks.”
Here are ten few physician-approved strategies to regain control of your unhealthy eating habits:
1 Keep a food diary:
Keeping a log of what you eat every day – meals, snacks and everything else! It will help you acknowledge what you’re eating – but be honest with yourself and don’t leave anything out. Louisa says: “Writing down everything you eat is a good reality check. Often people genuinely don’t realise they are eating too much.”
2 Find a positive mantra:
Try telling yourself: ‘I want to be healthy’ or ‘I don’t need that right now, I’m not even hungry’ when you’re wavering by the biscuit tin. Louisa says: “To make it easier to stay away from unhealthy snacks it can be useful to have snacks at the ready already portioned out correctly. For example, a small Tupperware box of Greek yogurt with mixed berries, or having fresh cut carrot sticks and a tablespoon of hummus. With snacks at the ready, you won’t feel like you are missing out.”
3 Set aside time to deal with stress:
Sometimes it helps to externalise your worries and sources of stress by writing them down and allowing yourself 15 minutes a day to deal with them – this can help you stop reaching for food. Louisa says: “We’re more likely to comfort eat when we are stressed. Some people find a ‘worry diary’ can help to mind dump their thoughts. Jotting down all your worries, no matter how big or small they seem can help you take control and declutter a busy mind.”
4 Use distraction techniques:
If you’re snacking out of habit, do something to distract your brain from food. Try a quick walk round the block, a glass of water, phoning a friend or listening to music. Louisa says: “If you’re worried that you’re constantly thinking about food and when you’ll next eat, it’s difficult to suddenly try and stop thinking about it. Rather than dwelling on the thoughts as a bad thing, perhaps turn it into something positive. Food is important – so use your thoughts to plan a healthy meal and enjoy your food rather than feeling guilty or going without.”
5 Savour the taste and flavour:
You can focus on the taste of food, rather than the quantity to help reduce portion size. If you’re still hungry or want to add more to your plate, add extra veg. Louisa says: “Eating mindfully can be a great way to help you enjoy your food more and take note of the flavours. We often eat in front of the television or at our desks and don’t take note of what and how much we are eating. Take your time, use your senses and enjoy your food!”
6 Enjoy a surge of positive emotions when you resist temptation or start seeing results:
Make short term goals so you can congratulate yourself and celebrate your successes on a regular basis – building up your self-esteem as you achieve each one. Louisa says: “Have a day of the week where you enjoy a slice of cake or order your favourite takeaway. This can help you to turn away unhealthy treats on a daily basis. We tend to enjoy a treat more when we have it less!”
7 Ask yourself how you’ll feel after you’ve eaten an unhealthy food or huge portion:
Often it’s just stopping to think before you eat which can put the brakes on making a bad choice. When you realise that you’ll only enjoy a few minutes of pleasure, then spend all day regretting it because you feel you’ve failed or you feel bloated or uncomfortable, it might stop you diving into the fridge. Louisa says: “Write your goals up on some paper and pin it to the fridge. This can be a great way to remind yourself of what you’re working towards!”
8 Don’t ban any food:
If you do, it seems to become more appealing, you obsess about it and it’s not sustainable in the long term.Louisa says: “If you want chocolate don’t deny yourself totally, but limit yourself to a few squares. Remember, it’s all about balance.”
9 Be patient:
If you’re aiming to lose some weight, the slower the weight comes off the longer it will stay off, so try not to get too fixated about achieving dramatic weight loss in a short space of time – be consistent and persistent, looking to the longer term. Louisa says: “It can be useful to make sure you review your goals, set a long term goal but also set short term goals to keep yourself motivated and on track”.
10 Think small changes:
It’s all the small changes that add up. Try eating smaller portions, using a smaller plate or look for calorie saving swaps. Louisa says: “Some easy swaps to try could be; swap chocolate to fruit, have wholegrain instead of white bread or even some evenings swap pasta/rice for extra fresh vegetables. These changes really mount up and can help towards boosting your energy levels and weight loss goals”.
For more information, visit AXA PPP healthcare’s diet and nutrition centre.