When she walked into the room, she eyed the food table. A quick walk around revealed several dishes begging to be devoured. Out of the many, only a few stood out as being relatively healthy. She kept her eye on those items as she grabbed a plate and moved through the line. Once the items she pre-selected filled the empty space, she walked to the other side of the room to sit down, eat, and enjoy the company of those around her. After finishing her meal, she visited the dessert table and grabbed a helping of her favorite, savoring every forkful. At the end of the evening, she was happy and satisfied.
When he walked into the room he picked up a plate and got right in line. Several cheesy, loaded pasta dishes were laid out first and he grabbed a big scoop of one. Moving down the line, he grabbed a little of this and a little of that. By the time he got half way down the table, his plate was too full for anything else. He’d have to go back for seconds. On his second trip through, he started back at the beginning, grabbing more of the food he tried the first time and leaving just enough space on his plate for a few others. Once that plate was finished, he went to the dessert table. Looking at the display, he saw a variety of tasty treats. Not wanting to miss out, he took a mini-portion of several desserts instead of a full serving of one, telling himself these “samples” equaled no more than one normal portion. At the end of the evening, he was bloated and a bit lethargic but because he associates being bloated with having eaten a good meal, he too left feeling happy and satisfied.
You can probably relate to one or both of these scenarios. I’ve experienced both and I can tell you, she will maintain a healthy weight and have a better relationship with food than he will. Whether consciously or unconsciously, she has developed habits that help her stay in control of what and how much she eats. He allows the food to control him.
Being slim by design
That is the point that Brian Wansink, Ph.D., makes in his book Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life. If you want to be successful in maintaining a healthy weight and have a positive relationship with food, then you have to design your environment in such a way that it is easier to choose the healthy options over the less healthy options. Because unless you have superhuman willpower, you do not have the ability to resist temptation and live a healthy lifestyle when left to your own devices all of the time.
Since I’ve been struggling with sugar cravings, I’ve taken steps to ensure my environment helps me succeed in selecting healthier choices when all I want to do is eat a chocolate bar. Truly, the easiest way to resist these cravings is to not have the food available to me. But to be honest, I don’t really want to live that way. Cookies and ice cream are not inherently bad after all. Eating them every day or eating several servings at once is the problem. Eating them on occasion is perfectly acceptable.
So how are we supposed to choose the apple today and save the Ben & Jerry’s for the next dinner party? You’re not always going to. But there are changes you can make to your environment and routine that will help you choose the apple more often than not.
Based on some common sense and what was presented in Slim by Design, I’ve decided to make some changes to beat my uncontrollable post-pregnancy, nursing-mom cravings once and for all. Perhaps one or more of these will work for you too.
If there’s food in my mouth, the fork is down.
This is a tip I saw in an article about mindful eating and this one actually works for me. So often, I hurriedly eat whatever is in front of me so I can deal with something else, like a crying baby, or a toddler who has to go potty, or the chicken that needs to get in the oven in five minutes or dinner won’t be ready in time. Most of the time, I don’t stop to enjoy, or even taste, the food I eat. There are too many distractions.
So I’m trying to develop a better habit. If there’s food in my mouth, there’s none in my hand. This forces me to slow down. You’re probably thinking that the purpose of this is to give my brain time to register that my stomach is full so I don’t overeat. While that is a perk, it’s not what I’ve found to be the main advantage. By slowing down, I’m allowing that pleasure center in brain to be stimulated. I notice the flavors and texture of my food and I am more satisfied. I don’t desire to eat more because what I already ate made me happy. There is no void left to fill.
It sounds nuts, but it works!
Drink tea between meals.
I drink a lot of water during the day, so I don’t often mistake thirst for hunger. But sometimes I still crave food when I’m not hungry and there is no need for me to eat. I struggle with this the most in the afternoons and evenings. I’ve noticed that if I have a hot drink in my hands, I don’t think about food so much. Now I automatically make some tea before those cravings have time to strike. This way I can stay in control.
Keep fruits and vegetables in plain view.
Take a look at your countertop. What do you see? Is there food in plain view? If there is, you will most likely eat whatever is on your counter before something from the fridge or cupboard. Whether it’s chips or apples doesn’t really matter. What you see is what you’ll eat. So put the food you should be eating in plain view and hide the food you should only be eating on occasion. Use this trick when stocking your fridge and pantry too. The healthy stuff goes in the front, at eye level.
Make unhealthy snacks inconvenient to eat.
This naturally follows the point above. By positioning the healthier foods so you see them and eat them first, you will also be moving the unhealthy food to the back of the cupboard, where it’s not as easily seen or reached. Because it’s less convenient, you won’t eat it as often.
I love it when my sister makes her chocolate chip pudding cookies. They taste amazing right out of the freezer and the freezer is where I keep them whenever she makes a batch for me. But because the freezer below the fridge in my kitchen is too convenient, I keep the cookies in the chest freezer in my garage. It is far too easy to walk into the kitchen and snag a couple of cookies. If I have to walk to the other side of the garage to get one, then I’m forcing myself to think about what I’m doing and I probably won’t do it as often.
Develop accountability. (MyFitnessPal, family and friends)
We are stronger when we work together, so finding a source of accountability to help prevent you from eating the stuff you shouldn’t eat and the amounts you shouldn’t eat may be the only way to actually succeed. Sometimes you need someone to help talk you off the ledge, so to speak.
I had a moment of weakness a couple weeks ago while grocery shopping. I love Reese’s Pieces candy. I could eat a family sized bag in one day. I know this about myself so I choose not to buy it. Ever. But that week I did. I opened the bag while I put away the other groceries, reaching for five or six candies at a time, over and over again. I absolutely did not have the willpower to stop myself. So I took the bag to my husband and asked him to hide it from me. That way when I eat some, he can help me stay accountable and I can’t eat the whole bag in one sitting.
Sometimes having someone remove the food from my presence is what it takes. When it comes to that point, I’m thankful there’s someone there to do it for me.
Make it a challenge.
If you have even the slightest competitive streak in you, challenge yourself to maintain a certain standard for a set period of time, such as my 7-day No Added Sugar Challenge. Make sure you broadcast your challenge to as many people as you can. That way, if you don’t follow through, you’ll be super embarrassed. Not wanting to look like a fool in front of your friends and family may be enough to keep you on track. And when you succeed, you’ll feel great about your accomplishment and will have the confidence to try it again. Someday, it may not even feel like a challenge anymore.
Do it with me!
So friends, if you struggle at all with cravings, try some of these ideas to see if they work for you. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram as I challenge myself to go this whole week without eating foods with sugar added to them.
Psst…If you’re interested in learning more about the science behind cravings, check this article out: Where do cravings come from?
How do you overcome your cravings?