Nutrition strategies to prevent overeating

August 4, 2004 in Healthy Eating, Weight Management

Nutrition strategies to prevent overeating
Chances are you've ordered the decadent dessert, despite feeling stuffed from dinner. Or perhaps you've devoured the whole bag of chips when you felt like only having a few. Sound familiar? Overeating is easy to do. There are a number of situations in which people are most likely to overeat without noticing. You may overeat due to:
  • Stress; to prevent yourself from feeling bad.
  • Socializing; when delicious, appetizing looking food is in abundance.
  • Depression; to provide comfort.
  • Boredom; because eating food provides a distraction.
  • Portion Sizes; you may overeat because you're simply served more food. Studies show that when we are presented with larger portions of food, we eat more.

If you fall into any of the above categories, here are a few strategies to help conquer overeating:


Keep a food diary. Write down what you eat, when you eat and why you eat. Record your feelings at the time ' are you hungry, bored, depressed, angry? By doing so, you are forced to see, in black and white, the foods you are eating, the foods you are not eating and most importantly, why you are eating them. And you will see patterns. You may notice that you always eat in front of the television, or you eat when you're alone in the house. Or maybe you eat just because the food is in front of you. Keeping a food record will make you think twice about eating that second helping at dinner or that handful of potato chips while watching television.

Brush your teeth. If you grew up having dessert after every dinner, whether it was a fancy cake or pudding or just a couple of cookies, chances are you crave something sweet on your palate after dinner. Try brushing your teeth to dampen the savoury flavours of dinner. You may find the craving for something sweet goes away, and you might just be satisfied with a coffee or tea.

Buy smaller sized packages. Bonus size boxes of cookies, crackers, pretzels and potato chips may be deal at Costco, but they definitely encourage overeating. If you resist the 'more for less' thinking, you'll end up eating less. If you eat directly from a bigger package, research suggests you'll eat 25% more than you would from a smaller package. And if it's a snack food like candy or chips, you'll eat 50% more. Studies from the University of Illinois found that when people were given either a 450 gram or 900 gram back of MM's, or a medium or jumbo popcorn, they ate 112 MM's vs. 156 MMs and they ate half the amount of popcorn when eating from a smaller tub.

Plate your snacks. My rule: never snack out of the bag. When you continually reach your hand in that bag of mini rice cakes or pretzels, you never really get a sense of how much you're eating. It just doesn't register. You end up eating far more that you should. Whether your snack is crackers and low fat cheese, popcorn, or apples slices, measure out your portion and put it on a plate. And then pay attention to the fact that you're eating!

Minimize mindless munching. When you're snacking, make that your primary activity, instead of being secondary to television-watching, book-reading, or working.

Treat snacks as food. Most of us were raised not to eat dinner in front of the tv -- why should snacks be different? Keep snacking to the dining room. Focus on the food you're eating and enjoy it.

Keep tempting treats hidden. This sounds so simple, yet that's what 85% of successful dieters say they do to help them stick with their healthy diet and maintain their weight loss. To stay on track, almost all say they stock their kitchen with plenty of healthy foods, and about one-third say they eat in restaurants less often. There's no question, when candy is displayed in plain view on office desks, employees eat more and they tend to lose track of how much they've eaten during the day. The secret is to keep unhealthful snacks where you can't see them -- and you might even forget where you put them.

Even better, keep them out of the house. If hiding your snacks only brings out a sense of adventure and you continue to hunt them out, don't let them cross your threshold. Keep healthier snacks on hand to help satisfy cravings. If you're looking for something sweet, you may be willing to satisfy your sweet tooth with a handful of grapes, rather than going out to purchase a chocolate bar. Salty cravings might be satisfied with a (portioned) bowl of popcorn from your kitchen instead of that bag of chips that is a 5-minute drive away.

Use smaller plates. A few of my clients find this trick really works. Instead of filling a dinner plate with food, they serve less food on a luncheon-sized plate. And guess what? The plate looks full!

Serve drinks in tall glasses. Studies show that people perceive tall, skinny glasses as holding more liquid than short, stubby glasses. Research from the University of Illinois found that people drank almost 20% more from short, wide glasses than they did from tall, narrow glasses. The bottom line ' when you drink higher calorie beverages like fruit juice, soft drinks or alcohol use tall, skinny glasses. You'll drink less, but think you drank more.

Drink water. Some of your hunger may be attributable to thirst. Have a glass of water before you start to snack. If you've still got the munchies, make sure you continue to pause for water, which will help to satisfy your hunger and slow you down between bites.

Keep variety to a minimum. Variety prompts overeating. That's because we tend to get bored with familiar tastes and tend to stop eating sooner. That same M&M study from the University of Illinois found that people who were presented with M&Ms in 10 colours ate 30% more than when they were given only seven colours. Studies have found the same with pasta shapes and sandwich fillings. The take home message ' when it comes to healthy foods, keep a variety of them in your kitchen. If you're opting for sweets or unhealthy foods, select only one kind and you'll probably end up eating fewer calories.

Eat a healthy snack before you go out. Whether you're going out for dinner to a restaurant or to a cocktail party, eat a snack before you leave so you don't arrive famished. This will help prevent overeating. A piece of fruit, a single serving of yogurt, a latte or a bowl of vegetable soup are all good snack choices. If your host offers snack foods that are easy to grab by the handful (chips, candies, etc.), continue to rely on plating your snacks. Keep an eye on how much you're putting on your plate and how many times you refill it. It will be easier to keep track of how much you've had -- which will come in handy when you're filling out your food diary after the party!


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