When you're staring at say, a plate full of cookies, walking away sounds good in theory, but in practice feels like just about the hardest thing ever. No more, thanks to these science-driven, expert-proven strategies for munching in moderation. By Jane Bianchi, REDBOOK.
Quit eating while standing next to the refrigerator, driving, working at your desk, or watching TV, and instead sit down at a table each time you chow down, says Deborah Beck Busis, LSW, diet program coordinator for the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy in Bala Cynwyd, PA. When you focus solely on what you're chewing and savor each bite, you're less likely to overeat.
Try positive reinforcement
"Reward yourself for good behavior, not pounds lost," says Brian Wansink, PhD, founder of Mindless Eating and the author of the upcoming book, Slim By Design. First, create two healthy habits-like swapping a high-calorie processed snack for a fruit or vegetable, or not using plates larger than nine-and-a-half inches in diameter-for yourself. Then, grab a wall calendar and look at today's date. For every day you make a positive change, reward yourself with something that has nothing to do with food, such as a 10-minute massage the nail salon.
Learn to recognize true hunger
Sometimes we eat when we're famished, but many times we chow down because we're upset, bored, or enticed by something that looks good. "Hunger is what you feel in your stomach when it's empty," says Busis. "But if what you feel is coming from your mouth or head, then it's probably not hunger." She recommends taking the "tofu test"-if a block of tofu sounds appetizing, you are likely truly hungry.
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Visualize your guilty food pleasure
Before you go to a party-one where you know there will be plenty of potato chips and brownies-picture yourself eating one of those salty or sweet snacks, and think about all of the flavors and textures. "Studies show that when you practice this, you eat less of those foods, because you already feel satisfied from the visualization," says Gary Wenk, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at The Ohio State University, and author of Your Brain On Food.
Change your perspective
You're eying a piece of cake, but because it's not on your diet, you convince yourself you can't have it. However, your inner diet rebel inevitably pops on the scene and tells you, "I can have whatever I want-and I love cake!" and you end up eating two slices when all you really wanted was one-or even just a half of one. Avoid this guilt cycle entirely by assuring yourself you can have one slice to begin with, and enjoying every delicious bite.
Eat what works for you
There are lots of healthy foods out there, but that doesn't mean that you have to swallow every single one of them. If you can't stand salmon, for example, skip it in lieu of something else that provides similar nutrients, such as tuna fish or walnuts. "Figure out what nourishes you, energizes you, and gives you pleasure," says Geneen Roth, author of Women, Food, and God.
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Follow the 25 percent rule
"My research has found that if you eat just one-quarter of something, and then distract yourself for 15 minutes, you feel just as satisfied as when you eat the whole thing," says Dr. Wansink. So if you're all about that chocolate chip cookie, break off a small piece, put the rest of it back in the box, and then make a call, get the mail, or go to the bathroom-anything that'll take your mind off the rest of the sweet treat.
Go small and go slow
It sounds like a long time, but during meals, try not to reach for seconds until 20 to 30 minutes have passed. "The satiety cue that tells your brain 'I'm full' actually comes from your intestines, not your stomach," says Dr. Wenk. "It takes some time for your food to get there." Having smaller bites of food may help the process. "You can eat a piece of pie in five bites or 25 bites, so why not eat it in 25 bites?" says Busis. "That's 20 more bites of pleasure, and it forces you to slow down."
Consider the ultimate outcome
When you see a delicious food, don't think just about how good it will taste-focus on how it's going to make you feel after you eat it. "There's a place near me that makes an amazing pizza, but I never feel well after eating it," says Roth. "Every now and then, I indulge, because sometimes it's more important to eat the pizza than it is to feel good. But most times, I skip it because I don't want to deal with the consequence."
Related: 25 Lazy Ways to Burn Extra Calories Just Like That
Ask your hubby to cook
Here's one more excuse to plop down on the couch with a glass of wine. Research shows that when someone else makes a meal for you, you're more likely to enjoy the food, and odds are you'll eat less of it compared with when you cook for yourself, says Dr. Wansink. So buy your guy an apron, and tell him to get cracking!
Move on from mistakes
If you slip up and eat a family-sized box of fried chicken in one sitting, it's easy to think that your diet for the whole day, week, or even month is ruined, and continue on a downward slide, compounding one error with many more. "But we never think that way when it comes to things that aren't food," notes Busis. "We don't trip on one step while going down a flight of stairs, and then decide that we might as well tumble the rest of the way, nor do we go through one red light while driving, and then go through a bunch more. The key is getting back on track immediately." Remember: You may not be able to change the past, but you can always control the future.
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