7 steps to control overeating

Danger Zone for some people

Danger Zone for some people

I was talking to someone recently who has struggled with binge eating forever.  This person, 50+ years old, noted that when a project or task is really absorbing, food and eating fall off the radar screen.  But in times of boredom or stress, if food is there, visible, appealing — well all bets are off.  Bingeing is likely.

I’ve written before about research showing that highly palatable foods can create brain signals similar to drug addiction.  I have no doubt pathological binge eating is more than just self-indulgence?

Whether you are a binge eater or just susceptible to frequent overeating, take advantage of “Out of sight, out of mind“.  For many people, including bulimics, food binges happen in the same location and are triggered by the same cues.  Typically, being home, alone, bored and surrounded by packages of cookies, ice cream, chips or bread can trigger overeating.  Here are some steps you can practice to control that behavior:

  1. Change location.  Go for a walk, go to a movie, visit someone, go to your local rec center.  Even sitting in a coffee shop can help, as long as you haven’t conditioned yourself to associate coffee shops with giant whipped cream lattes.
  2. At home, cover the food up and put it away.  It’s amazing what visibility can do.  And stop mindlessly wandering into the kitchen and looking in the refrigerator or pantry.
  3. Better yet, don’t buy tempting food to keep at home.  Last resort: throw it out.
  4. Don’t teach yourself that other activities always involve eating: watching movies or TV, driving, sitting at your desk, talking on the phone, visiting family or friends.  Keep those occasions Food Free.
  5. Eat meals.  Other recent research suggests that obese people do better eating just 3 regular meals per day, rather than constantly snacking 6 or more times per day.
  6. If you have activities or hobbies that are really absorbing and enjoyable and don’t involve food, turn to those instead of food.  This will vary from one person to another, so there’s no official list.  Hopefully those activities are positive and constructive, rather than just wasted hours playing video games.
  7. Don’t reward yourself for exercising with a food treat.  And unless you’re a professional athlete, you don’t need to guzzle sports drinks before, during or after your workout.

So what to do right now about all those holiday leftovers?  I personally am dealing with a very large container of fabulous fudge made by a dinner guest.  We’ll eat some, freeze some and give some away.  Meanwhile, it’s in an opaque container in the back of the fridge.  If it were sitting out, I’d probably be sampling it for breakfast.  Not a good idea.

The January diet season is approaching, and it’s a great time to start practicing those baby steps to control excess eating.  Whether you’re truly a binge eater, or just tend to eat too much sometimes, learn to recognize your vulnerable situations and practice ways to get the food Our of Sight and Out of Mind.

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