Weight loss is something we tell ourselves we’ll start working on tomorrow, next week or even next year, but healthy living isn’t a decision you can make just once; it’s a change that happens gradually, one small step at a time.
Over the past decade, researchers have found that many of the reasons we eat are psychological, and everything from our mood to the environment we eat in can affect what and how much we eat. Based on their research, here are some very simple changes you can make today to stop overeating and start forming healthier eating habits.
1. Slow down your meal times
Wolfing food down on the go is something we all do from time to time, but research has shown that speed eating can cause us overeat. This is because when we eat too quickly, we don’t give the stretch receptors in the stomach and the digestive hormones in the gastrointestinal tract the time they need to signal to the brain that we’ve eaten enough.
Since it can take up to 20 minutes for your brain to register that you’re full, try to plan in at least a half-hour slot for each meal, especially on busier days when you know you’ll be strapped for time.
2. Use smaller plates and bowls
Our eyes often play tricks on our mind, and researchers have discovered that larger plates or bowls not only cause us to serve ourselves more and eat more, but can even cause us to mistakenly conclude that we haven’t eaten very much, which can lead to further overeating later on in the day.
In one study, some participants were given large bowls while others were given small bowls. Those who ate from the larger bowls served and consumed 16% more food, but their estimates for how much they had eaten were 7% lower than those who used smaller bowls.
The researchers point out that we can use this trick to our advantage by serving healthier foods like fresh vegetables on larger plates so we fill up more on those foods. Less healthy foods can be served on smaller plates so that our bodies feel satisfied with less.
3. When snacking, always portion food out onto a dish
When you’re distracted by a movie or TV show, it’s easy to eat a whole bag of chips or bucket of popcorn without even realizing it, but this sort of mindless eating is a big contributor to weight gain.
In order to control how much you eat, always portion the food out onto a dish rather than eating it directly from the package. This will allow you to decide in advance how much you’re going to eat, rather than mindlessly working your way through the entire package.
4. Display healthy food options more prominently
If you want to start eating healthier, your first step should be to make healthier items of food more visible and easily accessible. For instance, if you replace that jar of cookies on the counter with a fruit bowl, you’ll be far more likely to grab a banana than a cookie when you’re feeling hungry.
Also, research shows that whatever you start your meal with becomes the “trigger food” that influences all your subsequent choices, so if you begin your meal with a fresh salad, you’ll be in a more health conscious mindset and be able to make healthier choices throughout your meal.
4. Set the mood for mealtimes
If you find it difficult to relax and eat your meals slowly, the sort of environment you’re eating in could be to blame. In a study that looked at how our environment affects our food consumption, researchers sat one group of people in a typical fast-food environment and another group in a fine dining environment with soft lighting and jazz music.
Sure enough, those who were seated in the fine dining area lingered longer than those in the fast food area, but despite staying longer, they actually ate less food than the other group and rated their food as more enjoyable too.
So even making a few simple changes to your dining area such as adding candles and mood music can help you enjoy your meals more and also minimize the risk of overeating.
5. Stop eating low fat foods
This probably sounds counterintuitive, but if you’re trying to lose weight, sticking to low fat foods can actually sabotage your efforts. Why? Research shows that when food is labeled as ‘low-fat,’ people eat up to 50% more of it than they otherwise would, because they assume it contains few calories.
But while it’s true that low-fat foods contain less fat than full-fat foods, the difference in calorie content is only 15%, which is not a big enough difference to justify eating more of it. With this in mind, sticking to full-fat foods and limiting your intake of them is generally a better strategy than eating low-fat foods that you’re more likely to binge on.
6. Don’t watch TV while eating
When you’re distracted, it’s much easier to overeat, which is why watching TV during mealtimes is such a bad idea, but certain types of television might be worse than others for your diet.
One study found that people who watched sad movies ate between 28% and 55% more than those who watched comedies, and another found that people who watched an action movie ate 98% more than those who watched a talk show while eating.
So if you must watch television during mealtimes, avoid fast-paced action or intense drama and go for lighter entertainment instead. Also, the researchers suggest choosing healthier snack food to munch on while watching movies, such as carrot and celery sticks.
7. Be a more adventurous eater
Do you love trying new foods and mixing and matching unusual ingredients or do you tend to stick with the same recipes you grew up with? Believe it or not, how adventurous you are when it comes to food might actually have an effect on your waistline.
One recent study showed that adventurous eaters who regularly sample unusual foods such as quinoa, kimchi, eel and oysters generally weighed less and were more concerned with the healthfulness of their food than those who stuck with familiar dishes.
So if you’re looking to make some permanent changes to your diet, get out of your comfort zone by shopping in new places and investing in one or two cook books that will allow you to experiment with more adventurous foods and flavors.