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Strategies to Avoid Over Eating

Pay attention

When we're not thinking about what we're doing, we're apt to either forget to eat or eat way too much. Eating without paying attention is really the worst of both worlds: the calories without the pleasure or, sometimes, even the nutrition!

Thoughtless eating is especially destructive when (as is usually the case!) what we are eating is something we probably shouldn't be having regularly: a rich dessert, a high-carbohydrate snack. Occasionally enjoying a treat is fine - but when you do it, take the time and energy to really enjoy it! Pay attention! Revel in whatever it is you love most about the treat--the taste, the texture, the sensation of eating it... When we don't pay attention to what we are eating, we often keep eating to find fulfillment. But if we don't pay attention, we never feel fulfilled or even satisfied: we haven't really "had" what we've just eaten. So, slow down: if you really concentrate on eating one piece of your very, very favorite chocolate, you won't need--or want--the whole box.

Keep your blood sugar steady

Rapidly rising and falling blood sugar levels can lead to overeating. The best prevention is to eat a balanced meal every four hours. If you have regular meals of protein, fat, and unrefined carbohydrates, your blood sugar levels should remain stable. Breakfast seems to be especially important: Research has shown that people who ate a balanced, protein-rich breakfast, such as an omelet with cheese and vegetables, were less hungry four or five hours later than people whose breakfast was high in carbohydrates. They also consumed far fewer calories at lunch than those who ate a high carbohydrate breakfast.

Another way to keep blood sugar levels stable is to avoid high carbohydrate snacks. These snacks cause the blood sugar levels to rise very quickly and then crash down. The crash makes the person crave ANOTHER high carb snack--and the cycle (not a good one) begins. If you're hungry between meals, have a balanced snack: some protein, a little fat, and some carbohydrates--whole grains or, ideally, fruit or vegetables.

Don't starve yourself

Crash diets--starvation--set up a different destructive cycle. People don't eat at all, or have an absurdly small amount of food for awhile. While it's not getting any food, the body believes it really IS starving. In self-defense, it tries to prolong life--conserve calories--by slowing the metabolism and shutting down all non-essential functions. This continues for awhile, until the dieter can't stand it. What do most people do at this point? They compulsively stuff themselves. Then, because the body believed it was being starved before and may very well be starved again, it stores as much of the food as it can. The dieter, even fatter than before, may now resolve to be "even stricter" or "try harder" and begin the whole destructive cycle all over again! So, don't starve yourself. Remember that to maximize weight loss and maintain your metabolic rate and muscle mass, you must eat the right balance of foods. Too much restriction leads to a decreased metabolic rate and loss of muscle, not fat!

Individual strategies

Perhaps the best strategy is to identify your own downfalls and then plan around them.

Some people, for example, do well on their eating plans all day, then snack late at night. Sticking to your exchanges cuts down on the temptation to do this--but some people do it even when they HAVE eaten all their exchanges during the day, because they're in the habit of having a snack. Some change this by eating a little less at dinner and planning a healthy snack for the evening. Others simply make a point of not eating anything at all after a certain hour. One client actually closes the door and says out loud, "The kitchen is now officially closed. It will reopen at breakfast tomorrow morning."

If you routinely reward or comfort yourself with food, try to find other treats: a massage, flowers, a bubble bath, or, perhaps, best of all, a pleasurable activity with a partner or friend--something you normally wouldn't do. You might also try to figure out why you are eating too much and then remove the cause.

A simple but effective way to avoid over-indulging in fattening, highly refined carbohydrate snacks is not to buy them in the first place. If there are no potato chips in the house, you can't impulsively eat them!

Finally, try drinking more water (often, people eat when they're actually thirsty) and getting more exercise. It's particularly effective to build enjoyable exercise into your day--to go for an evening walk, say, instead of having an evening snack. Research has shown that when people exercise, they pay more attention to what they put in their bodies. Besides, exercise is a great mood lifter!

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