Like spare change and catchy lyrics, bad eating habits are easy to pick up and nearly impossible to shake. Especially if you’ve practised them at every meal since you were a kid. To help you overcome your table tics, we’ve rounded up expert advice on how to quit wolfing down your food and sidestep other diet pitfalls. Follow it, and you may end up with a new habit: buying all of your clothes in a smaller size.
Eating when you’re stressed and bored
NEW HABIT: Eating only when you’re hungry. When you’re feeling anxious, it’s not a good idea to eat a high-carb snack (like chips), as it will produce a tension-relieving serotonin rush, says dietician Charlene Giovanelli-Nicolson. Problem is, it will be followed by a blood sugar crash that will leave you craving more.
TRY THIS: Keep a clear container on your desk. Start a monetary rewards box; every time you want to snack, add R2 to R5 (or the cost of the snack) to the box, says Giovanelli-Nicolson. The growing pile of cash will be a reminder that you can overpower those urges. When you have enough money saved, use the cash to splurge on a non-food reward like a facial or a new bag.
Rushing through your meal
NEW HABIT: Hitting the brakes. In a study, women who were asked to eat quickly consumed more food (and in less time) than those who were told to eat slowly. The reason? When you pace yourself, your brain has more time to register fullness and tell you to stop eating.
TRY THIS: Count your chews. The women in the study who were told to slow down chewed each bite 15 to 20 times and paused before taking the next bite.
Eating while you check your email…
NEW HABIT: Meditating on your meal. Researchers at the US Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University studied mealtime multitasking and found that most people underestimate how much they eat by 30 to 50 percent if they’re distracted.
TRY THIS: Measure your food upfront. People are significantly more aware of how much they’re eating when they pay close attention to their serving sizes, says Dr Brian Wansink, director of Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab. So before you zone out in front of the TV with a plate of stir-fry, scoop out just half a cup of rice rather than piling a heaping mound onto your dish.
Cleaning your plate
NEW HABIT: Leaving half your meal behind. Studies show that when it comes to chowing down, many people rely on external cues (“Is the plate clean?”) instead of internal ones (“Am I still hungry?”). In his studies, Wansink found that even when he served mushy pasta in watered-down sauce, people still ate every last morsel. To make matters worse, in recent years the average plate size has grown by five centimetres in diameter.
TRY THIS: Split a main course with your date. Or order appetiser-size portions. Research shows that just seeing and smelling food can trigger the release of hormones that make your tummy growl, even if you aren’t hungry.
Always having meat as your main course
NEW HABIT: Using meat as a garnish. Cut back on your carnivorous ways and you’ll cut back on total kilojoules as well. Giovanelli-Nicolson’s rule: ensure half your plate is always vegetables and only a quarter of your plate meat. (Think veggie stir-fry with a few chicken strips, or a big salad with a small piece of beef.)
TRY THIS: Treat veggies like meat – marinate, season and grill them – and you can enjoy the same flavours that come with a juicy steak. Or designate one day a week for a meaty main course and cut back on the other six.