Control Compulsive Eating

Stop overeating with these simple solutions.

What is it about food? Serve us a plate with normal-sized portions and no other food on the table, and we’ll eat it and likely be quite satisfied. But put us before an all you can eat buffet, and suddenly our hunger sensor goes on the blink and we eat until we have to loosen our belts and unbutton our pants.

Whether you need to lose weight or you’re just tired of leaving the table feeling like you swallowed a beach ball, the following tips will help you curb your appetite and eat just enough — and no more.

1. Purge your home of low-nutrition snack food. That means ice cream, candy, potato chips, packaged cookies, doughnuts, cake, and any other salty or sugary snacks that you munch on between meals. Learn to live without this stuff. Period. These are the foods that we eat compulsively and that make us overweight. From now on, only eat these foods when offered them at a social event, or when you and the family deserve a special treat. Then go to the ice-cream parlor and get a single scoop of your favorite.

2. In its place, stock your home with mounds of fresh fruit, dried fruit, carrots, celery, tomatoes, granola bars, and high-fiber breakfast cereal. Here’s your new snack food.

3. Never, ever buy a snack at gas stations, drugstores, or discount chains. Yes, they want to tempt you with doughnuts, potato chips, candy bars, or hot dogs — that’s why they put the stuff all around the cash register. It makes them a lot of money. It makes you poorer, heavier, and less healthy.

4. Never, ever stop at a food store just to buy a snack. No drive-through windows for the 99-cent special at Burger King. No stopping at the doughnut shop for a quick glazed. No quick pizza slice at Mario’s. This type of compulsive, unhealthy eating is causing our nation’s weight problems.

5. Make this simple salad for a big, healthy splurge. Feel desperate for a big bowl of crunchy food? Throw into a bowl half a head of iceberg lettuce, ripped up; a fistful of bite-size carrots; half a tomato, sliced up; and half a cucumber, sliced. Drizzle on olive oil, shake on a little balsamic vinegar, sprinkle on some oregano, salt, and pepper, and mix. This is a huge bowl of flavorful food at relatively few calories.

6. Another splurge food: watermelon. It’s more than 90 percent water, and the other 10 percent has plenty of healthy nutrients and reasonable calorie levels. If you want to indulge in a hearty helping of food, dig deeply into a hearty portion of watermelon.

7. Yet another splurge food: vegetable soup. Need comfort food? Heat up a large bowl of soup made with lots of vegetables and beans. It’s flavorful, hearty, and generally high in nutrition and low in fat.

8. One more great snack option: nuts in their shell. The truth is, compulsive eating is often about boredom, stress, and other non-food issues. The great thing about nuts is that the effort to crack the shells and extract the nut meat without breaking it is highly therapeutic and distracting. In addition, nuts are very healthy to eat (in moderation). Choose walnuts, almonds, pecans, Brazil nuts, or hazelnuts. It’s too easy to open and overindulge in peanuts and pistachios. The only drawback to this snack is the mess the shells make. Be sure to have a bowl to put shells in as you go.

9. If you need to retrain your appetite, start out by eating out. Restaurants have a reputation for rich food and large portions, but if you’ve been eating with wild abandon, you can go to a restaurant, ask the waiter to bring you half the normal portion, eat it, feel satisfied, and leave. Then there are no kids’ plates to clean off or leftover mashed potatoes singing to you from the fridge, notes Victoria Moran, author of Younger by the Day: 365 Ways to Rejuvenate Your Body and Revitalize Your Spirit. After a few days of this, you’ll be in the swing of eating regular meals and you can eat at home without overdoing it. Just avoid restaurants that offer all-you-can-eat buffets, the option of “supersizing,” or those known for huge portions. Otherwise, the whole point of this exercise is moot!

10. Get picky. Moms complain about children who are finicky eaters, but you’re not a child, and you owe it to yourself to be a bit persnickety when it comes to what goes into your mouth. As a rule of thumb: If it doesn’t look good, don’t eat it. Watch naturally thin people: You won’t see them scarfing down wilted lettuce, or what’s left in the bowl when the soup’s gotten cold. Follow their example.

11. Get into the habit of ordering the small size. There’s no need to feel deprived. Today’s small was the medium or large just a few decades back. Eat (or sip) slowly. Savor the flavors. Before long, small will feel just right. Besides, remember that ordering the small size leads to wearing the small size.

12. Always choose the best from what’s available. Sometimes you’ll have lots of great choices — at a farmers’ market, let’s say, or a restaurant that caters to people interested in their health. Other times you’ll be on an interstate and have to choose from three fast-food places. Either way, if you pick the best in your current situation — a combination of what’s most nutritious, most attractive, the right price, and simply what you have a hankering for right now — you’ll find yourself lean and healthy in the long run.

13. Always allow a half-hour between your last bite of dinner and dessert. This gives your brain time to get the fullness signal and, most likely, will make it easier to skip the sweet stuff, notes Susie Galvez, author of Weight Loss Wisdom: 365 Successful Dieting Tips.

14. Only eat portions the size of the palm of your hand. Any more will be considered overeating.

15. Always put what you’re eating on a plate or in a bowl. Never eat out of a bag, carton, or box.

16. Eat a healthy snack before going out to eat. It will help you avoid the tempting bread basket.

17. As soon as you feel the first stirrings of fullness, remove your plate from the table or, if you’re dining out, cover your plate with a napkin. This tells your brain that food time is over, says Galvez.

18. Dine to soothing music, not the television. This signals that mealtime is to be enjoyed and savored. You’ll be more aware of what you’re eating, will eat slower, and will get the “full” signal sooner, thus eating less.

19. Buy (or package) snacks and other foods into single-serving containers. For instance, don’t leave a half-gallon of ice cream in your freezer; it’s too easy to add that second or third scoop when you’re dishing it out. Instead, when you get home from the grocery store, scoop the appropriate serving size into individual containers and freeze. Do this after you’ve eaten, so you’re not tempted to increase the size or sneak a bite.

20. Don’t talk while you’re still chewing. Instead, put your fork down, chew, and swallow your food before you begin talking. Again, this will force you to slow down while eating, and you’ll be full before you know it (yet you will know it!)

21. Scrape all leftovers into the trash. Make it a habit. You don’t need to clean off everyone’s plates yourself.

22. Write down every morsel you eat in a food diary. It’s likely you’ve been overlooking some calories, and it’s time to start looking them over! Seeing all you ate in black and white will help keep you from overeating.

23. Nix the restrictive or fad diets. They will only make you crave certain foods, leading to binge eating.

24. Limit the amount of artificial sweeteners and artificially sweetened foods you eat. A Purdue University study published in July 2004 found that consuming artificially sweetened foods and beverages may throw off your natural ability to monitor calories and increase your likelihood of overeating.

25. Practice the 20-minute distraction strategy. When you find yourself looking for food, even though you are not hungry, do something else for 20 minutes, suggests Jill Fleming, R.D., author of Thin People Don’t Clean Their Plates. The activity needs to involve your brain as well as your hands, such as playing the piano or cleaning a closet.

26. Set your kitchen timer for 20 minutes every time you think you want something to eat. If you still want to eat when it rings, fine. If not, you weren’t really hungry to begin with and the urge will have passed, says Fleming. Conversely, when you sit down to eat, set your time for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, stop eating, put down your fork, walk around the house. After 10 minutes of this, you can go back to eating.

27. Have a nutritious snack like a handful of peanuts, a piece of fruit and cheese, or a yogurt about an hour or so before dinner. Keeping your appetite in check is one of the best ways to avoid binges.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest