I’ll never forget this guy I had in one of my groups a few years ago. Let’s call him Tom. Two months into the program he was doing very well, having completely transformed his diet, dumped his junk food habits, no more ice cream every night, embraced exercise, and hit his target weight loss goal every week. And then came the confession: “I think I have a Cheerios problem.” At night instead of chips or ice cream, he made the healthy choice and ate Cheerios. Not 1, not 2, but 3 bowls of Cheerios. “I can’t stop at one,” he explained. “They are just soooo good.” One woman in the group looked over at him horrified, “Who eats 3 bowls of CHEERIOS !?” (Clearly she was still in the ice cream stage of overeating). Tom had gone from an unhealthy food overeater to a healthy food overeater. Even though he was losing weight, he still had a problem with appetite and portion control. If you have been working on your diet for a long time, you kicked your ice cream habit in 1998, you think Doritos are disgusting, you wouldn’t eat a donut if someone put a gun to your head, BUT you might be found scarfing down too many slices of natural peanut butter on high fiber reduced calorie whole wheat bread (who me?!), this might be you. What to do!?
1. Congrats for Dumping the Junk! First of all, congratulate yourself for transforming your diet so much that healthy foods are now your temptation foods! Overeating unhealthy food is certainly worse than overeating healthy food, however overeating period is still not a good thing and this tendency can eventually derail your progress. Your appetite is still a bit out of control and we need to drill down to figure out why.
2. Stack The Deck In Your Favor. The key really is to get the foods you overeat off the grocery list (regardless of how healthy they sound) and replace them with foods that you do NOT have a tendency to overeat. This takes some experimentation. For Tom, I might have him try a few other cereals that he likes but doesn’t feel the urge to go beyond one bowl. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of keeping temptation foods off that grocery list and out of the home.
3. Volumetrics. You might feel that you will overeat nearly anything put in front of you and if that is the case then consider the Volumetrics approach. Developed by a fantastic appetite researcher, Dr. Barbara Rolls, Volumetrics involves consuming foods that are high in volume but low in calories. Fruit and vegetables are great examples. You can consume a great deal without consuming a great deal of calories. Dr. Rolls has tons of strategies and recipes in her book for people who like to eat large amounts but don’t want to pay for it in calories.
4. Be Predictable. The thing about habits is that they are pretty predictable if you begin to pay attention to the patterns. Find out when you are most likely to do this— what day? What time of day? Jot this down in your diet journal and then look at the patterns over a week. Once you know when it happens you can make a plan to make sure temptations aren’t around and/or interrupt the habit. For example, Tom does this at night, so maybe he can make a deal with his wife that she help him stick to one portion.
5. Work It Out. One time we never snack is while exercising. Once you figure out when the out-of-control snacking occurs, consider placing a workout in that time slot instead. This is one way to get a much bigger bang for your buck out of exercise. For example, I find that by exercising in the afternoon I eliminate a good hour in which I might snack. This is not the case when I exercise first thing in the morning because I never snack in the morning.
6. Change Up. The time of the day you overeat might not be a time you can exercise though, in which case it might be helpful to do something different at that time, anything at all. Eating habits get tied to routines, and then the routine itself may end up prompting the habit, which over time might make it very difficult to do the routine and NOT eat. For example, if you overeat while watching TV you might find that just by doing something other than TV you will not have the urge to snack as much.
7. Emotional eating. When we think about emotional eating we often think of comfort foods, not Cheerios. However, as your diet gets healthier over time, your tastes change. You find yourself letting go of old comfort foods and adopting new ones. Cheerios might be Tom’s new comfort food. Weight loss is not simply about food choice, it is about understanding why we eat. If you think this might be a case of emotional eating, check out this post on overcoming emotional eating.
8. Healthy= OK!. One of the dangers of “healthier” type foods is that we might give ourselves permission to overeat them because they are healthy. When eating Haagen Dazs ice cream you might be very careful about portion control, but then when the Edy’s Slow Churn Low-Fat ice cream comes out you figure it is safe to have 2-3 bowls because it’s “healthier.” At the end of the day though, you have consumed more calories. Be very careful of this trap. If you have a tendency to do this, you might actually do better off eating the smaller portion of the richer version.
9. Trying To Get Your Fix. Research shows that smokers given “light” cigarettes will unknowingly inhale more deeply and end up getting the same amount of nicotine as regular cigarettes. I wonder if this happens with food too. Maybe it is the case that Tom needed 3 bowls of Cheerios to get that sugar fix he used to get with the cookies and ice cream. Sugar, salt, and fat may create addictive like patterns where your body yearns for a certain amount and will propel you to get it even from healthy foods. See this post for more on food addiction.
Have you gone a little overboard on healthy food? Let’s hear about it!Share on Facebook