Health & Food

Training Your Brain To Eat Less

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Several weeks ago I saw the following article online; Can You Train Your Brain to Eat Less??. This article discussed research that was published in the August issue of The Journal of the American Dietetic Association (check out Nicole’s post about this study if you’d like more details). The authors of the study indicated there are three brain processes that are associated with overeating and obesity;

1) food reward (the pleasure of eating)

2) inhibitory control (not eating in moderation)

3) time discounting (choosing the immediate pleasure of eating fatty foods as opposed to healthier options).

They then outlined the following strategies to help train your brain not to overeat:

  • Avoid temptation by removing high fat-foods from your home and your workplace.
  • Stick to a shopping list of healthy foods, or shop online so you don’t have to resist the urge to fight temptation when shopping.
  • Manage your stress, which can trigger overeating.
  • Avoid all-you-can-eat buffets and restaurants that promote over-sized portions.

When I first read these I thought these tips sounded completely obvious and much easier said than done. Then I realized these strategies are exactly what I used to overcome my own tendencies to binge after recovering from my eating disorder (except for that last one, I’ve never been one for buffets). While I’m aware my binge eating was never very severe, it was still not healthy, physically or emotionally.

I think everyone has had times in their life when they’ve binged, or eaten way too many calories at one sitting, right?! Anyone who says no is lying. Everyone can take note of the above strategies to help “train your brain” not to overeat, and check out some of the additional practices I have put into place to keep from over-eating;

1) I eat when I’m hungry. Period. I never ignore my hunger, even if I know I’m about to go to dinner in 30 minutes! In fact, I always eat something before going to dinner, because I know if I get too hungry before I order my food, I will make a poor decision. I also tend to eat way too fast and focus too much on the food rather than the company if I am too hungry at the dinner table.

2) When I snack, I don’t take the whole bag with me! In other words, if I want some chips, I grab a handful and then put the bag away. This prevents me from continuing to eat more, and more, and more. If I decide I want seconds, I go back for another handful, and once again put the bag away.

3) I have “trained” myself to love fruits and vegetables. Ok, maybe I haven’t trained myself to love fruits and veggies, because, in reality, I’ve always loved them. However, I never used to love them as a snack and they were never very satisfying to me other than as a side with a meal, or as a large loaded salad. But now I always make sure to keep palatable fruits and vegetables in my refrigerator, within reach, and in front of all other foods (they are the first thing I see!). I also do not allow myself a sweet or another treatment until I’ve had at least five servings of fruits/vegetables (yeah, I know, sounds crazy, but it works).

Kale Chips (click photo for the recipe!)

4) I treat myself, every day. Back when I had an eating disorder I completely neglected dietary fat. I can still remember the first time I ate peanut butter after not having it for about two years. I was in heaven. I couldn’t stop. It was so good I had to use some serious willpower not to eat the entire jar. I’ll never forget that moment. I know that if I give up something that I truly love, I will crave it, so why to give it up?! Chocolate, brownies, ice cream and cookies are some of my favorite foods. I always allow myself a reasonable dessert every single day. And I am also realistic and know that it’s ok to have that occasional meal where you just can’t help but overeat…. (I know overeating isn’t good, but every once in awhile it’s going to happen!).

Thurman Burger! Look it up. I dare you.

5) I get plenty of sleep and I exercise regularly. These keep me feeling sane and keep my endorphins and hormones balanced. Enough said. They are both integral to any healthy eating plan.

Question: What are some of your strategies for not over-eating?

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