At my job there’s always food around—and that’s not just because I work at a grocery store. Someone always comes back from a Timmies run with a dozen donuts, or leaves a tin of cookies on the table in the break room, or buys a bag of chips to share over lunch. Needless to say, I have excellent co-workers. But our society’s constant emphasis on food raises some issues that go deeper than people often realize. Most of us are masters of stuffing ourselves during meals and snacking both before and after, but in the battle against food obsession, these two seemingly harmless activities are our great enemies.
The better it tastes, the faster we eat. The faster we eat, the more we pile our plates. Repeat the cycle two or three times, and it’s no wonder we’re dead on the couch after Thanksgiving dinner. Or Sunday dinner. Or any meal where there’s even remotely tasty food and enough of it for us to stuff ourselves sick. In our society, “bigger” is always “better”, and we are never satisfied, even when our stomachs are full three times over and ready to burst.
But I’ve discovered a new way—a redefinition of the word “full”. Usually, when people say they’re full, it means they can’t eat any more—because they’re full. Makes sense, right? That’s what I used to think! However, my new version of “full” means technically I’ve had enough to eat, but I still feel like I could eat another entire meal. Or play soccer. I call this the “First Gate”, the light, satisfied-but-strangely-empty feeling. And that’s where I’ve been trying to stop lately instead of pushing past the “Second Gate”—that familiar, heavy feeling that puts you to sleep, the feeling we’ve all been taught to accept as a natural post-meal result. But it’s not natural at all.
Everything in society caters to our snacking obsession, from the chocolate bars at the cash register to the bags of chips and trail mix that line the shelves of corner stores and superstores alike. We are forever eating. It doesn’t matter if it’s late at night or first thing in the morning, it’s never the wrong time for food. And while I believe snacking does have its rightful place, it shouldn’t occupy every place. Most people don’t realize the dangers that arise from continuous snacking—overeating and mindless eating.
Overeating: It’s tough to say “no” to the bowl of nachos or the crackers and cheese, or the sweet’n’salty popcorn, but it’s also difficult to control quantity. Handful after guilty handful, we can quickly lose track and lose hope.
Mindless Eating: We often snack without thinking about it. Consequently, we eat more food but enjoy it less. We might not even be hungry, but we eat it anyways because it looks good. Or because we’re bored. Or because it’s there. Sometimes we’re not even conscious of what we’re putting in our mouths—all we know is we can’t stop.
That’s why I only eat planned snacks. Snacks for me mean having only twelve almonds in the middle of the afternoon, even though I feel like feasting on everything in the kitchen. It means no snacking after dinner unless it’s a special occasion. But I kept slipping up. I kept snacking and stuffing, and I felt awful. So I decided to do something about it. Five things, actually.
#1 Always Have a Plan of Attack
-Never go in blind. Instead, devise your strategy. Before getting to the table, I decide whether I’m going to “Restaurant Plate” it, when I fill up one plate all pretty and then I’m done for the night. I chose whether or not I’m going to approach the sweets; I make a mental note of the priority foods and snacks, the ones that I really want, and which ones I can do without. There’s no right way to make your plan of attack, just make sure you have one!
#2 Drink Water and Tea
-Water: Many times when people think they’re hungry, they’re actually thirsty. I try to drink two full glasses of water before meals so I don’t confuse your thirst for hunger.
-Tea: I can’t tell you how many times a warm cup of tea has saved me from falling into the depths of uncontrollable post-dinner snacking. It works. Tea makes me feel warm and full after a meal and helps curb cravings.
#3 Eat Slowly and Mindfully
-This is the greatest challenge for me—I always have the urge to scarf down my food like I’m a starving person. But then it’s gone and I’ve barely tasted it. Every day I still have to remind myself: Eat slow. It’s the most difficult thing to do, but it makes all the difference.
-Get a full plate and sit down before you eat. You’ll enjoy it more if you treat it like something special and give it your full attention instead of snacking through your dinner.
-Breathe. This one is surprisingly tricky.
#4 Don’t Get Lost in the “Food Haze”
-Stay grounded. Despite how much you want that food now, realize it’s only food. It’s not the most important thing in your life, no matter how tasty it is or how much you want it. Besides, once you’re full, nothing you eat will taste as good as it did before. It just won’t.
–Think long-term. Five years, five hours, five minutes from now, which will be more important, that taunting, guilt-ridden treat you gobbled down in ten seconds, or a lasting sense of accomplishment, good habits, and the kickass feeling that comes from taking the power back?
#5 Obey Your Rules
-This is a battle so don’t be surprised when you struggle. But that makes it all the more important to stay consistent. Prove to yourself that you can succeed. And trust me, you can succeed. Show yourself how great it feels to set a goal and reach it.
-Sometimes I want to break all my rules, just because. Maybe it’s the rebel in me, maybe it’s because I don’t like being constricted. But that’s the point. These rules don’t constrict you, they liberate you. When you’re not controlled by what’s on your plate, you’re free to enjoy it. And that’s true freedom.
I literally go through these rules in my head when it’s time to eat. They’ve been a huge help, and though there’s no perfect system, everyone has to find the system that works for them. So I want to hear about yours. Have you tried any of these tricks? Made up your own? What works for you?