The rising level of obesity in the world is a huge concern and yet we’re struggling to reverse the trend. While the causes of this epidemic are multi-faceted, our tendency to overeat is definitely a key factor. We’ve managed to create an ‘obesogenic environment’ which drives us towards overeating so that our willpower alone just can’t cope. We grab a coffee and are asked if we want a pastry or a muffin. Indulging in a fast food meal means we’re given the opportunity to supersize. Even purchasing a magazine brings with it an offer of a family-sized bar of chocolate! It’s clear the environment we live in is not helping our drive to overeat and a lot needs to change. But as individuals, there are steps we can take to curb our overeating and take control of our diet and health.
LEARN ABOUT FOOD
It’s important to know about the food you’re eating – what does it contain? What nutrients will it offer your body? How many calories will it provide? Knowing that an apple will provide you with fiber, vitamin C, water, natural sugars and a little protein, whereas a biscuit will give you saturated fat, added sugars and twice as many calories, can help you to see your food differently and make better choices for yourself. We need food, it’s essential for life as it gives us the energy we need to function, but also the nutrients our body needs to stay healthy. Think about why you’re choosing a certain food – is it for nourishment or satisfaction, or both? We all need treats from time to time, but the bulk of our diet should be focused around foods rich in important nutrients – think good quality calories! Start checking labels and using the traffic light food labels on food packaging to make better choices.
TRACK YOUR CALORIES
Use a food diary to track what you eat each day. Logging exactly what you’re eating has been proven to help people change their eating habits. It’s incredibly powerful to see everything there in black and white. This is the best way to see where you can make some changes – either to cut calories or make healthier choices. It’s really easy to do using a calorie-counting mobile app such as Nutracheck – you can scan barcodes and track what you eat and drink on the go. It’s important to be completely honest and accurate – no missing that mid-afternoon biscuit, as your body will still be keeping an accurate record! By logging everything, you can check you are staying within an appropriate calorie allowance and getting a good balance of nutrients, rather than guessing at what and how much you’re eating.
MANAGE YOUR FOOD ENVIRONMENT
While it’s not possible for us to change the way our society revolves around food, we can take steps to change our own food environment as best we can. Keep treat foods hidden away, so they’re not the first thing you see when you open the cupboard or fridge – or better still, don’t have them in the house at all. Keep a large bowl of fresh and colorful fruit in a place you walk past regularly, to encourage you to eat more of it. Keep healthy snacks such as crudities handy in the fridge, and prepare pre-portioned out nuts so it’s easy to make healthier choices when hunger strikes. Plan your meals in advance and stock up your freezer with healthy dinners for when you’re in a rush. Try to prepare healthy lunches and snacks to take to work with you – it’s easier to avoid the vending machine if you’ve got food prepared.
GET ENOUGH SLEEP
Striking the right balance in your life is so important for your overall energy levels and motivation to eat well. Getting good quality and enough shut-eye is vital! Neglecting your sleep needs can leave you feeling foggy, lethargic and moody, which can all increase the chances of you reaching for sugar-laden snacks to pick you up. When you’re tired, you also feel less inspired to cook dinner in the evening, increasing the likelihood of you ordering a takeaway! Try to get at least 6-8 hours of sleep a night and stick to a routine of going to bed and rising at a similar time. This will improve the quality of your sleep and boost your overall energy levels and motivation to eat well
PRACTICE MINDFUL EATING
It’s easy to grab a sandwich and eat it in the car, or pick up a couple of biscuits let over from a meeting without thinking. This kind of eating can lead to overconsumption as half the time we don’t even remember what we’ve eaten. A couple of interesting studies by the University of Surrey found that how we eat and view our food, significantly impacts how much we consume across the day. Researchers found that participants eating a pasta pot labeled as a ‘snack’ standing up, versus eating the same pasta pot as a ‘meal’ sitting down, led to the consumption of more food and calories later in the day. Another study found that eating a cereal bar while walking around, versus sitting down, leads to the consumption of more food in a subsequent taste test. This suggests that eating on the move and viewing food as a snack can mean we don’t fully register it – which encourages us to eat more than we need to across the day.
ADDRESS YOUR EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS
Pay attention to your personal triggers – do you know that you always reach for food when you’re feeling sad? Or do you constantly open the fridge when bored? Has it become a habit to graze on the sofa while watching TV in the evening? Identifying your eating triggers is the first step to beating them as you’ll be more aware of what you’re doing. There are distraction techniques you can use when you’re feeling blue or bored – it’s all about replacing the habit with a non-food related activity. Reprogramming your brain takes time and effort – remember that it takes three weeks for a new habit to form. But deciding in advance what course of action you are going to take instead is crucial – keep repeating it until it becomes your natural healthier response.