It’s been about four months since I finished college, decided it was time to reign in my eating, and started putting myself back on track to a healthier body and lifestyle, with all that that entails. I’ve signed up for a gym membership (that I use sporadically) since I’ve started working full-time, I’ve been working on cooking healthier foods, and I’m bringing my meals to work rather than eating out. These changes haven’t been all that hard, but do you know what has been? Keeping myself from eating too much, especially on days where I try to eat intuitively (read: not count my calories).
I’ve struggled with over-eating my entire life. Sometimes it wasn’t even that I was making the unhealthy choice, it’s just that I was having too much of the healthy or semi-healthy choice, and that was impeding my progress. It’s frustrating, and it can leave you feeling like you’ll never get your appetite under control, especially around those foods that you really can’t resist.
So, from one over-eater to another, here are some tips I’ve learned along the way to help you in your own journey:
1. Don’t buy or make the foods you always binge on. Seriously.
Those Chips Ahoy Chewy Chocolate Chip cookies I ate like a madman as a kid? They’re nowhere to be found in my apartment. And my all time favorite dish, for which I have absolutely zero self-control, tuna casserole (without the celery, don’t worry)? I only make it on occasions I’m really craving it because I could eat the whole pan in one sitting, it’s that good. The math is simple: you can’t eat it if you don’t have it, and if you’re really craving it and have to have it, you’ll get your butt up and go get it on a separate trip. I guarantee you that 9 times out of 10 you won’t.
2. Only buy one of what I call “paired foods.”
We all have them. You eat a couple of chocolate chip cookies and suddenly you’re craving a nice tall glass of ice-cold whole milk, or you reach for those strawberries in your fridge and all you can think of is dipping them in the giant jar of Nutella in your pantry. For me, every time I eat yogurt, I feel the need to follow it up with some sort of cheese. Stick, slice, it doesn’t matter! Strange, I know, but it’s a habit I’ve had since childhood and now I crave cheese after yogurt whether or not I’m hungry. My solution is that I don’t keep cheese in the house, because most of the time I eat it as add-on calories that I don’t need! So opt out of the Nutella next time, or switch to almond milk or non fat milk for your cookies.
3. Eat slow and drink water.
Seriously. I try to drink at least two glasses of water during dinner, and you can bet I’m the person asking for 5 or 6 refills of my water with lemon at any restaurant I go to. The way it works out for me is about two bites of food for every sip of water. The water helps keep me hydrated and keeps me from over-eating during meals because it fills my stomach, and I don’t feel quite so bloated by the end of the meal as well! It also keeps me from just shoveling food into my mouth without a second thought, which I’m all-to-guilty of doing. And if I’m still hungry afterwards? I’ll eat a small, healthy snack, or have some more of my leftovers I inevitably bring home.
4. If you’re out at a restaurant that you know has big portions, ask for half of it in a to go box from the get-go.
The biggest offender of the way-too-large portion size (and thus possibly one of the most craved foods ever) is definitely the pasta at Italian restaurants. I could eat pounds of linguine alfredo at my favorite Italian place, but that doesn’t mean that I should! Depending on where you go the serving is more than likely more than you need to or could eat anyways, so if you ask for half of it in a box, you get two meals for the price of one! The best part, though, is that you’ll definitely have room for the dessert you’ll order regardless at the end of the meal, rather than shoveling it into your mouth while your stomach groans in protest.
5. Eat your favorite food on your plate first.
I know it may seem smart to eat your least-favorite-but-most-healthy-food on your plate first, but this is really counter-intuitive: if you’re going to eat that huge pile of mashed potatoes regardless, why fill yourself up with food you don’t like as much first and still eat your favorite at the end, even if you’re full?
6. If you’re cooking your food, meal prep by portions.
Don’t just spoon out all the food that you want onto your dish. Instead, divide the food into the portions it’s meant to serve (I tend to take my plate out along with 3-5 Tupperware bowls, depending on the serving size) and actually create those portions so you can stick to it. Put the Tupperware in the fridge and eat only what’s on your plate! If you’re still hungry, drink water, wait a little bit, and then decide what else to eat once you’ve given your stomach some time to settle.
7. In serve-yourself situations, only put on your plate what you’re sure you’ll eat.
I know, I know, we’ve all heard this a million times from our parents while in line for Thanksgiving dinner or the breakfast buffet at the hotel we’re staying at, and each time we roll our eyes in exasperation. But (occasionally) there’s actually some wisdom behind what our parents say! There’s no use piling your plate high with food you won’t be able to finish and thus wasting a portion that someone else could have had, or worse, eating all of it and feeling like you’re going to puke afterwards. That second helping of sweet potato casserole will still be there once you finish the ham and green beans you already put on your plate, and I guarantee you the hotel staff will bring out more sausage if the tray runs out. Take your time with what you’re eating and relax, don’t hoard!
8. You do not have to be part of the clean plate club.
So let’s say you ignored tip #7 and your plate is now a mountain of honey baked ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, strawberry salad… the works. You’re about halfway through everything and you come to the dilemma we all eventually come to: you can’t finish it all. So I’m here to share a secret with you: that’s okay. Being a member of the clean plate club is not a requirement of being an adult or healthy living.
The clean plate club, in reality, is for children who hate their vegetables, will only eat certain foods, pretend to be “full” to avoid eating their green beans and broccoli, and thus aren’t getting the nutrition they need to grow. It’s not for young adults who can make their own decisions about what food they put in their body and can tell whether or not they’ve had enough to eat. So do yourself a favor and ignore your mom’s voice in the back of your head telling you that good girls finish the food that is on their plate!
All in all, I’ve found that when it comes to over-eating, almost everything comes down to sheer willpower. I didn’t unlearn my over-eating habits in a day and I sincerely doubt that anyone can, so don’t be discouraged. It’s definitely not always easy, and it certainly won’t be easy when you first start to take control of your eating habits, but I guarantee you that it’s worth it. So start small, keep working at it, and don’t give up! You’ll be surprised at what little changes can truly make a big impact on your lifestyle.