By Isadora Baum
If you’ve ever been unable to resist a cookie after lunch (who hasn’t?), you know how strong temptation can be. But what if we told you that it can be easier to control your cravings with just a few simple hacks to your habits?
Here are 7 common traps that make us overeat, and how to avoid them.
YOU’RE ALWAYS SURROUNDED BY FOOD
“Look around you. Do you have snacks on your desk and in your office?” asks Ilana Muhlstein, RD, nutritionist for Explore Cuisine. “Are you watching the Food Network and cooking shows in your spare time? Are you following tons of ‘foodie’ accounts on social media? Change what you see and it will change your whole life.”
Make “out of sight, out of mind” your mantra. Keep treats out of the house, if possible, and be mindful when grocery shopping, Structure House registered dietician Benjamin White tells Clean Plates. “People can suffer from decision fatigue, which is only exacerbated by convenience foods placed at every checkout aisle, gas station, and gift store, ” he says. “Advertising dollars and food placement really do get us to buy and eat more, which is why food companies spend so much on it.”
YOU’RE NOT DRINKING ENOUGH WATER…
If you’re not drinking enough fluids like water or herbal tea during the day, you might confuse hunger and thirst and take in more calories than you mean to, Muhlstein says. “We are constantly confusing the two sensations, which makes us overeat.”
The solution? “Get a large 32-ounce water bottle and aim to drink at least two per day,” she recommends.
…AND YOU’RE DRINKING TOO MUCH ALCOHOL
A glass of wine at the end of the day can be relaxing, but watch out for an unintended consequence of imbibing: Overeating. “According to research by Dr. Brian Wansink of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, drinking with too large portion sizes can lead to overeating,” says Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, blogger of Shaw’s Simple Swaps. Here, you’re being less mindful of intake, and the over-pours can spike your appetite, she explains.
Size really does matter: People pour 12% more wine into a wide glass than a standard one, 12% more when they are holding the glass (instead of pouring into a glass that’s sitting on the table), and 9% more when pouring white wine into a clear glass, as opposed to red wine with more of a contrast, for instance, Shaw explains.
YOU’RE REACHING FOR THE PRETTY SWEETENER PACKETS
You may think you’re saving calories by adding artificial sweetener to your coffee or sipping a diet soda, but that habit can actually increase your appetite.
“Food additives and sweeteners make a difference in our eating habits and brain patterns,” explains nutritionist Jennifer Insel. “Even if these food additives or sweeteners provide no sugar or calories, they simulate the sweet sensation in the foods they are added to.”
How does it work? “Sugar subs like Splenda and Equal may increase overall appetite because they trick our brains into thinking we are getting something sweet and when that doesn’t happen, it increases our cravings to satisfy what we expected to receive in the first place,” notes Liz Weinandy, registered dietician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
“Also, sweeteners and flavorings are mostly added to processed or unhealthy, nutrient-void foods. These foods are rarely satisfying to hunger and as a result, will lead to an increase in poor food choices,” she adds.
YOU ASSUME HEALTHY FOODS SHOULD BE UNLIMITED
If you’re already reaching for avocado and putting healthy nut butter in your smoothie, good for you. Just be sure your portion sizes make sense.
While foods that contain natural sugar, fiber, protein, healthy fats, and other beneficial nutrients can power your body and mind and lead to better health, it can be all too easy to overindulge, warns Insel.
These healthy staples are common culprits:
- Nuts and nut butter
- Olive oil
- Salad dressings
- Beans and other legumes
- Brown rice and other grains
“Even though fruits are packed with beneficial antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins and fiber, they also contain a decent amount of sugar,” says Insel. One strategy is to eat whole fruit instead of dried, and not to load up on fruit-filled smoothies or juices.
Here’s another tip: “Even though the serving size is 1 tablespoon of olive oil, I like using 1 teaspoon of olive oil for salad dressing with some fresh lemon to reduce the added calories to my salads. And when portioning out the avocado, I like to use ¼ an avocado per dish, especially if you like avocado with every meal,” Insel adds.
YOU’RE USING THE WRONG PLATES
“There are studies that link the relationship between the color of your plate and the color of your foods on that plate to the amount of food you will consume,” Insel says. “Many of these studies conclude the starker the contrast between the color of your plate and the food on it, the less you will eat.”
For instance, if you eat rice in a white place, you’re likely to serve yourself more than if the plate were red. But you can use this trick in reverse, too: For example, to eat more greens, serve them on a green plate.
Another tip is to use smaller plates, to help downsize your servings, advises White. Not only does this cut your opportunity to load your plate, but it also tricks the mind into thinking there’s a greater abundance of food, due to the perceived volume on the smaller plate. If your plate looks super full, you’ll assume there’s a good amount of food there!
And no matter what the plates look like, be sure to avoid the buffet line. “Our perceptions of how much variety there is in our food options also greatly influence how much we eat,” he adds. “We think we should eat more when there are lots of different things in front of us, which is even true when everything actually tastes the same.”
YOU HAVE AN “ALL OR NOTHING” ATTITUDE
Let’s say you hit the gym each day and avoid processed food. That’s awesome, as long as you’re not depriving yourself too much or over-estimating your health efforts warn Structure House clinical director, Dr. Jen Pells.
“There is evidence that we overestimate how many calories we burn during exercise, and some do fall into the trap of eating more because they exercised, even though the calorie intake they consume may far outnumber what was burned through exercise,” the psychologist notes.
And having an occasional treat can help you stay on track. Rather than restrict, recognize that no food is inherently good or bad, and you can enjoy most things in moderation, she says.