If there’s one topic I return to time and time again, it’s the importance of identifying and dealing with problem foods. But how do you identify a problem food? You know the expression, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.” Foods don’t affect two people the same way. Cookies, as an example, are thought of a problem food for dieters, particularly women. And in many instances, they are an issue and not incidentally, the number #1 problem food in my practice at the Center for Health Sciences. But what of those people who don’t have an issue with cookies? Not every dieters abuses sweets. Men, on the other hand, are more apt to overeat chips and nuts. Whatever your issue, it’s important not to look solely at a piece of food, but how much you eat of a particular food. A piece of food itself isn’t the problem; it’s the cravings that food triggers for more and more. This is the essence of smart food strategy. It’s not about calories but control. Nuts are a “healthy” food provided you stop at 5-7. But the experiences of thousands of patients have taught me that people rarely stop at 5-7 nuts. Most people eat nuts by the handfuls. This is common with bite-sized snack foods that can be quickly and mindlessly popped into your mouth.
Always ask yourself, “What is my history with a particular food?” Just as each of us has our own unique fingerprint, we all have our own unique history when it comes to food. If you think historically, and not just calorically about your struggles with weight, you will find that predictable patterns and obstacles emerge. For some it may not even be a food, but a behavior, such as stress eating that leads to trouble. Food history helps us identify the handful of foods, behaviors, situations and patterns that cause loses of control and lead to weight gain.
In the world of dieting, the word “trigger” has a negative association. But did you know there is more than one kind of trigger? Just as we experience an increase in cravings and losses of control when we return to foods we have a long history of abusing, we can also experience diet success by setting up positive triggers that program us to make choices that honor rather than violate our history.
In today’s busy world, it’s easy to scarf down an alarming number of hidden or what I refer to as “credit card” calories before you even realize what realize what you’re doing. To that end, there are tried and true mechanisms for avoiding mindless consumption. We all know that experts advise that you don’t eat while your attention is divided between another task like driving or watching TV.
Darya Pino Rose, Ph.D. has shared simple tips and tricks for mindful eating on her popular website Summer Tomato, and expands on this concept in chapter seven of her new book Foodist with her intriguing and ingenious method of turning triggers, which we normally think of as a negative thing, into something positive. Some of her mindful eating strategies include:
There are a lot of reasons we might eat quickly. We might be in a hurry. We might be eating something so delicious we can’t wait to get another bite. We might have waited to eat until we’re so hungry, we’re desperate to feel full. Or we might just be doing it out of habit. One of the easiest ways to cut back on overconsumption of calories is to slow down, and one of the best ways to slow down is to be conscious of your food the moment you put it in your mouth. Make it a point to chew every bite of food twenty-five times. As you count each chew, you will trigger yourself into actually paying attention to what you are eating. Not only will you savor the flavors more, you’ll give yourself a chance to actually feel full before your plate is already emptied.
Put Down Your Fork
When your fork stays poised over your plate waiting for the next bite, you’re setting yourself up for a binge moment. Be sure to put down your fork between every bite. When you find yourself reaching for it again, take a moment to make sure your mouth is empty of your last bite. Let the feeling of your hand closing around the metal trigger you into being conscious of each bite you take, so you get the value out of each one.
Formalize Your Dining Experience
Whether you’re supping alone, dining with a friend or loved one, or eating a raucous dinner with the whole family, avoid the temptation to sit on the couch. Let the feeling of sitting at a table trigger you into being grateful for the food you’re about to consume so you can savor the experience no matter who you’re sharing it with.