Bored? Lonely? Want to reconnect with your hunter-gatherer ancestors and pretend you're a victorious caveman gorging on just-slain woolly mammoth? There's almost no craving that overeating won't temporarily fix. Except that stuffing your face on the reg will, you know, eventually kill you.
When it comes to overeating, dietitian Lauren Harris-Pincus, owner of Nutrition Starring You, advises people to remember one thing: that we all are weak-willed slobs. (She’s a little more polite about it, though.) "We don’t have willpower by nature," she says. "You have to outsmart your cravings." How? Read on, comrades in gluttony.
No Netflix and chili-cheese Fritos
No snacking during screen time. That's the first rule of preventing overeating, Harris-Pincus says. Your brain isn't good at doing two things at once, so binge-watching Netflix can quickly lead to binge eating, because the feeling of fullness won’t register. Harris-Pincus asks you to think of how easy it is to gobble a carton of popcorn at the movies. How many handfuls of the greasy, salty snack could you stomach if you were munching it at your dining room table?
"Never sit on the couch with a bag of anything," she recommends, along with Brian Wansink’s research on mindful eating. "If you’re going to eat -- plates, forks, chair. That way, you focus on your food."
If you must munch while surfin’ the web (does anyone say that anymore?), choose a pre-portioned snack, ideally one with a mix of fiber and protein, like an apple and peanut butter or veggies and guacamole. Harris-Pincus emphasizes that point: "Do not sit with a jumbo bag of tortilla chips and hope for the best."
Don't let yourself get too hungry
Following the satiety scale is another effective mindful eating technique. "On a scale from one to 10, with one being 'I'm so hungry I'm going to eat my shoe' and 10 being 'I’m so full I’m going to throw up,' stay between a three (tummy grumbling) and a six (no longer hungry, but not full)," Harris-Pincus says. Eat slowly and pay attention to how you feel rather than what's on your plate -- often, people overeat simply because the food is there. "Your brain takes time to get the signal that you ate something -- about 20 minutes," she says. "If you eat really fast, you're likely to overeat before you get the stop signal."
Pay attention to portions AND proportions
Mind not only the size of your meals, but also the proportions of lean protein, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables on your plate. Following the USDA’s guidelines of a quarter-plate lean protein, a quarter-plate whole grains, and a half-plate of fruits and vegetables not only gives you a balanced, nutrition-dense meal, but it makes overeating more difficult. "The fiber and protein are going to keep you more full than, say, all the starch in an entire plate of pasta," Harris-Pincus says.
Tackle temptations before going to parties and buffets
Before arriving at an "eating event" (a Super Bowl party, the sample aisle at a grocery store on Saturday morning), have a protein- and fiber-rich snack to veer you away from the shoe-gobbling side of the satiety scale. Stand far away from the buffet, and if you're boozing, choose low-calorie drinks (vodka with flavored seltzer is a good one). Chase each adult beverage with a glass of water. Harris-Pincus notes that the water serves a dual function: "[It] staves off dehydration and keeps you more full, so you aren’t as likely to stuff yourself with chips."
Another strong move: when you're done eating, cleanse your palate by brushing your teeth or chewing gum, a trick Harris-Pincus likes a lot. "As soon as you put gum in your mouth, it changes the flavor, and you're not as likely to want to continue to eat whatever it was you were eating."
Make sure you're actually hungry before eating
Sounds simple, but this is another instance where your brain is kind of dumb. It often doesn't know if it's hungry, sleepy, or thirsty, which kind of seems like a pretty big evolutionary disadvantage, but there it is. "When we get that not-so-great feeling, we think, 'I must be hungry,' but you could be tired or a little dry," Harris-Pincus says. "Especially in mid-afternoon, when we are a little of all three." Start by sipping water, seltzer, or unsweetened tea. "It may quench your thirst or you may be filled up with just liquid," Harris-Pincus says. If that doesn't do the trick, you can close your laptop and start stuffing your face with exactly the right amount of food you need, and no more.