Discover Your Comfort Zone
Your tummy is rumbling, you dig into a scrumptious meal, and before you know it you're absolutely stuffed. It's called eating beyond your comfort zone, and according to Roberta Anding, MS, RD, clinical dietician at Texas Children's Hospital, it's a common problem that most often occurs when you allow your hunger to dip into the "starving" zone. "People often cut back on eating to speed up their weight loss," says Anding, "but in actuality they just end up eating more because they let themselves get too hungry."
But learning to gauge your hunger can help free you from this overeating trap. Ask yourself on a scale of 0-5 how hungry you are. If you're at 0, you've let yourself become famished, and if you're at 5, you've allowed yourself to overeat. But if you can learn to eat when you feel yourself getting hungry, around the 1-2 range, and then stop when you feel full and satisfied, around the 3-4 range, you can avoid feeling uncomfortable on either side of the spectrum. Read on for smart tips on mastering your comfort zone:
1. Avoid no-food marathons. Learning how long you can go without food before you get too hungry is key. Anding suggests that you space your meals and snacks out evenly over the course of a day so that you never become starved and are never tempted to make up for a lack of food with too much of it.
2. Eat defensively. For example, if you know you have a long commute after work, bring a piece of fruit or a diet soda, suggests Anding. "It's important to realize the times of day you're most vulnerable, and plan accordingly."
3. Focus on volume. Try starting a meal with soup or a large salad – something with high water volume – and you'll be able to recognize fullness better when the main course is served. "The science of nutrition states that human beings tend to eat a consistent volume of food each day," says Anding. "By expanding the volume of healthy food you eat initially, you let your body know that there's food coming and overeating can be avoided." But use common sense. 50 calories of raisins and 50 calories of soup have very different volumes. The raisins won't make a dent if you're starving, the soup will.
4. Get mental. "Choose foods that mentally feel like a meal," says Anding. "Visually seeing a large amount of fruits and vegetables in front of you helps to achieve the feeling of fullness better than eating a handful of chips."
5. Set the table. Even if you get home starving, says Anding, put your food on a plate – don't pick! "A meal on a plate always feels more satisfying than a snack that you're eating from the box." And taking the time to enjoy your food will send the signal to your brain that you're filling the hunger void.
6. Take away the guilt. Most importantly, forgive yourself a few indiscretions. "Know that your biology will always win," says Anding. "Just like you would never get mad at yourself for falling asleep if you were tired, you shouldn't get upset with yourself if you've eaten too much because you were starving." Just recognize what triggered your overeating so that you'll know how to cope the next time you're in a similar situation.