How many times have you decided to finally start eating healthily or cut something out of your diet, only to quickly slip back into the error of your ways?
A handful of chips here, a slab of cake there and once you've already broken your promise, there doesn't seem to be any reason to resist that craving for a burger and fries on the way home.
It's not easy to break bad eating habits, "especially since many people reward themselves with food," said Dr. Christoph Klotter, a professor of health and nutrition psychology at Fulda University of Applied Sciences in Germany.
The bathroom scales will often confirm your dark suspicions. If you snack unchecked on high-calorie foods between meals, you're a prime candidate for becoming overweight.
To win your body's "battle of the bulge," you need to examine your eating habits. "This simply means being aware of what you ingest, and asking yourself why you eat a certain snack and how important it is to you," said dietary adviser Ingrid Acker.
It can be helpful to make a list of the five snacks you like best. "Just because a snack ranks first on your list doesn't necessarily mean you should eliminate it from your diet," Acker said.
If it's, say, chocolate, you should continue to have some every day, Acker advised. The key, she said, is to eat it deliberately and with pleasure – not just scoff it down.
"This takes a lot of self-discipline, of course," Klotter conceded.
If you choose to cut something out completely, you should continually appraise how it feels to go without the snack. Are you more alert? Do you have more energy? Do you feel healthier?
Listening to your inner voice is a good idea when it comes to eating behavior in general. Are you really hungry, or do you merely have a hankering for something?
"In any event, your body doesn't call attention to a nutritional deficiency by making you crave a certain food," Klotter said. "What many people are deficient in, though, is knowing how to reward themselves in ways other than eating something."
He recommended considering alternative rewards, such as taking a stroll in the open air instead of having a bowl of ice cream, or buying some flowers for your desk instead of a bag of gummy bears for your sweet tooth.
To break bad eating habits, Klotter said you also should pay more attention to food, which includes taking your time when you go grocery shopping. And: "Preparing meals, like eating, should be celebrated."
Acker, too, advocated greater appreciation for food – and the love and patience that goes into cooking a dish. To prepare something yourself is creative and relaxing, she said. And it helps to apply some mindfulness when you eat.
For more mindful eating, you also need time. "Eating is a short break from the bustle of everyday life that does everyone good," she remarked.
If you keep eating even though you're full, you should ask yourself why. Because you don't want to leave anything on your plate that will then be thrown away?
"You can solve this problem by either preparing the right amount of food at the outset or by putting the leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer," Acker said.
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