Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Training Your Brain To Eat Less

Several weeks ago I saw the following article online; Can You Train Your Brain to Eat Less??. This article discussed research that was published in the August issue of The Journal of the American Dietetic Association (check out Nicole's post about this study if you'd like more details). The authors of the study indicated there are three brain processes that are associated with overeating and obesity;

food reward (the pleasure of eating)

inhibitory control (not eating in moderation)

3) time discounting (choosing the immediate pleasure of eating fatty foods as opposed to healthier options).

They then outlined the following strategies to help train your brain not to overeat:

  • Avoid temptation by removing high fat-foods from your home and your workplace.
  • Stick to a shopping list of healthy foods, or shop online so you don't have to resist the urge to fight temptation when shopping.
  • Manage your stress, which can trigger overeating.
  • Avoid all-you-can-eat buffets and restaurants that promote over-sized portions.

When I first read these I thought these tips sounded completely obvious, and much easier said than done. Then I realized these strategies are exactly what I used to overcome my own tendencies to binge after recovering from my eating disorder (except for that last one, I've never been one for buffets). While I'm aware my binge eating was never very severe, it was still not healthy, physically or emotionally.

I think everyone has had times in their life when they've binged, or eaten way too many calories at one sitting, right?! Anyone who says no is lying. Everyone can take note of the above strategies to help "train your brain" not to overeat, and check out some of the additional practices I have put into place to keep from over-eating;

1) I eat when I'm hungry. Period. I never ignore my hunger, even if I know I'm about to go to dinner in 30 minutes! In fact, I always eat something before going to dinner, because I know if I get too hungry before I order my food, I will make a poor decision. I also tend to eat way too fast and focus too much on the food rather than the company if I am too hungry at the dinner table.

2) When I snack, I don't take the whole bag with me! In other words, if I want some chips, I grab a handful and then put the bag away. This prevents me from continuing to eat more, and more, and more. If I decide I want seconds, I go back for another handful, and once again put the bag away.

Source: iStockPhoto

3) I have "trained" myself to love fruits and vegetables. Ok, maybe I haven't trained myself to love fruits and veggies, because in reality I've always loved them. However, I never used to love them as a snack and they were never very satisfying to me other than as a side with a meal, or as a large loaded salad. But now I always make sure to keep palatable fruits and vegetables in my refrigerator, within reach, and in front of all other foods (they are the first thing I see!). I also do not allow myself a sweet or other treat until I've had at least five servings of fruits/vegetables (yeah, I know, sounds crazy, but it works).

4) I treat myself, everyday. Back when I had an eating disorder I completely neglected dietary fat. I can still remember the first time I ate peanut butter after not having it for about two years. I was in heaven. I couldn't stop. It was so good I had to use some serious willpower not to eat the entire jar. I'll never forget that moment. I know that if I give up something that I truly love, I will crave it, so why give it up?! Chocolate, brownies, ice cream and cookies are some of my favorite foods. I always allow myself a reasonable dessert every single day. And I am also realistic and know that it's ok to have that occasional meal where you just can't help but overeat.... (I know overeating isn't good, but every once in a while it's going to happen!).

Thurman Burger!

5) I get plenty of sleep and I exercise regularly. These keep me feeling sane and keep my endorphins and hormones balanced. Enough said. They are both integral to any healthy eating plan.

Question: What are some of your strategies for not over-eating?


  1. these strategies are very useful. I would add one more: focus on other things in life that make us happy. when eating with someone, focus on the conversation andbenjoy the company. when our soul is fulfilled, food passes to second picture! :)

  2. I think the strategies are basic and "nothing new" but they work. I think not letting myself get too hungry and having lots of healthy foods around are key for me at this point. Years ago, I had a serious problem overeating at night, and I worked had at reducing stress and eating enough throughout the day.

  3. It's such an interesting topic---although we all have our own strategies, the standards things do seem to work. I think the common denominator is being "conscious" about it and having the intention.
    I agree---we've probably all had some kind of disordered eating at points in our lives, but not necessarily eating disorders.
    I'm a big fan of exploring personally what works for a person, especially when the eating is often emotional. It seems like there's often a link between the effort to change and also how different foods affect us. For example, if I eat simple carbs, it makes me have more emotional eating going on...if I limit the carbs, I have more ability to be rational in my food choices even when I feel emotional.
    Thanks for such a thoughtful post!

  4. The key for me is definitely to remove a smaller portion from the bag, and leave the rest behind! Otherwise, I'll often subconsciously go to town on the bag. Also, I do think treating yourself is very important. When you feel deprived all the time, it's much more likely to induce binging. It's crazy how much food is not just linked to our physical needs, but our brain as well!

  5. Great tips! I also eat fairly slow. I've always been a slow eater and it's true your body really does signal you to stop eating.

    When I go out to eat, typically the portions are HUGE so I try to make sure I take half home.

  6. These are such great points! I always eat when I'm hungry too! Like you, even if it's right before going out to eat, I need to settle the super hunger so I'm not ravenous and can make healthy choices when I get to the restaurant! I also use SMALL plates! I have that clean your plate mentality most times so if I use small plates, it's usually the perfect portions! I also eat slowly and try not to eat alone. Slows me down and I enjoy sharing a good meal with a friend or my husband :)

  7. I always try to serve from my kitchen and not have everything on the dining room table. That way I have to get up to get a second helping - if I want one, I can get one.

    Also, I try to put everything into a bowl as opposed to eating out of a bag. I also measure portions (Cereal especially) every once in a while so I re-train my eye to recognize what a serving is. I would eat 3 servings of cereal for breakfast!

  8. I think equally as important is to ENJOY whatever you're eating. Take time to sit and pay attention to how good your food looks, sounds, smells and tastes. Part of the reason we overeat is because we have mistakenly reduced satiety to only a physical feeling in our stomachs and neglect the other signals of satiety while we wolf our food down in front of our computer, tv, or while driving. Achieving satiety to prevent overeating takes all of our senses, and IMO takes very little training.

  9. All these tips are realistic and wonderful, and definitely refreshing from a lot of the rubbish magazines promote. Ignoring hunger is what I believe leads to screwed up eating habits because boy will it come back to bite you while leaving you feeling like a grouch.
    I also treat myself every day :) It's healthy for my sanity

  10. great post gina! i bring my food to work with me everyday so if i get hungry i won't pick up something i should not eat. i also only keep healthy foods in my house so if i am craving cookies or ice cream i have to go buy them and usually i won't do that.

  11. Totally agree with all of your strategies! Especially eating something before going out to dinner - I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who does that! :-) I always have a snack before we meet friends for dinner, which always makes the dinner experience much more healthful and company focused! :-)

  12. Abusing food is a bad habit...and like a bad habit it just entraps us in a cycle. I have had really bad bingeing episodes in my life and it was seriously the most horrible experience ever. I don't have a success story because I switched one ED for the other.

    But I did manage to overcome ED after changing my view on food. I stopped giving it so much power. It has no authority to make me feel bad or good in lasting, meaningful ways. It can be a pleasure, but a temporary one.

    And I also had to really let it sink in that I have to eat at least three times a day. So not every meal has to be thoroughly enjoyed or perfect. some meals will be hurried, some meals might not taste so good, while some meals might blow my mind. But hey, I still always have to eat!

  13. Great post. I try to keep foods that I tend to overeat (crusty warm french bread, soft brie cheeses) out of my house and to be enjoyed for special occasions - otherwise I'll come home straight after work starving and reach into the fridge for these things. And I'm with you - I never ignore my hunger because without a doubt I will end up overeating later that day.

  14. Finding ways to keep yourself from overeating without restricting can be such a delicate balance. For me, I try to make sure that I always have nutritious options around and that I never let myself get overly hungry. I find that high-fiber foods in particular help me stay satisfied when incorporated throughout my day.

  15. i think eating when you're hungry is KEY. especially because i would end up acting like a bitch haha. for me it's definitely eating when i'm hungry, and balancing the good with the treats! i ususally have atleast one piece of chocolate a day. i think its silly when people forbid themselves from these things because then they'll go balls to the wall on them from not having!

  16. Thanks for the link love!

    I think packing healthy snacks and meal planning is key for me. As well as limiting eating out - restaurants have always been tough for me.

    Can't wait to see you guys!!!