Sweet tooth? Salt jones? Try this trick to curb overeating

by Camille on January 21, 2011

caramel corn

Do you have a trigger food (you know, the kind where you start eating and just can’t stop)? Mine is caramel corn. Whether it’s Garrett’s or my sister’s homemade version, I somehow convince myself that the calories don’t count and end up downing several cups in a sitting. Most experts advise steering clear of trigger foods, either by keeping them out of sight–or out of your house altogether. It’s a smart strategy, but chances are, you’re going to encounter that food again at some point, and it doesn’t hurt to have another coping tool at your disposal.

That’s why I found Jean Fain’s new book, The Self-Compassion Diet, so interesting. Fain, a licensed psychotherapist affiliated with Harvard Medical School, advises doing this move the next time you plan on eating a “risky food”:

“Take a comfortable seated position and a few calming breaths, focusing on the word “ease” as you exhale. For the full length of each exhalation, silently repeating “eeeaaase.” As you continue to lengthen the exhalation and deepen the inhalation, do three quick scans. One: scan the body for comfort, noticing areas that are more and less comfortable. Two: scan for hunger, noticing the range of physical hunger signals from subtle to obvious. Three: scan for emotional hunger, searching for feelings that might be feeling your urge to eat. Then adjust accordingly. If you’re physically uncomfortable , make yourself more comfortable. If you’re hungry, but not necessarily for food, check in with your feelings. Are there any emotional adjustments you need to make? If you’re hungry, truly hungry, the only adjustment left is to shift your attention to the food before you.

When it makes sense, begin eating mindfully, paying particularly attention to taste. If the taste is pleasurable, permit yourself the pleasure of eating. Tasting, enjoying, attending to the inevitable decrease in taste sensation, the eventual increase in the satisfaction of your taste buds, stomach fullness, and other hallmarks of fullness. If there’s emotional static, consider how you feel, what you need, and if you need to keep eating. If you’re unsure, take a few more bites and reassess.

If it keeps making sense, keep eating, ever-attentive to personal hints and global signs of fullness–a sense of well-being, relaxation, ease. When you’ve had your fill, take a refreshing breath and a quite moment to reflect on your eating experience before easing on to whatever’s next.”

(Fain notes that practice makes perfect; the more you do this, the less you’ll be tempted to eat too much).

I’m going to give this a whirl the next time I eat caramel corn. How do you deal with trigger foods?


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January 21, 2011 at 4:59 pm


Lisa@ButteryBooks January 21, 2011 at 4:31 pm

My trigger food is ice cream. We don’t buy it very often because between my husband and I we will eat a whole carton. The only thing that works is not buying it. When we buy it we already know we are going to pig out, so we try not to be too harsh on ourselves. Also, since I know I am going to eat it anyway, I will have it as my meal. Not healthy, but I will at least eat fewer calories overall for the meal.

Claire January 22, 2011 at 9:23 pm

I don’t deal with my trigger foods! :-S
I either avoid them entirely (brownies and chocolate chip cookies) or binge on them frequently (ice cream, muffins, chocolate, granola).
I’ll try your tip the next time though and see how it works out!

Lauren Slayton January 23, 2011 at 8:20 am

Ah trigger foods. I am all about better versions (making my own fries, good dark chocolate) and portions. I was cracking up tweeting with another nutritionist who says she loves read wine/chocolate and uses cordial glasses/shot glasses for portions. I love the idea of mindful eating but the breathing etc seemed complicated (ooh maybe I’m close-minded). And now you have me craving caramel corn at 8:19, I’ll have to scan my body first :)

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