Let’s face it – these days, food is everywhere, and that means most of us encounter plenty of opportunities to eat throughout the day. And when that happens, our natural response can be, you guessed it, to eat. We don’t always consciously think about it, either – sometimes it just happens. Perhaps you eat a snack because the clock says it’s morning teatime. Or you automatically grab popcorn at the movies, even if you’ve just had a big meal. So learning to identify trigger foods and environments is one of the keys to successful weight loss.
Satisfy your hunger
Hunger is often the last thing that drives a desire to eat a pleasurable food, but it’s still really important to recognise true hunger. Why? Because if you’ve skipped a meal or snack you may simply be ravenous, which can act as a trigger to reach for a high-kilojoule snack. Try satisfying your craving with a naturally sweet piece of fresh fruit first. Go for a juicy mango, snack pack of two fruits, a just-ripe banana or some strawberries. Fresh fruit is a filling food and has a lower energy density than many other snacks, which means it has fewer kilojoules for the same weight or portion – making it the ideal choice.
Out of sight, out of mind
Research suggests that when people crave a specific food, they have vivid images of that food. And the more vividly they imagine the food, the stronger their craving to eat it, becomes. So make an effort to break any existing connections you have with common food cues that trigger those images in your brain. For example, start treating yourself to a magazine, not a chocolate bar, when you’re at the supermarket checkout. At home, ask family members to place treats in a brown paper bag or opaque container or, better still, to keep them right out of the house!
Make smart switches
When the urge to eat hits, try and work out some better-for-you food choices that provide satisfaction. For example, if you regularly crave something sweet (like chocolate) to combat the afternoon slump, make a smart switch to a lower-fat, lower-sugar treat, like one or two fresh dates. Or if a salty, crunchy snack is needed, try air-popped popcorn with a shake of Mexican spice to prevent the kilojoule overkill in a bag of cheese corn chips.
It’s probably not surprising to hear that one of the best approaches is to give yourself permission to have a regular, small amount of the food you love. That way your cravings are curbed and you’re less likely to trigger a desire to eat the whole pack of Tim Tams. Don’t label food as forbidden, as that will only make you want it more and make you feel worse for eating it. Instead, practise the art of flexible restraint and track ahead, so you can factor in small amounts of your favourite treats such as chocolate. As your weight-loss journey continues, you’ll soon feel in control and totally hooked on the feeling of being fitter and healthier.
Top 5 tips to tame your triggers
1. Distract yourself by heading outside for a walk, jumping into a bubble bath, downloading some music or calling a friend.
2. Eat a breath mint, brush your teeth or gargle with some mouthwash. The clean minty feeling can help reduce the immediate desire to tuck into food.
3. Champion change at your office for a healthier vending machine and ditch the charity chocolates.
4. Find some distractions for TV time, like knitting, and if you really need a sweet treat, go for a small lollipop that lasts for longer. TV shows without enticing food ads and indulgent dessert recipes are the best picks!
5. Indulge wisely. Buy individually wrapped, portion-controlled treats, such as single chocolates and Funsize chocolate bars, or small, individual-serve sized bags of potato chips. And track ahead to factor these small treats into your week.