Food is not only a source of essential energy, vitamins and microelements, but is also a hedonistic treat. Eating boosts both serotonin levels and mood, which is exactly why it is sometimes so difficult to stop, as we seek to extend the pleasure. However, by eating more than we know we ought, we often end up stuffed and full of regrets.
Although learning to exercise our will power is bound to bring long-term benefits, sometimes we just need those simple and effective tips to help us say “no” to that extra slice of pizza here and now. We share some basic tips to help you eat less and enjoy more.
1/ Smells, sounds, colours, sensations
The reason many of us find it so difficult to stop ourselves from overeating is because we operate on autopilot. In the presence of such an obvious stimulus as food we simply react to it by eating. According to thought leader in existential psychology Rollo May, “human freedom involves our capacity to pause between the stimulus and response”. Therefore, by delaying our reaction even with the slightest pause, we allow ourselves the freedom of choice as to whether we wish to continue binging or might acknowledge that we are full enough to stop.
In her book Intuitive Eating, Russian psychotherapist Svetlana Bronnikova suggests a 5-4-3-2-1 exercise. It works by helping us remain in the current moment, shifting our attention and capturing that feeling of freedom between the stimulus and reaction. It can be done either just before a meal or as you are about to finish eating but get the unbearable urge to keep snacking.
Name 1 smell you can experience right now. Name 2 sounds that you can hear (such as the beat of your own heart). Describe 3 physical sensations, which your body is experiencing right now (the texture of your clothes against your skin, temperature, the grounding of your feet against the floor). Name 4 colours around you. Name 5 nearby objects.
2/ French snacking
Why is it that everything that is bad for you is so tasty, while healthy foods like a green salad or broccoli cause little excitement at best? Let us turn to such experts in everything pleasurable as the French for help. Jamie Cat Callan shares a simple trick they use in her truly wonderous book on female self-esteem French Women Don’t Sleep Alone.
“I used to think that a French woman would never eat straight out of a packet. However, during my recent trip to Paris, I caught a couple of young French women on a lunch break having a picnic on one of the bridges over the river Seine. It was a wonderful sunny day and the two of them were devouring something directly out of their packets. I approached them and suddenly realised that rather than packets of crisps the bags were full of chopped lettuce salad, fresh and delicate. Oh the French women! I tried to replicate this at home, having bought a bag of greens, spritzing it with olive oil and seasoning it with some salt and pepper. It was surprisingly filling and brought an unforgettable feeling that everything in the packet truly belonged to me. And what helped is that the salty crunchy “everything” was really very healthy.”
3/ Five times more
Chinese proverb “Putting out a fire while holding firewood” is at the basis of Italian psychotherapist Giorgio Nardone’s eyebrow-raising approach. Set yourself a balanced eating routine as per your preferences (say, 1500-2000 kcal a day) and eat everything you think is necessary during your meals. However, every time you deviate from the set plan by taking a cheeky snack, you then have to eat five times the amount of it.
For example, had you sneaked in one bar of chocolate, you would then have to consume five chocolate bars. Say, you are tempted by a slice of cake, you will then have to consume five slices of cake, no more no less. It sounds radical, but is so effective.
This way, according to Nardone, you are either avoiding snacking or eating five times more. Usually, patients trialling this method tend to go through 1-2 cycles of having to eat 5 times the portion of a snack, but then quickly stop, as overeating becomes unsurprisingly less pleasurable. This technique helps take control of the situation and develop a healthy relationship with food.
4/ “I don’t eat this” rather than “I’m not allowed”
That bans only spark temptation is a known thing to anyone who has ever tried to give up treats once and for all. We are living flesh and blood, so naturally this process simply does not work. When coming across delicious food it might be more effective to say to yourself and others “Thank you, but I do not eat this”. This usually works better than “I can’t, I’m not allowed”.
It is all about the difference in how you feel. The “I don’t” tricks the brain into having a freedom of choice: I am in control, I am the boss in charge of decision-making here. The “I can’t”, on the other hand, is perceived as a limitation, with the very words stealing our internal locus of control, making us feel like a victim. What does a victim do? That’s right: succumbs to those persuasive nudges to give in to another piece of cake.
5/ Drop your anchor
Overeating in the evenings seems to be a common occurrence for many of us. Exhausted from the working day, we rush through dinner and are then simply unable to stop. Here come seconds, followed by a snack. Then a peek in the fridge uncovers a leftover dessert. One portion follows another, turning the evening meal into a gluttonous binging session.
Try to drop your anchor by choosing a particular product or dish that will mark the end of your evening meal, after which draw the line to stop eating for the day. Some good options include citruses like oranges, grapefruits or pomelo. With little contained sugar, they tend to numb the appetite. Apples, on the contrary, stimulate appetite by encouraging the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach.