Discover the surprising triggers that drive you to eat, and why you may be eating more than you need.
Stop for a minute. Think about what you’ve eaten today. Maybe you’ve had regular meals, like you always do, or perhaps you’ve been grazing throughout the day. We all need to eat, but have you ever considered just why you choose certain foods?
Many factors affect what you eat and when: your habits and routines, the people with whom you live and work, and your own food preferences. However, one inescapable element is having an increasing impact on the food choices we make—and that’s our environment.
In the past, stores had limited opening hours, takeaway outlets were scarce, and a slice of cake was a dainty delicacy. Today, we have access to food 24/7. Plus, we’re surrounded by tempting buy-one-get-one-free deals and constantly faced with offers to supersize, prompting many of us to eat more than we need.
The trick is to spot the traps before you fall for them, and to have strategies up your sleeve so you aren’t tempted to buy or eat more than you really need.
Value for money
We all love a good deal. The problem is that food companies take advantage of our bargain-hunting tendencies: Their marketing tactics encourage us to upsize our meal combo, to add potato wedges to our home-delivered-pizza order, or to opt for a jumbo smoothie over the standard size.
These kinds of ‘deals’ also pop up as no-brainer choices for you at supermarket checkouts and cafés. If you order a coffee, and the barista offers you an accompanying $4.50 muffin for just $1, the offer can seem too good to refuse. In actual fact, you’re simply spending an extra dollar on something you probably hadn’t intended to buy in the first place, so you’re getting more than you wanted or needed. You are being played.
The temptation is certainly real, but there are other, more important costs involved: your health and happiness, which are far more valuable. If you feel overfull or even guilty or sick after eating that $1 muffin, was it really good value? No, because you’ve cheated yourself.
Other minefields include hotel breakfast buffets, all-you-can-eat restaurants and serve-yourself dinners. If you’ve paid a set price, or if breakfast is included in the cost of your hotel stay, you feel like you really should get the most bang for your buck, so you eat more than you need to ‘get your money’s worth’. Again, the value may not be so good when weighed against your health.
Manage your mindset
Realise that good value for money comes at a cost.
Add value to your life
Over the course of the year, stash the money you’ve saved by not buying ‘better-value’ options, and spend it on a healthy treat that makes you feel happy, like a massage, movie tickets or a new pair of shoes.
Offers such as ‘buy one, get one free’, ‘two for one’ and ‘30 per cent off’ are everywhere, especially at service stations for some reason!
Embracing a bargain is good value only when it puts healthier food on your table. Buying fruits and vegetables on special, particularly when they’re in season, is a thrifty, health-smart move. And if you find well-priced healthy products you’d normally eat, such as yoghurts, crackers or cottage cheese, and you actually need them, then buy those, too.
The deals to beware of are those that encourage you to buy foods that weren’t on your shopping list, such as chips, chocolate bars or sports drinks. Such ‘bargains’ can override your intentions and lead you to eat foods you wouldn’t usually choose.
Pick your offer
Take advantage of bargains only on healthy foods that you actually need. Remember, the real cost of sweet treats is that they lead you away from your healthy-living goals.
Write a shopping list
Decide on specific purchases before you hit the supermarket, and you’ll be more likely to avoid aisles you don’t need to visit. When you shop only for foods you actually need, it’s easier to avoid the confectionery, biscuit and chip aisles, where you often find those distracting two-for-one offers.
The whereabouts of your local supermarket, the number of takeaway shops you pass on your way home from work, and the proximity of your local greengrocer or farmers’ market all have a direct impact on your shopping and eating habits.
If you live on a farm (or have an abundant vegie patch) and spend more time at food markets than you do driving to and from work in heavy traffic, then you probably eat more healthily than people who hardly ever see a vegetable.
You may be unable to wield much influence over the types of food outlets in your neighbourhood, but you can seek out healthier food stores and consider how to make them a regular part of your routine. And if you’re passing at least six fast-food outlets on your way home, explore a new route!
Many of us are creatures of habit and tend to shop where we’ve always shopped. If you’re not as familiar with your local area as you’d like, see if you can find any new fruit-and-veg or health-food stores. You can also look into what you can order online.
Grow your own
Transform your garden, backyard or balcony into a healthy-eating environment. You may be starting small, with some potted herbs or a little lettuce or spinach, but you need only a few packets of seeds, so just start!
If you’re always driving or walking past a particular bakery or ice-cream shop, switch to a new route. If you see a doughnut or smell the delicious aroma of fresh bread wafting out of a bakery, you can begin to feel hungry even though you have no need to eat. Avoid heading straight into the path of seductive foods; you’re safer if they’re out of sight and out of mind.
We’re now used to seeing muffins and cakes the size of balloons, café sandwiches that look like doorstops, and drinks overflowing their giant cups.
Today’s servings are massive not only at cafés, pubs and restaurants, but also in our own homes. Thanks to bigger pots, pans, plates, bowls and wine glasses, we’re constantly serving ourselves growing portions of food and drink.
Ever noticed how different old-fashioned dinner plates and tea cups are from ours? Their modest size is a clear indication of just how ridiculously out of control modern-day portions have become.
Some people will say, “My eyes are bigger than my stomach!” to explain the amount of food on their plate. Most of the time, we eat with our eyes, meaning the amount we eat is more affected by what we literally see as normal rather than by our body’s actual needs. So by the time we’ve cleaned our plate and let our food settle, we feel more stuffed than satisfied. Unfortunately, this behaviour can too easily become the norm, leading us to overfeed ourselves on a daily basis.
Size up your meal
Work out exactly how much of each ingredient you need before you start cooking, from the grams of meat to the cups of rice. If you’re making extra so you have leftovers for the next day, plate up dinner and put tomorrow’s portions into plastic containers at the same time.
Fill up on vegies
Pile half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, such as carrot, beans and broccoli. You should aim for two filling handfuls of veg at dinner and, ideally, at lunch as well.
Invest in smaller crockery
The size of your plates, bowls and glasses can have a huge impact on the amount of food and drink you consume. We’re all affected by portion distortion to some extent, but being aware of it is half the battle.
There’s nothing like a friendly get-together to encourage you to eat unhealthy foods that you ordinarily wouldn’t, and to override your body’s signals telling you it’s full.
At social events, you can often find yourself eating food simply because it’s there, or because everyone else is eating. Or perhaps you just can’t say no to the person who’s offering it to you!
Workplace morning teas, pre-dinner nibbles and birthday dos are prime examples of times when we tend to eat for all the wrong reasons.
Similarly, on plane trips, the offer of a snack and a drink can be tempting—not because you need it, but because eating and drinking are reliably effective boredom killers
Whatever the social cue, the invitation to ‘tuck in’ is just another variation on the ‘deal’ that can swiftly silence your body’s natural hunger cues. But when you overeat and end up feeling stuffed and uncomfortable, your body suffers, which isn’t so much ‘value’ or ‘celebration’ as it is self-abuse. Your body wants you to be well and feel good, but falling for these kinds of traps forces you to ignore everything it’s trying to tell you.
Before you attend a morning tea, drinks and nibbles, or other social occasion that involves eating and drinking, think about the food that might be on offer, and decide whether you really want to eat anything when you get there. For a morning tea, practise how you’ll politely say “no thanks” to cake. (If anyone has an issue with your decision, it’s their problem, not yours!) If you’re going to an evening event, have a healthy snack before you arrive. This way, you won’t demolish a plate of hot chips after just one drink!
Bread baskets, alcoholic drinks and rich desserts add unwanted kilojoules to your restaurant meal. To lighten the load, opt for two entrées rather than an entrée and a main, and share dessert. Take time to savour the flavours of your meal (after all, you’re paying for the privilege!), and avoid those extra liquid kilojoules by limiting your drinks to a glass or two.
Just say no
When you’re on a plane and a flight attendant offers you a meal or a snack, you don’t have to accept it just because everyone else is—you could have tea or water instead. Learning to say no is very empowering, so start practising!