You’re being a wanker to yourself.
Wait! Don’t go.
That was a terrible way to start an article—my apologies.
I’m not having a go at you in particular, here. That’s especially true if you’re browsing my website and wondering whether you should start my coaching program or get my book.
(You should! You’re very smart! Also, intelligent and stylish.)
My point is that you’re being a wanker to yourself when it comes to your eating behaviors. So is the general population. I used to be like that myself, goddammit.
Your eating has become so automated that you have no idea when you’ve overdosed on food. This makes calorie control and thus weight loss a daunting task and a tiresome endeavor at best (remember that losing weight requires being in a calorie deficit).
The following 5 strategies will reengineer your eating habits and environment to avoid being trapped by eating an extra 200 calories here or there. This will result in a painless decrease in calorie intake and thus weight loss.
Reengineering Strategy #1:
Think 20 Percent—More & Less
Have you ever heard of a tradition called hari hachi bu? It’s the Okinawan culture’s (Japanese prefecture) tradition that means “Eat until you’re 80 percent full.”
If you live in Western culture, you have the opposite of that—”eat the shit out of your plate” or “the clean plate syndrome.”
The problem is that there’s a massive calorie intake difference between the point where an Okinawan says, “I’m satiated” and where a Westerner says, “I’m full.”
How about we learn from people who have one of the lowest rates of obesity among developed countries?
- Think 20 percent less
Preplate 20 percent less than you think you might want before you start to eat. Don’t fret—you probably won’t miss it. In most studies, it’s not until 30 percent less food that people start noticing it.
- Think 20 percent more
Preplate 20 percent more vegetables and/or fruits if you dished out 20 percent less rice, pasta, etc. You better not make more than 20 percent. Max 20 percent, because I said so.
Reengineering Strategy #2:
Be Your Own Tablescaper
People wolfed down 53 percent more of Chex Mix from a gallon bowl compared to a half-gallon bowl, one study reports. It’s well-documented that eating from bigger plates or bowls sets the stage for overeating.
So become your own tablescaper or else, your tablescape will control your calorie intake.
- Mini-size your boxes and bowls
The bigger the package you pour from—be it cereal boxes on the table or spaghetti in the kitchen— the more you will eat, Dr. Brian Wansink found in his studies. You usually eat 20-30 percent more if bigger packages being used.
So top buying supersized boxes and packages. Go for smaller ones. If you’re already stocked with supersized boxes for the rest of your life, repackage them into smaller Ziploc boxes or Tupperware containers.
The smaller the box, the less you take, and the fewer calories you consume.
- Become a friggn’ illusionist
Before I met my girlfriend, I’ve never used small plates. Da hell with that?
But the truth is, six ounces of lasagna on an 8-inch plate looks like a respectable-size serving. But the same six ounces on a 12-inch plate looks like a meal too small even for a homeless chap.
That said, get your ass to the Costco and pick up a nice set of midsize plates that you can be proud of.
Keep your old ones but never use them again yourself. Leave them for your friends when they come over cuz’ why not? Let them get a bit…cuddly.
- Beware of leftovers
The more side dishes and little bowls of leftovers you bring to a table, the more you’re going to eat. A bucketload of studies shows that the more variety you have in your food, the more your satiety signals will get overridden and allow you to keep eating past fullness.1
And by the way, if you have leftovers, this means you cooked too much food and probably, most likely, definitely ate too friggn’ much.
Reengineering Strategy #3:
Make Overeating a Hassle, Not a Habit
We’re creatures of convenience. We’re also lazy creatures and usually not willing to go out of our way to get something we want if it requires too much work. The point is, the more hassle it is to eat, the less we eat.
Stanley L. Schachter did a kick-ass study where he called people into his office for a study. Once the subject arrived, smart-ass Stanley would leave the office for a few minutes. On the way out, he would be like “Uhm…So…Have a seat and help yourself. I’ll be back in 15 minutes.”
For some subjects, the researchers left shelled almonds on the table and for others—unshelled. Sure enough, subjects tended to eat shelled almonds and if the almonds were still in the shell, they stayed glued to the chair and didn’t bother.
You can use this knowledge in your favor and make it more of a pain to eat calorie-dense junk food and to overeat:
- Place hyper-palatable foods like cookies, chocolate bars high up in the pantry and lower-calorie foods like berries, fruits, oats at eye level
Ever heard about choice architecture?
As I mentioned in the changing food environment article, Thorndike and colleagues (2012) found2 that food display in a hospital cafeteria modified people’s eating behavior.
Researchers moved water bottles from just two refrigerators in the cafeteria to every refrigerator at eye level and in baskets near food stations.
Guess what? This simple act of having a choice increased water consumption by 25.8% while soda consumption dropped by 11.4%.
- Create effort barriers to eating
Since this Stanley Schachter clearly knows wassup we should believe when he says that the more hassle you have to eat a given food, the less of it you’ll eat.
That said, focus on foods in your kitchen to items you’d have to peel, cook, or reheat to eat. No packaged crap. Chances are, if you have to cook something, you’ll bitch about it and you won’t do it unless you’re really hungry.
Buy motherfucking oranges or melons instead of motherfucking pears. If you have to peel an orange to eat it, you probably won’t do it unless you’re genuinely hungry.
The same goes for getting motherfucking nuts and seeds in their motherfucking shells.
Because I haven’t written motherfucker enough yet.
Reengineering Strategy #4:
Become Mindful About Your Eating Scripts
When you eat, you often follow eating scripts. For example, you gobble down on a bucket of buttery popcorn each time you watch Netflix or you get yourself a calorie-loaded latte on your way home from work.
Eating scripts are automatic patterns of behavior related to food that you follow out of habit. As Dr. Brian Wansink observed, we all have breakfast scripts, snacking scripts, restaurant scripts, beverage scripts, cooking scripts, plate-cleaning scripts, and so on.
The problem is that eating scripts make you eat over the point of fulness without noticing it. That’s why it’s so important to change gain-weight scripts into lose-weight scripts.
Here are the dinner scripts that my clients use:
And here are your new restaurant/eating out scripts:
- If the breadbasket is on the table, you’re going to eat bread. Ask the waiter to take it away or put it on the other side of the table.
- Portion sizes are ridiculous these days—split an entrée, have half packed to take home, or simply order two appetizers instead.
- Want dessert? See if someone will share it with you. Only the first few bites taste amazing.
- Use a Pick-Two rule: appetizer, drink, dessert—pick any two.
- Ask a waiter if you’re not sure how something is prepared. This is especially true for sauces, oil, and butter.
- If you don’t know how many calories are in a dish, don’t eat it.
- Order steamed vegetables as side dishes.
- Choose grilled chicken or fish for lean protein.
Reengineering Strategy #5:
Make Comfort Foods More Comforting
Do you see cookies, your favorite cake, brownies, or chocolate as ‘bad’ foods that should be eliminated when dieting? If so, you need to shift your mindset if you’re ever going to achieve balanced, sustainable, and lasting results.
You see, the widely used dieting strategy of “I’ll never eat chocolate ever again until I get ripped to the bones” is destined for failure. I made this very clear in my 8 Week Nutrition Education Program.
Food should be a source of enjoyment and cutting comfort foods makes your life miserable. The goal is to stop the fear and restriction and learn how to have your cake guilt-free and still lose weight.
Here’s how you do that:
- Don’t deprive yourself
Be skeptical about diets that are all about cutting foods/food groups out of your life. This is the opposite of what food freedom is. Such diets ask you to make drastic eating changes that even the strongest-willed person can’t stand for long.
A better way to begin changing habits is to do so in a way that doesn’t leave you deprived: keep your favorite comfort foods but eat them in smaller portions. This means that you will have to negotiate, play with your calorie budget, have them less often, or pair them with some nutrient-dense foods for balance.
- Rewire your comfort foods
You might say:
“But Egis, my comfort foods are Snickers, Big Mac, chips, and cake. That is, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner…”
All is not lost, my internet reader friend. You can rewire your comfort foods by pairing them with healthier foods.
Instead of shoving your face with the whole bag of chocolate at once while hiding in the closet, have a piece of chocolate after a balanced dinner. Also, preregulate consumption by deciding how much chocolate to eat prior to the dinner.
This will feel good, you will feel in control and you will keep deprivation to a minimum without adding gajillion extra calories to your daily budget.
Pick a few of these strategies and start implementing them. Focus on reengineering small behaviors that will move you from mindless overeating to mindless better eating.
In the end, weight loss isn’t about dietary extremism and drastic changes. It’s about eating better and reengineering your food life so that it’s enjoyable and mindful.
And if you want to create such a life, consider hiring me to coach you.
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