You eat ice-cream when you’re stressed. Or you munch on buttery popcorn when you’re bored. It’s not that you don’t know better, it’s just that the devil made you do it.
Or make that three diet devils that can turn your clean-as-a-whistle eating habits into instant dieter’s remorse, depending on which little devil is whispering sweet nothings into your ear, says Heather Bauer, a renowned US registered dietitian and author of Bread is the Devil: Win the Weight Loss Battle by Taking Control of Your Diet Demons (St Martin’s Press, $34).
“People are not clueless about what to eat,” she explains, “but most are vulnerable to one or more devils that prompt them to eat too much and too often.” Here are Bauer’s diet devils.
Need to lose 5kg? If you’re a freestyle dieter, you’ll cut out booze, carbs, sweets or just ‘eat right’ for a while. “Usually by the end of the first week, you’re right back where you started because ‘something came up’ a party, a dinner out, a trip,” she says. “Without a plan and a real commitment to lose, it’s very difficult to be successful at long-term weight loss.”
Keep a food journal to help you keep track of your kilojoule intake for the day. “Writing down what you eat helps you keep track of what you’re actually putting in your mouth,” says Bauer. Forget about extreme diets and embrace ‘phase eating’, suggests Bauer. “Simply eat the same healthy breakfast, lunch or dinner day after day for a stretch of time,” she explains. Find one or two healthy meals you like and rotate them for a week. The less you focus on food, the easier it is to lose weight.
The Late-Night Shuffle
Late-night snacking “is the epitome of mindless eating. You barely taste the food. You hardly look at it. It’s just bite, chew, bite, chew, bite, chew until bedtime,” says Bauer. “Fatigue plays a big role in prompting the ‘late-night shuffle’. You’ve been on the fast treadmill all day and now you’re exhausted. When you’re tired, your resistance is down and it’s hard to make good decisions.”
Have a light snack of vegies and dip or a few almonds at 5.30pm and eat at 8pm, she says, so “there’s less of a window for snacking later”. Chances are that you’ll improve your sleep as well and wake up hungry for breakfast.
If you just can’t make it through the night without a snack, have a few slices of turkey or a hard-boiled egg. “Both of these foods will satisfy your hunger without going off the scales and neither of them will set off a binge.”
Whether it’s weight gain from emotional highs or lows, using food to deal with feelings is “so common and destructive, I believe it’s the major, largely unrecognised cause of weight gain,” says Bauer. “You do not have to be victimised by emotional eating. The key words are recognition and control.”
Every time you use food to manage emotions, note what you ate and how you felt. If you can see a correlation, try meditation, yoga or stress management. In your journal, give yourself one or two small objectives daily, such as ‘I will eat a healthy snack at 4pm, then nothing till dinner’. Small triumphs can help boost your mood.