Fed up with diets that don't work? Wondering whether your clothes will always feel so snug? Then consider this new weight-management strategy: fatproofing.
With very little effort, you can transform your digs into a more healthful eating environment that will make even the food police happy. And with just a little tweaking, you can change your eating behaviors. We're not talking gimmicks but strategies approved by the American Dietetic Association and other food gurus.
"We're a nation that overeats. We're a nation that's not in tune with when we're hungry and when we're not. We mindlessly eat," says Julie Upton, a former nutritionist for Weight Watchers International who's now a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "We eat when we're happy, sad, bored, angry. Food is entertainment. Food is love. Food is everything these days."
Ah, but there's hope. There are ways, some shockingly simple, to adapt your environment so that you will eat less and feel full. "The ground rules need to be set, and a good place to start is with fatproofing your home," says Upton. "There are some very basic strategies, tested over time, that have been shown to curb the appetite."
Here's what the experts recommend: Be on the alert for "emotional eating." Emotional eating means eating when you're not hungry and not stopping when you've had enough. Consultant Geneen Roth, author of When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair (Hyperion, 1999, $9.95), advises clients to eat only when they are physically hungry. "I give people a scale of one to 10 to figure it out. Four or below, they're hungry; five or above, they're not. It's important to know the difference between mind hunger and body hunger."
Eat sitting down. No more grazing in front of the fridge or noshing over the kitchen sink. Pick a single spot in the house where you dine, preferably in the kitchen or dining room. "This will slow you down, and it allows you to have pleasure from the food," according to Roth, who is based in Northern California. "Otherwise nothing signals your body that you're eating now. It's more about shoveling food in your mouth."
Observe the "container law." When possible, buy food in small packets. "If I know I eat until the container is empty, buy the little bag of chips," says Denise Supik, a licensed clinical professional counselor at Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center in Lutherville. "And you never want to eat from a bag or a container. Always put a portion out, and eat that."
Enjoy a food alternative. Treat your body to a hot bath instead of a trip to the refrigerator. Take a walk - or a nap. Curl up in the sun. "Find a new sensory experience. Jam yourself onto another station of your consciousness," says Francie White, a registered dietitian in Santa Barbara, Calif.
"The main thing is, people get confusing hunger signals. If you're wondering whether you're hungry, you're probably not. So stop hovering over the toaster and do something for yourself that's not about food," adds White. "It's that nonhunger eating that puts on weight. Period. Amen. It's so simple, but we make it complicated."
Rethink your food storage. If you must bring high-calorie, high-fat foods into the house, make them less accessible. "Put them in a place way out of sight," Upton says. "This works."
So park your tub of ice cream behind all your other frozen food so that you'll have to physically move other items to grab it. Place the cookie bag in an overhead cabinet that requires a stool to get to it. As Upton puts it, "The time it takes to do something extra makes you think, 'Do I really want this?' " Meanwhile, she suggests keeping a big bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter as a visual marker. "It's there. You see it," she says. "You'll go to it."
Forget family-style servings. Pack away your big serving bowls and platters. Instead, portion out everything onto individual plates. "Everybody needs to do this," says Upton. "With family-style bowls, you continually dip into it. If it's sitting there, you eat a lot more." As for dinnerware, pay attention to size. Use small plates and glasses.
Never eat in front of a television. It's not unlike going to the movies: You just have to have that popcorn, hungry or not. The way Supik views it: "You have to separate that pairing." If you have a television in the kitchen, turn it off while eating. "Anything that takes you away from awareness will contribute to overeating," she says. "Oftentimes, we tell clients, 'I don't want you to eat and do anything else at the same time.' "
Up the ambience. There are actually ways to enhance the eating experience that also curb the appetite. The scent of lavender, for instance, suppresses the appetite; so use lavender spray or candles in and around where you eat, says Upton. Slow music also has been shown to push down the rate at which people eat. Color plays a part, too. Red walls in a kitchen tend to stimulate the appetite while blue does just the reverse.
Cook smart. Ideally, cook a meal so that there are no leftovers to tempt you afterward. If there are, according to Upton, package them into individual servings and freeze immediately.
White, meanwhile, says that cooking should be celebrated. Cook barefoot. Cook to great music. And when you serve a meal, she says, make sure there are at least five items involved. A snack plate, for example, might include a cookie, peanut butter, celery, organic ground corn chips and salsa. "This addresses the full spectrum of satiation," White says. "There is a physiology to getting satisfied."
Keep a food log. For just one week, chart what you eat. The results can be eye-opening. "This is a matter of looking into why the eating is happening. If the tube is boring and you can't extract yourself, sometimes you eat to heighten the experience a bit. If you're eating at the computer, it could be that you're doing a task that's not particularly fun. A lot of eating happens right after work," says Supik.
"Food is a way we give ourselves pleasure. It's easy, it's quick and it does the job. The trick is to be aware: Why am I eating and what's going on with me at the time?"