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How to Resign from the Clean Plate Club

Posted Aug 12 2012 12:00am

A car’s engine keeps it going until it runs out of gas. Even after the fuel is gone, though, the car doesn’t just stop; it will continue to coast until you apply the brakes. Similarly, when you successfully go through the steps I described to overcome emotional eating, you may cut off the emotional fuel supply that was driving the behavior, but lifelong eating habits may still provide enough momentum to keep the behavior coasting for quite a long time and undermine your efforts to change.

In one of the earlier posts on this site, I wrote about overeating with the head, hands, and heart , which refers to the idea that overeating may be due to any combination of ignorance, habit, or emotion. Educating yourself is the best way to deal with ignorance about healthy eating (the USDA dietary guidelines and books like Eat This, Not That , among others, are especially helpful with that), and we’ve dealt with the emotional aspects of the problem in the four-step process. Now let’s look at the issue of overeating with the hands; that is, not having bad table manners, but mindless, habitual eating.

Habits are usually thought of in terms of behavior that’s repeated so many times it becomes automatic. But there are cognitive habits as well, which can work the same way but can play an even larger role in overeating. These are beliefs that may once have made sense but are now obsolete. More often, though, they were not valid to begin with. The problem is, once they are accepted and ingrained, these beliefs tend to go unchallenged, and continue to maintain the behavior the way gravity affects a car coasting downhill. Applying the brakes requires recognizing these beliefs and challenging them, or “turning on the crap detector,” as I tend to call it; it’s the essence of mindful, attentive behavior.

In the next few posts I’ll look at some of the more common habits and beliefs about eating that can undermine the best of intentions. Here are some examples:

  • Skipping breakfast
  • The fear of wasting food
  • Filling all the white space on your dinner-sized plate
  • Big buffet spreads and all-you-can-eateries
  • Casual dining restaurant portions
  • Choosing “virtuous” but unappealing food
  • Waiting until you’re hungry
  • Concern about spoiling your appetite
  • Eating while watching TV or web-surfing
  • Eating straight from the package
  • Eating in any position other than sitting upright at a table
  • Eating faster than your brain can register taste or satisfaction
  • Being seduced by value meals, economy-size packages and BOGO-free sales
  • Misjudging servings per unit of packaged foods
  • Confusing low-fat labels with low-cal foods

These are the some of the common ones that come immediately to mind, but I’m sure there are many more. So I can really use your help with these! Please let me know which common eating (mis)behaviors I haven’t listed. I would also be interested in hearing about some of your own “unique” eating habits, especially if you think they cause you to eat more than you should. You may be surprised to discover that they’re more common than you think.

Please write your own irrational food-related beliefs or behaviors in the comments section and I’ll try to include them in future posts. Thanks!

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