Now that Halloween is behind us, the holiday season is off and running. With it comes all the goodies that we so desire and that we so fear will make us overindulge.
But with a little planning, the food conflicts that can drain the joy from the holidays can be a thing of the past. We can use a wealth of solid research about why it's so much better to control portions instead of falling for the same old failing dieting tactics.
There are researchers who devote their careers to studying what makes us eat more and what helps us push away from the buffet. Food psychology laboratories produce information of particular interest to the food industry, which wants us to eat their products in abundance. But there's no reason we can't use this information to gain insight into how we tend to respond to different eating situations so we can better manage portions — and weight.
Some of the research findings:
• Out of sight, out of mind: he more visible food is (like the candy dish on the coffee table or your co-worker's desk), the more likely we are to eat it. No problem if it's food you don't like, but if you love chocolate and have to stare at a bowl full of holiday M&M's, you'll probably surrender. The trick here is to make tempting goodies less visible. Using covered, opaque dishes for candy, and open dishes to display fresh fruit will encourage the healthier choice. Also, try keeping nutritious foods in front of the fridge or cupboard while putting the ones you want to control in the back.
• Size matters: The bigger the package, container, or plate you're eating from, the more you're likely to eat. The brain seems to be looking for signals to mark the end of eating. Something about seeing an empty plate, bowl or bag helps us feel satisfied whether the container is large or small. That's why using smaller plates is so effective. So, when going to that big holiday buffet, put your entree on the salad plate.
• Serve and step away: During party situations, whenever possible, serve yourself reasonable portions and then step far away from the rest of the food. The less you look at food, the more likely you will be to feel satisfied with what you served yourself. I saw this in action myself at a party last weekend. Engrossed in conversation with a local chocolatier, I didn't step away from the serving trays filled with exquisite chocolates. Result: I ate more than I would have if I had invited my conversation partner to have a seat in another room.
• Slow down: It's takes about 20 minutes for your brain to receive all the physiological signals that you've eaten enough. So the faster you eat, the more you'll eat.
What's the hurry anyway? There are few things we will do as often in our lives as eat, so let's sit back, take a deep breath and enjoy. The more you let your body get the full enjoyment out of what you're eating, the sooner it will say, "Okay, that was good, but I'm done."
These are only a few research-based tips that you can incorporate into your holiday eating. Use your creativity to come up with others and practice them as you enjoy not just the food, but the people and the surroundings.
Consider the alternative — getting overly preoccupied with weight, food and dieting. When has that ever worked? It's the gentle, positive, consistent approaches that make for the best results.
Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. Contact her through her website, fatmatters.com, or at (813) 240-9557.