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WHAT IS YOUR OVEREATING STYLE?
by Terri Main

Okay... let's admit it -- you're reading this and I'm writing it because we both have a tendency to overeat. We've blamed our metabolism, our upbringing, our stressful jobs, but bottom line is most of us have developed unhealthy eating patterns. However, you and I may not overeat in the same way or for the same reasons. That could be why previous weight-loss attempts have failed. The author of the program assumed that you had the same overeating style as the ones for whom the program worked.

This came home to me a year or so ago when a weight loss program was being presented to our church women's group. The program focused largely on the spiritual issues involved in weight loss such as patience, self-control, deferred gratification and the sort. It wasn't a bad idea. But as I watched the video, everyone on it talked about having insatiable appetites and how they couldn't go two hours without eating and about struggling against hunger their entire lives.  I couldn't relate to any of them. My overeating came mostly from loving the taste of food rather than having to eat all the time. Indeed, one of my problems was that I often would get busy and not have breakfast or lunch and overeat at dinner or snack all night long. Mostly, my feeling was that if a little bit of something tasted good, a lot of it would taste even better. My eating style was that of "gourmet" from the list below. Now, a friend of mine said the program really spoke to her because she is one who was hungry all the time.  

Understanding your overeating style can help you find ways to tailor your weight loss program to your individual personality. I have identified four common overeating styles. They are: The Bottomless Pit, The Gourmet, The Absent Minded Digester, and The Self-Medicator. Undoubtedly there are many others, and most of us probably have some characteristics of more than one style, but hopefully understanding more about our overeating styles will help us personalize our weight loss approach.

The Bottomless Pit
Do you just seem to have a voracious appetite? It doesn't really matter what's on the table. If it's there you want to eat it and then have seconds or thirds. This is probably the image most people have of overeating. This type of person seems to be always hungry. They are constantly eating. There's a bowl of candy on the desk. It has to be replenished daily. They always buy the extra large, super-sized meals. Often, they eat very rapidly, hardly even tasting the food as it goes down. 


If this sounds like you, here are a few tips:

  • Slow down. If you eat more slowly, you will feel more full. You will also enjoy the experience of eating more. 
  • Get high bulk, low-fat snack foods. For instance, low-fat popcorn like Orville Redenbacher's Smart Pop. Half a bag is only 110 calories. 
  • Don't eat at buffets, smorgasbords, or any other all-you-can-eat restaurants.
  • Listen to your stomach and stop eating when your stomach is full. A lot of us overeat because we are continuing to eat after we are full. You don't have to clean your plate. 
  • Eat more meals. Instead of eating three large meals and lots of high calorie snacks throughout the day, eat five smaller but balanced meals. Have a breakfast, mid morning meal, lunch, mid afternoon meal, and a dinner. At each of these have a protein, a complex carbohydrate and a vegetable. It sounds like a lot, but a cheese sandwich with low-fat or fat-free cheese and a leaf of lettuce would be a meal. You won't be as hungry, and be less likely to snack.
  • Eat the same amount of food, but choose the food wisely. Read labels. Even non-diet processed foods can vary greatly in terms of calories and fat. Look for lower fat, lower calorie and lower sugar content. You know, certain "diet" meal bars actually have more sugar than some regular candy bars. It pays to read labels.
  • If you lose control over certain foods, only eat those foods in a restaurant where the serving size is controlled or bring home single serving sizes.

The "Gourmet"
This person overeats because of taste. The gourmet simply likes food. It is a sensual pleasure in which he or she indulges to excess. I tend to fall into this category. While I can go many hours without ever feeling hungry in the sense of having an empty feeling stomach, I love the taste of certain foods. Unfortunately, they tend to be high fat, high calorie types of food. And, I eat a lot of them because I want that taste sensation to continue a long time. Here are some tips for satisfying your taste buds while eating in a more healthy manner.

  • Eat more slowly. Same advice as for the bottomless pit, but for a different reason. The "Gourmet" overeats in order to make the taste last a long time. Slowing down the process makes the taste last longer. Tonight I had a mini (about 5 inches in diameter) pepperoni pizza from my favorite pizza parlor. I used to buy a small (12 inches) and eat it all. I've discovered that by slowing down I can make the pizza last almost a half hour as long as it took me eating more quickly to eat the small. I felt as satisfied at the end of the pizza as if I had had a small, medium or even large. 
  • Learn the art of substitution. Many of your favorite foods can be made with low-fat ingredients and taste as good or better than the originals. For instance, you can make a banana split with frozen yogurt, fresh strawberries and almond slivers instead of chocolate syrup. If you need your chocolate fix, either get chocolate flavored frozen yogurt or grate some dark (not milk) chocolate over the top. Changing just one or two ingredients in a recipe can make it healthier. For instance, in a three egg omelet, try two whole eggs and one egg white. &nbsp * Find healthy foods you love to eat and keep plenty of them on hand. The less healthy foods eat at a restaurant. I love fruit. It satisfies my sweet tooth and it's good for me. So I always have lots of fruit on hand. Instead of three candy bars a day, I have three fruits. If I decide I really want a candy bar, I buy one small one and eat it slowly, but I don't buy extras.   * Make only what you plan to eat at a meal. You can't overeat, no matter how good it tastes, if you didn't cook it. Don't make enough for seconds and you can't eat them. 
  • Clear the table after you've eaten and don't keep leftovers. It's too tempting when you open the refrigerator door to taste a bit of the leftover stuff if it was especially good. Also, unless you have a dog, don't take home a doggy bag. Same reason Too easy to nibble.

The Absent-Minded Digester 
Have you ever been nibbling on something for some time before you realize that you are actually eating? Have you had someone ask you, "Hey what are you eating or what did you have for dinner", and you couldn't tell them? Do you find yourself nibbling on food constantly while you are working, driving, talking on the phone, or watching TV without even thinking about what you are eating. You could be an Absent-Minded Digester.      My Dad used to say that my Mom and I ate more accidentally than he did on purpose. That was fairly truthful. Sometimes you just pick up food and eat it without ever really tasting it. If this is you, here are a few suggestions:

  • Journal, Journal, Journal. Research shows that writing down everything you eat reduces the amount of food you eat. I think this happens because it forces you to think about what you eat eliminating absent minded eating.
  • Stop Eating when you Stop Tasting the Food. Many of us keep nibbling at a bag of chips or stuffing our mouths with dinner long after we really taste what we are eating. When your taste and hunger leave, put away the chips and push away your plate.
  • Clean the table when you have finished eating. If you can't actually take the plate to the sink, then at least push it away from directly in front of you and put the silverware on the plate. This will keep you from continuing to nibble and pick at your food after you have actually finished eating.
  • Don't eat standing up or in front of the refrigerator.  
  • Don't eat and work. A friend of mine mentioned that she would take a bag of animal crackers to work with her and nibble on them all night long. One day she counted how many she ate. It was over 100. At 7.5 calories each, she was consuming nearly 800 empty calories a night that she didn't even taste. She finally started counting out 30 crackers and took some cut veggies with her to work instead. She began losing weight almost immediately just making this one change. So, if you must eat at work, control your access to food. Don't keep a well stocked fridge in your office or a bowl of candy on the desk. 
  • Serve to plates and not in bowls. It's too easy to keep dipping your spoon into the serving bowl on the table for just another taste while chatting after dinner. Place individual servings on each plate. If you want to keep seconds for others, then keep them on the stove or in the oven. So you have to go there to get the extra serving.

The Self-Medicator
Many of us use food for therapy. If we are sad, anxious, tired, or bored, we eat. Some of us even talk about "comfort food." Chocolate is usually at the top of the list. This is natural. As babies we were often closest to our mothers when nursing. We felt safe and protected while we were being fed. As adults, we often feel this same sense of well-being while we eat. 

Living alone, I find that I often eat things that I'm not even hungry for out of loneliness and boredom. You possibly have your own patterns for using food as self-medication.

Unfortunately, eating for comfort often leads to overeating. So, here are some tips if your "comfort food" is expanding your horizons in more ways than one.

  • Ask the Question. Before you stroll to the fridge for that piece of cheesecake, ask yourself, "Am I eating this cheesecake because I'm really craving cheesecake or because I________" You can fill in the blank with whatever emotional issue you are facing at the time: depression, anxiety, loss, boredom, loneliness, etc. Then ask yourself, "Will this really help?" Will you feel any differently after you eat the cheesecake? If you aren't hungry and aren't actually craving cheesecake and you won't feel any better after eating the cheesecake, you might as well have a carrot stick, right?.
  • Exercise out your Distress. Research has shown that exercise, especially aerobic exercise, releases endorphins in the brain. These are sometimes called nature's tranquilizers. Vigorous exercise actually helps alleviate depression and puts life's stressors into perspective. 
  • Call a friend. If you are bored or lonely, instead of eating call a friend and talk about the day. Share joys and sorrows. Talking about things really does help.
  • Check the time. Do you find that you seem to always get bored or lonely or "antsy" at about the same time each day. It might have nothing to do with any outside forces or internal emotions. You might simply have gotten into a habit of depression, loneliness or anxiety at a certain time of day. It may also be a biochemical cycle. Or there could be specific triggers at that time of day. For instance, if you and your ex-husband used to snuggle on the couch and watch Touched by an Angel at 8:00 p.m. on Sunday nights, you might feel depression or loneliness most strongly then, even though he is gone and TBA moved to Saturdays. Understanding this can help you cope. Also, you can simply get busy about that time.
  • Get out of the House. I think my exercise classes help my emotional health as much as my physical health. They get me out of the house for about an hour a day three days a week. Otherwise, my life tends to go a small cycle of work, church and home. But getting out, meeting other people, even if we are just exercising together, and doing something which improves my sense of self worth not only diverts my attention from eating for that hour, but I feel less likely to seek out comfort food for the rest of the evening.
  • Seek Professional Help with your Emotional Problems. It's a strange thing, but if someone falls off a ladder and breaks a leg, he or she will rush to a doctor to have the leg treated. They won't feel any shame about it at all. But if we have an emotional accident, family crisis, loss of a loved one, or other stressful situation in our lives which cause us great emotional pain, we rarely seek the help of a professional in dealing with those problems. And if we do, we look over our shoulders to make sure no one sees us going to a psychologist or counselor. There is no more shame seeking emotional counseling than there is seeking medical treatment. If you are facing serious emotional problems, you don't have to deal with them alone. Most insurance plans and employee assistance plans cover the costs of professional counseling. You'd be surprised how much it can help and you might notice that you don't need to turn to chocolate for comfort.

Understanding your overeating style will help you create a personalized approach to weight loss which you can live with.

Copyright 2002 Terri Main


 
 
 
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