Overeating isn't just a holiday season worry. Although there are an abundance of occasions for eating celebratory meals and treats from Thanksgiving through New Year's, many of us face the same dietary pitfalls all year long.
It's helpful to know that you can take charge of the social and environmental influences that may lead you to overeat. Here's how to avoid some common challenges:
• Pitfall #1: Recognize that eating with people you know—such as friends and family—can cause you to eat more. Eating while watching TV increases your eating almost as much. In both cases, it's the distraction (from conversation or watching a show) that promotes overeating.
o To overcome this effect, take smaller servings and eat slowly. Before taking seconds, give yourself the 20 minutes necessary for your brain to register that you feel full.
o People sometimes "match" the amount they eat to what they see their dining companion eating. That may explain why your chances of becoming obese increase if you have a friend, sibling or spouse who becomes obese. That doesn't mean you should stop eating with the people you love—instead, be aware of how much you put on your plate and don't eat more just to be sociable.
• Pitfall #2: Buffet-style restaurants, offering a wide selection of foods and often economical pricing, are appealing to many folks year-round. Yet it's the "grazing" quality of buffet service that makes overeating a real possibility. You can avoid the endless eating that buffet meals promote by taking a few cues from eating behavior research (yes, there is such a thing!):
o At a buffet, serve your food onto a small plate; don't use the larger ones.
o Walk along the entire buffet to see what's offered before taking any food.
o When dining at an Asian buffet, use chopsticks to eat instead of a fork.
o Put just two foods on your plate, and eat those before going back for more.
o If you're eating chicken wings, or another food with bones, leave the meat-stripped bones on your plate. Seeing the used bones cues you to how many you've eaten, and helps reduce further consumption.
• Pitfall #3: Watch out for fast-food and other restaurants that promote "healthy" meals. Those items—which might feature chicken, turkey or even salad—can have the same or more calories as foods you think of as "unhealthy," such as cheeseburgers. The calorie count depends upon the ingredients—breading, dressing, croutons, bacon or sauces can boost those numbers quickly.
What's more, even when the main dish is lower in calories, many people "balance" it by ordering high-calorie side dishes, drinks or desserts to go along with it. That pitfall results in overeating and consuming more calories than you intended.
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