Conquer your food cravings

Good Health
Monday, June 20, 2011
Choc-chip cookie. Image: Getty
Instead of seeing food as something that makes you feel good when you eat it, visualise it as something that's loaded with fat, salt and sugar directly contributing to your weight gain.
Good Health
Brought to you by Australian Good Health magazine

Discover the real reasons behind your eating habits and you could be on the path to weight loss, finds Helen Foster.

You know if you want to lose weight you need to eat less, so why is it so hard to do? The fact is that your subconscious mind has a lot to do with what you eat and how much of it you consume.

However, by knowing what's secretly activating your appetite, you can think yourself thin. Here are some of the most common traps you might be falling into.

I'll have what she's having
When it comes to what we eat, our dining buddies can subconsciously be as persuasive as the teen bully in the playground daring you to try that first cigarette. We generally eat at least 35 percent more when dining with other people than alone — and women eat more when they're with other women than with men.

But the big surprise is the worst person to dine with might be your super-slim friend. In US research, people ate more when accompanied by a skinny researcher than when the same woman was made to look overweight.

This doesn't surprise Australian psychiatrist Dr George Blair-West.

"We tend to take cues from those with higher status or those we admire. If you're worried about your weight, you might see your skinny friend as aspirational — and so try to do what she does." That's good if she eats healthily, but if she's one of those tiny girls who can eat what she likes, beware.

Retrain your brain
First, identify your frenemies. Think about which of your friends leads you astray with eating and how they do it. "You can't change their behaviour, but you can change yours. Perhaps, start doing things with them that don't involve food," says Blair-West.

If that doesn't go down too well, try ordering first when you do eat out. You are less likely to be swayed by other people's choices if you do. Finally, take 'appetite-analysing' breaks during the meal to determine if you're full.

Hyper-eating — the 21st century phenomenon
In his book, he End Of Overeating (Penguin, $26.95), Dr David Kessler says he has discovered a new reason why we can't stop eating. He calls it hyper-eating and says it's triggered because foods packed with sugar, fat and salt actually stimulate the reward centres of our brain.

Rapidly, we learn we feel good when we eat them — and quickly these hyper-palatable foods become linked to particular cues. For example, say you treat yourself to spring rolls with your healthy stir-fry, then the next time you order from the same place, you remember how good they were and order them again. Eventually, you're always ordering them and adding a few hundred kilojoules to the meal.

"Conditioning can happen quickly," says Kessler. "In one study, people were given a high-sugar, high-fat snack for five mornings. For days afterwards they wanted something sweet at that same time."

Retrain your brain
Kessler says the only way to beat hyper-eating is to change the way you think about food. Instead of seeing food as something that makes you feel good when you eat it, visualise it as something that's loaded with fat, salt and sugar directly contributing to your weight gain. "That way you start to lay down new learning, new neural circuitry and new behaviour patterns," he explains. Now that's real brain training.

The exercise effect
Do you eat bigger portions on gym day — or always treat yourself to a bar of chocolate on the way back from your Spin class? Then this could be why: "Many of the people I see develop a reward mentality with exercise," says Glenn Mackintosh, principal psychologist at weight-management program Slim St.

"They force themselves to go, they don't enjoy it when they are there and so feel they deserve a treat afterwards. The problem is, it often contains more kilojoules than they use exercising."

Retrain your brain
Step one is to find a workout you enjoy. "If your workout is fun, you don't need a reward," says Mackintosh. Next, make sure you don't exercise on an empty stomach, which can trigger true hunger pangs afterwards. And do your workout at a pace that feels challenging, but not too hard.

Studies at Canada's University of Ottawa show that high-intensity exercise is more likely to trigger reward eating (to the amount of an extra 504kJ a day) than burning the same number of kilojoules in a moderate workout. And it's because you feel you need a treat after all you went through.

For the full story, see the July issue of Australian Good Health. Get a great subscription deal on New Zealand Good Health magazine at

Corbis imagesDiet lessons you need to unlearn Getty imagesThe 3 best ways to curb sugar cravings Getty imagesSix bad eating habits and how to break them Eat smart for your heart

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