How You React to Food Cues
The strategy you choose to change what you eat to lose weight may seem like what’s standing between you and a healthy weight, but the real question to be answered is how you react to food cues. Are you an emotional eater or are you on the see-food diet? Maybe you’re a little bit of both. Regardless, the battle of losing pounds and maintaining a healthy weight has more to do with how you react to what’s inside your own head than anything on the outside.
Uncontrolled vs. Restricted Eating
There’s no black and white when it comes to eating behavior. People generally fit somewhere along the spectrum between disinhibition and restraint, with one being more dominant than the other. Disinhibited eating includes eating uncontrollably or too quickly, eating when you’re not hungry, or in response to emotional distress. On the other hand, restraint refers to the ability to restrict how much you eat, cut out certain foods, and the ability to say no when presented with food when you’re not hungry. When it comes to striking a balance with diet and exercise, how much weight you lose may depend on your propensity toward disinhibition or restraint. A new study in the journal Appetite found those with a leaning toward disinhibition may be more successful with exercise-induced weight loss. Psychology researchers at the University of Bradford in the UK studied 58 overweight and obese subjects for 12-weeks during a supervised exercise program where participants burned 500 calories a day, 5-days a week. While it would seem that those with more restraint eating-wise would lose more weight, the opposite happened. But that’s only half of the story.
There are two facets to disinhibited eating, internal and external: internal having to do with cognitive and emotional cues to eat, external with environmental cues to eat, i.e. being offered cake at work. Internal disinhibition was associated with the greatest weight loss during the study, but after the study, only restraint determined further weight loss. This suggests a shift in behavior that may affect weight maintenance. A different study seems to corroborate this idea. Published in Obesity, researchers found reducing eating in response to emotional and cognitive cues during a weight loss program, may help you keep the pounds off in the long run. This study followed participants for one-year, after an initial weight loss period of 3 months. While changes in external disinhibition showed no affect, improvements in internal disinhibition determined weight loss maintenance.
The Battle for Your Mind
You may go back and forth about a weight loss strategy, but don’t lose sight of your ability to improve on the inside. It is near impossible to say you will never eat a piece of cake again or will workout everyday for the rest of your life. However, you can make an effort to change how you think about food, and more importantly, how you react to those thoughts. In addition to making small changes internally, try not to dwell on making drastic external changes. Ultimately, controlling your reactions to food is what will help resolve your battle with the bulge. Because overeating has been referred to as the single predictor of being overweight and obesity by a number of studies, don’t get lost in different types of diets, or varying macronutrient counts. Instead, work on controlling yourself by rationalizing your food thoughts.
Ways to Improve Impulsive Eating
If you determine you are not hungry and you truly just have the urge to eat, here are some ways to control yourself. Set a time between when you get the urge to eat, and when you allow yourself to eat, if a timer helps you keep time, set it. If after 10 to 30 minutes you still have the urge, despite not actually being hungry, think through your emotions. Ask yourself what may be affecting you emotionally. Drink a glass of water and take a short walk and reflect, or try a breathing exercise. You might also try doodling a favorite image, or journaling how you feel. All of these strategies involve addressing your thoughts and feelings, which can gradually decrease your dependence on food to comfort you.