We've all been there. Starting our new diet, motivation sky-high, convincing ourselves that this time, is it. We're never going back to how we were, and this diet of no diary, no gluten, no pasta, no fruit, no alcohol and no coffee is going to last forever. I mean, how hard can it be?
As we all know, this lasts a couple of days. Then, life gets on top of us, things happen, and we reach for the foods we love.
This is because we haven't actually learnt anything about our own eating patterns, behaviours and habits.
And, fundamentally, this is the only way we can truly change for the long-term.
Introducing to you the 'Diet Danger Zones', and how you can identify these Danger Zones in order to begin to change your habits and behaviours.
The 'Diet Danger Zones' are traps that catch all of us at one time or another, but most people fall into only one or two on a regular basis.
1) The Meal Stuffer.
Stuffers eat primarily during 'main' meal times, but then they eat to excess, cleaning everything on their plate. They often eat so quickly that they're uncomfortably full after they finish. They often take second helpings at home.
What can you do?
- Pre-plate the high-calorie foods in the kitchen and leave the leftovers there. Do not serve "family style", unless its veggies and salad.
- Use smaller plates and glasses
- Manage the pace, slow down, so appetite can catch up with the amount you've eaten. Remember, 20 minutes is the recommended eating timeframe.
- Avoid having too many foods on the table. The more variety there is, the more people will eat.
- Get into the habit of leaving something on the plate.
- Eat fruit for dessert instead of more indulgent choices.
- Adopt the Half-Plate rule. Half the plate is filled with veggies and the other half is protein and smart carbs.
2) The Snack Grazer.
Grazers reach for whatever food is available, typically about 3 times per day. While they love the 4C's (candy, chocolate, chips and cookies), convenience is usually more important to them than taste. They rarely pass up a lolly jar. For these people, snacking can be a nervous habit, something that gives them an excuse to get up and walk around, or something they can do with their hands while watching TV or reading. They might be hungry when they snack, but its almost done more out of habit than hunger.
What can you do?
- Think 'back'. For all those foods that aren't good for you, think 'back'. Put them in the back of the cupboard, in the back of the fridge, or in the back of the freezer. Keep these tempting goodies wrapped in aluminium foil.
- Do not 'pre-buy' snacks for a future occasion. If you must buy snacks, buy those your family likes but you don't.
- If you get a craving, think of a substitute. Crunchy things like fruits and pre-cut vegetables work for some people. Each week, buy a colourful variety of veggies, pre-cut them, and store them on the first or second shelf of the fridge.
- Chewing gum can distract you away from the 4C's.
- Only eat at the table - the one in the kitchen or the one in the dining room. Don't wolf things down over the sink or in front of an open fridge.
- Keep the tempting foods out of sight and out of mind. Store them in out-of-the-way cupboards.
- If family members want different foods, have separate cupboards that are assigned to them and off-limits to you.
- The only food that should be out on the counter are the healthy foods. Substitute a fruit dish for your cookie jar.
- Never eat directly from a package. Always portion food out into a dish so you know exactly how much you'll eat.
3) The Party Binger.
Parties - buffets, dinners, nights-out - these are high-distraction environments where the food is the backdrop for either business or fun, and its easy to lose track of how much they've eaten or drunk. Party bingers are often professionals who frequently wine and dine, or single, stay-out-late young people.
What can you do?
- Stay more than an arm's length away from the food tables and snack bowls.
- Put only two items on your plate during any given trip to the table.
- Use the volume approach to make yourself feel full. Chow down on the big healthy stuff (like veggies and salad) and then see if you have room for the rest.
- When you think you'll be distracted by an important (or fun) conversation, set the food down and give the conversation your full attention. Remember, the more you focus on people (and distractions like sport on the TV), the more you'll tend to eat.
- If you plan to attend a cocktail party or a buffet, arrive late or leave early. If you arrive late, most of the good stuff will be gone by the time you show up. Leave early and you'll make it easier to avoid a second (or third) helping of dessert.
4) The Restaurant Indulger.
While many of us eat lunch away from home, the restaurant indulger also eats dinner out at least 3 days a week. Like party bingers, restaurant indulgers are often on an expense account. They may also be affluent gourmets or professionals in their 30's.
What can you do?
- Use the Rule of Two. Limit yourself to two of the following: an appetiser, a drink, or a dessert. Pick any two.
- If the bread basket is on your table, you are going to eat bread. Either you ask the waiter to forget it or to take it away early.
- Before you start to eat, ask the waiter to pre-wrap half of your entree to take home. That way you will not be tempted to polish it off as soon as it arrives.
- Ask for water and alternate glasses of water with glasses of whatever else you're drinking.
- Sit next to the person you think will be the slowest eater at the table. Use them as a pacesetter. Always be the last one to start eating, and put your fork down after every bite.
- If you want dessert, see if someone will share it. The best part of a dessert is the first two bites.
5) The Desktop/Dashboard Diner.
Both speed eat while multi-tasking at their desk or in their car. Desktop diners eat at their desk partly to save time, but more often to save the hassle of getting a real lunch. It's not that they're overly busy - they're under-motivated. If the right person were to stop by to ask them to lunch, they'd probably go. But more often, they snack out of the vending machine or grab some bickies from the lunch room.
What can you do?
- Brown-bag it. Remember the brown lunch bags you used to take your lunch in at school? The same principle applies here, we want you to pack your own lunch a couple of times per week to start. This way, you're more in control of your food choices.
- Stock your desk or the lunch room fridge with yoghurt or cans of tuna. Protein will take the edge of the desire to snack.
- Turn off the computer or pull the car over while you eat. If you focus on what you're eating, you might even discover that you don't really like vending machine food anyway.
- Replace soft drinks with water. Offices tend to be dry. We often think we're hungry when instead we're simply thirsty. Fill up your water bottle a number of times each day.
So there you have it - these are the most common 'Danger Diet Zones' that people fall into. As I mentioned, most people fall into at least 2 of them - the trick is to identify which 2 you fall into, and use the tips provided to begin to change your habits and behaviours relating to them.
Drew is a personal trainer and nutritionist and is the co-founder of Evexia Wellbeing. Drew specialises in long-term habit change, body composition training, and mindset.