Eating well can undoubtedly be a struggle at times, particularly when you find yourself surrounded by your all-time favorite comfort foods. Some days it may feel easy to overlook that carb-laden casserole staring you in the face — other days, not so much. No matter where you are on your health journey, know that it’s common (and completely OK!) to occasionally find yourself on the verge of giving in or feeling out of control with your kryptonite food.
For many, setting simple boundaries can be helpful in establishing and maintaining a balanced relationship with all foods. When setting food boundaries, it’s important to focus both on your mindset and your environment. Set yourself up for success with these seven tips:
Manage Your Mindset
Don’t forbid any foods. Adjust your thought processes surrounding food. Instead of completely restricting certain foods, consider giving yourself permission to eat all foods. Many times permission in and of itself is enough to give you the power to distinguish between when you really want a certain food and when you might want something because you know you “shouldn’t.” We often fall victim to overeating when we think about certain foods as being forbidden, bad or wrong.
Pause. Before you take that first bite, ask yourself whether you’re really hungry or you’re eating for some other reason. Often just taking a moment to ask yourself what you’re truly feeling before eating can help you identify times where you eat for reasons other than true hunger. Common triggers for eating other than hunger include boredom, anxiety, stress, habit, tiredness or loneliness. Ask yourself what you’re really feeling. If it’s not hunger driving the urge to eat, do something to address what you’re feeling instead of turning to food.
Eat to feel satisfied. When you allow yourself to feel fully satisfied from each meal, you are less likely to snack mindlessly and more likely to eat with intention. When you leave the table still feeling hungry or unsatisfied, you might find yourself more vulnerable to feeling out of control with afternoon or late-night snacking.
Eat (and enjoy!) with intention. The next time you’re faced with a favorite kryptonite food, get rid of all distractions and take in the entire sensory experience of eating. Pay attention to the way the food looks, smells, tastes and feels in your mouth. Portion out your food by putting it on a plate or bowl, then sit at the table and eat it with mindful intention.
Optimize Your Eating Environment
Keep kryptonite foods out of sight — or even out of the house. Stash chips on the highest shelf in your pantry, freeze leftover home-baked cookies for special occasions (like the weekend!) or store chocolate in the basement. The key is keeping these foods out of your daily routine. If you find you’re not deterred by the out-of-sight approach, consider a food boundary and enjoy these foods only away from the home. Taking this approach can help make indulging in your favorites more intentional and more special.
Avoid snack pit stops. When you leave your house for the day, pack a yogurt, string cheese, nuts and/or fruit for on-the-go snacking. Hunger can strike without warning, and by having healthy snack options ready, you’ll be less likely to grab a bag of chips from the vending machine or swing by the gas station for a candy bar and bottle of soda. Nourishing snacks can make the difference between satisfying snacking and out-of-control eating.
Consider a “less is more” approach. If you have cookies, candy, chocolate, cake and chips in your house all at once, chances are you’ll be craving one of those at any given time and thus always fighting temptation. Many people feel less tempted and more in control when they keep tempting foods to a minimum and have plenty of wholesome and nutritious foods on hand.
All in all, the key to creating mentally and physically healthy food boundaries is to be your own advocate. Some people might thrive by having all their favorite foods around at all times, and others might find it helpful to limit them. Knowing what works and, more importantly, what doesn’t work is key in helping you manage your relationship with all foods. Try some of these ideas to see whether they help!