Biting the Habit - What's your eating style?

Eating styles contribute to weight problems more than most people realise, which is why standardised weight loss plans often fail: they only target what people eat, ignoring how they eat – and we’re not talking about whether you slurp or sip your soup!

Eating styles have to do with when, where, and how you eat – and if you’re like most people, your eating style can really get in the way of your weight loss goals. While you may not need to totally change your eating habits, adjusting them can help you reach your weight loss or maintenance goals more effectively.

Read on and learn how to identify your eating style and change it for the better.

Snacker and picker

Approximately 60% of overweight people fall into this category. Snackers and pickers rarely sit down to a proper meal, and if they do, they usually pick at it! They eat a little bit of this and a little bit of that constantly throughout the day. They frequently eat while engaged in other activities. You can sometimes spot a snacker or picker by the number of times they open the fridge during a day. Snackers and pickers also love finger foods: cocktail parties are heaven for a snacker or picker! Overweight snackers and pickers can often be heard saying, "I don't know why I have a weight problem, I hardly eat anything."

The major problem with this kind of eating is that because snackers consume hundreds of empty and excess calories a day, they drastically underestimate how much they actually eat. And due to the fact that snacks don't really pack in enough “oomph” to meet basic nutritional needs and satiety (fullness and satisfaction of appetite), snackers and pickers are always foraging for something more to eat.

The snacker’s fix-it plan

If you are a snacker your best option is to omit snacks completely and eat three meals a day with enough fat, protein, carbohydrates, and overall calories to give you the feeling of total satisfaction. Put extra snack calories into your three meals. Although this is contrary to common wisdom of eating three meals and two snacks a day, it’s advised for you. Snacking or eating small meals all day is your problem!

However, if three meals and two snacks works better for you, just make sure you always bag your snacks in 100 to 200 calorie increments. Eat everything in the bag at one time and then stop eating. Make a commitment to eat only snacks that have been bagged and accounted for. Realise that you are only kidding yourself by thinking that these little snacks don’t add up.

If you’re going to snack, do it sitting down and with no other distractions. When you eat and do something else at the same time, you wind up eating hundreds of extra calories without realising it or even enjoying the food. Focus on one activity at a time. Eating is one activity, reading is one activity, talking on the phone is one activity and so on. You will learn that you can enjoy food more, and eat less, when you pay attention to what you are eating.

Keep a snack-calorie journal. Write down what you ate as soon as you can after eating, or better yet, write it down before you eat: you’ll start to see how it all adds up. For many snackers, just the awareness of how many calories they consume during snacking is enough to prompt them to make the necessary changes.

Eat with utensils, not with your fingers. Studies show that finger-food eaters have a difficult time losing weight because they eat more than their utensil-using counterparts.

Saver, skipper, and compensator

Not eating for long periods of time makes people hungry and hungry people do not make wise food choices.This eating style is characterised by erratic eating patterns. Savers, skippers, and compensators seesaw between eating too much and too little. They often skip meals because they are too busy to take the time to eat, or in order to save calories for a big occasion. When they do eat too much – which is usually a result of missing meals – skippers try to compensate by missing more meals or fasting. They often say things like: "I usually don’t eat breakfast or lunch," or "I am going to a party tonight, so I won't eat all day," or "I can't eat breakfast or lunch because I ate too much last night."

The negative aspect of this style is that it promotes overeating. Not eating for long periods of time makes people hungry and hungry people do not make wise food choices. Saving calories by skipping meals can be compared to putting money in the bank, receiving $10.00 in interest, but paying $12.00 in service charges. It just doesn't make sense.

Erratic eating habits also disrupt normal metabolic functions. When you don't eat for a long period (this can be hours, not days) your body thinks it is starving and begins to slow down to storage mode, conserving calories for future use. It's taken by surprise when you suddenly overload it and so can't metabolise efficiently. This is exactly the opposite of what happens to people who eat small meals and snacks. Their bodies are accustomed to working with the right amount of food most of the time and are constantly metabolising; when excess food is encountered, metabolising continues as usual. Savers, skippers, and compensators impede the efficiency of their natural processes. The end result is that they become fat storing machines. In order to lose weight and keep it off, you need to be a fat burning machine.

The skipper's fix-it plan

To become a fat burning machine and to keep your metabolism revved up, get into the habit of eating regular meals – no matter what. Eat smaller meals if you like, but eat something every three or four hours.

Don't let yourself get hungry. If you wait until you are ravenous, you will make poor food choices and will probably eat so fast that you won't give your brain enough time to get the "I am full” signal.

Instead of not eating to compensate for the possibility of eating lots of high calorie foods, have a snack one hour before going to a party or out to dinner. This little tactic could save you hundreds of calories. Low-fat, high fibre fruits or vegetables are good snack choices. Keep your snack under 200 calories and make sure it's not so high in sugar that it sets you up for cravings.

The day after a big party or anytime you think you have overeaten, just get back to your regular eating. You can cut back a little on fats, carbs or calories, but don't fast or skip whole meals. For example, if you are on a 1500 calorie plan, you can drop down to about 1200 for the next few days. Eat smaller meals, but eat something.

Guilty eaters and "Bigger is Better"

Guilty eaters were often told to "clean the plate" even if they were no longer hungry.People with a guilty or "bigger is better" eating style can usually find the root of it in their childhood and the attitudes toward food that developed when they were young. In childhood, guilty eaters often heard messages like "You have to eat everything on your plate because children in some countries are starving." This attempt at magical thinking is based on an illogical conclusion that somehow what you don’t eat affects people thousands of kilometres away. Guilty eaters were often told to "clean the plate" because it was a sin to waste food, or that they had to eat Grandma's favourite steak and kidney pie because "she spent a lot of time preparing it". They were also told to eat more because it would make them 'healthy and strong'. In any of these situations, it didn't matter if the eater was hungry or not, she had to eat what she was given.

The problem with this style of eating is that guilty eaters don't really know when they are hungry. They eat everything on their plates whether they feel hungry or not. They never learned to pay attention to satiety as a signal to stop eating. This inability to recognise fullness usually leads to eating larger and larger portions, and a "bigger is better" style of eating.

The "Bigger is Better" fix-it plan

If you are a guilty eater, the first thing you need to do is confront your unconscious messages. Tell yourself, as many times as you have to, that what you eat or don't eat doesn't affect anyone but you.

Get into the habit of asking yourself whether you are really hungry before you eat. Once you start eating, pay attention to hunger and satisfaction cues.

Decrease the portion size of your meals and snacks. Do this gradually to avoid being overly hungry. But don't make the mistake of going back and forth between small and large portions. Habits are difficult to "unlearn" if you switch back and forth between the old and the new.

If you still feel just a little bit hungry after eating, stop and wait a few minutes – this will help reset your eating cues. It is better to be a little hungry than it is to be a little full. If you truely are still hungry, you can always go back and eat a bit more. But if you only stop eating when you feel a little full, you can't get rid of the extra calories.

Keep a food and exercise journal. By writing down what you eat, you will start to see the connections between portion sizes, calories, and weight gain.

Embrace the fact that eating large portions is a learned habit and that it can be unlearned. Eating smaller portions is also a learned habit. Over time, your stomach will accept less food. Conversely, if you eat large portions continuously, your stomach will demand more food.

When you eat out, ask for a doggie bag before you begin to eat. Doing this will show you that you can be satisfied with smaller portions. And by doing this before you eat, you don’t have to use will-power to stop eating everything on the plate.

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