It’s one of those things that somehow seems to just happen: you find something tasty, and before you know it, you’re chowing down on thousands of extra empty calories a week.
Worst of all, it’s become a habit, but you’re not really enjoying it. So here are some ways you can slow things down without feeling deprived by going cold turkey.
From simple beginnings to sugar overload
It started innocently enough — a debate on the relative merits of candy on a second date with my girlfriend. I’d always been a huge Minstrels chocolates, but she was putting an argument forward for Maltesers malt balls. I wasn’t convinced.
A couple of dates later, we headed to the movies. I bought a bag of Minstrels, and she chose Maltesers. Side-by-side, Maltesers won, hands-down.
Fast-forward a year or so, and things had gotten out of hand. I joke, but in all seriousness, I did actually have a problem. It was not at all unusual for me to scoff an entire 3/4 pound box of Maltesers in one sitting. That’s about 1,700 calories (over two thirds of my daily allowance) of sugar.
While you cannot form a physiological dependence on sugar or chocolate, I was nonetheless psychologically addicted to malt balls. It was ruining an my otherwise relatively healthy diet and had the potential to lead to all sorts of health-related issues down the line. Something needed to be done.
So I did something.
Here are the specific techniques I employed to reduce the sheer volume of candy that I was consuming on a near-daily basis. If you are addicted to sugar, chocolate or candy (or in fact any type of food), you’ve just found the means to make a major positive change in your habits.
This is the only point at which I will simply say, “Just eat less.”
This is for people who are satisfying their addictions with absurdly large portions, like I was with my 3/4 pound boxes of Maltesers. The most effective thing I did was to enforce a complete ban on boxes and limit myself to the smaller bags only. This wasn’t particularly difficult – I just needed to give myself a long hard look in the mirror and convince myself how utterly wrong it was to destroy an entire 1,700-calorie box of candy in one sitting.
Don’t seek to eliminate your most-loved food, but do seek to eliminate eating it in an objectively absurd volume. (If you have this “super size” problem, you’ll know exactly what I mean.)
2. Make your treat an event
If you’re going to satisfy your craving, make it a big deal. Don’t just scoff your food down while watching TV — give the act the due ceremony it deserves.
I suggest eating your food of choice at a table with no distractions. Take the time to enjoy every morsel. Of course, you should start with a smaller portion than you would normally eat. Taking the time to really enjoy the process can satisfy you as much as scoffing down twice as much while distracted can.
3. Serve your treat on a small white plate
Seriously. A study conducted in Spain found that serving strawberry mousse on a white plate altered the participants’ perception of its taste — they considered it to be 15-20% sweeter, more intense, and more enjoyable.
From a personal point of view, I believe this to be true. A pile of Maltesers in a small white bowl looks far more appealing to me than just munching them out of the bag.
White is not always the best color, though – in some cases it is preferable to choose a plate color that complements the color of the food. Having said that, I wouldn’t worry about buying a plate in each color – white is a good default.
Furthermore, use a plate that makes your food seem more plentiful. When it comes to psychologically satisfying your appetite, nothing is worse than food on an enormous plate. In fact, eating from a smaller plate has also been shown to cut food consumption by more than 20%, according to David Neal, PhD, Director at Empirica Research.
4. Share openly
If your addiction is something that can be easily shared, get into the habit of doing so. For every bite someone else haves, it’s one less bite going in your mouth (and to your belly or hips, remember!).
While I am not typically an advocate of sharing food (woe betide the person who takes from my plate without asking), this is one situation in which I actively encourage it.
5. Buy your treats in advance
This is not a strategy I would employ myself, but I know that it can work for some people.
It’s simple: buy your craved food up front for the week, in bulk. Agree with yourself that what you have bought is all you’re allowed for the week – how and when you eat it is up to you.
This may encourage you to ration your food appropriately, in which case you can gently taper the volume of food you buy per week to wean yourself off your addiction. Alternatively (and like me), you might eat it all and go out the next day, rules be damned — in which case I do not recommend this strategy!
6. Make it a hassle
Here’s an alternative to number 5, above. If it’s easy to grab a snack, the more snacks you will grab. Make yourself work for each and every treat. See this idea explained here: One easy way to stop mindless snacking.
7. Track the costs and incentivize moderation
Food addictions can be expensive. You could be spending hundreds of dollars per month without even realizing it.
So let’s address that – from now on you should make a note of the cost of your purchased treats. Knowing exactly how much of your hard-earned money you’re spending on unnecessary treats can be powerful discouragement.
But that’s not all – why not incentivize a reduction (or even an eradication) of your treats? It’s simple: just a set a weekly anticipated cost of fueling your addiction based upon ongoing costs. Any money you save below that amount should be put to one side and used to treat yourself to something nice… well, as long as it isn’t food or drink.