Overeating: Stop Eating When You're Not Hungry (cont.)

How do you begin to recognize these mechanisms?

Tracking your eating triggers is the first step, says Lauren Solotar, PhD, chief psychologist at the May Institute, a nonprofit behavioral health organization in Walpole, Mass. Solotar, who studies obesity and eating disorders, has her clients fill out diaries detailing what they ate and their feelings at the time. Over time, the diary entries make it clear when the client is vulnerable to eating for reasons other than hunger.

This approach "gradually allows people to recognize how their feelings are triggering eating behaviors," Solotar says. That self-recognition, she says, is an important skill: "Once a client learns to recognize the feelings that trigger eating, that skill can be used to rein in unnecessary eating."

When you feel the urge to eat, ask yourself a few questions, says Solotar:

  • Am I actually, physically hungry?
  • How will I feel after eating?
  • Is the food I plan to eat something my body needs?

"Identifying feelings and asking questions initiates a [thought] process that brings behavior under better control," she says.

What you eat is important, too, says Katz. A diet rich in non-processed foods and high in fiber "can help maintain levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that strongly influences mood. Eating well tends to promote mental as well as physical health."

Watching television for hours in the evening or sitting at a computer monitor at your desk all day can also make you vulnerable to unnecessary eating.

"Research shows that people who eat in front of the TV report feeling like they haven't eaten at all."

Watching TV can become a behavioral pattern -- one that competes with your other patterns of general activity, including physical exercise, says Gerard Musante, PhD. Musante is a clinical psychologist and consulting professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center and founder of Structure House, a residential weight-management facility in Durham, N.C.

"Data shows that watching four hours of television a day, for example, tends to be a consistent behavioral pattern of an obese individual," he says. "Studies have shown the typical American family may spend as much as 25 hours a week in front of the television."

And while we're watching TV or surfing away on our computers, we tend to not pay attention to what or how much we are eating. Researchers who study eating behavior call this "food inattentiveness."

"Television is a big problem," says Solotar. "When we eat in front of the television, we aren't paying attention to what we are eating. Research shows that people who eat in front of the TV report feeling like they haven't eaten at all. It appears that the food eaten doesn't register all that well when we are distracted."

Solotar calls eating while watching TV a "high-risk eating situation." Other such situations include parties, celebrations, and other potentially stressful social and work situations.

Tips and Strategies

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