The diet industry is worth millions of dollars, but few programs address the biggest issue when it comes to weight control – the ability to say no. The ability to regulate our kilojoule intake is critical. If we could all simply eat when we were hungry and stop when we were full, few of us would be overweight.
Some people are naturally good at it. We all know them – they're the sensible ones who know when it's time to stop drinking and can call it a day after a single slice of chocolate cake. For some, this skill is innate, while others learnt good self-regulation in their childhood from parents who instilled strict limits and boundaries.
Wherever self-regulation comes from, it's a predictor of life success and one of the most underrated human strengths. So if you know that you are one of the many who cannot stop at one or two chocolate biscuits, or cannot keep any tempting foods in the house for fear of demolishing the lot, here are some ways you can work towards building your own self-regulation skills.
Once you can regulate your food intake, you can control your weight, no matter what you eat.
Stop eating before you are stuffed
Forget about eating until your belt buckle is about to burst, aim to follow the Japanese mantra hara hachi bu - that is, eating until you are about 80 per cent full. Admittedly, this is easier said than done when lashings of delicious food is on offer, but actively stopping eating a mouthful or two before feeling full will significantly cut your kilojoule intake over time.
Practise not eating everything
Self-regulation is a skill that can be developed; this means that even though you think that you'll eat an entire packet of biscuits, you can teach yourself not to. Enter the Tim Tam Challenge, where you buy foods that tempt you and then challenge yourself not to eat them all at once. It may take time, but learning to enjoy smaller amounts - and then only when you really feel like them - is an empowering step to take towards managing your intake.
Overeating often occurs when we are not particularly conscious of what is going into our mouths – the kids' leftovers, or pre-dinner crackers and dip, or work snacks. These can pack in extra kilojoules without us even noticing. Make a concerted effort to eat only at meal times, when you are sitting down and focused on eating. Banning eating in the car and in front of the TV or computer are also powerful strategies to help prevent mindless munching.
Eat when you are really hungry
This may sound like common sense, but the truth is that many of us eat out of habit or routine rather than real hunger. And many of us eat so frequently we never really feel hungry. Start by rating your hunger out of 10, then try not to eat until you're at 8 or higher. The chances are that at least one snack a day will be eliminated this way.
Eat only what you really want
Many of us eat whenever food crosses our path, rather than really considering what we feel like eating. We'll take any old chocolate rather than the specific type we love, or any dessert rather than our favourite pudding. Taking time out to really consider what you feel like – cheese or nuts; milk chocolate or dark; ice-cream or a biscuit – is a key skill in becoming attuned to your appetite and self-regulating your intake.
Monitor your actual intake
A key component of the self-regulatory cycle is the ability to use feedback to guide our choices. This means knowing how much we are really eating. People who routinely overeat often have little awareness of how much food they actually consume. For this reason, committing to a period of recording your food intake via a diary, online monitoring program or app, can offer great insight into the true amount of food you have eaten. Once you have this data, it becomes easier to know when you need to cut back.
FOODS THAT WILL SATISFY
Studies have shown that dieters who include a soup before their meal eat up to 400 fewer kilojoules in that sitting, thanks to the sense of fullness. Choose vegetable and broth varieties for the best results.
A small amount of good-quality carbohydrate can go a long way when it comes to the fullness factor. Two small slices of lower-carb bread have fewer carbs than half a cup of rice, so add a slice or two to your lunchtime salad or breakfast eggs and notice the difference.
A little fat goes a long way. One study found that lunch eaters who added half an avocado to their usual meal choice were more satisfied throughout the afternoon than those who did not add fat to their lunch.
The mix of protein and good fats helps to regulate energy and hunger levels, so add a handful of mixed nuts to your day.
Just as soup helps to complement a meal and keep us full, adding a salad to your meals is another easy way to increase your eating time and boost your sense of satisfaction.