When I was doing a radio talk show one night a caller said, “I constantly ‘co-eat.’ I nibble when I watch TV, when I’m on the computer, when I’m reading and when I have friends over. What can I do about this?”
We’ve worked with a number people who have been vexed with this, and there are two general approaches that can help. Onedeals with behavioral substitution and the other one deals with behavioral interruptions.
First, a person can try and substitute a different (or healthier) behavior for their snacking. We’ve recommended people buy those big trays of pre-cut veggies from the story and nibble on these. Not only are they a bit healthier, but they also give a person to break a habit other than going “cold turkey”. That is, they are less reinforcing that eating malted milk balls or chips and so eventually –if a person wants –they can ease themselves away from the veggies to nothing.(Chapter 7, “In the Mood for Comfort Food” in my book Mindless Eating gives more ideas about how to use substitution to work for you.)
The second approach is to stopping co-eating or hand-to-mouth munching is to find some way to interrupt the behavior. If people don’t want to use the substitution method we suggestthey use thisapproach. They put a loose-fitting rubber-band on each of their wrists. Anytime the snack, they need to snap the rubber-band on the hand they snacked with. This does two things. First, it makes us aware of everytime we snack. Second, it makes us have to “pay” for something that tastes good with something (the snap) that hurts a little. Before long people tell us they simply decide to leave the chips in the kitchen and not bring them into the TV room.
“My husband always wants me to make him cookies, but it ruins my diet. What can I do?”
Set aside an out-of-the-way cupboard that you identify as his and that you make off-limits to you. For some, this can be the top shelf of that cupboard way on the right hand side of your kitchen that you seldom open anyway. You can have your husband store his cookies, chips, and whatever in here.
One advantage of having an “off-limits” cupboard is that it removes the “tyranny of the moment.” It removes the temptation you would have to say, “OK, only this once.” In effect, because it’s off-limits, any thought about eating those snacks ends with the answer “no.” It’s the same reason the Atkins diet was successful with many people in the short-run. It provided and black and white answer of what could be eaten.
See if you and your husband can agree on the top-shelf of a cupboard.
The two not-so-magical secrets of losing weight are eat less and move more. For most people, it’s a whole lot easier to eat a little less than to move a little more.
Consider the Four Mile Donut. If we were to walk as fast as we could for an hour, we’d cover a breathless, heart pounding 3-4 miles. If we then decided to celebrate our workout with coffee and a donut, we would eat more calories in a minute than we burned off in an hour.
People who often start exercise programs claim to gain weight in the first couple weeks. My Food and Brand Lab has started investigating what we call Calorie Compensation. We’re finding that almost all of usbelieve that we burn more calories exercising than we actually do. The problem is that after we excerise we often try to reward ourselves with that pint of Ben and Jerry’s, and that’s where things go wrong. If we pat ourselves on the back, we should also pat ourselves on the stomach because that’s where all those calories are going.
Exercising is an important part of our life and of good health other than just our weight. But for most of us, it will probably be easier to eat one less donut today than to walk four more miles.
One guideline I recently learned was that 30% of weight loss comes from the gym and 70% from the kitchen.
For 30 years my Lab and I have focused on discovering secret answers to help people live better lives. Some of these relate to health and happiness (and often to food). Please share whatever you find useful.
This video of one of my post-docs gives a flavor of one type of research that we've done: