Avoid Unhealthy Eating Habits

Strive for moderation, not perfection

From the WebMD Archives

You're stuffed after enjoying a delicious dinner, yet you can't resist the urge to order a decadent dessert. Or you starve yourself all day, then gorge yourself until bedtime. Or maybe you nearly always eat on the run, standing up or while driving.

If any of these scenarios sound familiar, your eating habits could use a tune-up. All could indicate unhealthy habits that can stand in the way of long-term weight loss success.

Listen to Your Body

Anyone who struggles with food and eating can fall into habits that may lead to what professionals call disordered eating. Disordered eating can take many forms, ranging from unhealthy eating habits that keep you from losing weight to binge eating disorder, bulimia, or anorexia.

Don't let your desire to lose weight create unhealthy eating habits. Your first step should be to accept your body and be proud that you are a member of the Weight Loss Clinic, improving your health while you slim down.

One of the best ways to take charge of your eating habits is to tune into your body -- that is, to learn to eat when you are physically hungry and stop when you are full. It's easier said than done, but with a little practice, you can learn to control your calorie intake without feeling deprived.

Nobody's Perfect

Your goal should be moderation, not perfection. Denying your normal desires to enjoy appetizing food can backfire, leading to binges and disordered eating habits.

Our philosophy at the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic is to help you create an eating plan that includes your favorite foods -- albeit in lesser amounts or healthier versions -- to keep you feeling satisfied. We also aim to help you slowly change bad habits into healthy ones that will stay with you for life.

One of the most powerful cues to overeat comes when a high-calorie food is put in front of you. It's almost impossible to resist when mouth-watering food is right under your nose!

But don't despair. You don't have to totally resist the urge to dive in; all you need to do is to limit your indulgences. Before you take the first bite, do a "belly check": Are you really hungry, or are you just eating because it's there?

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What Makes Us Overeat?

Our lives would be much simpler if eating was as straightforward as putting gas in an empty tank. But eating is so much more than filling an empty belly.

A multitude of behavioral, attitudinal, emotional, psychological, social, and environmental factors help determine when and what we eat. When the going gets tough, even the tough may start eating.

Be mindful of your decision to eat something or not, rather than eating impulsively or mindlessly. You are in control of what you choose to eat. Once you start making better eating choices, it gets easier -- and you become more resolute as you see the benefits of your behavior.

How to Change Bad Habits

Change isn't always easy, especially when it comes to long-established behaviors. So here are some tips to help you change those bad behaviors into healthy habits:

  • Establish a plan to handle temptations you face regularly. Decide in advance how you'll deal with your weaknesses so that you are in control of the situation.
  • Replace unhealthy foods with healthier ones. If nighttime eating is your weakness, allow yourself portion-controlled amounts of nutritious foods at night.
  • Get more sleep -- it gives you less time to eat!
  • Cut down on watching television. You'll have less time for food temptations and more time to be physically active.
  • Set achievable goals. Unrealistic expectations set you up for failure. Slowly change the behaviors that cause you to overeat.
  • Think positively. Negative thoughts like "I have no willpower" or "I'm fat and unattractive" only serve to undermine your efforts. Write down inspiring comments and read them whenever you need help staying focused on your goals.
  • Find a diet buddy on our Find a Buddy message board or enlist a supportive friend to increase your odds of success. Studies show that support is critical to success in changing behaviors and overcoming hurdles.
  • Brush and floss your teeth after dinner to reduce the temptation to eat.
  • Buy food packaged in individual portions (or package them that way yourself). Economy-size packages encourage overeating.
  • Before reaching for a second helping, wait at least 10 minutes to give your stomach time to signal your brain that it's full.
  • Start the day with breakfast. One study showed that when most people ate most of their calories in the morning, they ate less overall during the day than when they ate the majority of their calories in the evening.
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column
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