Food For Thought

Woman sneaking some chocolate

Enjoy Bad Food

Coach Caroline, 02/04/2016

(and Decouple It from Distracting Activities)


Contrary to popular belief, slowly savoring your food (as opposed to scarfing it down) actually results in eating less, not more. It does seem counterintuitive, doesn’t it, that you could—by allowing yourself to fully milk the sweet chocolaty deliciousness of an Oreo bite by bite—satisfy your yearnings and still have a mostly full bag of America’s great sandwich cookie left over? I mean, if you actually let yourself enjoy your food, won’t you end up ingesting way more of it?

To answer that, let’s ask another question: what are you usually doing while you’re gnoshing that highly processed, standard American food? Maybe watching the latest episode of Empire? Surfing the net? Driving? It’s hard to truly savor anything if half of your attention is elsewhere. Who hasn’t crunched half their way through a family sized bag of Cheetos and wondered what just happened?

Unconscious eating breeds blind eating, and while your orange paws are moving robotically from bag to mouth, Wise Mind is on hiatus. Wise Mind, located in your prefrontal cortices, is in charge of such mundane processes as planning and rational thought. Wise Mind is also responsible for inhibition—like when you really want it but you shouldn’t have it so you don’t get it (phooey!).

Early in the process of dietary change, Wise Mind finds it very hard to control eating impulses directly; it’s much easier to focus on controlling food-related behaviors instead. The impulse for most people faced with a craving while trying to implement nutrient-dense food choices is to inhale the coveted food item while thinking, “I shouldn’t be eating this,” or, “I’ll do better after this,” etc. Alternatively you might just say, “I give up. To hell with it!”, grab a baker’s dozen, and head home for a couch potato marathon.

Neither of those strategies works, though, and both beget even more bad eating because nothing has changed. You’re not only succumbing to cravings but you’re doing it in the same manner as usual. To change your food choices, first change your eating behavior. What I want you to try is enjoying your contraband without distraction. That means no TV, no internet, no driving, no newspaper. Just you, the kitchen table, and the current dish of your desire.  

This sit-to-eat-without-distractions strategy makes switching to a healthy diet easier for a couple of reasons. First, resisting the impulse to eat while driving (or otherwise occupying yourself) builds self-control. Secondly, when you actually sit down to slowly savor the food—which previously you could not live without—you’ll inevitably find it to be not quite as exciting as you remembered. Or you’ll find yourself sated much sooner than when you’re eating blindly and hastily.

The Take Home

Controlling what you eat in the face of temptation and cravings is very hard, but if you want to change your diet to one rich in fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, and seeds, you have to start doing something different. Let it be okay to eat that coconut crusted pistachio cannoli—but only if you do it slowly, while seated, and with no distraction. By injecting self-control into how you go about eating, you’ll slowly gain more discipline over what you eat.

Bonan apetiton!


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