Colette's Blog

Real Solutions for Unhealthy Eating Habits

August 14, 2009

Chances are, if you’re overweight, some common (and not-so-sensible) eating habits contributed to those extra pounds. If you’ve become accustomed to eating a bowl of ice cream every night while watching your favorite sitcom, for example, going without it can feel like a huge sacrifice. Similarly, if you’re used to noshing on chips or pretzels on your way home from work, giving them up can be challenging. But if these behaviors seem impossible to abandon, there’s good news: Doing Atkins may just be your one-stop solution.

How? Many of those poor dietary habits can be caused by eating a diet high in refined carbs, which can result in unstable blood sugar and frequent hunger, a lack of satisfaction and a preoccupation with food. Enter the Atkins Nutritional ApproachTM, however, and you’ll find that controlling carbs can help you stabilize your blood sugar and make those bad habits a thing of the past.

That said, there might still be times when you need a little extra artillery to resist falling back into a dyed-in-the-wool pattern. To figure out the best way to change your behavior during those times, it helps to do a little soul-searching. Ask yourself: What is it about eating popcorn at the movies that you like—is it the salty, crunchy texture, or does it relieve the boredom you feel waiting for the movie to start? If you’re an after-dinner picker, ask yourself why you feel the urge to nosh after eating a meal—is it the result of unstable blood sugar caused by a high-carb meal?

Once you’ve identified some of the underlying issues, it becomes easier to do something about the habit. You don’t always have to give it up totally. You can either find the low-carb alternative or a way to distract yourself from the craving or habit. One of the key strategies for correcting these habits, however, is to always eat regular meals and consume enough of the right foods.

Here are six problematic habits with real solutions:

Situation: You usually eat ice cream while watching TV.

Solutions: The good news is, when you’re controlling carbs, you’ll begin to notice that your hunger is better managed and you feel more satisfied, so you’ll probably be less distracted when you’re watching television and less likely to think about food. Every so often, however, it’s okay to savor a serving of low-carb alternate to a high carb food. When you’re sitting down to watch your favorite shows, rather than eat, replace one habit with another; for example, try exercising—riding a stationary bike, using the elliptical trainer or doing calisthenics—while you watch. Or give your hands something to do by knitting, folding laundry or doing other chores.

Why they work: Enjoying the lower-carb version of what you crave will satisfy your hankering. Moving your body will distract you from the urge to eat. In fact, a study conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that when middle-aged men increased their exercise, decreased TV viewing, and stopped eating between meals, they lost an average of three pounds without really trying1.

Situation: You always eat popcorn and other high-carb snacks at the movies or sporting events.

Solutions: Eat before you go. Bring some soy chips with you if you crave something crunchy, or tote an Atkins Advantage® nutrition bar or a perfectly portioned resealable plastic bag of nuts. Keep your hands busy by tracking the score at a ball game. If you arrive early for any event, bring a magazine to flip through.

Why they work: You’ll get the sensory pleasure you crave with the snack alternative. And you’ll distract yourself from wanting to eat by score-keeping or reading.

Situation: You turn to food for emotional comfort when you’re stressed out.

Solutions: Decompress with a relaxation technique such as deep breathing, stretching or meditation, or by getting some exercise, even if it’s just taking a walk around the neighborhood. When controlling carbs and maintaining steady blood sugar, most people also find that they cope with other stressors better.

Why they work: Relaxation techniques are the only things that counteract the impact of stress on the body. A study found that when people who suffer from night-eating syndrome—which is often associated with stress—practiced 20 minutes of a muscle-relaxation exercise daily for a week, they exhibited lower stress and anxiety and less of an urge to eat in the evening2. Exercise is helpful because it releases feel-good brain chemicals that have a calming effect on the body and mind.

Situation: You snack on your commute home from work.

Solutions: Save one of your between-meal snacks for the ride home, and keep a water bottle handy. When you’re doing Atkins, you should be eating regularly, so be sure to have a good breakfast, and take the time to eat at well-chosen intervals. You’re more likely to feel hungry when you’ve eaten erratically during the day.

Why they work: If you’re truly hungry after work, the snack will stave off your appetite until dinner. But you may just be thirsty, since people often confuse thirst for hunger. (A flavored, no-sugar-added water drink can offer a nice way to refresh yourself without carbs.)

Situation: You raid the pantry after dinner.

Solutions: Brush your teeth right after dinner, then fill the time with a stimulating activity such as reading a good book, checking e-mails, doing a crossword puzzle, calling a friend or playing a board game with your kids.

Why they work: Brushing and flossing your teeth lets your body and brain know that you are done eating for the day, especially because you won’t want to have to do it again before bed. Engaging in a stimulating activity will take away the post-dinner urge to eat, which is usually due to boredom.

Situation: You overeat at parties.

Solutions: Never go to a party hungry—it’s better to go with a full stomach—and don’t have more than one drink. While you’re there, keep a glass of water in your hand, and stand away from the buffet table. Seek out the cheese, nuts and other low-carb options.

Why they work: If you show up at a party hungry, it’s easy to overeat when faced with a myriad of tempting food choices. Also, alcohol, particularly wine, can stimulate appetite and cause people to consume more calories than they would if they drank something nonalcoholic3. Holding a glass of water will prevent you from grabbing food unconsciously. If you want to enjoy an alcoholic beverage after Induction, opt for a white-wine spritzer to decrease the amount of alcohol you’re consuming.

Selected References

1.Coakley, E.H., Rimm, E.B., Colditz, G., Kawachi, I., Willett, W., “Predictors of weight change in men: results from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.” International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 22(2), February 1998, pages 89–96.

2.Pawlow, L.A., O’Neil, P.M., Malcolm, R.J., “Night-eating syndrome: effects of brief relaxation training on stress, mood, hunger, and eating patterns.” International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 27(8), August 2003, pages 970–8.

3.Buemann, B., Toubro, S., Astrup, A., “The effect of wine or beer versus a carbonated soft drink, served at a meal, on ad libitum energy intake.” International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 26(10), October 2002, pages 1367–72.

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