America is the land of over-indulgence. Most studies list the US in the top ten fattest countries in the world, with about 41% of the population overweight, and 23% considered obese. Researchers offer any number of explanations for this, ranging from hyper-effective marketing to a uniquely American brand of eating-as-patriotic-duty. Many of our holidays and celebrations are centered around communal eating and many of our activities are now psychologically tied to food (e.g.: popcorn at the movies, hotdogs at ball games), and yet most Americans also claim to be unsatisfied with the appearance of their bodies. Whether you’re goal is to be more active, more attractive, or just enjoy better overall health, we all need to improve our relationship with food. Below are three tips to help you avoid the trap of overeating

1. Develop healthy responses to triggers.

You’re watching your favorite TV show and all of a sudden you get a close up of a fork slicing effortlessly through a thick chocolate cake. Marketers know what makes us tick. They understand how we think, they know our weaknesses. It’s no wonder that most ads for restaurants come on just before dinner time. They are purposely trying to lure you towards a certain product. Part of developing a healthy relationship for food means not being susceptible to these kinds of triggers. It’s not easy, and probably seeing a close-up of a cheesy piece of pizza will never not be appealing, but we have to learn to recognize these triggers and then choose our response. You can try getting wrapped up in another task or activity, like taking a walk or doing laundry. These cravings come like tidal waves, but like any wave they eventually peak, and then subside. If you can ride it out, the craving will eventually subside and you’ll be able to make a healthier decision of what to eat. You can also try eating something healthy to satisfy the urge to eat; this might help stave the initial pang of hunger after an especially enticing trigger.

2. Stop trying to diet.

It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it. But it’s true—overwhelmingly, healthy professionals are telling us that dieting—in the traditional sense—just doesn’t work. But careful—that’s not the same as saying eat whatever you want. The problem with dieting is that it almost always includes depriving yourself not only of the food that you want, but also a lot of the food you need. You start to feel hungry and uncomfortable, but you keep going—until you can’t. Most diets set us up for failure because they require us to completely change our habits, and when we slip up, we feel even worse than before and so consume with a vengeance. The key is to incorporate healthy foods into your already existing habits, and then adjust those habits as necessary. Maybe there’s a specific time of day that you always refill your cup of soda. Try switching to something with less caffeine and sugar, or even just opting for good ol’ H20. You can replace your cheeseburger with something that feels the same, like a veggie burger. As you slowly replace junk food with healthy alternatives, then you can start adjusting the routine of your eating as necessary. The key is to find a permanent solution. No quick fixes, no huge sacrifices. They do not work.

3. Find a way to deal with your stress.

The demands on society today suggest that we live in one of the most stressful times in history. We no longer have to defend our caves or hunt for every meal, but we still find a way to stay in an almost constant state of heightened stress. When we experience stress, our body releases cortisol, the hormone that kickstarts our “fight or flight” response. An abundance of this hormone can leave you feeling absolutely famished, even if you just ate! So if you’re feeling stressed day after day (from work, relationships, whatever!) you may be tricking your body into believing it’s hungrier than it really is. Simply recognizing that you’re stressed isn’t enough; you have to know how to respond to it. The good news is, some of the most effective ways to de-stress also include physical exercise, which has the added benefit of regulating your metabolism. Maybe you take up mediating or yoga, or train yourself to go for a walk or job after an especially busy day. Either way, dealing with your stress will help you avoid the number one reason for over-eating.

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