Nutrition coaching focuses less on diets and more on your brain. That’s because every one of the 200 food choices we make every day starts in our heads.
Why Nutrition Coaching Works
Nutrition coaching is effective because losing weight requires that we consciously change our habits and behavior. Bad habits are the culprit, rather than bad food. As I nutrition coach, I often joke that I am really a psychologist, since I work on changing mindsets.
Nutrition Coaching Will Put Your Brain on a Diet
The focus on nutrition coaching is typically to lose weight, but the way to make this happen is to become conscious of your current eating habits and start changing those habits with achievable goals.
The reason most people are overweight is simple. They eat too much food. But any good nutritionist will tell you that it’s our brains, not our stomachs, which often are to blame. Occasionally we eat because our stomachs are growling, but most of the time we eat for other reasons.
The key to successful nutrition coaching is to recognize the types of cues that lead us to start eating, and sometimes to overeat, and devise strategies to make it easier to resist the constant onslaught of food offerings.
Some Factors that Cause Us to Eat
Many of us eat for emotion-based reasons. We eat because we had a bad day, because we’re celebrating or because we’re bored. We also eat according to the clock. We eat because we just woke up, because it’s noon, because it’s 7 p.m. and because we have restaurant reservations.
There is also social pressure. Often food is offered to us and we want to be polite. Maybe it looks tasty, or maybe you’re worried about offending someone. Those are just some reasons. Notice that none have much to do with actual hunger.
Studies have shown that when we eat, what we eat and how much we eat most often is determined by outside factors. There are the obvious ones, like eating because other people around us are eating.
But there are also less obvious reasons that have been proven to increase our girth and appetite.
Here are some examples:
• the size of our plates and glasses
• the color contrast between our food and our plates
• the commercials we see on television while we’re eating
• watching cooking shows
• the size of the package of food
That’s why nutritionists will tell you that the key to eating less without going hungry. The trick is to control all the things that are unrelated to your hunger.
Here are three reasons your brain will trick you into overeating and how to counteract them:
1. We eat with our eyes.
Take a look around: What’s on your desk or counter? Your brain wants to eat what it sees, so put away all but the healthiest foods. If you must leave out those tempting candies, put them in a jar with a lid.
Duke psychologist Dan Ariely had Google place all of their office M&Ms in closed jars and the amount consumed dropped by 3 million candies per month. At both Dun & Bradstreet and Bryant Stibel’s offices jellybeans are placed in re-sealable light bulbs. That’s cool, inspirational and leads to eating fewer.
If your break room at work is full of baked goods, stay out of harm’s way by avoiding it. Don’t sit where you can see people eating. Your brain will normalize that behavior, and you’ll find yourself doing it too. Similarly, try to avoid eating with friends who like to overindulge in food. Hanging out with healthy people helps!
2. Try mindful eating.
Once you start eating, eat mindfully. Make eating your sole activity and purpose. If you are doing work or scrolling on your phone or tablet, you’ll be distracted and your brain won’t get the gratification it should get from eating a meal. Take a break from your office and go outside. Go to a park and eat your packed lunch or find a nice healthy restaurant, relax and enjoy the company of others. There are two advantages to not working while eating: you eat less, and you come back more refreshed. No matter what you eat, numerous studies have shown that if you do it while distracted, you’ll eat more. Think of the empty chip bag when you were sure you hadn’t eaten all those chips.
3. Understand that your brain is impulsive.
When animals see food, they eat. It’s automatic. Humans are evolutionarily hardwired the same way. If you go to a social event where food is served, your brain will take in all the cues around you (social, visual, olfactory) and inevitably conclude that you should mindlessly graze at the buffet.
There are some simple tips that can help you counteract that urge. They may sound a bit far-fetched, but they really work. And they’re backed up by research studies. People eat less when their backs are to food and when they sit farther away from the buffet. You will eat less the longer you wait to start eating and if you survey all the options before diving in. The physical barriers can help redefine your mental predilections.
There are plenty of ways to lose weight, but they often mean exercising extraordinary willpower. That’s why a lot of weight loss plans succeed initially but then fail. It is far easier, and far more effective, to work with a good nutrition coach and focus on your brain and eliminating mindless eating.
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