See Food, Must Eat! How to Avoid Food Triggers and Stop Mindless Eating
Have you ever come across a tray of hors d'oeuvres you didn't sample? Or a bowl of chips? A box of doughnuts? Put something edible in front of us, especially finger food, and many of us will pop it into our mouths -- regardless of whether we're hungry. It's like a reflex, and it probably harks back to our cavewoman days. "Food calls out to us, even if we've just eaten, because we're hard-wired to be turned on by its sight and smell," says Judith Beck, PhD, author of The Beck Diet Solution and director of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research in Philadelphia. "It's nature's way of ensuring our survival, because our ancestors had to eat whenever food was available."
Many millennia later, of course, this biological drive could use an upgrade. "It's mismatched with our current food environment, where, for example, there are 17 kinds of candy at the gas station, video store, and pharmacy," explains Marlene Schwartz, PhD, director of research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity in New Haven, Connecticut. "The problem is that these drastic changes have occurred in the last 30 years, which isn't enough time for us to have evolved."
That is, as a species, we haven't biologically adapted. But as individuals, we can train ourselves to stop our automatic eating response. The first step is "to be aware that anything you eat that is not for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a planned snack is most likely not consumed out of hunger," says Howard Shapiro, MD, author of Picture Perfect Weight Loss. "It's mindless eating if it's not mealtime." The next step is to have a playbook for the many instances when food can unexpectedly appear. Here's how to handle some of the most common chance encounters.
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