Obstacle: Skipping Meals
We are wired to binge-eat. Originally, humans didn't know when the next meal would come, so it made sense to consume as much as possible every time food was plentiful. That's why skipping meals today backfires.
Skipping a meal activates a fear response in your body that says you're about to starve, urging you to binge as soon as you start eating again.
Strategy: Eat More Small Meals
Skipping meals backfires, so you need to spread your calories out during the day in small, nutritional meals. By bringing nutritional foods—like yogurt or fresh fruit—with you to work, you take control of what you're going to eat before your body develops a fear of starvation. No fear response, no binging.
Obstacle: Too Many Flavors
We are designed to get tired of one taste, and if that's all we have, we eventually stop eating. But should another flavor come along, we are tempted to keep chowing down. In ancient times, this mechanism made sure our bodies obtained a variety of nutrients. Now it encourages us to go out of control at buffets.
Strategy: Stick to One
Snack on only one flavor at a time. The worst thing you can do is stand in front of the open fridge and cruise the contents, because you're stimulating numerous taste centers and the food keeps tasting good bite after bite. (If you're dying for chocolate, eat a little piece, or some nonfat chocolate sorbet. Don't try to outsmart your craving by having cereal, because then you're likely to go for some crackers, then a banana—and end up scarfing down the chocolate anyway.) Also, develop a flavor theme at meals: citrus, for example, in which the sauce on your fish and the dressing on your salad have the same lemony overtones. Have a sandwich for lunch instead of a sandwich, chips and cookie. And avoid buffets.
Obstacle: Getting Over the Fat
We are programmed to love fat. It was the best possible fuel for early humans—calorie-dense, easily stored, long lasting.
Strategy: Trimming the Fat
The less fat you eat, the less fat you'll want. Try skim and low-fat dairy products, and when baking, substitute fruit purees for fats and evaporated skim milk for heavy cream in recipes. It takes a few weeks, but you really can retrain your tastes to prefer the lighter versions. A follow-up study of participants in the Women's Health Trial found that those eating a diet of only 20 percent fat developed aversions to the high-fat foods they used to prefer.
Obstacle: Avoiding Comfort Foods
We have an innate preference for familiar foods, a safeguard left over from a time when unfamiliar foods could turn out to be poisonous. This is why we find the dishes our mothers fed us as children comforting. Unfortunately, many of these food staples—macaroni and cheese, cookies and milk—are good for the soul, but bad for the waistline.
Strategy: Acquire New Tastes
Humans are very adaptable, so you can get used to any new taste if you move slowly. Experiment with fruits and vegetables you haven't tried and with different ways of preparing those you have; use familiar spices and condiments for a link to your favorite tastes. Remember that you, and not the vending machine, are the boss!