You are going out for dinner tonight. Excellent! You are excited to be with friends and enjoy a nice meal. There is only a slight problem though… You are actually taking care of what you eat and you desperately want to avoid overeating tonight – what you usually do when you are eating out.
Did you notice the key word in the above sentence? It is the word “usually”. Do you know what usually means?
It means repetition.
Or else…it implies habits.
Overeating, or eating too much when you are eating out, is already an established habit. You will naturally tend to overeat, without even realizing it! Before you know it, you will think “Ooops, I think I ate too much!”
Now sing with me: “Ooops, I did it again, I played with your heart…”
Haha, just kidding.
At this point you will feel guilty. After all, you made a deal with yourself NOT to eat too much and watch your portions. Yet you couldn’t avoid overeating.
Restaurants are filled with triggers that your brain has long associated with eating whatever is in front of you, or else, overeating.
- The lights
- Your friends’ company
- The drinks
- The music
- The conversation
- The menu with their “garden-fresh” tomatoes, and “fresh, wild-caught” salmon
- The delicious food that smells…and looks great
- The big portion in front of you
All the above conspire into one thing: making you eat.
Plus, that’s what you have been doing in the past again and again. When you get in this environment, you eat. A lot. That’s what you do. Overeating at restaurants is a habit that has been reinforced countless times.
Now you think that by pressuring yourself you should be able to restrain your appetite.
Let me ask you something: How is “restraint” working out for you?
My guess is that you go to a restaurant, thinking you will restrain yourself, only to slip once again and eat…too much.
There is a reason you cannot avoid overeating…no matter how hard you try.
Habits are not related with your goals. Habits are ruled by your habitual (or unconscious) mind while your goals are ruled by your executive (or conscious) mind.
When your habits are strong, your goals cannot overpower them.
Or else, strong habits are stronger than your goals.
As researchers Wendy Wood and David Neal said in their paper “A New Look at Habits and the Habit-Goal Interface” paper published in Psychological Review:
“Habits are not easily changed through persuasive appeals that target people’s goals”.
Your executive mind cannot make your habitual mind comply with your goals if your habits contradict them, are strong, and reinforced by repeating them over and over.
So you might be thinking that you should have tried harder, but the truth is…
No matter the amount of effort you put into avoiding overeating, you are not wired to beat a strong habit. You can’t.
Hence, beating yourself up makes no sense, because it was not really your fault. You couldn’t have performed better in the restaurant situation.
But you are not helpless.
You can avoid overeating. Even if you have strong “eating too much” habits.
5 strategic tips to avoid overeating when you are eating out
1. Don’t go to the restaurant.
Simple enough. If you don’t expose yourself to a restaurant situation then you won’t run the risk of eating too much. There will be no lights, friends, delicious smells, menus that make you order more, etc. to activate your “eating out” habits.
2. Eat a little before you go.
Try eating half of your portion. Then, go out. Now at the restaurant, you won’t be hungry, impatiently waiting for your food. You will be calm. When you see your food you won’t be compelled to devour it.
3. Take an appetizer.
An appetizer is usually smaller than an entree. You are saving yourself calories…
4. Tell the waiter to bring half of your portion, and put the rest in a box.
Fine. Take that steak. But don’t eat all of it!
Now if the waiter brings you a full plate with a steak and french fries you will most probably eat all of it. It’s hard to resist something so delicious and so available. It’s right in front of you and it just smells so good!
But if you tell the waiter to put half of the portion in a box, and then bring you the rest on your plate, then you just saved yourself hundreds of calories!
5. Drink water.
Water fills your stomach. Plus, it gives you something to do with your hands that is calorie free. Keep drinking water, to avoid nibbling more and more food.
Next time you go out for dinner thinking you will “restrain” yourself and avoid overeating, think again. Be strategic and you will save the day!
Photo credit: Sam Howzit