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5 Strategies for dealing with problem foods

Problem foods, we all have them!

  • One rusk with your coffee turns into 10 rusks down and crumbs everywhere…
  • One glass of wine with dinner turns into a whole bottle and a groggy head the next morning…
  • One Fruit Chutney Flavoured Simba Chip – haha who are we kidding? No one can possibly have just ONE chip EVER! We all know how this ends…

Even when we know they’re bad, it feels sooooo good in the moment.

Whether you like sugary, salty, crunchy, oily, or a mixture of those foods… We all have those foods that we just cannot stop ourselves from overeating.

The good news is that I have 5 strategies to help you better deal with these problem foods.

What are your problem foods?

The other day, Elan asked an interesting question in the Sleekgeek Facebook Support Group that received an overwhelming response:

“What junk food are you keeping in your house right now that makes sticking to your healthy diet harder than it needs to be, simply because it is nearby and accessible?”

What are your problem foods

Below are some of the responses from the Sleekgeek Community:

  • Candy
  • Chocolate
  • Wine
  • Bread
  • Biscuits
  • Dried Fruit
  • Seed Bars
  • Dairy
  • Champers
  • Chutney
  • Tomato Sauce
  • Potatoes
  • Coke
  • Beer
  • Flavoured Water
  • Marshmallows
  • Rusks
  • Peanut Butter
  • Popcorn
  • Cake
  • Oreos
  • Mac n Cheese
  • Ice Cream
  • Pasta
  • Cappuccino Sticks
  • Cheese
  • Twinkies
  • Cereal
  • Fruit Juice
  • Two-Minute Noodles
  • Ciabatta
  • Droëwors
  • Cremora

And SO much more!

Yum, who’se hungry?

Do you keep these foods at home?

Look, we can’t always control which foods we come across while out and about at work or social events. But we can control which foods we keep at home.

At Sleekgeek, we strongly believe in designing your environment to support you and make achieving your goals easier.

Simply put, you are more likely to eat whatever food is around you. Good or bad.

  • If you choose to keep lots of unhealthy food around… You are more likely to eat it.
  • If you choose to keep lots of healthy food around… You are more likely to eat it.

This is not about how much willpower you have, whether you feel motivated or not, or what kind of good / bad genetics you have.

It’s environment design, and whether you are setting yourself up for success or failure by DEFAULT.


Strategy #1: Clean House Policy

One of the best things you can do to make it easier to stay on track is to maintain a Clean House Policy.

Two key steps in this process are:

  • Stock Up: Keep more healthy and nutritious foods around (such as those on The Sleekgeek Food List), and then:
    • Put healthier foods at eye level. Make them noticeable.
    • Put healthier foods in transparent containers. Make them visible.
    • Put healthier foods at the front and within easy reach. Make them accessible and convenient.
  • Clean Out: Keep less (or zero) unhealthy and highly processed foods around (such as those that you know you struggle to eat in moderation), and then:
    • Put less healthy foods out of eye sight. Make them less noticeable.
    • Put less healthy foods in opaque containers. Make them less visible.
    • Put less healthy foods at the back of the cupboards and out of reach. Make them less accessible and inconvenient.

Notice that we said keep LESS unhealthy food around.

You may not want to get rid of ALL unhealthy food. Or, you may live with friends and family members who aren’t as concerned with improving their eating habits.

Either way, you can still make healthy food more noticeable, visible, and convenient to eat while making unhealthy food less noticeable, less visible, and inconvenient to eat.

Clean House Policy - Clean out and stock upThis strategy comes from the Sleekgeek Kitchen Makeover Guide which is part of our free Sleekgeek Nutrition Guide.

We also teach all of this more in-depth in our Sleekgeek Nutrition Coaching Program.


Strategy #2: Traffic Light System

The second strategy that we recommend is to use the Traffic Light System to help you figure out which foods to keep around and which to get rid of.

This is useful because sometimes it isn’t as simple as keeping healthy food around and keeping unhealthy food not around. We can still overeat and put on weight from healthy foods if left unchecked.

You divide the foods that you keep at home into three different lists:

  • Green Light Foods: Green means “go for it!” Foods that make you feel good mentally and physically, and that you can eat normally, slowly, without feeling stuffed or overfull. These are usually things like fruits and vegetables, lean protein, legumes, etc.
  • Yellow Light Foods: Yellow means “slow down” or “approach with caution“. Foods that are sometimes OK, sometimes not. Maybe you can eat a little bit without feeling ill, or you can eat them sanely at a restaurant with others but not at home alone. Maybe you can only eat these foods once in a while as an occasional treat, but not every day. They could be healthy, or unhealthy. It’s more about how they fit into your lifestyle and goals. If you do keep these foods around, consider only keeping small portions so that you cannot overeat.
  • Red Light Foods: Red means “stop” or “no go“. Foods that are just bad news for you. Maybe they make you feel sick, or they trigger you to eat too much, or you find yourself impulsively eating and craving them frequently. This also includes foods that you know are just flat out unhealthy choices. Ideally, don’t keep any of these foods in your house – if you do, make them less visible, inaccessible, and less convenient to eat. Only keep in small portions so that you cannot overeat.

Keep in mind that these foods can be different for different people.

Here at Sleekgeek, I (Eric) have nuts on my Red Light Foods List because they are so calorie-dense and I find them too easy to overeat, Elan has certain veggies on his Red Light Foods List because some of them give him digestive issues, and Meg has many different types of meat on her Red Light Foods List because she was vegan until recently and too much meat makes her feel unwell.

Similarly, I find that I’m OK keeping protein bars and even some chocolate at home because I do not find them super appealing and won’t overeat them too easily. They are on my Yellow Light Foods List. In fact, I even have 80-90% dark chocolate on my Green Light Foods List because I find I can’t eat more than 1-2 small blocks at a time but they are a great source of healthy fats and useful micronutrients.

This list is 100% personal to you. This is where you LEARN more about yourself and what works for YOU rather than simply following what everyone else is telling you to do.

Traffic Light System

This strategy comes from the Sleekgeek Kitchen Makeover Guide which is part of our free Sleekgeek Nutrition Guide.

We also teach all of this more in-depth in our Sleekgeek Nutrition Coaching Program.


Strategy #3: Eat Slowly

Eating slowly is all about becoming more in-tune with your emotional and physical sensations, using that to help you gain better control over your eating habits.

It takes about 20 minutes from the start of your meal for your brain to send out satiety signals and hormones that indicate you are full and no longer need to eat.

If you eat too quickly then you will completely miss these hunger and satiety cues. You are very likely to finish your meal (and have eaten too much) before you realise you are full. You may even be tempted to go back for seconds or dessert. This holds true for both junk food and healthy foods.

Here are 6 strategies that you can try. Try them one at a time to see which ones work best for you:

  • Just slow down. Sure, 15-20 minutes to eat a meal might be ideal… but it’s a HUGE jump for most people. Our best advice is to just to start where you are and work your way up from there, taking one tiny step at a time. If you usually gobble down your food in 2 minutes, then try and aim for 4 or 5 minutes instead. If you usually take 5 minutes to eat, try to stretch it out to 8 or 10 minutes instead. This is all about intention and getting 1% better every day because all those tiny improvements add up over time.
  • Set time aside to eat. One of the reasons we mindlessly eat in front of the TV, as our desk, and so on is because we don’t really see it as a standalone habit. Many have come to associate “lunch break” to be catch up on emails or browse social media and “dinner time” to actually be TV time. Focus more on creating real eating time where all you do is eat and/or spend quality time with friends and family.
  • Avoid distractions. Eating in front of the TV, your computer, or while on your phone is distracting and you will pay less attention to your food. Furthermore, it may stimulate emotions such as mild anxiety, sadness and loneliness depending on the form of entertainment (e.g. A sad movie, an email from your boss that makes you anxious, or distressing news from a family member on Facebook) that could promote you to eat more quickly without realizing it if you are an emotional eater. Ideally, eat in an environment with minimal distractions and emotional stimulants.
  • Chew more thoroughly and eat more foods that need chewing. Focus on chewing more thoroughly and slowly than you normally do, aiming to gradually increase the length over time until you find a speed that you are comfortable with. As a bonus, deliberately counting each chew in your head is a great exercise in mindfulness to do now and then but we don’t expect you to do it every meal. It’s all fine and well to tell you to chew more thoroughly, but this doesn’t help if the foods you are eating (or slurping) don’t actually require much chewing. Wholefoods like fibrous vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and protein generally contain a lot more fibre or substance to them that requires a bit more work before you can swallow.
  • Put the knife and fork down regularly. This is a very simple habit that most people either do or they don’t do. Those who do it tend to be slower eaters and those who don’t tend to be faster eaters. Try putting your utensils down in between bites so that you can sit back, relax, breathe, sip something to drink, and show more open body language to create more discussion around the table if you eating with others. In fact, we also suggest that you don’t cut your next bite until you have swallowed your current one. If you are a quick eater then start paying more attention to how you eat. You will likely notice that you pick up some food with your fork, put it in your mouth, and then immediately start cutting or picking up the next piece of food before you have even finished your current one. Slow down. Sit back, relax, breathe, sip something to drink, and look around or interact with those around you.
  • Be more social. While eating with others can be a form of “distraction”, it is no longer a one-sided distraction. Engaging in discussion and building better relationships with friends and family can make eating much more enjoyable and help you slow down how fast you eat. With that said, be mindful that your eating speed can be heavily influenced by those you eat with. If you are surrounded by others who are mindlessly eating and rushing their food, you are more likely to do the same. On the other hand, if you are surrounded by others who are eating more mindfully and slowly, then you are more likely to do the same too. You become like those who you spend your time with.

Eating slowly is a great strategy because you can apply it to any situations, even while out and about eating at work, social events, restaurants, or while traveling.

Benefits of eating slowlyThis strategy comes from the Sleekgeek Habit of Eating Slowly which is part of our free Sleekgeek Nutrition Guide.

We also teach all of this more in-depth in our Sleekgeek Nutrition Coaching Program.


Strategy #4: Eat to “80% Full”

Eating to “80% Full” is not a specific number, it’s an intention.

It’s a conscious effort while eating (or while serving your food) to not overeat. The goal is to avoid ending up “stuffed” and therefore eating too much.

“80% Full” is that sweet spot between being hungry and being full or even stuffed. It’s when you simply no longer feel the urge to eat and would be OK with stopping even you feel like you could keep on eating a bit more.

Being mindful of how much you eat and whether you are still actually hungry before taking the next bite of food is a very useful tool in losing fat as well as effortlessly maintaining a healthy weight.

To help you better identify when you are 80% full, there are a few signs that you can pay attention to.

  • Hunger Cues such as a growling or empty-feeling in your stomach, feeling “hangry”, maybe a hunger headache or feeling lightheaded, and so on.
  • Over-Fullness Cues such as feeling stuffed or bloated like you are ready to pop, uncomfortably full, feeling a bit heavy and sluggish, maybe even heartburn or nausea or gassy, and so on.
  • Satiety Cues such as feeling energised and no longer hungry, feeling fairly satisfied and satiated, feeling as though if you stopped eating now you would be just fine, and so on.

Like eating slowly, eating to “80% full” is also a great strategy because you can apply it to any situations, even while out and about eating at work, social events, restaurants, or while traveling.

Keep in mind that eating to “80% full” is not the same as eating 80% of what’s on your plate and then throwing the other 20% away. Ideally, you want to get to the point where you are in-tune with your hunger and serve yourself exactly the right amount.

Eating to 80% full

This strategy comes from the Sleekgeek Habit of Eating to 80% Full which is part of our free Sleekgeek Nutrition Guide.

We also teach all of this more in-depth in our Sleekgeek Nutrition Coaching Program.


Strategy #5: Learn to Tolerate Discomfort

In our Sleekgeek Nutrition Coaching Program, we call this the Discomfort Deal.

When you feel the urge to eat emotionally, just take five minutes and sit with that urge. Set a timer if you like. During this time, simply notice what you are thinking or feeling, whatever comes up. And notice that you feel uncomfortable, but it’s okay. After that five minutes, you can make any choice that feels right.”

This is a form of delayed gratification, which is the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward.

A growing body of literature is showing that the ability to delay gratification is linked to a bunch of other positive outcomes, including academic success, physical health, psychological health, and social competence.

Practicing the 5-minute Discomfort Deal is an easy way to practice delayed gratification, helping you become better and better at it.

  • It may simply start as delaying your emotional eating for 5 minutes.
  • But over time it might become delaying it for 20 or 50 minutes.
  • Maybe delaying it for 2 hours so that you now push through your craving until your next main meal.
  • Then maybe even delaying it for more than a day…

Eventually, you get to a point where you may well have forgotten about what you were feeling emotional about or what you were craving until you no longer desire that food.

It also teaches you a very valuable lesson: You won’t die if you don’t give into your cravings immediately – even though sometimes it feels like we might. It’s quite an empowering and freeing experience to know that you will be OK if you don’t eat right now.

This strategy comes from the Sleekgeek Guide on 5 Steps to Overcome Emotional Eating which is part of our free Sleekgeek Nutrition Guide.

We also teach all of this more in-depth in our Sleekgeek Nutrition Coaching Program.

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