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Fighting Mindless Eating

Fuel1_medium This is a guest post by P.R. Cole, MS, RD.

I've worked with a number of athletes who dread their Sundays. What should be a relaxing day off from grueling workouts with friends and family may end up turning into an epic battle of appetite control. Sticking to a strict meal plan on intense training days tends to be easier. There just doesn't seem to be enough down time for my clients to even become tempted by less healthy snacks and meals on busy weekdays. But once leisure time rolls around that's when the real challenges in discipline begin.

A "cheat day" in and of itself may not derail an athlete's effort to create a calorie deficit, but it can have a number of unwanted effects that can hinder weight loss efforts in the coming week. Even one cheat meal on a weekend can increase cravings for sweet foods during the week, which can be a tough distraction from eating clean. It can also have unwanted gastrointestinal effects. Once you start a lower fat diet, your body adapts to become more efficient by producing fewer fat digesting enzymes because you don't need as many. Eating a high fat meal out of the blue can cause severe stomach upset that can put a damper on training the next day.

Not long ago I started working with Strikeforce competitor Jorge Masivdal on his journey to take on the 155 lb weight class. His diligence and commitment to the plan made this weight cut a no brainer for him. Masvidal loves his training, but he also loves food, and on those days off he can be tempted to snack on the goodies his kids eat. Making the effort to stick to an eating plan on that day off is just as important as fueling and recovering from workouts, so it was something I was sure to address specifically for Jorge.

Here are some of the suggestions I gave to help him overcome those cravings.

1) Just like every other day of training, follow the plan of set meals and snacks made in advance. Without a plan it's easy to derail and indulge.
2) Stay hydrated with water the whole day. Thirst isn't always an indicator of hydration status, so sometimes the body can feel hungry when in reality it's just thirsty. Drinking a couple glasses of water before eating a meal is also another way to help curb appetite
3) Drink hot drinks like green or white tea instead of grabbing a snack.
4) Take time to eat a meal. It takes about 20 minutes for the stomach to tell the brain that's its full. Slowing down the eating process allows time for you to become in tune with your body's natural satiety cues.
5) Keep healthy "finger foods" ready. When you're sitting in front of the TV and the urge to grab chips becomes overwhelming, have a tray of chopped veggies waiting. Grape tomatoes, celery, cucumber slices and baby carrots may seem kind of bland on their own, but try dipping them in fresh salsa or a tangy balsamic vinegar. Yes it's worth it to shell out the cash for the $20 bottle of balsamic vinegar! It has intense flavor, is very low in calories.
6) Limit intake of artificial sweeteners. While these may not add calories to your day, for most people they tend to increase cravings for carbs and sweet foods. So cut back on the diet soda and try drinking coffee black with just a dash of skim or 1% milk.
7) Keep serving dishes on the counter, not on the dinner table. People tend to eat less if they have to make the effort to actually get up for seconds.
8) If you're tempted to have another portion at dinner, don't re-use the same plate. Grab a new one but keep the old one on the table. Having a visual reminder of what you ate may encourage you to eat less.
9) If you're tempted to eat between the schedule of meals and snacks, step back and evaluate your hunger on a scale of 1-10. Are you really hungry? Or does that cookie just look like it would be fun to eat?
10) If the hunger still seems to take control on the weekends, try slightly increasing the lean protein & non starchy veggie portions at meals but keep the carbohydrates portions constant. So if you're having an egg white omelet, throw a few more egg whites, grilled peppers, onions & tomato slices, but stick to just 2 slices of whole wheat toast.