The Dieting Commandments

Thou shalt eat only when hungry.

During the day this is easy; I’m so busy, I remember to eat only when my stomach growls. But temptations pop up in the evening, and I start to confuse what I want with what I need. Case(s) in point: After my five-year-old was done with his Happy Meal, I couldn’t resist finishing his fries and burger, not because I was famished but because – hello! – they were fries and a burger. Another night I wasn’t hungry after dinner, but I ate the rest of his ice cream. (Who walks away from ice cream? Is this really my kid?)

Divine thintervention I need to tune in to my appetite, but I also need a plan for when treats seem irresistible. Try parallel eating: Have fruit or something that won’t make you lose control while your son is having ice cream. I was dubious, but it works. I’ve also instituted a self-serve rule: Instead of putting a box of cookies on the table, I tell my son to take two and then put the container away. Out of sight, out of mouth.

Thou shalt eat a healthy breakfast.

Several cups of black coffee are usually all I have until lunchtime because I’m not hungry until noon and I’m following rule number one. Every time I tried to kick off the day obeying this rule – whether with a Luna Bar and a banana or a bowl of oatmeal with berries – my appetite seemed to be stocked rather than satisfied.

Divine thintervention People who skip breakfast tend to overeat at the next meal. Well, that’s good to know, but I’m just not hungry. The pros think it’s because dinner is too late. Maybe they’re right: Supper is around 8 p.m., and it’s often followed by a bedtime snack. Add protein to your breakfast to make it more satisfying. Sure enough, when I stirred a handful of nuts into my oatmeal or had cottage cheese and berries, I found that I had more energy. Plus, I wasn’t ravenous later in the day, meaning that I ate less at dinner and woke up hungry.

Thou shalt eat only foods with ingredients thou can easily pronounce.

The theory behind this rule: Processed foods are unhealthy and won’t satisfy you. That’s why when I contemplated swapping my oatmeal for a cereal with five grams of fiber a serving – along with maltodextrin, guar gum, cellulose gum and BHT (WTF?) – I went right back to my steel-cut oats breakfast. But here’s a toughies: Since I can pronounce what’s in the French loaf from the bakery (flour, sugar, butter and so on), does that make it better for me than the whole-grain bread at the supermarket, which contains sodium stearoyl actylate, menhaden oil and triticale? (Please say yes!)

Divine thintervention Just because you can say butter and white flour doesn’t’ mean they’re good for you. Turns out, menhaden oil is a fish oil rich in healthy omega-3s, and triticale is a nutritious hybrid of wheat and rye. So I’m dumping this rule, although after looking up BHT, which isn’t just in cereal but also in jet fuel, I won’t be eating that.

Thou shalt focus on thy food.

I don’t see the point of eating without multitasking. I’m busy! In the past week, I’ve had cereal at my desk, noshed on nuts while driving and dined on steak with the Real Housewives (I don’t think I ate any more than if I’d been watching my plate instead of the over privileged). When I tried to focus on my meal, I was so worried about everything else I had to do that I carried my plate over to the computer. Fail!

Divine thintervention The pros tell me I’m forgetting two keys to weight loss: (1) enjoying food and (2) tuning in to satiety signals. You need to slow down and focus on what you’re eating so you can savor food and recognize when you’re full. But how? Practice eating without distractions for a few meals until you master the skill, setting a timer for 15 minutes and taking that long to eat, or putting a note by my plate that reads, “Slow down!.” Since incorporating this advice, which was agony at first but pretty easy now, I’ve quit the clean-plate club.

Thou shalt eat every three to four hours.

Wait a minute: Am I supposed to chow down when I’m hungry or every three hours? Yesterday I had a carne asada burrito for lunch, and I went six hours until dinner because I was stuffed. Today I had healthy snacks – toast with peanut butter; carrots and hummus; light string cheese and a banana – every hour or two and was pleased that I was eating when hungry rather than following what seemed like an arbitrary feeding schedule.

Divine thintervention Ditch this rule while you need to eat regularly, you also have to listen to your hunger cues. Just stick to a healthy number of total calories for the day, which you can do by following rule number six.

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