Nutrition Column – Establish Eating Habits that Help Promote Good Health

The new year is always a good time to reassess current habits and their effects on health. Take eating, for example. Think about what, when, why, where and how you eat. Are you usually a stand-up diner? Do you routinely snack throughout the day and then aren’t hungry at mealtimes? Do you tend to eat fast so that you can finish quickly and get back to what you were doing? Do snacking and watching television go hand-in-hand for you?  

When establishing good nutrition habits, it is not just what you eat that matters but also when, why, where and how. Several common eating habits such as eating too fast, constant snacking and not following an eating schedule tend to promote excess calorie consumption, which can lead to unwanted weight gain that ultimately may increase the risk for certain chronic diseases.  

For those of us who have room for improvement in our eating styles, the American Dietetic Association offers the following suggestions.

– Plan meals and snacks ahead. Haphazard eating often becomes high-calorie eating.  

– Shop on a full stomach to help avoid the temptation to buy extra goodies or to nibble on free samples. Also, write out your shopping list when you’re not hungry.

– Stick to a regular eating schedule. Studies show that missed meals can lead to impulsive snacking and overeating.

– Find a schedule that works for you. There is no hard-and-fast rule about eating three meals a day.

– Eat from plates, not from packages. When you nibble on chips or crackers from a package or eat ice cream from the carton, it’s hard to tell how much you have eaten. Often, it is much more than you realize.

– When you get the urge to nibble but aren’t really hungry, do something else. Walk the dog, call a friend or go for a jog.

– Serve foods right on the dinner plate, not in serving bowls and platters that are set on the table. You’ll likely eat less.

– Eat slowly. Savor the flavor of each bite. After all, it does take 20 minutes for your stomach to signal your brain that you’re full. Slow down by putting your fork down between bites and swallowing before filling your fork again.

– Forget the "clean-your-plate" club. You don’t need to eat everything on your plate if you are already satisfied.  

– Sit down to eat. Focus on your food rather than nibbling while you do other things.

– Make eating the only event – and enjoy it. Eating unconsciously while you watch television, read, work on the computer or drive may lead to eating more than you think.

– Stop eating when you leave the table. Avoid the urge to nibble on leftovers as you clear the table and clean up.

– Be aware of the influence of others. You don’t have to eat that cake, muffin or bagel in the break room just because your officemate brought it to work.

by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension