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4 Steps to Build Your Willpower When Eating Out

Posted 5/19/2017 by UHBlog

Don’t let eating away from home undermine your healthful habits. We can help you figure out how to enjoy meals out without regretting it on the scale.

4 Steps to Build Your Willpower When Eating Out

Do your clothes fit a little snugger after vacation or a night out? Willpower can make a big difference in eating right, especially when you’re away from home, says registered dietitian nutritionist Heather Butscher, MS, RDN, LD.

According to Butscher, when your hunger gets the best of you, you’ll tend to overeat. Most people have tell-tale signs when their hunger is getting extreme, such as:

  • Stomach rumbles – “Keep in mind that your stomach may not rumble if you fill up on water,” she says.
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Noticeable drop in energy
  • Light sensitivity and blurred vision
  • Mood change – “You may notice a decline in your mood, such as becoming so hungry you’re angry,” Butscher says.

Butscher calls this drop in energy between meals “The Danger Zone.” You may end up in The Danger Zone if you’re waiting for a dinner reservation or are traveling.

A typical meal should be about 400 to 600 calories, she says. Butscher suggests these four steps to build your willpower and curb overeating when away from home:

  1. Avoid getting extremely hungry. “One of the most important steps to building willpower is to not go into any restaurant extremely hungry,” she says.
  2. Build snacking into your day. “I recommend that people take healthy snacks with them,” says Butscher. “Consume a carb – like fruit, yogurt or whole grains – with a protein like nuts or cheese. This will help stabilize your energy.”
  3. Plan what you'll have in advance. One of the most important tips for success is to know what you’re eating. You can do this, Butscher says, by looking up the restaurant menu in advance.
    “All your fast food establishments have nutrition information available online and at time of purchase,” she says. “There are ways to get ‘better for you’ food.”
  4. Watch your portion sizes. Regular snacking can improve your self-control at restaurants, but be aware once you’re at the table.
    “You don’t want all your daily calories at one meal because that will lead to weight gain,” says Butscher. “The goal of a meal is to get the energy your mind and body need for the next four or five hours. You shouldn’t leave feeling so stuffed and sluggish, as this can indicate overeating.”

There are a number of strategies to help you control how much you eat, as well as what you eat. These include:

  • The 9-inch plate rule. “Half of your plate should be non-starchy vegetables, and you should eat that first,” she says. “Then move to protein the size of your palm or a quarter of the plate, and the other quarter can be no more than one cup of a grain or starch.”
  • Ask for sauce on the side. Dressings and sauces can add a lot of calories to your meal.
  • Skip bread and butter. Avoid filling up on bread and butter before dinner.
  • Drink water. “Watch caloric beverages,” Butscher says. “There’s nothing worse than being hungry and having an alcoholic beverage. That will definitely cause overeating.”
  • Eat slowly. It can take your brain 20 to 30 minutes to feel the effects of food.
    “Take about 30 minutes to enjoy your meal,” she says.

For more ideas on how to select healthy items while on the go, talk to a registered dietitian for advice and help. To make an appointment, call 216-844-1499.

Heather Butscher, MS, RDN, LD, is a registered dietitian nutritionist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Butscher or any other health care professional online.

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