Breaking Bad: How to Kick the Late Night Snacking Habit

by | Jul 16, 2014

Photo by nettsu

Whenever I ask people what the most difficult habit is for them to break, late night snacking is often the first thing they say. This doesn’t surprise me.

If you feel like a zombie every night when you get home from work, it’s because you pretty much are one. Even if you enjoy your job, you are still subject to countless stressors throughout the day that deplete your cognitive resources––especially those required for self-control. Without a well of willpower to rely on at the end of the day, our brains go into autopilot to avoid more heavy lifting.

For these reasons, more than at any other time of day our evening actions are guided by habit. All the cues and triggers around our home––the TV, computer, couch, etc.––guide us mindlessly to the pantry for the cookies, or the freezer for the ice cream, and we eat to our heart’s content (not our mind’s or stomach’s content, those guys stopped caring hours ago). Stopping doesn’t even occur to us. We just continue until the cookies are gone, or the carton is empty.

It makes sense that these late night eating habits are particularly difficult to kick. Bad food habits are hard to break as is, but at night we have even less self-control than at other times of day for reshaping them, so we usually don’t even try. These habits are also especially strong, since they are deeply entrenched through weeks, months and years of repetition.

So what should we do?

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Top 16 TED Talks for Foodists

by | Mar 19, 2014

JO_ted

This week the amazing TED conference is going on in Vancouver. For those of you who have never heard of a TED talk until today, you’re welcome.

TED collects the most interesting people in the world and gives them the stage for 20 minutes. Inevitably they will expand your mind in some way or another, even in topics you didn’t think you were interested in.

To commemorate the awesomeness which is TED, I compiled a list of my favorite TED talks to educate and inspire foodists. These talks focus on food, health, habits, happiness and quality of life. I’d love to hear which are your favorites and what you enjoy most about them.

Stay thirsty, my foodists.
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For the Love of Food

by | Mar 7, 2014
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week celery is an aphrodisiac, chewing cuts calories, and kids love meditation (so you should too).

Want to see all my favorite links? (There’s lots more). Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).
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For the Love of Food

by | Feb 7, 2014
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week (also includes links from last week when I was stuck on a wifi-less flight) shivering is the new running, cheap food is elitist, and one daily soda raises heart risk even if you aren’t overweight.

Want to see all my favorite links? (There’s lots more). Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).
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For the Love of Food

by | Dec 20, 2013
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week multivitamins are under attack, the truth about gluten and Alzheimer’s disease, and why you don’t know how many calories are actually in a pound.

Want to see all my favorite links? (There’s lots more). Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).

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How to Kill Cravings, Reduce Your Appetite and Lose Weight Without a Magic Wand

by | Jul 31, 2013

Photo by charliebarker

Last week I received a comment on an older blog post that really took me off guard. The post was about 9 Simple Tricks to Eat More Mindfully and Kelsey, a recent foodist convert, had one of the strangest problems I’ve ever heard after implementing some of the tips.

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For the Love of Food

by | Jul 12, 2013
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week fish oil is linked to prostate cancer, how chronic cardio can kill you, and the truth about grass-fed beef.

Want to see all my favorite links? (There’s lots more). Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself)

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9 Simple Tricks To Eat More Mindfully

by | Mar 6, 2013

Photo by Orin Zebest

Whenever anyone tells me they eat healthy but still can’t lose weight, I ask them if they practice mindful eating. Most people just stare back at me blankly, wondering what on earth I’m talking about and whether there’s a chance I’ve traded in my lab coat for some new age crystals and incense.

No, I’m not a hippy. Far from it in fact. But I do think that just about everyone could benefit from adopting some principles of the Buddhist practice of mindfulness, particularly when it comes to your eating habits.

There is a wealth of scientific data that eating quickly, not chewing thoroughly and not paying attention to what and how much you’re eating can result in substantial overeating—and even healthy foods can cause you to gain weight if you eat enough of them. Though sometimes this mindlessness can be used in your favor, more often than not you’ll be lulled into a false sense of security and eat more than you intend.

The good news is that these mindless habits can be overcome with practice. The bad news is that like most bad habits, it is difficult to change your behavior without concerted effort. But if you’re committed to the practice, mindfulness does become easier and you’ll learn to enjoy your food more and naturally eat less.

Keep in mind as you’re reading through this list that different things work for different people, and some of these will be much easier for you than others. My goal is to present you with as many options as possible that have worked for myself or others so that you can pick and choose those that fit best with your habits and lifestyle.

9 Simple Tricks To Eat More Mindfully

1. Chew 25 times

Chewing is probably the simplest and most effective way develop the habit of eating mindfully. There used to be an entire dieting movement, led by the late Horace Fletcher, based on the idea that chewing more helped you eat less. Though Fletcher took this idea a little far (and was arguably a little crazy), there is reliable scientific data that extra chewing results in less overall food intake.

I recommend 25 chews per bite here, but likely anything over 20 chews will provide a benefit. The most important part is that you choose a number and count your chews until you reach it. The number itself is less consequential.

To help myself remember to chew thoroughly I’ve used iPhone apps such as Reminders! to ping me a few minutes before my usual mealtimes with a simple Chew 25 Times reminder.

2. Feed yourself with your non-dominant hand

Making things more difficult is a great way to force yourself to pay attention to what you’re doing. One simple way to do this is to force yourself to eat with your non-dominant hand, which for 90% of us is our left hand. It might be too much to do this for every meal, but trying it for breakfast and snacks is a good place to start.

Be careful though, if you get too good at it you can slip back into your mindless habits.

3. Eat every thing with chopsticks for a week

Even if you grew up with chopsticks as your primary utensil, you’ve probably never used them to eat a sandwich or a bag of chips.

I once heard a story about a local tech company that asked a bunch of their employees to use chopsticks exclusively for a week as a mindfulness exercise. Although weight loss was not the goal, everyone in the office lost weight and several reported life changing realizations as a result of the project.

One person dropped his morning bagel habit when he realized that the chopsticks prevented him from experiencing the part of the ritual that he enjoyed the most. Apparently the taste of the bagel was not as appealing as the act of ripping it apart with his hands. Once he realized that actually eating the bagel wasn’t important to him he decided to give it up.

4. Put your fork down between each bite

Putting your fork down between bites of food is an excellent complement to the chewing habit. The act of setting your fork down forces you to focus on chewing your food rather than letting yourself mindlessly pick at your plate for your next bite. It also encourages you to slow down and attend more to the taste of your food, instead of just shoveling it down your throat as quickly as possible.

5. Take your first bite with your eyes closed

I once went to a restaurant where the entire dining experience, including being seated at our table, occurred in the pitch dark. The idea was to focus exclusively on the experience of eating, without the distraction of vision. Unfortunately the food at this restaurant was terrible, and focusing on it only made this point more obvious. But it was a good lesson, and I was certainly not tempted to overeat as a result.

While eating all of your meals in the dark, or even with your eyes closed, is not very practical, taking the time to taste your first bite with your full attention can help you eat the rest of your meal more mindfully. Focus on all the flavors in your mouth and how they interact, as well as the smells and textures. This will help you both appreciate your food and eat more slowly.

6. Try to identify every ingredient in your meal

Trying to taste and identify all the different ingredients in your meal is another great way to focus on the present moment and eat more mindfully. This is particularly fun at restaurants, when you didn’t make the food yourself. An added bonus of this technique is it may also help you become more creative in the kitchen.

7. Put your food on a plate

It may sound obvious, but eating out of a bag is not a very mindful practice. Get in the habit of placing even small snacks and desserts on a plate before you eat them. This will force you to acknowledge exactly what and how much you will be eating.

8. Sit at a table

Once your food is on a plate, you may as well go the extra mile to sit at a table. Formalizing your dining experience can help draw your attention to your food and your eating habits.

9. Eat in Silence

Put away your phone, turn off the TV, hide your kids, hide your wife. Any sensation that you experience outside of taste and smell while you’re eating can distract you and make mindful eating more difficult.

While going through an entire meal in pure silence may be a bit much for most of us, designating the first 3-5 minutes of a meal for quiet and mindful practice can be an effective strategy.

What are your tricks for eating more mindfully?

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How I Cured My Chronic Insomnia

by | Feb 20, 2013

Photo by Alyssa L. Miller

I don’t use the term chronic insomnia lightly. Have you ever heard of a kid who fakes naps during preschool just to placate the teacher? That was me.

Despite my parents letting me stay up to 9-10pm when I was 8-years old—way later than most of my peers (thank you Dad, you rock!)—I inevitably drove them crazy by waking up at the crack of dawn (literally) on weekends ready to kick off the day.

In high school I averaged maybe 5 hours of sleep a night. Even today I rely on the occasional Ambien to make sure I sleep through a flight or get enough rest the night before an important event.

My insomnia is multifaceted. I have trouble falling asleep because I am very sensitive to light (sometimes I joke that I have invisible eyelids). I’m also very sensitive to sounds and have difficulty getting comfortable.

Once I’m asleep, it’s also way too easy to wake me up. And once I wake up, falling back asleep in less than two hours is nearly impossible. I wake up at any hint of light entering the room, or any abnormal noise.

I’ve tried melatonin, tryptophan, St. John’s wort, camomile, kava kava and antihistamines. Most of them just make me extra miserable because I get groggy and drowsy, but still can’t fall asleep. Ambien has been the only prescription sleep aid that works for me without major side effects, but it is not for everyone and I certainly did not want to rely on it for my day-to-day sleep hygiene.

But with a combination of these techniques, I’ve been able to control my insomniac tendencies and boost my sleep to a solid seven hours a night.

9 Tips To Cure Insomnia

1. Get on a consistent sleeping schedule

This one is probably the most important. The circadian rhythms that control your sleep-wake cycle originate in a part of your brain called the hypothalamus (specifically the suprachiasmatic nucleus, for you neuroscience geeks).

These neurons are sensitive to light and work to sync your biological clock to regular light-dark hours. The more consistent these are, the stronger your body will respond to natural circadian rhythms and the easier it will be to fall asleep when you’re supposed to.

2. No interactive screen time 1 hour before bed

As mentioned above, bright light can impact your circadian rhythms and staring into a computer screen late into the night can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Working and other mental activity can also keep your mind alert and prevent it from relaxing enough to fall asleep.

I am acutely aware of how difficult it is to unplug when you’re a workaholic, but a good night’s sleep does more for my productivity than I could ever achieve in the 12th or 14th hour of my workday, so I’ve learned to disengage well before bedtime.

Though I haven’t had any problems from watching TV or a movie, it’s best to stay away from any devices that require input from you for the last hour before bed. This means you should turn off the computers, smart phones, video games and tablets, no matter how badly you want to level up. Instead, try to quiet your mind by taking a bath, reading a book, having some herbal tea, cleaning up the house, listening to music or practicing meditation.

3. Don’t eat too late

Eating close to bed time, particularly a high-calorie, heavy meal, is associated with poorer sleep quality. I’ve also noticed this in myself, and when I avoid late night eating I get better, more consistent sleep. If you’re hungry, try drinking a glass of water and going to bed on an empty stomach instead. You certainly won’t starve to death.

4. Exercise daily

The best sleep I ever got was when I was marathon training at 5am every weekday before school. I fell asleep like clockwork at 10:30pm every night. It was glorious.

Heavy exercise is certainly a great way to invoke sound sleep, but even moderate activity like walking 10,000 steps each day can make a big difference in sleep quality. If you aren’t sure how much activity you’re getting, a Fitbit pedometer might be a good investment.

5. No caffeine after 1pm

This one was hard for me to believe. I’d been a heavy coffee drinker from a young age, and never thought it effected my sleep one way or another. If I was really tired during finals, coffee never seemed to help much and there were a few times when I fell asleep not too long after having a double espresso.

I’m not sure if I changed or if my sleep cycle was just so messed up that I couldn’t detect relevant differences, but now that I’ve switched to drinking mainly tea I’ve noticed that if I drink any caffeine too late in the day it is harder to fall asleep. I try not to drink coffee after 12pm, but 1pm is sometimes more realistic.

6. Use a white noise machine

My old apartment was just two doors down from a bustling freeway off ramp, and as you can imagine the traffic noise was constant. As someone who is very sensitive to noise, this posed a tremendous problem.

I’ve tried sleeping with ear plugs, but I have small ears and find them very uncomfortable. The solution that works best for me to control noise disturbances is the Sleepmate, a white noise machine that is quiet enough to ignore but drowns out most other ambient noise. This thing is a lifesaver if you’re stuck in a noisy neighborhood.

7. Black out shades or sleep mask

I realized early on that I’m sensitive to even the slightest amount of light in a room, even small ones like a laptop charging light.

If you’ve taken care of all the light sources inside your bedroom but are still bothered by light that sneaks in under the door or through the window, consider getting some black out shades or a sleep mask. The shades work great but can be expensive and kind of ugly. If you go with a mask, I find that the cheaper, less cushy ones are the most comfortable. Mine looks a lot like this one for under $2.

8. Don’t drink too much alcohol

Though a small nightcap can often help me relax and fall asleep faster, too much alcohol is proven to disturb sleep and can cause you to wake up early. If you like to party, keep in mind that it may be impacting your life in more negative ways than you think.

9 . Practice mindfulness

Though light, noise and bad habits all play a role in my sleep problems, I’m convinced that at the root of it all is a wandering mind. These other factors just add levels of distraction to my already overstimulated brain.

In our plugged in world, constant interruptions are making it progressively difficult to keep your attention on a single task long enough to get it done. For me, the nightly task that eludes me is sleep.

Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis (e.g. spending a few seconds a day focusing on my breathing or taking the time to eat a bite of food slowly with my eyes closed) gives me the power to truly relax my mind when I’m trying to fall asleep rather than letting it drift to all the things I need to get done the following day.

Mindfulness isn’t easy, but the only way to get better is through practice. Whenever you’re waiting for an elevator, standing in line, walking up stairs, taking a bite of food, take a few seconds to reflect on where you are and how your body feels. Focus on a few breaths, in and out, and get accustomed to letting go of your worries. The longer you can sustain this practice the easier it will be to let go of your problems and get a good night’s sleep.

What helps you sleep better?

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For The Love Of Food

by | Jan 18, 2013

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week Harvard says “whole grains” aren’t always healthy, why you should eat carrot tops, and calling BS on Coke’s new ad.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).

Links of the week


What inspired you this week?

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