Beat the Bait: How to End Unhealthy Eating

Avoid the three irresistible lures that keep you on the bad snack hook

Leslie Brooks
Apr 17 · 12 min read
Which will you choose? (Photo courtesy of the author)

You juggle everyone’s schedules, including your own. On a daily basis, you manage household logistics covering everything from family finances to kids’ football games. In many cases, you wear both the hats of family CEO and front line employee.

Unfortunately, if something is going to fall out of alignment or into disrepair in the process, it’s likely that it’s your personal needs that will take the hit. You’re probably often willing to take shortcuts with your own health, fitness, and nutrition — things that you probably guard against fiercely when it comes to your family.

Some of these shortcuts include…

  1. Convenience eating
  2. Emotional eating
  3. Social overeating

I know, because I do this stuff too!

These are the lures that get us swiftly off track by using the temptations of “easy” and “having things now”. But why are we drawn to easy and now?

Time, Emotion, and PerceptionThe 3 Basic Food Lures
Lure 1 — Convenience Eating (Muncher on the Move)
Lure 2 — Social Eating (Social Snacking Butterfly)
Lure 3 — Emotional Eating (Feel Good Foodie)
Know Your Most Tempting Lure and How to Avoid or Escape It
Three things to remember
Next Steps — The Beat the Bait 7 Day Food Challenge

Time, Emotion, and Perception

Let’s get real for a second…

Modern life is nonstop, and that often leads to stress. Then, we feel that we deserve some time to let loose and have fun. All this leads to…

  • Convenience eating — You don’t have enough time, so you’re desperate for easy ways out.
  • Emotional eating — You’re stressed or unhappy about something and you want to feel better NOW.
  • Social eating — You’re fearful about what others may think, so you do what you think is socially acceptable or expected.

Don’t get thrown off by the words afraid and fearful. Replace those works with anxious, nervous, stressed, or feeling weird if you’d like. All those emotions, at their most basic level, are forms of fear.

And human beings by nature, are driven by these two things…

  1. What we love
  2. What we fear

Don’t jump to the conclusion that this makes you helpless and subject to the whim of your emotions.

On the contrary, it empowers you because now you know what makes you tick. This information puts you in the driver’s seat from this point forward. Knowing when your emotions are becoming your enemy is key to winning when it comes to food — or anything else!

Knowing that these feelings are driven by fear, and that you have a choice on how to handle it, gives you the power you need to stay clear of the lures that draw you into unwanted eating choices.

So now that we know why, let’s find out how to see the lures and avoid getting caught!

The 3 Basic Food Lures

Let’s explore these lures. We’ll follow this basic flow for each one…

  1. The Bait — what the lure promises.
  2. The Switch — what you really get.
  3. How to Get Off the Hook — how you can keep from getting caught in food traps.

Lure 1 — Convenience Eating (Muncher on the Move)

You are at risk for convenience eating when these words come out of your mouth…

“I don’t have time to cook.”

“I can pick something up at the drive through.”

“Yay! Donuts in the break room!”

“Leftover birthday cake. Cool!”

The Bait

Lack of time.

There’s a reason we use the term “on the go”. Your to-do list is endless and you’re always zipping from here to there.

Sometimes you get so busy that you forget to eat… and when your stomach reminds you that you’re hungry, you want food and you want it now! Guess that’s where the term “hangry” comes from!

That feeling can seem all-consuming. If you let it get to this point, it’s extremely hard to turn down things like break room vending machines, drive through windows, and airport junk food.

The Switch

While eating on the go can get you out of that “hangry” stage, there are consequences that come with this quick fix.

According to Health.com, convenience foods actually make you hungrier! Ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup and trans fats can cause insulin spikes that not only make you hungrier, but also prevent your body’s natural ability to suppress hunger from working properly. Also, large amounts of salt (which is typical in fast food) lead to dehydration, which often feels like hunger.

So this quick fix for hunger isn’t a fix at all. It’s actually a funnel that drops you deeper into feelings of hunger and makes you much more likely to overeat.

How to Get Off the Hook

The key to conquering convenience eating is to make healthy eating choices more convenient than the alternatives.

How do you do this?

When I was a kid in elementary school, I hated school lunches, so I packed my own lunch at home. And when lunchtime came around, I had the food that I wanted.

You can do the same thing to stay out of the junk food black hole!

Choose your snack options ahead of time, and make sure you have the snacks you need to eliminate your hunger so it won’t turn it into a raving “hangry” giant!

If you have access to a fridge, you can bring perishable items. If not, there are a ton of healthy non-perishable snacks to choose from.

Important >>> Make sure that you pick healthy snacks that you enjoy eating. If you, don’t you’ll still end up at your favorite drive through or in that box of donuts in the break room.

Lure 2 — Social Eating (Social Snacking Butterfly)

Social eating is a really hard one to conquer. You want to enjoy and relax with friends, whether it be at a party, over lunch, or at an after-work happy hour. You can fool yourself into thinking that those party snacks are no big deal because they are small and cute… no harm done, right?

Not so much after you’ve eaten a few from each appetizer tray!

The Bait

I recently read an article on Shape.com that brought to light things that I’ve done in social eating settings — things that have led me to eat more than I really needed to.

Let’s say I’m eating out with friends or invited to a party, and I’m thinking about having that second cupcake. Someone there looks at me and says…

“It’s ok hun, go ahead and have it. You deserve it!”

In my head, I’m totally agreeing! I worked out today, or yesterday… so yeah, I actually deserve two cupcakes! LOL!

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying you should never eat more than one cupcake, or that you should end your friendship with the person who said have another one. They probably mean well and just want you to enjoy yourself.

But do take the time to think about what you are about to do and why you are doing it. Think about if having that second cupcake is really in line with what you want, or if you’re overdoing it.

Sometimes, the situation is more indirect and subliminal. As if on autopilot, you’ll begin to mimic what others are doing and eat what they eat.

Or sometimes, if you’re the introvert at the party, eating is just something to do to pass the time until you leave.

The Switch

Here’s the thing…

Social eating is often unconscious eating. And unconscious eating usually leads to eating more than is necessary.

In Brian Wansink’s book Mindless Eating, he says…

Dine with one friend, you’ll eat about 35 percent more. With a group of seven, you’ll eat 96 percent more.

In 1989, American psychologist John de Castro researched how eating in different-sized groups affects food intake. In his report, he wrote…

“Meals eaten with one other person present are 33% larger than meals eaten alone… whereas 47%, 58%, 69%, 70%, 72%, and 96% increases are associated with two, three, four, five, six, and seven or more people present, respectively.”

33% is a big number… 96% is pretty staggering!

How to Get Off the Hook

Become mindful about what you are eating in social settings.

For example:

  1. Don’t go to a restaurant on an empty stomach. If you are really hungry, have a small snack, like an apple, that will hold you over until your meal comes. This will help you lay off the bread, chips, and other appetizers that often end up on the table.
  2. If you order a dish, and the portion size is really large, ask for a to-go box and put half away in the box before you start eating. Then, set it aside off the table. The food will be out of sight and probably out of mind once you get into a conversation with your friends.
  3. If you’re at a party surrounded by appetizer trays, don’t go around the room grabbing snacks here and there as you go. Get a plate, go around the room once, and put the things on the plate that you’d like to try. When that plate is empty, you’re done.
  4. Drink a tall glass of water before you eat anything. Keep a glass or bottle of water handy to substitute for your desire to put something in your mouth. Add a little lemon to the water if you need to drink something with flavor. Try a club soda if you like fizz.

Snack hack — If you can’t shake the desire to eat that tempting treat in spite of the guilt, walk away, have some water, and go socialize away from the food.

You may find that at some point during the conversation, the urge leaves you or you forget about it all together. If you still can’t resist, cut whatever it is in half and only eat that piece. Maybe you can even split it with a friend who was feeling the same way about having that treat.

Lure 3 — Emotional Eating (Feel Good Foodie)

Humans, by nature, long to feel good. It’s the number one objective. Anything that puts you out of that state can set you into a scramble to get back to “good” again.

This relates to what I said about eating when “hangry”, but there are other emotions that can drive your appetite as well.

The Bait

In this situation, the bait is wanting to feel good.

Sometimes you eat to feel better if you are sad. Other times you eat as a reward for accomplishing something. I’ve been known to have a celebratory cupcake or two. And in college, I remember eating handfuls of peanut butter cups to get through study sessions for final exams. (sighs)

Emotions can also affect you when grocery shopping. An after-work shopping trip after a stressful day at work can lead to tossing things in the basket that aren’t necessarily good choices for you.

And emotions can also lead you to the coffee shop for a sugar-filled latte with a pastry on the side.

The ways we can satisfy our feel-good food cravings are endless! It’s like healthy choices hardly stand a chance!

The Switch

Using food as a path to feeling good typically leaves you going in circles. You may feel good while you’re eating those cupcakes and the frosting is still on your lips. But when it’s over, and you feel guilty about what you did…you’re right back at feeling lousy again.

Sugary treats are a HUGE temptation as a mood pick me up. They serve the feel-good now purpose in much the same way that drugs do.

According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, sugar addiction follows the four components of addiction.

  1. Binges
  2. Withdrawal
  3. Craving
  4. Cross-sensitization

Sugar binges reinforce all the other components. So basically, the more of it we eat, the more of it we want and the harder it is to stop because of the pain we feel when we attempt to quit.

Sugar creates the perfect storm for any feel-good seeking being, so we humans are a perfect match!

How to Get Off the Hook

So, now what do you do?

Well… you have to redefine what makes you feel good.

So this is the hard part. And I’m not gonna lie, it’s going to take some toughness on your part.

You’ve got to start looking at the long view in those moments, and you can start by asking yourself this question…

“Does feeling good now for a little while mean more to me than feeling good later for a long time?”

And if you say feeling good later is more important, then you have to be honest with yourself that if your actions don’t line up with that statement, then your statement isn’t really true.

But you CAN start to train your actions to coincide with your true desires instead of your temporary emotions. THAT is the hard part! So, here are a few tips to help you get started.

When you’re at the grocery store putting those bags of cookies and chips in the cart, ask yourself…

  1. If these are in the house, will I really eat just one or two?
  2. Am I really buying these for the kids? And if they aren’t good for me, are they really good for the kids?
  3. How will I feel about myself if I do what I normally do, and eat way too much of this?

If you don’t like the answers to those questions, leave the stuff on the shelf. You can’t eat what you don’t have.

Quick note about the kids: Parents teach primarily by example; so, don’t think that you’re depriving them. You can give them the gift of a long healthy life now through your example of healthy eating.

When you’re feeling sad or mad and you get the moody munchies, ask yourself…

  1. What’s really bothering me?
  2. How will eating this make it better?
  3. How will I feel about myself later if I choose to eat this now?

Consider your answers and make the choices that serve you best.

When you have something to celebrate and you want to do it with lots of “happy snacks,” ask yourself…

  1. How have I felt in the past after eating a bunch of sugary treats? Not in the moments immediately after, but in the hours, days, and weeks after?
  2. Think about the food choices that you have felt good about. Consider the things you do that aren’t food related that bring you joy. Are any of those choices available to you now? How will you feel later (hours/days/weeks later) if you make one of those choices now?
  3. Are people you care about being influenced by your current food choices? If you knew that your choice right now could impact their future health, what choice would you make? Your first thought may be that I’m going overboard here, but the power of influence is very real, especially when you’re talking about children.

Remember, food guilt can easily ruin your celebration. Be mindful about focusing your quest for happiness on things that bring you joy without leaving you with a bad aftertaste and unwanted side effects.

Know Your Most Tempting Lure and How to Avoid or Escape It

So let’s be real…

  • You know what your lures are.
  • You know what gets you almost every — if not every — time.
  • Now you know how to avoid or escape the temptation.

This doesn’t mean that you can never have another convenient, social, or even celebratory meal.

It just means that you do so in a way that doesn’t sacrifice the progress you’re making and have worked hard for. It means you’ll do so in a way that allows you to continue to feel good about you and the meal when it’s done.

Three things to remember

  1. Always keep healthy food alternatives handy, because sometimes the hunger beast just won’t give in!
  2. Make sure your healthy alternatives are ones that you enjoy. Otherwise, you won’t be well prepared to beat the hunger beast.
  3. Consider how can you fit more of that “non-food thing” that makes you happy into your life, so you can experience more joy outside of eating.

Next Steps — The Beat the Bait 7 Day Food Challenge

Now, I want you to take your new “Off the Hook” skills and put them to work! Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Pick one of the three lures. Choose your most tempting one.
  2. Re-read the section in this article about that lure and get familiar with the bait, switch, and how to get off the hook.
  3. Refer to your Mindful Snacking guide for your snacking type. I’ve created these so you can take them with you wherever you go. Save them on your phone or print them out. Get them here; click the “print” button to get the PDF for each type.
  4. Write down your most tempting bait (the food and why you want it) and the switch (what you really get when you eat it) on the back of your printable.
  5. Then write down your “Off the Hook” alternatives.
  6. Before you start your seven days, go shopping and stock up on your alternative food choices.
  7. Then, pack your lunch and/or snacks for each day. If you’re eating out, it might mean choosing your meal before you get to a restaurant by looking up the menu online.
  8. Now head off to work, school, or your next social event armed with this new knowledge about yourself and how to manage your cravings.
  9. Write down what you are eating in a daily log for each day of the week. (I’ve created one that you can use. You can download it here ⇒ Beat the Bait 7 Day Food Challenge Log).
  10. Do this for a week and review how you did at the end of the week. You can use this info to tweak and improve your snacking habits over time.

FINAL NOTE

Choose healthy food alternatives that actually taste good!

Otherwise, your healthy food choice won’t stand a chance against a box of glazed donuts. ⇐ Real Talk

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Leslie Brooks

Written by

Writer, Coach, Fear Tamer. What you believe determines what you become. ACE CertifiedBehavior Change Specialist. I can help. | bit.ly/lesliecoaches

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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