How to Eat Fewer Treats

by Tom Ewer

“They’re okay I guess, but they’re not a patch on Minstrels.”

It started innocently enough – a debate on the relative merits of confectionary on a second date with my now girlfriend. I’d always been a huge Minstrels fan, but she was putting an argument forward for Maltesers. I wasn’t convinced.

A couple of dates later we headed to the cinema. I bought a bag of Minstrels and she chose Maltesers. It was a standoff. Maltesers won comprehensively.

Fast-forward a year or so and things had gotten out of hand. I joke, but in all seriousness I did actually have a problem. It was not at all unusual for me to scoff an entire 360g box of Maltesers in one sitting. That’s about 1,700 calories (over two thirds of my daily allowance) of sugar.

While you cannot form a physiological dependence on sugar or chocolate, I was nonetheless psychologically addicted to Maltesers. It was ruining an my otherwise relatively healthy diet and had the potential to lead to all sorts of health-related issues down the line. Something needed to be done.

So I did something. In this post I want to share the specific techniques I employed to reduce the sheer volume of Maltesers that I was consuming on a near-daily basis. If you are addicted to sugar, chocolate or candy (or in fact any type of food), you’ve just found the means to make a major positive change in your habits.

Ban Enormous Portions

This is the only point at which I will simply say, “Just eat less.”

This is for people who are satisfying their addictions with absurdly large portions, like I was with my 360g boxes of Maltesers. The most effective thing I did was to enforce a complete ban on boxes and limit myself to the 135g bags only. This wasn’t particularly difficult – I just needed to give myself a long hard look in the mirror and convince myself how utterly wrong it was to destroy an entire 1,700 calorie box of confectionary in one sitting.

Don’t seek to eradicate your most-loved food, but do seek to eradicate eating it in an objectively absurd volume. If you are doing this, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Make Your Treat an Event

If you’re going to satisfy your craving, make it a big deal. Don’t just scoff your food down while watching TV – give the act the due ceremony it deserves.

I suggest eating your food of choice at a table with no distractions. Take the time to enjoy every morsel. Of course, you should start with a smaller portion than you would normally eat. Taking the time to really enjoy the process can satisfy you as much as scoffing down twice as much while distracted can.

Serve Your Treat on a Small White Plate

Seriously. A study conducted in Spain by Betina Piqueras-Fiszman, Ph.D. at Universitat Politècnica de València found that serving strawberry mousse on a white plate altered the participants’ perception of its taste – they considered it to be 15-20% sweeter, more intense and more enjoyable.

From a personal point of view, I believe this to be true. A pile of Maltesers in a small white bowl looks far more appealing to me than just munching them out of the bag.

White is not always the best color though – in some cases it is preferable to choose a plate color that complements the color of the food. Having said that, I wouldn’t worry about buying a plate in each color – white is a good default.

Furthermore, use a plate that makes your food seem more plentiful. When it comes to psychologically satisfying your appetite, nothing is worse than food on an enormous plate. In fact, eating from a smaller plate has also been shown to cut food consumption by more than 20%, according to David Neal, Ph.D., Director at Empirica Research.

Share Openly

If your addiction is something that can be easily shared, get into the habit of doing so. For every bite someone else haves, it’s one less bite going in your mouth (and to your belly or hips, remember!).

While I am not typically an advocate of sharing food (woe betide the person who takes from my plate without asking), this is one situation in which I actively encourage it.

Buy Your Treats in Advance

This is not a strategy I would employ myself, but I know that it can work for some people.

It’s simple: buy your craved food up front for the week, in bulk. Agree with yourself that what you have bought is all you’re allowed for the week – how you eat it is up to you.

This may encourage you to ration your food appropriately, in which case you can gently taper the volume of food you buy per week to wean yourself off your addiction. Alternatively (and like me), you might eat the whole lot and go out the next day, rules be damned, in which case I do not recognize this strategy!

Track the Cost of Your Addiction and Incentivize Moderation

Food addictions can be expensive. You could be spending hundreds of dollars per month without even realizing it.

So let’s address that – from now on you should make a note of the cost of your purchased treats. Knowing exactly how much of your hard-earned money you’re spending on unnecessary treats can be a powerful discourager.

But that’s not all – why not incentivize a reduction (or even an eradication) of your treats? It’s simple: just a set a weekly anticipated cost of fueling your addiction based upon ongoing costs. Any money you save below that amount should be put to one side and used to treat yourself to something nice (but not food!).

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