Setting yourself Up to Not Fail

Can you imagine a landscape artist driving a car through a beautiful countryside and not stopping along the way to soak in a scene? The urge to capture and maybe later paint it, is likely to be overwhelming. Now imagine someone who loves cake going into a bakery, hungry and they are giving out free samples. When you love something and the look, smell or memory of it, lights up the pleasure centre in your brain, it is difficult to say NO.

Now let’s look at the thought-feeling-behaviour link. Imagine working on a big deal at work, that is worth a lot of money and if you don’t get this deal over the line, you jeopardise other people’s careers, you own career and you have a mortgage and kids to feed, school and cloth. You are feeling stressed. You feel fear and anxiety. As a child when you were upset, you had hot chocolate and sweets from you Nana or Mom. As an adult you find yourself reaching for sweet stuff when you are worried or stressed. It is a learned, wired behaviour. We want to re-wire it.

Following are a series of small changes and strategies that should help you to change your response. I suggest you tick 1 or 2 of the ones that you know will help and spend a few weeks working on them until they become a habit.

Develop a Healthy Attitude to Weight

  • Most of my clients are heading into or are in their 50’s. This is around the time, health things start to go wrong. Money etc is no good if you lose your health.
  • Be realistic. Choose a weight you can maintain.
  • Focus on a healthy eating lifestyle, not a diet. 

Meal Planning

  • If your brain knows that is food coming, it won’t suddenly scream at you sending you full-trottle to the fridge!
  •  When you know what and when you will be eating, you are far less likely to eat rubbish and regret it.
  • Plan your meals 2 to 3 days ahead. It can be a rough plan.
  • Would you allow your elderly parent or child to go hungry and then feed them crisps and chocolate? Why are you any less important? 

Food Shopping

  • Do not shop when hungry or tired.
  • Make a list of items and avoid browsing.
  • Avoid walking down the treat-food aisle. Out of sight. Out of mind.
  • Read food labels. If your eyesight is poor, use your phone to take a picture of the label and you can then expand the photo to see the ingredient list. Compare products to help you make the healthiest choices.
  • If you enjoy a treat after a food-shop and visit the local coffee shop, take a healthy snack with you, even it is just a square of dark chocolate.

Food Preparation

  • Chew on carrot or celery sticks while cooking if hungry
  • If you have prepared more food than you need, portion it into individual containers and freeze or refrigerate immediately.
  • Make your cooking an enjoyable experience. Music or a radio chat show on and in a nice, warm kitchen. If you have company, get them to help you chop vegetables and clean up. Cooking together is very sociable.
  • There is a method. Does oven need a pre-heat? Then gather, measure and prepare all of the recipes ingredients into one place. The cooking process then flows easily. Envisage that you are in a professional kitchen and cook like a pro.
  • Freeze or refrigerate individual portions of leftovers.
  • Do not clean up if you are still hungry.

Eating Habits

  • Eat only while sitting down at the dining table. Do not eat while watching television, talking on the phone, working at your laptop, browsing on your phone. Give your meal 100% attention to allow hormonal connection between appetite centre and gut.
  • Keep tempting foods out of the house. Don’t buy them and don’t use the kids as an excuse. You can treat the kids from a shop while you are out and about as a family.
  • Keep food out of sight. Clean countertops. 
  • If you are not preparing a meal, stay out of the kitchen.
  • Avoid wearing loose-fitting, elasticated pants all the time around the house. Clothes tightening around the waist is a useful early warning signal.
  • Have healthy snacks stored away; nuts and seeds, cheese & celery sticks, dark chocolate in 10g portions, natural yoghurt pots with fresh berries in the fridge.
  • You may find you are less hungry after a walk or fresh air. 


  • Boredom is the most popular trigger for eating. Stimulate your mind with books, jig-saw, board games, crosswords, a telephone call, planning a holiday, etc
  • Anxiety and worry stimulate the desire to chew and grind down on food. We want to shut our mind down but walking and running are really effective at shutting down the mind and reducing the levels of stress hormones, protecting he heart and stomach from stress.

Meal Time Tips

  • If you are a large, portion-size eater, serve your plate of food at the kitchen counter. Do not put the food dishes at the table centre. 
  • At every meal, check, do you have a vegetable or fruit serving on the plate? 5 veg a day, 1 to 2 fruit, a day is a great health strategy.
  • At every meal, do you have protein – meat, poultry, fish, egg or beans/lentils to fill you up?
  • Use smaller plates, bowls and glasses. A smaller portion will look large when it is in a little dish.
  • Leave 20 minutes after eating this portion to allow your brain to catch up. Avoid having any extra servings until you know for sure you are still hungry. This is particularly important if you are a fast eater.
  • Test yourself, can you leave 1 to 2 bites on the plate?
  • Eat slowly, chewing each mouthful. Try to match the pace of someone sitting at the table who eats more slowly and seems to have less issues with weight maintenance.
  • Drink a glass of water an hour before the meal to help reduce appetite. Drink another glass of water after the meal to help flush through the fibre.
  • Many people like some sweet after a meal. Therefore have a healthy sweet treat after your main meal. Fruit, yoghurt, dark chocolate or a ‘sweet’ herbal tea, using chicory syrup.
  • The ideal way to eat is to take a bite, put your utensil down, take a sip of water, cut your next bite, take a bite, put your utensil down and so on. 
  • Do not cut your food all at one time. Cut only as needed.
  • Take small bites and chew your food well.
  • Stop eating for a minute or two at least during a meal. Take breaks to reflect and have conversation.

Foodies – get rid of that new word!

  • Replace eating with another activity that you will not associate with food. During lock-down we have all replaced lunches with walks, either virtual on headsets or in small numbers. A flask of coffee and an outdoor cushion replaces a wine or beer with lunch.
  • Wait 20 minutes before eating something you are craving. Then if you decide to have it, share it with 1 or two people.
  • Always have a big glass or bottle of water to drink throughout the day.
  • Avoid food-centric environments – food festivals, friends whose life revolve around foods, shops such as Avoca, Donnybrook fair and Butlers pantry whose prepared food looks irresistibly attractive. Except for special occasions!

Work & Cake!

  • Google started it. Feed them sugar for free and keep them at their desks for longer! Many companies copied it. Unfortunately hospitals have the same issue as grateful patients gives presents of sweets, cakes and biscuits.
  • Do not eat at your desk or keep a snack drawer.
  • If you get hungry between meals, plan healthy snacks and bring them with you to work, leaving them in your car or putting them in the kitchen at work.
  • During your breaks, go for a walk instead of eating. Listen to a podcast or chat to someone who is fun to walk with.
  • If you work around food, plan in advance the one item you will eat at mealtime.
  • Stay well hydrated at work. Sometimes we are so busy, we forget and thirst can be confused for hunger. Also coffee dehydrates.
  • Do not work through meals. Skipping meals may result in overeating at the next meal.
  • If it is cake day again at work!!v either pick the healthiest item, nibble on snacks brought from home, don’t have anything offered, choose one option and have a small amount, or have only a beverage.
  • When stress hits, it helps to chew hard as our jaws need to be exercised during stress. Bite through a crunchy apple, raw carrot or chew gum.

Eating Out and Social Eating

  • Do not arrive hungry. Eat something light before the meal.
  • Do not skip other meals in the day to save room for the special event.
  • Wear a tight-fitting trousers, belt, dress or shirt so that when the stomach muscles begin to stretch, you will feel this early on and it will help you to stop eating.
  • Look at the menu in advance online and decide on the healthiest & tastiest option. Order vegetable sides to fill you.
  • Eat foods that you like, but choose small portions, e.g. 2 starters or a starter and main course, skipping dessert
  • If you want seconds, wait at least 20 minutes after you have eaten to see if you are actually hungry or if your eyes are bigger than your stomach.
  • Limit alcoholic beverages. Try a soda water with a twist of lime.
  • If you order a high-calorie dish, such as a dessert, share it with someone.
  • Try an after-dinner mint with your coffee. It is just a small amount of sweet we desire after a meal.
  • If the meal is too big, ask for a doggie bag to take extra food home.
  • On the Low Fat eating plan, ask for sauces on the side. Dip the tip of your fork in the dressing before each bite.
  • If bread is served, ask for it to be removed if you are on the Low Carb plan. 
  • Eating at a friend’s, offer to bring a dish, starter or dessert 
  • At a buffet, serve yourself small portions or tell a host that you only want a small amount. Leave excess on your plate.
  • At a party, stand or sit away from the snack table. Stay away from the kitchen or stay busy if you are near the food.
  • Limit your alcohol intake.

Exercise Well

  • Plan some exercise every day.
  • If possible, walk or cycle the entire or part of the distance to work.
  • Get an exercise buddy. You won’t want to let them down. Go for a walk with a colleague during one of your breaks, go to the gym, run or take a walk with a friend.
  • Park in the furthest away spot from the supermarket, shop etc and get your steps up.
  • Always take the stairs. 
  • If you work at a desk job, stand up and walk around frequently.
  • Do leg lifts while sitting at your desk  and use a stretch band and stress ball to release the shoulders and upper back.
  • Do something outside on the weekends and rather than lunch with friends, exercise with them

Stress & Food

Covid-19, a really good example of how stress can cause an increase of both food and alcohol. Stress Management is within itself, a way of losing weight.

Joan Moloney is a degree-qualified nutritional therapist, working since 2011 in the weight-loss and health space out of Dublin, Ireland.

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