Battle of the Buffet

Last night my wife and I went to a restaurant we have frequented for years. Raising kids on a limited pastoral salary meant learning to economize. One way to do this was to eat at buffets like Country Buffet or Golden Corral. This gave everyone a wide selection of their favorites and we could be sure everyone would get plenty.

A problem though is the difficulty with overeating. Being on a weight loss and health journey, meant either not going, or finding tools and techniques to help. In the past I have worked hard to only eat what was allowed and quantities that were appropriate. Avoiding carbs was always pretty easy. However, it was not uncommon to find at the end of the meal that I had consumed more meat than I should have. Also, to avoid having too much often required white knuckling it through the last few minutes of the meal—resisting temptation while waiting for my wife to finish her latest plate.

While in the past I’ve found personal techniques and tools to help get through such situations, lately I’ve been reading Brian Wasink’s book Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think. It’s been a fascinating read and is filled with suggestions and tools to help with changing our eating habits. The book talks about the reasons we overeat and the things which contribute to this, though most of us may be totally unaware of them.

Rather than sharing all of the ideas, I’ll concentrate on ones I used at the buffet. When going, I have learned to start with a salad. In the past my usual plan was “eat the meat and dessert first, then if there is room pass slowly by the salad on the way to seconds on sweets.” Now I make myself a fair sized salad first and finish it. This gives me my greens and I work hard to keep it low carb—as low carb as possible. This time, inspired by my recent reading, I started with two differences: (1) I took time to talk to my wife and ask her questions about her day. Over the many years of being married we spent so much time monitoring the kids we got used to not really conversing when eating. Talking slowed me down and turned my focus off of shoveling food into my mouth. However, do not just mindlessly eat while talking. Before you know it you will have overeaten without paying attention. Instead, from time to time, put down your fork or spoon and talk for a few moments. Then return to your food. (2) I ate my salad slowly while talking to slow down, but also stopped after the salad and waited five minutes before getting my entre. This gave my body and mind time to register the eating and to sense that though my hunger was not satiated it was lessoned. Since it takes about twenty minutes for our mind to recognize satiety, this gave my mind time to catch up to what was happening in my body.

After my salad and the short break between courses, before getting my entre I walked through the buffet area, without a plate, looking at all the foods to decide what I wanted and what I could or should have. I had already decided before going in that I was going to allow myself more carbs, because today was a weightlifting day. My body needs more calories and more carbs on lifting days because material and energy are needed for building muscle. However, I was going to avoid the simple sugars, grains, fried foods and starchy foods. I looked for everything that offered protein, but was not breaded or fried: roast chicken, broiled fish, etc. I also looked for foods that offered more complex carbs: sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes, etc. Then there was low carb greens, like broccoli. No bread, no pasta and no other grain products would be allowed. So, without a plate I walked through thinking, “I can have that, but not that. I could have that but should avoid it because I already had X today. That will be OK, but should be limited. A nice side benefit was that this slowed down my eating more. With my plan and decisions made beforehand, I grabbed a plate and went back through grabbing the foods I’d already selected.

After that plate was finished, I sat for a few minutes talking to my wife and having a decaf coffee. It was then that it struck me that I didn’t want anything else to eat—my hunger was fully satisfied, but I was not stuffed. Also, by doing it this way, I didn’t have to sit there telling myself “I must not have more; I must not have more.” I didn’t want more.

So, here are my steps for dealing with the buffet:

  1. Start with salad.
  2. Eat slowly, by enjoying the company of others—occasionally put down the fork and talk.
  3. Wait between refills to give time for the brain to sense the body’s sensations.
  4. Browse through the buffet foods without a plate to prepare a plan of action.
  5. Get only the foods you planned in the amounts you planned.
  6. Repeat step 2.
  7. If still wanting more, repeat step 3, then reevaluate.
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