With New Year’s Resolution season right around the corner, thinking about possible barriers is a key factor in setting yourself up for success. A common complaint from my clients is that they’ll be doing great with their eating and workouts but get thrown off course by videos and pictures of indulgent foods that crop up in their social media feeds and spark food cravings.  Aside from the physical effects of taking in extra calories or going overboard on stuff like sugar, salt, and fat, these instances can also be a confidence-crusher, which leaves their self-esteem in shambles and starts an inner monologue about lack of willpower.

Thing is, there’s actual science behind our responses to these images. There’s even a word for it: Visual Hunger. These pictures and videos actually have been associated with brain activity that can trigger cravings. The good news is, there are ways to deal without quitting social media altogether.

My story for Shape features real-life advice from real-life registered dietitians for how to keep food porn from derailing your diet. Some of what we discuss:

  • Recognize that it’s not real. These images are meant to create and feed a fantasy. You don’t have to buy in.
  • Deconstruct your response. What are you really craving? Is it a flavor? A texture? An experience?
  • Unplug! Take a break from your device, turn off the TV.
  • Reconnect to your motivation. Check in with yourself about how much progress you’ve made and how good it feels to make choices that support your goals. Do what you need to hold yourself accountable if that helps.

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As a food blogger who also happens to be a registered dietitian-nutritionist, I make an effort to be as transparent as possible. I think it’s our responsibility to provide sound nutritional information.  Sometimes I think it’s also important to lift the veil on our own online presence. Working on this story made me even more conscious of making sure I send out a consistent message about moderation and the fact that an overall balanced diet includes room for treats, but that a post of something indulgent (or of something that’s super-“cliched for a reason”-healthy”) is not necessarily reflective of everyday eating habits. Like, I don’t drink bourbon or eat bacon every day, but I also don’t exclusively eat kale and quinoa and wild fish (between you and me I kind of hate the taste of quinoa, but that’s a story for another day). Something I get a lot of comments about is my savory oatmeal, and because some clients have asked, “should I be eating that for breakfast?” I felt it was worth addressing.

The short answer: I do think that you should eat breakfast, but I think that you should eat the foods that make you feel great, whether that’s oatmeal, eggs, yogurt, a smoothie, a turkey, sandwich, a bowl of soup, leftovers—whatever it is that satisfies and energizes you. Some people don’t wake up that hungry, and some people wake up ravenous. We’re all different, and what works for one person may not be ideal for someone else.

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To give a personal example, I’m someone who thrives on an eating pattern where breakfast and lunch are my bigger meals of the day because I’m very active and running around doing all different kinds of things as part of my everyday life. That’s when I need the energy. I’m super-hungry early in the day and get cranky (we’re talking mega-hangry plus spacey to boot) if I don’t honor that.

When planning out meals I think about:

  • My schedule. Where am I going? What am I doing? How long do I need to stay full for?
  • What will be most satisfying?
  • What would taste good?
  • What food am I trying to use up?

I also use little volumetrics tricks to make my meals more visually satisfying and to up the flavor and nutrition factor while still keeping calories in a realistic range for my needs. A few examples:

  • I use 1/3 cup of oats instead of a 1/2 cup and add a tablespoon of chia seeds or ground flax to add more fiber and a dose of omega-3’s. I add a little extra water when cooking, which adds a little volume.
  • I often cook egg whites into my oatmeal (here’s how) to increase the protein and makes the oats fluffy.
  • I bulk up meals with vegetables. Aside from adding color, flavor, and important nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals, this also just looks like more stuff on the plate or in the bowl, so the brain is, like, “Ah, lots of food. Sweet!”
  • I use accents and “extras” in small doses but go for the real deal. Rather than pile on low-fat cheese, I use flavorful, full-fat cheese and just add a tablespoon or two. I’ll add a teaspoon of tahini or nut butter and drizzle it on so it covers more surface area. If I’m adding avocado, I’ll slice it thin and spread it out

And when I make the oatmeal in a jar, it’s when the jar is almost empty and there’s a tablespoon or two left. It’s the one bright side to getting to the end of the jar! While eating an entire jar of peanut butter sounds delicious, you’d probably feel pretty crummy partway through.

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Though, I’m not consciously thinking about this stuff as I’m doing it, these are some everyday habits that let me enjoy delicious food and meet my nutritional needs without exceeding them.

You are the expert on you. It’s sometimes easier said than done, but if you’re looking at a picture on, say, Instagram and wondering if you should be eating what that person is eating, think about your lifestyle as a whole and about what makes you feel great. You might love trying what you see, but what works for one person definitely does not work for everyone, and that uniqueness is what makes us awesome.

 

Does food porn stress you out or make it hard to stick to your healthy eating goals? What foods make you feel great? 

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