Monthly Health Message:

Fast Fixes for Changing Our Eating Habits

August 2017

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Eating habits that prompt us to mindlessly eat a whole bag of chips or popcorn at a sitting can really add calories and extra fat to our diet. However, who wants to keep track of every bite that we put in our mouths? The best strategy is to transform mindless eating habits into healthy eating habits that are automatic so you eat less without really thinking about it. Here's how:

  • Identify your weak tendencies—especially for your favorite foods. Most of us do not eat poorly all of the time, however, one time of the day may be more difficult for us—between breakfast and lunch, between lunch and dinner or after dinner. Which time becomes your “danger zone”?
  • Meal stuffing is a habit that many overeaters experience. Do you fill and refill your plate several times because you skipped breakfast or lunch and now are so hungry that you overeat twice or three times what you should at the dinner meal?
  • Party overeating or binging happens when you starve yourself before a celebration or reception to try to keep calories to a minimum that day. Instead, you end up distracted at the party and lose control of how much you are eating and drinking. No calories are saved here!
  • Dashboard dining is eating in your car as you rush to meetings or your child's sports activities. Going to the drive-in fast food chain leads to high calorie food choices that include foods high in sugar, salt and fat and are low in fruit, vegetables, dairy and whole grains. Lots of calories for a quick meal eaten in less than 20 minutes, averaging way over 700 calories.
  • Desktop eating at work means little interaction with other workers along with quick, mindless eating that is not very satisfying. Bringing your lunch from home could be more nutritious if your food is carefully planned. Going to a local diner, food truck or restaurant may not give you many healthy food choices. Instead, take a healthy lunch break with coworkers and make your dessert a 20–30 minute walk to burn off some of those calories.
  • Eating out several nights per week is expensive and will guarantee a greater number of calories consumed as compared to eating at home. Eating away from home often will lead to a weight gain unless you carefully make healthy food choices and eat small portions. Make restaurant eating a “special occasion” rather than a daily/weekly habit.
  • Snacking in-between meals can lead to extra calories, especially if the snacks are typical chips, crackers, cakes, cookies or dessert foods. Eat healthy meals and limit in-between to drinking water, or other plain beverages. Skip regular soda or other sweetened beverages and skip “grazing” or eating small meals throughout the day. Grazing often leads to large portion sizes and snacks that have become meals which adds extra calories leading to weight gain.

Pick your biggest danger zone and take small steps to make needed changes. Remember, it takes time to automate good habits so start today and work on one at a time. Keep mindful of planning healthy meals and snacks. Thinking is step one, planning is step two and mindful eating is step three. Doing does it!


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences