Easy pickings!

Picture this!

You are walking through the office mid-morning, not feeling particularly hungry and it’s someones birthday.  There’s cupcakes on one of the desks, so absentmindedly you help yourself.  Been there?

It’s tea time, you are starving, but you are preparing the kids meal before your own, so you pinch a couple of pieces of whatever they are having as you dish up. Done that?

You start preparing your own evening meal and you nibble mindlessly on the raw ingredients, probably eating an extra couple of hundred grams of anything edible that you have got your hands on. Sound familiar?

You have got a bit of spare time, everyone in the house is occupied, and you don’t quite know what to do with yourself, so your mind turns to food, and what you can graze on, you open a cupboard and pick at a few nuts, you open the fridge and pinch a slice of ham and a few cherry tomatoes. You decide to make a drink, and have ‘just one’ biscuit while the kettle is boiling then you take another biscuit, to have with your cup of tea, and another.

I am sure most of us will be able to identify with at least one of these scenarios.  But without realising it we could actually be eradicating our calorie deficit and scuppering our chances of success.

This type of behaviour actually has a specific term, in the study of eating behaviours. The term is ‘Picking and Nibbling’.  It has a definition too: ‘eating behaviour characterised by eating in an unplanned and repetitious manner in between meals and snacks’.

The new mealtime!

Meals and snacks are our planned eating occasions. We have set breakfast, lunch and dinner times, and probably 2 or 3 planned snacking occasions. We plan our meals and we more often than not, plan our snacks. We have total control of these and they are more than likely planned to stay within our calorie allowances.  But what we don’t plan for, and therefore probably don’t count or have any comprehension of what we are consuming, is what we pick at.

‘Picking and Nibbling’ is actually an emerging area in the study of eating behaviours and eating disorders.  It is thought that excessive picking and nibbling can lead to binges, for those who suffer with Binge Eating Disorder.

Research shows it is also common in bariatric surgery patients who regain weight after surgery, and therefore shows that it does impact on attempts to lose weight.

In effect our picking and nibbling shows a loss of control of eating. This lack of control, could be where we are going wrong if we aren’t seeing the success that we expect.

What do we pick at? Where do we pick? When do we do it?

I pick in various ways… When I am getting the milk out of the fridge for a cup of tea, I might pick at anything that is open and in an edible state.

I have been known to dip into the Nutella jar, when I am getting tea bags out of the cupboard (so much so that I have now had to move the jar away from the tea bags to stop me doing it).

I used to pick at biscuits and sweets every time I passed the ‘treat table’ in our old office.  Luckily Be Strong HQ doesn’t have a treat table, and we don’t bring treats into the office, so that has stopped that one.

I pick at the kid’s tea when I am dishing up, then finish off anything they (or my husband, for that matter) hasn’t eaten. I pick at garlic bread, if its left on the plate after a meal. Garlic Bread is totally my downfall!

I can’t resist pinching crisps or sweets off the kids when they are eating them.

You might pick at slices of cheese or meat in the fridge, or nibble at components of your own meal when you are dishing up, but don’t reduce the amount that goes on your plate.  You might keep going back to the biscuit barrel for another and another, but not count them as a proper snack. You might just eat that last slice of bread, before you throw the bag away, or the crusts off the kids sandwiches, or that corner of toast that they leave. And you justify it as not wanting to waste food and throw it away. The opportunities for picking really are endless, and they are totally mindless and uncontrolled.

Of course, if you are in a position where you are comfortable with your weight, you are losing at the rate that you want, and generally speaking you feel like you are in control of your food and it doesn’t bother you, then it’s absolutely fine – carry on.

If, however, you are feeling like you aren’t getting the results you expect, and you know that you have a tendency to pick, then this could be an area for you to focus on, and try and get a grip of.

If you think about it these are the calories that we aren’t counting, so as an example I might eat 2 chocolate digestives biscuits (160), handful of grapes (60), couple of strips of a chocolate bar (160) totalling 380 calories – that’s what I am aware that I am picking at!  What about the food I am not aware that I am eating.  That 380 calories – if I am on a deficit of 600 over half of my deficit has just been blown! So would explain why I might only lose ½ pound a week.

What if I ate, 5 or 6 chips and a chicken nugget off the kids tea, and a slice of bread out the end of the bag, and the kids crusts that they had cut off their sandwiches, oh and a handful of crisps out of a family bag and a few sweets here and there, then that dip in the Nutella jar before bed.  That might be another 400 calories there too!

Pretty soon, I am losing my deficit completely, and possibly getting into the realms of over eating, and you can see its easily done. What I have listed there, doesn’t particularly look like a lot of ‘picking’ and certainly not out of control.  But when you add it all up, if I am trying really hard to get a calorie deficit of at least 600 calories, by eating really good, tasty meals and snacks that are within my calorie allowance, the picking has just completely undone all my hard work.

How do we tackle this behaviour?

This isn’t going to be easy, and it is going to take a lot of mental strength, because these acts are mindless, we do them without thought, and without even realising it sometimes, until we have swallowed what we put in our mouths.  But there are some steps we can take to minimise the frequency at which we pick and the types of foods we pick at.

  1. Raise your awareness of when you might be picking at food – look for your triggers and come up with a plan to get around it.
  2. Plan snack times for just before the times where you might be vulnerable to picking, so that you feel satisfied and less likely to pick – so for instance, if you know you pick when preparing food, plan your snack for just before you start prep, and have a glass of water with you when prepping food, so you can sip that instead of putting the food in your mouth.
  3. If you pick because you eat later than the rest of your family – can you all eat together? or could you sit down and have a planned and calorie counted snack while they are eating their meal?
  4. Always have a bottle of water handy, to sip when you are bored, to stop you going on the hunt for things to eat.
  5. Stop buying the foods that you pick at. If you have to buy the foods that you pick at, can you put them in a less prominent place, so that you don’t see it as frequently – out of sight, out of mind. This is what I do with the Nutella jar.
  6. Set a new rule for yourself – you only eat when you are sat down and concentrating on the food fully, so that you can really enjoy the experience.
  7. Engage your brain and put all of your mental strength and energy into stopping that behaviour. As soon as you recognise that you are eating something you hadn’t planned to eat; the kid’s leftovers or the heel of the loaf – stop! Put it back in the fridge or cupboard, feed it to the dog or simply throw it in the bin.

This week!

Ask yourself, do you pick at foods? And if you do, is it affecting your chances of success? If the answer is no to either of those questions, then carry on as you are.

If the answer is yes, add up the calories of what you are picking at – you might be shocked.  Once you acknowledge what you are doing, you will be more aware of your behaviour.  You could try some of the techniques above to bring the behaviour under control.

If you feel like this is or has been a problem for you, comment below on what techniques work for you to get it under control.

Leave a Reply