With all that food lying around, how can you not gain weight during the festive season?

Whether it’s presents from grateful clients or colleagues at work, or a growing stash of tempting treats at home, these few weeks are a minefield of temptation. If only you could ignore bowls of sweets and boxes of biscuits and stay cool around the mince pies.

“Opportunistic Eating” is the name I give to eating something just because you happen to have seen it, and it’s one of the five types of non-hungry eating I talk about in “How to Retrain Your Appetite”. The problem is that when you catch sight of food, your whole appetite system swings into action, which will end up with your mind being focused on the food. And with cleverly designed “hyper-palatable” foods, eating even just one means further resistance is futile. You can be half way though the whole box before you come to and get a grip.

What can you do to stop Opportunistic Eating?

The key is to alter your environment so that whatever foods are around are out of your line of sight. As Professor Brian Wansink says, “In sight, in stomach. We eat what we see, not what we don’t”. Professor Wansink studied the effects of having food out on display around the home and office and found that many people ate more if food was easily visible. Some of Professor Wansink’s results have been questioned, but it seems that keeping food out of sight may be a really simple way to cut down on unwanted eating.

Simple steps you can take

  1. Put any treat foods at home in a high cupboard or one you rarely look in, so you don’t get triggered to eat by seeing them incidentally.
  2. At work, move any bowls of unhealthy foods further away from your desk, or put them in a cupboard you don’t tend to look in.
  3. If your opportunistic eating happens when you open the fridge, wrap the unhealthy foods in opaque containers, and having pre-cut vegetables and fruit in see-through containers makes it much easier to snack on them.

What difference will it make?

When your appetite system isn’t being stimulated as often by accidentally-seen treats, you’re likely to eat less of them. The effect may be subtle, but Wansink’s research suggests that we eat more healthy food when that’s what we happen to see as we walk into the kitchen or office. A couple of mindless treats a day less will add up over time, in terms of calories and sugar.

So when can I have those treats?!

My advice about treats is always to save them for when you really fancy them, and to choose what you absolutely love. Don’t have a low calorie version of something that will disappoint; go for quality over quantity every time. Plan when you’re going to have your favourite treat, really savour every mouthful and make an occasion of it. This brings me on to the subject of how to go shopping for Christmas chocolates, which will be the subject of next week’s blog. See you then!


Wansink, B. (2016) Slim by Design: Mindless eating solutions for everyday life. Hay House UK.



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