Mom, I’m hungry. “Then eat some celery Timmy, it’s just about dinner time.” I don’t want to eat celery. “Then you’re not very hungry are you?” Yes, I am! “Then eat some celery.”

The scene usually ended with me moping off, chomping on a large stalk of plain celery.

How often do you eat out of boredom or restlessness instead of from hunger? Second question, do you have a few extra pounds that love you so much they don’t want to leave? Could there be a connection between those pounds and unconscious eating patterns?

Here are a few suggestions on how to make eating healthier, more conscious and less weighty.

• Substitute foods to increase their nutrition and lower the calories you ingest. Mayonnaise has 110 calories per tablespoon. Mustard has about 15, salsa around 30. Nuts are more nutritious than chips. Fresh fruit, with its vitamins, fiber and antioxidant qualities is a good choice for snacking.

Become a nutritional label reader and educate yourself on the contents of what you eat. Eat foods as close to their natural state as possible.

• Ask yourself if you are hungry and require some nourishment. Or, like me as a child, are you simply bored and food sounds like a good idea?

There is a saying, “we should eat to live, not live to eat.” It is good advice. Food’s purpose is nutrition first.

• Some people function better and have an easier time with weight control if they eat multiple small meals during the day. If you are a grazer, you probably seldom eat large meals and seldom overeat. If you normally eat three major meals per day, try grazing and see if that helps you with your periodic hunger pangs. Be careful not to be both a grazer and a three major meal person. That will result in too many calories.

• Are the meals that you eat balanced? Do they contain some complex carbs for quick energy, protein for muscles and good fats for long aerobic energy and healthy nerves? If you eat unbalanced meals, that can result in cravings, which often lead to binging or excessive snacking between meals. Many snack foods have poor quality calories. Look for alternative foods such as nuts, vegetables, or fresh fruits to substitute for chips, cookies and crackers.

• Be conscious of everything you eat. Ask yourself; “if we are what we eat, do I really want to be a Twinkie?”

The next time you think about getting something to eat at a non-typical time, consider celery.

Tim O’Brien writes continuing-education courses and presents seminars on stress management.

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