We don’t just overeat because we are hungry, we overeat due to a multitude of factors. These include the influence of friends and family; the size of packages, plates and portions; food descriptions; lighting; colors of foods; shapes of packaging; smells; distractions while eating (think TV, computer, driving, cooking, talking on the phone); distance to available food; if the food is visible or hidden; as well as the container the food is served or stored in.
In our Intuitive Eating lecture at the resort, we discuss ways to make our environment work for us so that the mindless munching, hand-to-mouth routine, that leads to over-consumption and excess calories is put to a halt.
A study published in the July issue of Physiology & Behavior compared the weight-loss results for a group that made environmental changes, such as using a smaller plate, putting food on the counter instead of the table, and moving the candy dish farther away, with a group that followed diet-related tips, such as eating oatmeal for breakfast each morning. The group that made environmental changes experienced a weight loss of 1.5 lbs per month; the group that followed food-related tips gained 2.5 lbs per month. This just goes to show how powerful our environment is in our daily food choices.
A few Mindless Eating traps to be mindful of include:
1) Convenience foods – Food literally awaits us at every corner. With the boom of food trucks to the office vending machine, we have access to food 24/7. Our toxic food environment lends itself to high calorie, nutrient-poor, cheap, easily accessible snacks and meals.
2) Mega-portions – Even though McDonald’s discontinued their “Super Size” option, portions still seem to be expanding well beyond a reasonable size. Often a bag of chips, a muffin, or an individual pizza is labeled as two servings, but consumed in one because manufacturers are aware that our concept of an appropriate serving has become distorted.
3) Liquid calories – People who drink one or more sodas per day are 27% more likely to be overweight than those who do not drink soda, and soda accounts for 43% of the increase in calorie consumption over the past 30 years, according to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. Liquid calories do not register with our brain like foods we chew, therefore increasing calorie intake without cutting back elsewhere.
4) Labeling tricks – Foods that are labeled as “fat free”, “high fiber”, or “natural” are often regarded as healthful. We tend to tell ourselves we can eat as much as we would like and the calories don’t count. Not true. There is no miracle food. Choose nutrient-dense, not calorie-dense foods to fill up without exceeding your daily calorie budget.
5) Eating on the side – About 20% of our food is consumed while driving. Not only is this dangerous, but does not allow us to tune into fullness cues letting us know we’ve had enough. If you find yourself eating while watching tv, working on the computer, cooking, etc., designate a specific place that you go and ONLY eat. You will find that you enjoy the food more and you will probably feel full on less.
6) No grocery store plan – You are setting yourself up for temptation if you go to the store hungry and without a list. Do not allow yourself to become vulnerable to marketing and product placement tricks. If you leave it out of the house in the first place, you will leave it out of sight and out of mind.
7) Bulk club stores – Saving money by purchasing in mass quantities is great, but is not great for portion control. It’s hard to stick to a one ounce serving if there is a gallon size bag. Also, research shows when we have more available to us at one time, we consume more because we are wired to “use it up”. If you buy in bulk, portion it out before storing it in the pantry or freezer.
8) Pre-meal temptations – By avoiding the chip bowl or bread basket when dining out and positioning yourself farther from the appetizer tray at social events, you can better avoid this mindless eating pitfall.
Look at your eating environment and figure out what may need to be tweaked to help you succeed. Are there other traps you’ve come across and how did you handle it?
Krista Haynes, R.D.