After a delicious restaurant dinner, you’re stuffed. But when the waiter returns and asks if you want dessert, that chocolate mousse on the menu looks too gorgeous to resist. Or perhaps you get a bag of chips to snack on while checking emails. Next thing you know, you look up at the bag is empty. Do either of these sound familiar?
Experts attest that environmental factors can influence your eating more than you realize. Things like package size, portion size, the size of your plate and the variety of food on it all unconsciously affect how we eat. There would be no obesity epidemic in America if we always ate only when we were really hungry and stopped at the appropriate time.
To avoid temptations and avoid weight gain, we should become more aware of the causes of overeating. Simple things can help you cut down on bad habits and help you lose weight, such as bringing healthier snacks into your house and moving that pesky office candy jar out of sight. However, there are more complicated factors at play that can also have detrimental effects on your eating habits. Things such as:
Cornell University researcher and author of the book Mindless Eating, Brian Wansink, attests that environmental factors can trigger overeating. “You are influenced by your surroundings, and our studies show these kinds of cues result in eating more food,” Wansink writes. These cues can be audible (popcorn popping, a microwave beeping), visual (an advertisement for fast or junk food), and olfactory (the smell of bacon cooking or chicken frying.)
The act of unconsciouly putting food in your mouth is known at “eating amnesia,” or more commonly simply “distracted eating.” It’s what happens when you have a big bag or bowl of something on hand while doing a sedentary activity such as watching television or reading a book. This kind of multi-tasking leads to overeating because you’re eating unconsciously and not paying attention. You are more likely to feel satisfied – and will enjoy your food more! – if you make sure to eat mindfully.
When opportunities to eat are abundant, we tend to eat more. This can range from the snack jar you keep on your desk to the abundance of places to eat from drive-throughs to vending machines. The latter is especially dangerous to your habits, as they offer food that’s financially inexpensive but are loaded with fat, sodium, and calories.
To deal with these pressing temptations, experts recommend a few simple fixes. Moving sweets and snacks out of sight and putting healthful foods in view will make them more appealing, as will carrying a stash of healthy snacks to help you resist the urge to splurge. Limit visits to fast-food restaurants as much as possible, and if you do visit them, try to go for healthier menu options like grilled chicken sandwiches and salads.
Giant portions seem to have evolved into the norm, and many people have trouble understanding how much they should eat. So many restaurants serve oversized portions, skewing what we perceive as normal amounts. Eating smarter and more mindfully can help with this problem. Choose more foods that contain lots of water and fiber but are low in calories, such as fruits, vegetables, and salads. Eating at a slower pace and really tasting the food allows you to enjoy it more, and you’ll grow to appreciate satisfaction with smaller portions.
Discount stores like Costco and Sam’s Club offer mega-sized packages of food for bargain prices. Unfortunately, experts say these big containers trick us into consuming anywhere from 25% to 50% more than you would from a smaller package of the same food – especially if what’s inside is sweet. The best way to combat this is to stick to buying smaller, such as “snack packs” that are portioned more reasonably.
In addition, being served even healthy food in a large container causes us to eat more. Researchers have found self-serving sizes increase by a whopping 50% when delivered in a large container. Go smaller with your dishware and utensils – they’ll slow your eating, and the smaller bowls and plates will make the food on them look more plentiful so you won’t feel deprived.
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