Do you ever wonder why it is you eat so much? You know you need to eat for survival, but what drives you to eat when you are not hungry or beyond satiation? You need to understand what might be leading you to do this, because obesity rates are hitting alarming numbers.
Your brain sends signals to let you know that you are hungry and your body sends signals back to the brain to let you know that you are full. However, people seem to be misunderstanding these signals and either consciously or subconsciously decide on their own food cues.
Food is Plentiful
Long ago, food was considered a necessary requirement for your health, to ensure that you were meeting your daily energy and nutrient needs. Today, food is cheaper and abundant, but many of the cheap foods are processed and are high in sugar, sodium, and fat, but low in healthy nutrients.
Food is Rewarding
If children are rewarded with food, it can instill negative feelings or habits surrounding it. How many times have you heard or said “if you finish everything on your plate, then you’ll get dessert?”
Many times, food is used as an incentive: to finish a task, to raise the most money, or to reward yourself with a treat.
Food is Our Comfort
Food can be a comforting thing when you are coping with stress, depression, or anxiety. It is common to eat heftier amounts of food to overcompensate for your negative feelings. Emotional eating might make you feel better at the moment, but often leads to weight gain and feelings of guilt.
Food is Good Company
Dining with others makes eating a meal more enjoyable. You usually eat more, since there are a greater variety of dishes and a prolonged amount of time spent with company. On the positive side, these meals are usually home cooked, and thus tend to be healthier and well-balanced.
Food is Part of Our Environment
The foods you choose to consume are highly influenced by several environmental factors, many of which are controlled by the food industry. Fast food restaurants tend to have catchy marketing gimmicks and lead you to purchase “value meals” that are cheap for your wallet—and bad for your health. Marketing gimmicks can also be found on food labels; watch out for health or nutrition claims on the packages. Check out the serving sizes and the ingredients list to see what you are eating and the quantity that you are consuming.
Serving sizes are another way that the industry controls your consumption. Do you remember the controversial ban on large sodas in New York? People were adamant that the government should not control serving sizes; however, the industry has been doing it for a while. Have you ever noticed how you used to use your own discretion on the amount that you consumed of your favorite snack? The industry then created “100 calories snacks.” Instead of you deciding on the serving size, the serving size has been portioned out to 100 calories for you.
Having someone else decide how many calories you eat is not always beneficial. For instance, ordering a pasta dish in a restaurant usually provides you with the maximum amount of cereal or grain products that you should be consuming in a day. Consider only eating a quarter to a half of the portion provided and take home the rest for another meal. That’s one way to take control back regarding what goes in your stomach.
Food is About Having a Balance of Control
It is important to be aware of and to control what you are consuming to ensure a healthy, nutrient-dense diet. How many times have you walked into someone’s home where there are nuts on the table, cookies on a platter, or gummies in a bowl? You may politely decline the offer, but they sit there, waiting for you to make a move. You finally indulge; you only take two, then a few more, and before you know it, the bowl is empty (it’s worse when your gracious host quickly jumps up to refill the bowl).
Self-control is critical, but there must be a balance. Some people find that the food choices are overwhelming and they start to lose control. Too much control can lead to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, and a loss of control can lead to binge eating and obesity.
So What Can You Do About It?
Remember to be mindful. Plan your meals, prepare them, and enjoy them over a lovely conversation with friends or family. Avoid eating during mindless activities such as watching T.V., reading, or grabbing something on your way out.
Consistency is important. Eat three balanced meals. Pay attention to hunger cues and add in a snack when you are hungry.
Avoid eating when overwhelmed and distressed. Find healthier alternative coping mechanisms, such as exercising.
Most importantly, make nutritious choices; don’t let others dictate what and how much you should be eating.
Meule, A., et al., “The psychology of eating,” Frontiers in Psychology 2013; 4:1-2.