Why We Overeat – And What We Can Do About It
How do you know when you should eat, and when you’ve had enough? Why do we eat so much? Your body tells you when to eat, and when to stop, right? Well, maybe not – research actually shows otherwise.
We’ve been taught to trust our bodies to tell us when to eat and how much we need.
But David Just, a professor at Cornell who studies food choices, disagrees. He believes that the assumption that your body reliably dictates what, when, and how much we should eat is simply unfounded. Various studies have already debunked this belief. Dr. Just says we cannot rely on the stomach to “remember” what we’d previously eaten, or to tell us what (or how much) we should eat next.
Traci Mann of the University of Minnesota teaches psychology and is the author of Secrets From the Eating Lab. She has been studying eating habits, self-control and dieting for more than two decades. She believes people are not aware that even the smallest increments in their food consumption add up to unwanted calories and weight gain. She stated that it’s only after eating that the body assesses what’s been consumed.
In other words, we only realize that we’ve overeaten, or eaten something that our body doesn’t really need, after it’s too late. This is why Mann warns against convenience foods. Having food easily within reach (such as a whole bag of snacks in front of you, or piles of all-you-can-eat food at a buffet) makes us eat more than we should.
Why Do I Overeat?
There are seemingly simple things like plate size (we tend to put more food on a larger plate), or mindless eating while watching TV that actually do affect how much we eat. Don’t overlook these! Brian Wansink’s book Mindless Eating will show you a pile of eye-opening trends you probably don’t even know you’re doing!
Other studies have uncovered some unexpected factors that influence how much we eat. Table size is one surprising factor. It seems that eating at bigger tables makes us feel full more easily. Being served at a large table gives diners the impression that they’ve been served more food. Another study showed that people who were served by an overweight waiter at a restaurant tended to order more food. Also, eating with a person who’s overweight was found to make people order more and to make not-so-healthy food choices. Apparently our desire to “fit in” influences our food choices as well!
In the mid-1990s, a biologist and psychology professor named Paul Rozin conducted an experiment. He fed two amnesia patients with three lunches in a row, only 10 minutes apart. The patients’ memories were so faulty they could not remember events that had happened as recently as a minute before. Every time Rozin fed them lunch, the patients consumed it eagerly and without complaint. The same thing happened the three times the experiment was conducted. Rozin’s experiment showed that what and how much we eat is NOT dictated by the body’s actual needs. He believed that memory had something to do with when we start and when we stop eating.
So it seems that our appetites are not actually based on what we’ve already eaten. How much we eat may be based more on when we “think” we should eat, external cues, and natural variations in appetite. The nutrient content or the number of calories of our previous meal don’t seem to matter.
How Do I Keep From Eating Too Much?
The truth is that we’ll eat whenever we get the chance to eat, unless we consciously decide to do otherwise. So how do we keep from eating too much? Now that we know some of the things that cause us to eat more, we can take some measures to counteract them. Here are the experts’ suggestions:
- Put food away from arm’s reach. Having to put more effort into obtaining food will curb your tendency to eat too much. Put food inside cabinets and in places where you can’t easily find, reach, or see them.
- Be mindful of what you eat. Don’t eat while you’re working on something or watching TV. Concentrating while eating will make you eat less. By focusing while eating, you are more aware of what and how much you’re putting in your body.
- Choose to eat delicious food. That’s right; you should opt for food that tastes good. If you eat what’s good for you but that doesn’t taste good, you won’t be satisfied and you’ll crave for more. When you’re satisfied with how your food tastes – the experience of eating — you’ll tend to eat less.