We all do it. There’s a bowl of M&M’s sitting on the counter. You walk by and eat a few. Then walk by again, and think “a few more won’t hurt me”. Then think the same thing the next several times. The next thing you know, you aren’t thinking about it anymore. It’s an automatic reflex to reach up and grab the candy. By the end of the day, you’ve consumed the equivalent of a king-sized bag of M&M’s without even meaning to!
Admit it. No matter how hard we try to “eat healthy”, “cut back”, or “watch what we eat”, old habits are hard to break. Often, we are putting more in our bodies than we intend to, simply because our minds play tricks on us! If you have a chance, I would really encourage you to read the article I’ve attached to this blog post. It’s a little lengthy, but just read what you have time to read. In case you don’t want to read the article, I’ll touch on a few key points. First off, why do we overeat? I think we can all say there has been at least one point in our lives where we knew we were full, yet we continued to put food into our bodies. I did this just last night! A study conducted by the author of this article found that 12% over-eat because of emotions- they had a terrible day, were feeling down, or were bored. Another 51% over-ate because they were really hungry. The percentage of people who over-ate because the food was spectacular was 37%. Another study conducted by this author found that in a group of individuals who had dinner within 20 minutes of arriving at a movie theatre, the subjects given a larger popcorn bucket ate 34% more popcorn then those given a smaller bucket... and the popcorn was stale! If the popcorn wasn’t stale, the subjects ate 45% more. So these individuals, when given stale popcorn after eating a dinner meal, STILL ate more simply because they were given more. If the food is there, we will eat it! Even if the food isn’t great, and even if we aren’t hungry. The mere presence of food compels us to eat. Just like at the dinner table. Another study found that if serving dishes are left on the table where everyone is eating, women will eat 10% more and men will eat 29% more than if the food isn't left on the table. Another interesting focus of this article is on the “health halo” effect. The author interviewed individuals leaving a McDonald’s and a Subway in the mall to see what they ate (and how may calories they consumed) and how many calories they believed they consumed. Those who ate at McDonald’s underestimated their caloric intake by 19%, and those who ate at Subway underestimated by 27%. We tend to underestimate how many calories we are consuming simply because of marketing techniques. We believe we are eating something “healthy”, so we allow ourselves to eat more of it. This leads us to consuming just as many calories, if not more, than if we ate the “unhealthy” food choice. So what can we do? The tips the article suggests to help us counteract our mindless eating include: using smaller plates/bowls at home, leaving serving dishes on the counter- away from the dinner table, packaging things in smaller containers, and if you buy in bulk- moving the foods into smaller, individual portioned baggies or Tupperware. If you eat the first thing you see, make sure the visible food in your pantry is food that will benefit your body. We may believe we have sufficient will power to choose foods that are healthy for our body rather than the junk we love to indulge in, but we don’t. Find a balance. If you try to completely restrict the foods you love from your diet, you will most likely fail and then overindulge to compensate for your restriction. Change your mindset. You’re not restricting these foods. You’re just tricking your mind to eat more of the foods that are good for you, or to eat less of the foods that have no nutritional benefit. Eat when you are hungry. Stop when you are full. Don’t leave food or snacks out in plain sight. Put them behind closed doors so that you will have to make a conscious effort to go eat them. And when you do make this effort, if healthier foods are visible to you, you may choose these foods over the “junk” foods. We need to mindfully prepare for our mindless eating habits. It’s not dieting, it’s strategic preparation.