Could this be happening to you?
By Judy Torel
Would it surprise you to discover that on average we make over 200 decisions about food every day? Of those 200-plus decisions, most of them are not determined by how hungry we are. Most of these decisions are based on unconscious or mindless influences.
This is what makes losing weight so hard. Most of the time we are not even aware that mindless eating is happening to us.
So what are these unconscious influences that lead us to overeat and what can we do to become more mindful of what and how much we put into our mouths?
If you eat from a larger plate, a bigger bag of chips or a family size bowl, you will eat more than if you ate from a smaller container or plate. And it doesn’t matter if you are hungry or if the food tastes good or not.
In a study conducted at a Chicago movie theater, people were treated to a movie just after they ate lunch. Each person was given a large soda and either a medium or large bag of popcorn. The popcorn was served stale; it was five days old. The researchers had measured exactly how much popcorn was in each bag and at the end of the movie they collected the bags of popcorn and measured what was left so they knew exactly how much each person had eaten.
What they discovered was that every one who was given the bigger bag ate an average of 173 more calories then those given the medium bag. The researchers told the people receiving the larger bags that in prior research, people who were given the bigger bags ate more. They then asked the current participants if they thought they had eaten more because they were given the bigger bags. Many said things like, “That wouldn’t happen to me” or “I’m pretty good at knowing when I am full.”
In addition to the participants mindlessly eating more then they reported, the popcorn was stale and they had just eaten lunch! This demonstrates that not only are we less aware of how much we eat (even when we think we are!) but that we will eat even when we are not hungry and the food doesn’t taste good!
Weight loss tip: Whenever you eat, make sure you pre-portion the serving you are going to consume and put it on a plate so that you can see when that serving is done. You will save yourself hundreds of calories and you will still feel as equally satisfied as when you mindlessly eat more.
We like to think that we make the decision to eat based on whether or not we are hungry, but the reality is that we are influenced by what we see.
A research study involving secretaries and candy dishes supports the assertion that we eat more when we see more food, regardless of hunger.
The researchers gave an office building full of secretaries a beautiful dish of 30 candy kisses to put on their desks for Secretaries Week. Half the secretaries were given clear dishes where you could easily spot the chocolate; half had solid dishes where you couldn’t see them
What the researchers discovered was that the secretaries given the clear dishes put their hands in the candy dish an average of five to eight times more each day then those given the white dishes. That is an average of 77 calories more per day. Over the period of a year this would add up to over five extra pounds, but the secretaries would not have had any idea of where those pounds would have come from since they were mindlessly over-eating the chocolates!
Along the same lines, we will eat less if we have to work harder to get the food. In a similar research experiment, clear candy dishes were placed either within reach of office workers, on their desks, or on a file cabinet that would require the person to get out of their chair to get the chocolate. As you can probably guess at this point, if you had to get up to get the candy, you ate less.
Weight loss tip: Keep food in opaque containers at work AND in your kitchen. A clear cookie jar on the counter top will lead to more mindless eating than a solid one. And keep the foods that you are trying to control in the upper cabinets that you have to use a chair to access. You will think twice and with awareness if you have to do some work to get at the treats!
Healthy food has less calories….NOT!
Many people are very careful to minimize or avoid fast foods that are high–fat, junky snack foods and high–refined sugar foods. But what do we do when we think a food is healthy?
In another study conducted in a grocery store, people were given samples of two granola bars, one with health claims and one without. In actuality, the bars were exactly the same. What the researchers found is that people not only were influenced by the label into believing that one bar was healthier then the other, they also over-attributed what the health benefits were from the healthy bar. So, if the bar said it lowered cholesterol, some of the people surveyed said they believed that the bar would also help reduce symptoms of diabetes and could reverse the damage caused by eating other junk foods. One person went so far as to say that he thought the bar could help reverse birth defects! So, if a label has a health claim, we will tend to eat more of it because we think of it as healthy.
In a research study dubbed the “McSubway Study”, researchers compared what people ate at McDonalds and Subway restaurants that were within 150 feet of each other at various locations within the northeast region of the US. Subway restaurants are known for their efforts at posting nutritional information about their foods such as the “6 for 6” sandwiches which have six or less grams of fat per six-inch sub. McDonalds is not known for its efforts at providing healthy foods. Subway is viewed as a “healthy” fast food restaurant; whereas McDonalds is viewed as an “unhealthy.”
The researchers discovered that the average Subway eater in their study thought he was eating 495 calories, but in reality he had eaten 677 calories, which is 34 percent more. The average McDonalds eater ate 1,097 calories, but thought she had eaten 876. This is 25 percent higher than she thought.
Surprised? The researchers concluded that when we perceive food as healthy, we give it what they referred to as the “health food halo” and we proceed to eat more than we think because in our minds we have labeled it as healthy.
Weight loss tip: Even healthy food has calories! Make sure you are aware of the calories in the health food you are consuming and be sure to track them. You still need to be portion-aware even if the food claims it will lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugar levels, etc.
There are many more mindless eating stimulants that we encounter every day. If you are interested in learning more about them, I refer you to the book, Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think, by Brian Wansink, PhD. This article was formulated from research reported in this book. It is a necessary addition to the library of anyone actively trying to lose weight.
Judy Torel is a therapist/personal trainer with a Master’s degree in psychology. She is certified through the American College of Sports Medicine as a fitness trainer and works out of Planet Fitness and Deb's Sweat Shop Extension. She can be reached at JTOREL2263@yahoo.com