Subconscious Cues Affecting Eating Behavior

Forget for just a moment the current obsession with carbs. Or what some of you have referred to as my fixation on metabolism and molecules. Where and with whom you eat may be key influences that can trigger overeating. High on the list of environmental factors is portion size. With portion sizes often five times what they were in the 70's, intake is very dramatically influenced by how much food arrives on the plate. All types of eaters: male, female, obese, restrained eaters, unrestrained eaters, thin-the bigger the portion, the more they eat. This is not the case for children under 3 years of age. Small children chiefly seem to use hunger, and not environmental cues, as their signal to stop eating. But this response soon breaks down. At about 5 years of age, children respond to larger portions of food just as adults would: by eating more. This points to the hypothesis that learned cues, like being rewarded for cleaning the plate, undermine the natural ability to stop eating, even when full.


Couple this with charger size plates and mixing bowls replacing the smaller, 'normal-sized' dishes our grandparents used. In one of Dr. Brian Wansink's studies (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne), subjects spooning soup from bowls that steadily refilled through a hidden tube ate 83% more than a control group with regular bowls. And get this: They didn't believe they had eaten more calories and didn't feel fuller even though they'd eaten twice as much as the group with non-refillable bowls. Still more evidence that we let our eyes, and not our stomachs, guide our eating.


Eating companions are also a control killer. Dr. John de Castro (University of Texas El Paso) found that sharing a meal with one other person increases intake by 33%; with 3 people, the meals grows by 58%. When dining with eight or more, 76% more food is consumed.


Choice also causes people to consume more. When subjects were given 10 colors of jelly beans, they ate 43% more than those given 7 varieties. People eat 15% more when given 3 shapes of pasta instead of one. Similarly, subjects ate a third more from plates with four types of sandwiches than one with only their favorite sandwich.


According to Dr. Stephen Gullo (author: The Thin Commandments: The Ten No-Fail Strategies for Permanent Weight Loss), visual stimuli produce neurochemical changes in the brain that turn on appetite.


What to do?


There are several strategies that can help: for one, ask for a to-go bag when placing your meal order, and place at least half of the food in the bag or box BEFORE starting the meal. This way you won't have to make the decision to stop halfway through; halfway becomes the end of the meal. You haven't wasted food, you haven't overeaten, and you have lunch for the next day. Two: allow a splurge once or twice a month. This will help with the maintenance of a healthy diet and allow the true enjoyment of the pleasure of food. Also, if you eat out often, decide what you will order before arriving at the restaurant, and pass on the bread and dessert, as people gain the most weight in the first and last 10 minutes of the meal. Finally, avoid family-style and all you can eat establishments in favor of those with plated food. And at home, keep that fruit bowl in sight and hide the cookies!

Source: Kathleen Fifield