It seems to be common practice to overeat at special occasions, all you can eat restaurants and buffets. Perhaps it is the abundance of food and the plethora of selection that leads us into temptation. Or is it getting our money’s worth? Stimulation of the brain?
What is it that makes us overeat at home? Researchers did a meta-analysis of 23 studies and published it in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. They measured how much people ate with or without alcohol (1-2 Drinks), eating in front of the TV or not and sleep deprivation.
The results showed that alcohol had the greatest impact on the amount people ate, followed by sleep deprivation and then TV. One explanation may be that these factors increase the hormone ghrelin which stimulates appetite. Another explanation is that our inhibitions are impaired and our response to food in the reward center of our brain is intensified.
Whatever the mechanism, if you are trying to reduce overeating, start by getting more sleep, reducing alcohol consumption and not eating in front of the TV. And maybe steer clear of the buffets and all you can eat restaurants.
One in four Canadian adults is overweight. People spend millions of dollars every year trying to lose weight, yet most diets fail over the long term. For so many people, the reason they eat is not just for hunger. They eat when they are not hungry, when they are happy, sad, lonely, stressed and sometimes they just don’t know why they are eating. Along with this comes feeling of blame, feeling bad about themselves and sometimes just throwing in the towel thinking there is nothing they can do. Resisting food can be very difficult for some people but there are things you can do to help control it.
Certain foods will activate the brain, increasing dopamine and increasing your attention to that food. Often the attention to the food is remembered so the next time that food is seen there is anticipation to eat it. Foods containing both fat and sugar seem to activate the brain more than foods with sugar or fat alone. Fat and salt do the same thing. For some people, when eating these foods they lose control, may not feel fullness and often are thinking about what they will eat next even though they are not hungry.
What can you do to help control overeating?
- Create structure: Don’t wait until you are hungry to decide. Plan the time of day you will eat and what you will be eating. Block out all the rest. Decide that breakfast will be at 7am and you will have 1 slice of toast with peanut butter and 4 strawberries.
- Serve yourself just enough food. Don’t leave it up to chance. Try to determine the right amount of food for you and put only that on your plate. Chances are you have been putting more on your plate than you need and you end up eating it anyway.
- Choose foods that are not “brain stimulants” like those high in fat, sugar and salt. Select whole foods such as fruit, veg, whole grains, lean proteins. You will have more control when eating these foods. The goal is to be satisfied not stuffed.
- Set yourself up for success. If you know that a certain restaurant is a cue for you to order fries and eat uncontrollably, prepare yourself to not go to that restaurant and have a different restaurant in mind.
- Recognize your emotions. Certain feelings and emotions may stimulate an automatic response to eat. Recognize what those emotions are, control the urge and redirect to something that will help deal with the emotion such as deep breathing in response to stress, calling a friend in response to sadness. Remember food is not an emotional cure all.
- Change the thought. Take note when you start to visualize a certain food and stop the thought. Visualize something else. Change the channel.
- Negative association: Try to associate the trigger foods with unappealing images of something else. For example, we have changed the view of smoking from something glamorous to something deadly and disgusting. Think of Tripple Cheese and bacon burgers as artery clogging, greasy stroke causers.
Tips for Controlling Portions and Intake
- Wait 10 minutes. It takes that long for the brain to receive the message that you are full.
- Leave the “Clean the Plate” club. Who are you helping by overeating?
- Eat from a plate. Visually account for the amount of food you are eating.
- Fill up on vegetables. They are lower in calories and will help fill you up.
- Choose small. Using a smaller plate and buying smaller packages will help you eat less.
- Put away the leftovers before you eat. This reduces nibbling while putting food away.