Healthy Lifestyle: Making Choices Everyday to
Help You Achieve a Full, Healthy Life
A recent comic strip showed a husband and wife watching television and eating popcorn. When the husband saw that the popcorn bowl was empty, he turned off the television and announced, “When the popcorn’s done, so is the movie.”
That’s a good illustration of a common diet problem. Sometimes called “mindless eating,” it is the habit of overeating when we rely more on our eyes, ears or noses than on our stomachs to tell us when we have had enough to eat. It can be a difficult habit to break because it’s often one that we learned as a “good” habit at a very young age. Remember how your parents would insist that you “clean your plate” before you were allowed up from the dinner table? They had the best intentions. They wanted to be sure that you were getting enough nutritious food to eat.
In reality, though, what they were teaching was not much different than the behavior of the husband in the comic strip.
One key problem here is the time lag between the stomach and the brain. You may have heard before that it takes about 20 minutes for the brain to realize that the stomach is full. That’s true. And by the time your brain realizes it, you can easily have consumed several hundred unneeded calories.
Whenever we allow our other senses to tell us we’ve had enough, we will tend to overeat. Several experiments have shown that people who use larger plates will tend to put more food on those plates and (unconsciously adhering to those long ago admonitions to clean their plate) end up eating about 25 to 50 percent more than people who use smaller plates. People at buffets also tend to eat more because they allow the visual cues of seeing so many different foods to dictate how much they eat.
So, what’s the solution? The simple answer is simply to pay closer attention when you eat. Some times, that is easier said than done. After all, if you are at a family gathering or out to dinner to celebrate your anniversary, it may not be a good idea to avoid conversation with others just so that you can focus more closely on what you are eating. But you can take a few steps to become a more mindful eater.
One of the biggest culprits is the television. Avoid eating any meal while watching television. If you are having a snack while watching, make it a healthful one, such as some cut up fruit, vegetables or yogurt, and limit the amount that you bring into the room where your television is.
Look for other distractions when you eat and try to eliminate them. A lot of people try to save time by eating at their desk while they work or read. Again, this may be a time saver, but it distracts you from how much you’ve eaten and so you are likely to continue eating until all the food is gone, regardless of how much it takes you to feel full.
Eat slowly to give your brain a chance to catch up and be aware of clues your body is sending you. Nearly everyone pauses at some point during a meal. When that happens, take a few extra minutes to be mindful of how you feel. You may be surprised to learn that you’ve had enough to eat and you won’t be joining “the clean plate club” that evening.
Dr. Gupta is a physician with The University Doctors’ Department of Family Medicine in Stratford and the director of the Weight Management Program (www.forweightcontrol.info) in the Department of Family Medicine at the UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine. To schedule an appointment, please call 856-566-7020.