Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Exactly Why Do We Eat? And, Why Do We Keep Eating When We’re Not Even Hungry?

We humans tend to eat a lot of food. A typical human eats over a thousand pounds of food every year. 

Remember Pavlov and his dogs? Pavlov rings the bell, the dog pushes his lever, starts drooling and is ready to eat its reward.  Guess what? Most of us are just as conditioned to eat when we’re not even hungry as those dogs. Unlike the dogs, we can identify those triggers that set us off—and defuse them—once we know what they are. 

Example. You’re at lunch with co-workers. It’s the super-duper Wednesday All-You-Can-Eat buffet at the Food Palace. Think back—you’re sitting at a table with 15 of your closest co-workers, and each of you heads to the buffet table, and then back, and then some go back again. Do you know a recent study found that when eating with only eight other people you are likely to consume almost twice as many calories as if you were eating alone?

And more—According to researchers at Harvard University and the University of San Diego, your chances of becoming overweight are tied to the weight of your friends. Nicholas Christakis, a physician and sociologist at Harvard explains this phenomenon in his book “Connected.” He calls it “sharing behavior.”

Next Example. A Yale University study found that snacking, calories consumed and watching TV were closely related. (Really?) This study found that TV viewers who saw snack commercials, which are hard to miss, were stimulated (back to Pavlov’s dogs) to eat, and not just the brand item from the commercial. They also found that the snacking was mindless, and had nothing to do with either hunger or fullness. 

And, One More Example. Have you ever noticed how even the smell or suggestion of food, certain words, and, much less the sight of food can trigger a real feeling of hunger? Even if you just ate an hour ago and aren’t even hungry. A University of Illinois study found that people consumed 54 percent more calories when exposed to posters advertising exercise, using words such as “active,”  than those exposed to posters without a workout theme. Where you eat makes a difference too. Brightly lit settings can result in faster eating, while soft lighting or candlelight can result in slower eating—both lead to over-consumption. 

While it seems that almost everything can lead to overeating,  and that just about everything can lead to weight gain, just knowing that this is the reality means you can adjust it.

It’s hard to change what you don’t know—but once you become aware of the signals around you, you put yourself in charge of your response. So the question is, how will you choose to  respond?

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