Post No.: 0465
Lots of people will have made New Year’s resolutions about living more healthily after the indulgences of the festive season.
For parties and celebrations, we tend to lay out a varied spread of foods and drinks to be enjoyed, and this is okay for such special occasions. But, in general, laying out a variety of unhealthy foods is bad because we’d want to try them all. Albeit this would suggest that laying out a variety of healthy foods would be good because we’d want to try them all! It’s also a good idea eating a wide range of natural foods that come in a variety of colours e.g. red tomatoes, green spinach, blue blueberries – different natural colours roughly correspond with different vitamins and phytochemicals. Yum!
The instinct to want to eat a wide variety of colours and shapes of things was probably due to, and good for, trying to obtain the range of macronutrients and micronutrients needed for an optimally healthy life, such as from fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. However, in this modern world with processed foods – these instincts are now being hijacked by modern sweets, snacks and convenience foods that come in a wide variety of artificial colours and artificial shapes but don’t come with a wide variety of nutrients!
Also, in nature – high-carbohydrate and high-fat are seldom provided within the same foodstuffs. It’s mainly because humans have combined different items together that we can get high-carbohydrate (mainly sugar) and high-fat foods in one thing e.g. cakes, ice cream, chocolates, and fried starches like corn or potatoes. This is not to say this is inherently bad – it’s just to say that it’s no doubt that human inventiveness can conjure up foods and drinks that are far unhealthier than nature can when consumed in large quantities.
Some argue that food tastes better when we’re hungry and not so much when we’re full, and therefore we eat partly for the homeostasis of energy supply and partly for reward-driven processes. Others argue though that we always eat due to the pleasure of the food (the eating experience) hence why, with modern, highly-refined-for-pleasure foods, we can continue to eat even when full. This, along with naturally craving variety (or perceived variety since people judge mainly using their eyes and expectations), means we can feel full for one type of food but not for another type of food – hence we’ll tend to always be able to find some room for dessert even after feeling stuffed from a main course! What happens is that we can get enough of one taste, but then crave another taste, no matter how full we are e.g. something sweet after eating a lot of something savoury, or vice-versa.
In experiments, if we consume a meal that we expected would fill us up for a long time then we’ll report that it has done so. Moreover, our stomachs will apparently empty more slowly too! The opposite will happen if we expect a meal won’t fill us up. Thus if people think they’ve eaten a lot, or not a lot, then that’ll affect the food choices they’ll take for their next meal; perhaps even skipping the next meal altogether.
How big a portion looks matters to satiety, hence a calorie-dense dish can look small and unsatisfying compared to a less calorie-dense dish that’s been served to actually contain the exact same amount of calories. Therefore we’ll be tempted to serve a larger portion of a calorie-dense dish or want to eat more at the next meal.
So our perception of how much we’ve consumed appears to be more important than how much we’ve actually consumed – even those with damage to their short-term memory-formation ability will eat multiple meals if they think they’ve not eaten a meal yet. This also means that paying attention to our food whenever we’re eating – to what we’re eating and to how much we’re eating – is vital i.e. no mindless eating or drinking. Be mindfully present through every mouthful or gulp.
When we trick our eyes, via virtual reality headsets, into thinking that what we’re eating is larger than it really is, we’ll report feeling full after eating less than our normal amount, and vice-versa when tricked into thinking that what we’re eating is smaller than it really is. This again shows that visual perceptions matter to how our stomachs actually feel. Our minds unconsciously control how our stomachs feel far more than we realise, thus we cannot always trust our stomachs to tell us how much we really need to consume. What we believe and expect we’ve eaten or will eat will greatly influence our appetite, thus if manufacturers falsify calorie information to make people think their products are not so calorific then people will consume more calories for thinking that they’ve not eaten or drank that much after consuming their products. ‘Diet version’ foods or drinks (particularly low-fat but high-sugar products) can therefore lead us into trouble when we think we’ve not consumed that many calories when we have. This effect on our memories will affect how we’ll self-report our satiety afterwards.
Your stomach will also physically expand to a larger resting size over time if it gets used to consistently consuming a lot of food – it’ll adapt by getting used to expecting a lot of food in the future. Alcohol, which is highly calorific in itself, can also make you want to eat more – alcohol relaxes the stomach but can in turn increase the feeling of bloating.
One study suggested that if you spend a moment imagining eating some chocolates (the higher the imagined quantity the better), the less you’ll feel you’ll want to actually eat some chocolates afterwards. It only works for the exact foodstuff you imagine or similar. But this trick may stop working once you know how the trick works (like a magic trick, you cannot be so easily fooled again once you know how you’re being fooled and that it’s just an illusion) plus this exercise requires a lot of time to implement each time, which one’s impulses might not afford. But it might work for some.
Beliefs are overall powerful when it comes to appetite – put some food in a clean and safe jar that has a label saying ‘poisonous’ on it and many people won’t eat the contents even when told that the jar is actually clean and safe; or put some food close to a clean and fake plastic poo and many people will still think that it’s somehow contaminated!
People tend to consume far more when distracted and not paying attention to what and how much they’re eating or drinking. Mindfulness is the opposite of mindlessness, so mindful eating is what we need to do more of i.e. to focus completely on our food when eating it rather than being distracted by a phone, computer or TV. Like in the ‘raisin meditation’ in Post No.: 0420, this practice will also make delicious food taste even more intense for we’ll be noticing its juiciness, spices, aromas, fluffy textures or whatever more closely and attentively. We’ll savour the flavour more if we concentrate on all of our senses and sensations whenever we eat good food, which will result in a greater satisfaction per morsel. Now this approach might not help you to eat less during your regular meals but it might when you’d be otherwise mindlessly snacking and the portion size isn’t set e.g. when you’re constantly picking popcorn or crisps from a communal bowl while you’re watching a movie.
Try swapping the hand you normally eat with – this will slow your eating down. Once you’ve gotten used to using your other hand though, you’ve got to think of some other strategy again!
When you’re thinking of snacking for mindless, habitual, stress and/or boredom reasons rather than due to genuine hunger – increasing the effort required to reach for, or reducing the accessibility to, snacks makes us less likely to bother snacking. Anything that makes us stop and think about why we desire a snack could be enough to make us realise that we don’t need it because we’re not genuinely hungry. It might therefore be best to not buy and stock too many unhealthy snack options in your home or workplace at all.
Other things you could try if you tend to eat mindlessly or purely out of habit are – try eating a light healthy snack every few hours, drink a glass of water every hour, make the cravings wait for 20 minutes before eating as the feeling may disappear, do something different and focus your mind on something else to distract your cravings (such as exercise), and change your daily routines e.g. change the layout of your furniture, do things in a different order or cease eating your lunches ‘al desko’ (eating while at one’s office desk).
You could possibly gradually condition (via operant conditioning) yourself to associate junk food or sugary drinks with unpleasant stimuli, so that they won’t be as tempting as before – along the lines of receiving an electric shock every time you touch the biscuit jar?!
Something a bit less severe is repeatedly practising physically pushing away stuff that isn’t good for you, such as alcohol, soda, cigarettes or junk food. This could eventually reduce your desire for them. Conversely, repeatedly practising physically pulling towards yourself stuff that’s good for you could over time increase your desire for those things.
Some people naturally move more if they consume more, such as by fidgeting more, but not everyone is like this. Inactivity (mainly sitting down for too long) reduces the ability to remove harmful lipo-proteins from the blood, and results in a reduction in insulin efficiency, which could lead to diabetes. Based on what we’ve learnt in this post – provide healthy options within close reach rather than things like chips or cookies if snacking on the couch, so that when the mindless paw reaches out for something to scoff, it’ll find healthier options – but you’ll still need to get up now and again though.
Woof. Speaking of which…