Post No.: 0469
Many scientific experiments over the years have investigated what can affect how much we eat. Here are a few of the findings…
A simple thing like using smaller crockery can help us to eat less. Use tall, thin glasses rather than short, wide glasses for soft drinks or alcohol. Children should certainly use children-sized plates and glasses. Eating from a smaller plate or bowl can even make us feel more satisfied compared to eating the same amount from a larger plate or bowl.
The size and number of plates used can also affect how much we’re prepared to pay for dishes in a restaurant – food served in smaller, separate plates or bowls e.g. like with tapas, can seem more expensive than the exact same amount of the exact same nosh presented on a single large plate or bowl.
The colour contrast between the foodstuff and the plate it’s served on can even affect how big a portion you serve yourself. The lower the contrast between the foodstuff and plate, the larger the portion you may serve yourself, and vice-versa.
Leave your boxes, wrappers, bones, bottles and other evidence of consumption on the table before you completely finish your meal i.e. don’t periodically clear the table before the meal is over. When we have a better visual clue of exactly how much we’ve eaten so far, we tend to eat less than when the evidence is constantly being cleared away.
Once again, as covered in Post No.: 0465, a lot of consumption is based on what our eyes can see. People measure calories with their eyes more than with their stomachs. The amount of chow served on a plate or bowl unwittingly affects intake because it influences consumption norms and expectations and it lessens one’s reliance on self-monitoring. The importance of having salient and accurate visual cues can play an important role in the prevention of unintentional overeating.
A lot of people don’t normally eat until they’re comfortably full – they normally eat until they’ve cleared a plate or given portion, which can mean an entire family pack of something on their own if they’ve got a whole pack in front of them! Big bags of crisps are for sharing, not for one individual or sitting! Small packs allow us to pause and think after we’ve finished each pack, whereas large packs don’t allow us to pause and think until the whole pack is finished or until we’ve already overeaten. We can also rationalise eating a whole big pack because we tell ourselves that ‘it’d not be so fresh tomorrow’ or ‘it’s still just one pack and therefore it was meant to be eaten in one sitting’! So question such fuzzy rationalisations and wonder if you’re being rational at all. When we share snacks or dishes, we’re more likely to control our own portions and eat only until we’re satisfied, instead of consuming an entire bag or packet and counting that as one portion for one individual.
This is where communal styles of eating, or shared plates, is beneficial, such as in traditional Cantonese family mealtimes where everyone has their own bowl of plain rice but everything else is shared. Here, to be polite, we don’t ever load up our own bowls but pick something up if and when we want to eat it. So if we realise that we’re starting to feel full, we’ll simply not put anything more into our own bowls.
It could be those last one or two mouthfuls we consume each and every time, rather than leave on the plate, that’ll over time lead to weight gain. But of course wasting food is bad too – and that’s another advantage of communal styles of eating. This minimises food waste because there’s nothing served to someone that they could later leave on their plate or bowl uneaten, and since no one should load up their own plate or bowl, individuals shouldn’t claim any pieces of grub for themselves unless they intend to immediately eat it. Nothing is ever put back onto the communal platters once a person has claimed it as this would be deemed quite impolite. We still have to try to clear our bowls rather than waste anything but nothing will be in our bowls unless we know we’re going to eat it. The only forward thinking is judging how much rice to serve ourselves, but the bowls are small and we can decide to go for another bowl or half, or not, as we have our meal.
I also think that it’s easier to use chopsticks and a bowl, compared to a knife, fork and a plate (without resorting to using your bare paws), to pick up things like meat on the bone in order to ensure that no meat is wasted – well the cook should ensure that nothing is too big to be picked up by chopsticks in the first place. Cooking and serving fish with bones, or meat still on the bone, not only improves the flavour but also makes us eat more carefully and mindfully and might therefore slow our consumption down too, thus giving our stomachs time to realise that they’re getting full.
A traditional Cantonese family meal usually starts with a bowl of broth before and at the end of the meal too – a tip that some dieters similarly take is to drink a glass of water before their meal proper, which can reduce their total calorie intake because they’ll feel fuller sooner. (Chewing gum before meals might also help.) More vegetables are consumed than meat with your boiled rice, and desserts aren’t standard unless it’s fresh fruit. However, growing affluence and global influences have led to growing meat consumption, as well as snacking and fizzy drinks in the home, and rising obesity levels where fast food is now popular.
Don’t leave the pot of casserole, stew, rice or similar on the dinner table – leave it on the stove or kitchen so that people will need to physically get up and walk somewhere if they want more. We’re generally lazy and opportunistic, and so we’ll eat as much as is put in front of us. So hide edibles out of sight rather than leave them on display, in general all of the time, apart from healthy options like fruit. If you can see snacks, you’ll more likely eat them or at least eat more of them. Out of sight is out of mind so hide it, or simply don’t buy it and put it in the house in the first place as constant temptations!
Animals in the wild don’t eat meals together ‘socially’ like humans do, as in for business lunches, for dates, for purely friendly or familial gatherings, or at the cinema, for instance (as far as we currently know!) While having regular, daily mealtimes as a family has shown to improve health – when eating ‘socially’ e.g. when going out, it can be difficult for people who are trying to control their own diets to not follow what everyone else is doing. They can end up eating the same things and/or the same amounts as everyone else.
But when eating socially in groups, you don’t have to succumb to the peer pressure to take a starter or dessert if you personally don’t want to. If you’re with true friends then such things don’t matter and they wouldn’t pressure you to. And it’s not a race with anyone – in fact, try to take the pace of the slowest eater. Of course, the occasional party is fine to unshackle yourself – as long as they truly only happen occasionally in the context of your overall eating habits and routines.
People tend to eat faster in a fast food setting with fast pop music playing and bright lighting compared to in a restaurant setting with slower music and dimmer lighting – this might be because of the associations with these places and cues. Whatever the case, eating fast doesn’t give the stomach enough time to signal to the brain that it’s full before we potentially overeat.
We also tend to decide how much we want to eat, as in how much we buy or order, before having our first bite, thus if we overestimate our hunger and energy requirements, we’ll tend to order a lot and then finish our plates regardless. (But why not doggy bag the rest and take it home – woof woof drool?)
Do a snack or dessert swap e.g. if you fancy a dessert (which is usually a habitual thing that not only your mind has gotten used to after a meal but your palate and stomach has gotten used to also) – go for a fruit salad instead of a gateau.
Getting a whiff of a strong smell like peppermint might temporarily help curb a snack craving for some people.
Don’t vilify microwave ovens per se – blame what you put in them. A microwave oven is just a water (and a few other molecules) heating tool e.g. you can steam vegetables in them. Likewise, don’t over-generalise everything that some athletes take as good for you; or even over-generalise athletes themselves. Just don’t over-generalise things at all!
Keep a food diary so that you’re aware of exactly what you’re eating and drinking if you’re unsure of how you are not losing weight, if that’s your goal. Every little nibble counts! Don’t delude yourself by discounting all of the out-of-mealtime or out-of-home snacks and morsels. Don’t be like a seagull – don’t habitually ask for or pinch grub off other people’s plates. Save leftovers for the next day. When you cook, taste things but don’t constantly munch or guzzle as you’re cooking – some people can mindlessly eat and drink the equivalent of a whole meal just whilst cooking i.e. before the meal is even served! Sauces, toppings and trimmings all count too, and they can be even more calorific than the main body of a meal.
Don’t starve yourself because when you next get to eat, you’ll likely gorge and overeat, and on high-calorie density types of fodder too. Our ‘expected satiety’ can be wrong e.g. if we’ve skipped breakfast and feel ravenous by lunchtime – we can overcompensate for that missed meal and eat more than two meals worth during lunchtime and other (surreptitious) snack times. Several smaller meals a day that ‘keep the furnace burning gently’ are better than a few bigger meals that ‘make the fire rage sometimes and wane at other times’ if you can fit this into your daily routine.
Alternatively, try eating only within a single 10-hour period per day i.e. have a continuous block of 14 hours per day when you don’t eat a thing (you can drink water during this time though) – this is the opposite of snacking throughout the day.
The times we eat every day seems to matter too. It’s about matching our mealtimes with our own body clocks i.e. when our bodies expect sustenance and releases enzymes to more efficiently process nutrients. So, in general, don’t eat too late, eat more calories for breakfast, eat less for lunch, and then eat even less for dinner/supper.
A note of caution is that we can consume calories far faster and easily than we can burn them off – so don’t do a bit of exercise and then think ‘ooh, I can reward myself with that big bar of chocolate now’! You’ll most likely end up making no progress if your goal is to lose weight. For example, a muffin might take just two minutes to shovel through your gullet but could take about 50 minutes to walk off.
But don’t weigh yourself every single day – it’s better to do so only once a week because we all naturally fluctuate from one day to the next.
Woof! If you know of any more research regarding how we can better manage our consumption then please share that via the Twitter comment button below.