When someone is trying to lose weight, one common piece of advice is "eat only when you're hungry." It sounds simple enough, but the reasons people eat can be very complex, and many have nothing at all to do with hunger. Our internal cues are influenced by all sorts of other signals streaming in from the outside. Tracking down those other signals has kept scientists busy and yielded some surprising research on our eating patterns. Here's what some recent studies have found:
- Feeling virtuous because you had a light lunch? Chances are good that you'll overcompensate for it later in the day.
- While reaching for "just a bite" of that chocolate cake may seem reasonable, it can backfire. Research shows that people often end up eating a lot more than they intend to.
- Some people try to lose weight by eating little during the day and having their major meal in the evening. However, research shows that people who consume most of their calories before 5:00 p.m. generally eat a more healthful diet than those who pack in more calories after hours.
- Does stress make you reach for the chocolate chip cookies? You're not alone. In one study, women who watched stress-inducing videos ate nearly twice as many sweets as those who didn't.
- Consider what you listen to while you eat. Several studies have shown that when fast music is played during meals, people consume more calories than when slower music or no music is played.
- Meeting friends for dinner could pack some extra calories into your day. In one study, lone diners ate less than those who dined in pairs or groups. And women who ate with friends ate more dessert than those who ate with strangers.
Does all this mean you should eat alone in a quiet room with blinders on? Of course not. Coming up with a plan to combat every outside cue could make you crazy, but developing a habit of "eating consciously" can help put you in control. Ultimately, conscious eating involves being aware and, above all, truly enjoying your food. So here are some tips to help you get the upper hand at mealtimes.
Learn your body's hunger cues. Everyone's body responds differently to hunger. Maybe your stomach growls or you have trouble concentrating. Maybe your stomach just feels empty. Know how to read your signals. When you reach for seconds or that bag of chips, stop and listen to your body. Are you really hungry?
Set a calm mealtime atmosphere. Avoid controversial topics during meals. Talking about how you can't afford a new roof or the layoffs at the office can wait until after dinner. Come to the table relaxed. Take five minutes to close your eyes and take some deep breaths. Turn the music off or play some mellow tunes. Save the lively stuff for later. Light some candles.
Give your body time to register the meal. Eat slowly and wait at least 15 minutes before reaching for seconds. It takes that long for your stomach to signal to your brain that it is full.
Savor your food. Even if you're caught up in conversation with others, be sure to appreciate the textures, flavors and aromas of your food.
Support your local food markets. Across the world, a growing Slow Food movement is working to discourage fast food, the disappearance of local food traditions and people's dwindling interest in the food they eat. Being more in tune with your food, and knowing where it comes from and how it was produced, will influence what and how much you eat.