No matter how much control you think you have over your food choices, what (and how much) you eat is influenced by many forces beyond your control. From the people, places, and things you surround yourself with to the built-in features of your weekly routines, factors outside your awareness dictate your dietary decisions on a daily basis.
If you're interested in eating more mindfully, try paying attention to these nine everyday things that make you eat more than you mean to:
You may have heard that messy desks breed creativity. Great if you're coming up with novel solutions to intractable problems or pitching your boss on a fabulous new business idea. Not so great if you're trying to be nicer to your belly. A recent study found that clutter - especially in kitchens - can make you overeat.
If this is a problem for you, try setting aside a few minutes to organize. Depending on how much cleanup is required, you could even slot this as your daily physical activity requirement.
2. Too Much Variety
A massive 2001 review of eating behavior by researchers at the University at Buffalo found that the more food groups you have on your plate, the more you end up consuming.
To offset this effect without making mealtime too boring, try keeping breakfast, lunch, dinner, and any snacks in between simple. If you're cooking for one, this might be easier. But next time you hit up a buffet, plan in advance to choose just your favorites.
3. Big Plates
Larger plate sizes trick you into thinking there's less food on your plate - thus causing you to put more of it into your mouth. A classic experiment by famed food psychologist Brian Wansink found that campers who ate cereal out of big bowls gulped down way more than campers whose bowls erred on the smaller size. Those with bigger bowls also estimated they'd consumed fewer bites than they actually had.
Don't throw out your oversize dinnerware just yet, though. Save larger plates for vegetables and you might find it easier to get in those five-plus recommended daily servings.
4. Not Sleeping Enough
Ever found your craving for cupcakes, like, way higher than normal after a night of poor sleep? When your body is deprived of adequate sleep, sweet and fatty foods trigger a stronger response in your brain's reward centers. End result: You usually indulge way more than you'd planned on.
Sleep deprivation also lowers your ability to exert self-control - hence why exhaustion makes putting that pint of fro-yo back in the freezer seem all the more insurmountable.
5. Action Movies
Eating in front of a screen can distract from feelings of fullness and hinder awareness about how much you're actually tucking away. What you're watching also has a huge impact on how much we eat. Aner Tal of Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab recently found that action movies in particular make you nosh more, since they can raise your stress levels and be more engrossing.
Lower the volume on your headphones or opt for a quieter restaurant if you find yourself overeating at meals. A 2011 study exploring the consequences of noise on participants' eating behavior found that louder backgrounds led people to perceive what they ate as less flavorful. Less satisfaction with what's in your mouth can cause you to keep eating even when you're full.
7. "Healthy" Food
Be careful with the labels you put on foods. Especially good-for-you items. Several experiments conducted by University of Chicago psychologists Stacey Finkelstein and Ayelet Fishbach back in 2010 found that merely considering an edible item "healthy" can make it feel less satisfying -regardless of how many calories it actually contains!
Try describing what you eat on the basis of taste (think: yummy, zesty, delish) rather than "healthfulness" to avoid this effect.
8. Fighting With Friends and Lovers
Getting into an argument can derail attempts to keep nutritional intake in check. Kylie G. Oliver and colleagues at the University of New South Wales found that interpersonal tiffs increased how many potato chips and pieces of chocolate women ate in a taste-testing study. The closer you are to a person you're bickering with, the researchers note in their discussion of these findings, the more impactful the heated exchange is on your eating behaviors. Just one more reason to choose your battles wisely…
9. Being Fat-Shamed
Being a jerk about someone else's weight or eating habits isn't only bad for their morale. It can actually make them binge. Research by Brenda Major and colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara, shows that weight stigma - whether perceived through the media or via unfortunate social encounters - triggers people who don't fit thin ideals to feel less in-control of their eating and more inclined to seek comfort through foods they may later regret going overboard on.
Major's work also found, however, that those who don't consider their bodies to be problematic appear to be buffered from the negative effects of others' nasty comments - regardless of how much they actually weigh.
Don't wait to practice those body positive mantras if you're feeling down about how you measure up based on some thoughtless comment. And keep in mind that being overweight is by no means the death knell some make it out to be. In fact, a landmark study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association back in 2013 linked being overweight with longer lifespans. Yep, you read that right. Now take the guilt off your plate.
None of the above should increase any shame or stress you feel around eating. It's OK to go overboard sometimes. We all do it. As you can tell from the above studies, that's part of what makes you human!
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