Source: Web exclusive: November 2009
If you find yourself eating at times when you’re not even hungry, you’re not alone’almost 60 percent of Canadian adults are now overweight or obese and overeating is the number one cause, says Richard Béliveau, chair for cancer prevention and treatment at the University of Quebec in Montreal and author of Eating Well, Living Well (McClelland & Stewart).
‘Forget about all the diets and the stupidity written about sugar, fat and protein,’ he says. ‘If you gain weight it’s because you’re eating too many calories compared to what you’re burning.’
Sounds simple enough, yet many of us continue to consume more calories than we need. Here are some reasons why you may be overeating and solutions to help you overcome them.
1. You’re accustomed to overeating
People overeat out of habit, says Bärbel Knäuper, associate professor at McGill University’s Health Psychology Laboratory. ‘They ate slightly too much yesterday and the day before and, probably for a long time, [they ate] a little too much every day.’
Knäuper says there are many reasons why people form an overeating habit, including learning the behaviour from their families while growing up. When you’re used to overeating, you become comfortable consuming more food than you need and the cycle continues.
‘Realize that overeating is a habit, something we repeat every day unless we take action to change the habit once and for all,’ says Knäuper. By simply recognizing that you’re eating more than you need, you can take steps toward eating more consciously.
2. You’re unaware of your calorie intake
‘Lack of knowledge may be a factor in overeating,’ Knäuper says. Many people are not aware that they are consuming more calories than they burn because they don’t know how many calories are burned during exercise, they aren’t aware of how many calories are in the foods they eat and they don’t know how many calories they need to eat each day.
For instance, a bottle of Tropicana fruit punch contains 170 calories. You’d have to walk for more than 40 minutes just to burn off a drink you may not have thought much about, says Béliveau.
While exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, being aware of food’s caloric content is the most effective way to curb overeating. ‘It takes a lot of exercising to compensate for overeating, therefore [it] is usually not a successful weight-loss strategy. Eating less is much easier for reaching a daily energy balance,’ says Knäuper.
Research the number of calories you need each day as recommended by Canada’s Food Guide and take steps to stay within that limit. Using a food journal to record your calorie count will help you stay on track. (Download Best Health’s printable food journal as a good way to get started.)
3. You find food comforting
Who hasn’t reached for the Ben and Jerry’s after a bad day at work? And when you’re feeling sorry for yourself after a fight with your partner, it seems okay to finish off a bag of stale chips because it makes you feel better.
‘Often we eat not because we are hungry but because we are tired or depressed,’ says Béliveau.
However, we don’t often crave a veggie platter when we’re feeling low. That’s because eating sweet foods such as chocolate causes your body release small amounts of feel-good hormones, which can help lift your mood. And if you’re someone who can’t seem to stop eating after one square of chocolate, you’re not alone.
‘Sugars are processed very rapidly by the digestive system and create immediate reward responses or pleasure. This makes people indulge in them. White sugar is the fastest processed sugar,’ says Knäuper.
Realize that the ‘high’ you get from eating sweet or high-fat foods isn’t a long-term solution and will soon be followed by an energy low.
But that doesn’t mean you should cut treats out of your diet completely. ‘If you go to a restaurant where the French fries or chocolate cake is good, eat them, but view it as a celebration,’ Béliveau advises. Associating your comfort foods with positive events rather than feelings of sadness and guilt will help you control the quality and quantity of sweets and high-fat foods you eat.
4. You’re eating too fast
Remember when your mother told you to chew your food slowly? Well, it turns out that she was right. ‘Eating fast does not allow your brain to react to the satiety signal coming from your body,’ says Béliveau. This will lead you to believe that you are still hungry when your body really just needs some time to tell your brain that you’re full.
Slow down. It takes 20 minutes for the digestive system to report back to the brain that we’re full, says Knäuper. ‘We need to stop when feeling medium-full,’ she recommends. ‘Even if you still feel a little hungry at the end of the meal, keep in mind that the sensation of satiety will come with a little delay, so it’s not necessary to take a second helping.’
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