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Healthy Living

5 Reasons Why It’s So Easy to Eat Too Much

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 06/25/2013
Last Updated: 06/25/2013

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You eat.

And eat.

And eat.

Long after you're hungry, you're still eating.

And then, it hits you.

Right in the gut.

You are beyond full. You're uncomfortable. Maybe you have some indigestion, gas or reflux as a result (or worse). Perhaps a real "tummy ache."

And then you start the self-blame. Why did I eat so much? Ugh, I feel awful. I am such a glutton.

I can't believe I ate…the whole thing. (Disclaimer: Not my original words. Remember the old ?)

So what's up with that? Why do we often eat with abandon and so easily lose track of how much we're eating?

1. We're eating out a lot. A 2006 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture finds that Americans get 32 percent of their daily calories from restaurant food—up from just 18 percent in the 1970s.


2. Our portion perception gets skewed. It's known as "portion distortion." The next time you order a portion of pasta at a restaurant, stop and notice how big it is. Many pasta portions can be anywhere between two and four times larger than the recommended serving size (which is 1/2 cup, or the size of half a baseball).

Another popular portion-offender is the adored bagel. Most bagels have grown so big that the average bagel can be equivalent to up to five servings of bread, when in actuality the "proper" size should be about the diameter of a can of tuna (3-4 inches). That size, to many of us, is a "mini bagel."

Simply put, we, as consumers, get accustomed to larger sizes and, soon enough, lose perspective when it comes to how much we actually need (vs. want) to eat.

3. We're eating mindlessly or while on the run. This is a recipe for disaster. Eating while doing another task, like watching TV, reading, driving or working at your desk is like putting your appetite on autopilot. Multitask while you eat and you'll not only eat way more than you need, but it's likely you'll also eat way faster than you should—and possibly even forget what you ate or that you even ate at all. It's like driving the same familiar route over and over—often you reach your destination and realize you don't even remember driving there.
When you focus in on your dining experience—give yourself an opportunity to see, chew, taste and smell—you're more likely to home in on your body's cues for fullness and satiety.


4.  It tastes so good. Many foods—especially processed foods—are engineered to burst with sensation and provide just the right color, texture, crunch, etc. Dr. David Kessler, the former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, blames food manufacturers for "hijacking the brains" of millions of Americans by creating products that cause us to crave them and overeat them. Food manufacturers, he says, know that sugar, fat and salt all sell.

Registered dietitian Rachel Begun offers this strategy for a special food (for me, that's Italian-style cheesecake!) that's tough to resist: "Enjoy the first bite, savor the second bite and make the third bite your last."

5. Social occasions revolve around food. Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, work events, going to the movies, seeing old friends. What do they all have in common? Food is an integral part of the occasion. People celebrate over food. They love to share it, talk about it, toast to it, unwind with it, indulge in it. Food becomes comforting and nurturing—the main celebration and entertainment.

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These are all important things to pay attention to. Thanks for the reminder!

I certainly can relate to out-of-control pasta and bagel portions. Next time, I confront one, I'll think of this post! I hope it will stop me halfway:-)

Hope so - good luck!

This post will make me think more about my food habits. I already try to snack on organic carrots, but the weight is not coming off fast enough.

Eating out and social occasions are my downfalls. I do reasonably well when I'm at home and in my routine, but when I'm out having fun, I definitely overindulge. Comforting to know I'm not alone--even if that won't help me lose unwanted pounds.

I agree, Marcia. It's tough to go out and eat in moderation - and easy to get carried away with all the fun.

I think many people associate that overly full sensation with positive emotions. They like that feeling; even though it may be physically uncomfortable, it is emotionally comforting.

Good point, Ginger. And probably very true.

A few years ago, while in a restaurant, a woman at an adjacent table was talking to the waitress. The waitress complimented the woman on her substantial weight loss and asked how she had accomplished it - what was the name of the diet, etc. The woman apparently ate just about every meal at a restaurant instead of at home. Her diet secret? She ordered what she liked but purposely only ate half of it. The rest did not go home to be eaten later; it was simply left on the plate. I then noticed the amount of food she'd ordered as it arrived before her. All she had ordered was one serving of potstickers (6). She sipped her tea and ate 3 of the potstickers very slowly, sipping lots of tea and water in between each bite. Potstickers are easy to consume in just one bite but her potstickers were each eaten with 3 bites. So she ate 9 bites of food, the carrot and cabbage garnish that was also on the plate.

So interesting~ thanks for sharing this story. That woman is a great example of how to enjoy food but in moderation and by being mindful.

You're right on the money. For me? Portion size is killer. And emo-eating. Sigh. If only I could leave half my food on the plate--that takes amazing discipline.

I agree, Carol. Emotional eating can really make you overeat. And yes, it takes a great deal of discipline to leave half your food on your plate. Maybe start with leaving 1/3 and work your way up?


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