How to stop overeating with mindful eating

by Jennifer Bowden / 01 June, 2018
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Listening to internal cues is crucial to if you want to stop overeating, something the French do better than us.

There’s nowhere to hide from larger portion sizes. Muffins, cakes, slices and burgers are growing as fast as our waistlines.

These super-sized snacks and takeaways look impressive and are often priced to create the perception of value for money. This has distorted what we consider a “normal” portion of food and has contributed to the worldwide prevalence of obesity.

We react to what we’re routinely exposed to in supermarkets, cafes, restaurants, and through advertising. The bigger the portions we routinely see, the more we see these sizes as normal.

This distortion in portion sizes follows us home. If you buy a cake to take home, you are more likely to cut yourself a piece that mimics those you enjoyed at a cafe. Even large packets of snack-sized bites from the supermarket can be deceptive. Because they seem so much smaller than a “normal” biscuit, you can be tempted to eat more.

Energy-dense, sugary or fatty foods are cheaper to produce than comparatively healthy foods, so there is little incentive for food companies to stop making them, or risk market share by reducing the serving size.

In the UK, researchers found that steak and kidney pies had increased in size by 50% since 1993. In the US, a soft drink was five times larger in 2015 than in the 1950s. In the same period, burgers have tripled in size and servings of fries have more than doubled.

The super-sizing trend has made its way to New Zealand, too, and although all that extra food may seem like a bargain, it comes at a cost to our health. Thanks to an 11% increase in the size and energy content of a slice of bread, sandwich bread alone contributes 30,543kJ more energy a year to a person’s diet than it did in 1993. That’s equivalent to an extra 3.5 days of food being eaten each year.

There is much the Government and food industry can do to solve the portion-size problem. A 2015 paper in the British Medical Journal listed a number of solutions, including reduced serving sizes for energy-dense foods and drinks; reduced availability and accessibility of larger portions and packaging; restricting pricing practices, where larger portions are relatively cheaper than smaller portions; and restricting portion sizes used in advertisements.

There are also changes we can make to our eating habits. Researchers have found that French adults often use internal cues to end their meals. They stop eating when they start to feel full, want to leave room for dessert, or no longer feel hungry. Notably, just 15% of French adults are obese.

By contrast, American adults, of whom 38% are obese, use external cues to end their meals. They stop eating when others do, when their drink is empty, or when their television show finishes.

We can reduce overeating by getting back in touch with our hunger and fullness cues and ignoring external stimuli.

Babies don’t need instructions on serving sizes for breast milk; they know exactly how much energy is needed to fuel their bodies for growth and development.

We all have the same innate ability to regulate our food and energy intake. Just pause and listen carefully to what your stomach is saying as you eat.

Eating mindfully extends to snack foods. We can’t stop companies selling over-sized portions, but we can certainly stop eating them. If you have a large bag of chips, or a large biscuit, separate them into smaller quantities and pause for a few minutes before deciding whether to eat more.

In this super-sized world, there’s no shame in quitting – if you’re full, stop eating. If the French can do it, we can, too.

This article was first published in the May 12, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.


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