Because eating is essential to life, it’s not surprising that it is part of a well-regulated system in our bodies and minds. We feel hungry, seek out and consume food, and experience a sense of satiety. Then the cycle is repeated over and over again.
This system runs automatically, but it is influenced by many factors. For instance, research shows that we eat more in groups, but we don’t spend time thinking about eating more in groups, or even being aware that we do it.
We just do it.
To this extent, all eating is regulated, albeit not necessarily by our conscious minds.
We rely on automatic regulation in many areas of life. It allows us to not have to think about every little decision. We don’t normally think about breathing, for instance, unless it becomes a problem. We don’t think about eating either, unless it becomes a problem. Relying on hunger alone doesn’t always work well. Hunger signals may arise at an inopportune time, or when food is not available.
Cues to eat are often dictated by factors other than physiological hunger. Simply seeing a certain food or being reminded of it can trigger the urge to eat.
Derrin Brown demonstrated the effect of subconscious cues (triggers) quite nicely in this video. This effect is not lost on advertisers or fast food chains.
Deliberately eating less then involves ignoring environmental cues (many of which you may not even be aware of) in order to weaken the association between the environment and the urge to eat.
The goal is to be as conscious as possible, but look what you are up against! For starters, consider these environmental factors and at least try to be more aware of them.
- We eat more in groups.
- We eat more from larger plates or containers.
- Being in a certain situation or environment can trigger certain psychological states and the urge for foods that are associated with them (e.g. popcorn at the movies).
- Certain people can trigger the urge for food or substances (e.g. “I always drink with John; Mom makes the best chocolate chip cookies.”)
- The colors yellow and orange stimulate appetite. Ever notice the colors of fast food restaurants?
- Even subliminal exposure to fast food symbols (e.g. golden arches) makes us feel time pressured, resulting of course in a tendency to choose “fast” food.
- We buy 40% more when we use a larger grocery cart. Choose the smaller cart if there’s a choice.
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