If you're not hungry, why are you eating?
We can find ourselves in situations where we are eating for no reason -- what has been coined "mindless" eating by experts, including Brian Wansink, PhD, a Cornell University researcher who has conducted numerous studies on the subject.
But eating without thinking can lead to consuming unneeded calories and weight gain, said Keri Gans, a registered dietitian based in New York, and author of "The Small Change Diet: 10 Steps to a Thinner, Healthier You" (Gallery Books; 2011).
"If you're just grabbing and eating, you're going to end up most likely consuming more calories than you need," Gans told HuffPost. "And by consuming more calories than you need, you'll most likely find you're gaining weight because you're not paying attention to what you are eating."
Gans suggests that when you feel like eating a snack, keep in mind the five Ds: delay, determine, distract, distance and decide. Waiting before eating reminds you to be mindful about your snack. And actually thinking about whether you are hungry or not forces you to consider what exactly you are putting in your body, Gans said. If you're not hungry, distracting yourself with something else or distancing yourself from the food could help you to avoid the temptation of eating.
Some other tips Gans gives her clients? Pack a healthy snack ahead of time so you don't run for the vending machine come afternoon, and eat away from your desk or the TV so that you're mindful of how much you're eating.
Here are some other tips revealed by research that could help you win the battle against mindless eating and excess calories:
A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that restaurant-goers who eat with really big forks (20 percent bigger than a normal fork you'd find at a restaurant) eat less food and leave more on their plates than people who eat with really small forks. A possible explanation for this finding is that when people use small forks to eat, they feel like they are not making any big progress in eating their meal and quelling their hunger pangs, TIME reported. In addition, the restaurant-goers who ate with the smaller forks and were given bigger portions of food at much more food than if they just had the smaller forks or if they just had the bigger portions.
Research from the Georgia Institute of Technology shows that people eat 31 percent more ice cream when they eat out of a 34-ounce bowl, rather than 17-ounce one, ScienceDaily reported. Researchers explained that's because people eat about 92 percent of what they serve themselves -- so if you serve yourself more, you'll eat more.
Columbia University researchers found that sleep deprivation can also lead to more calories consumed. They found that women who only got 4 hours sleep the night before ate 329 more calories in a nine-hour period compared with if they weren't sleep deprived, while men ate 263 more calories when sleep-deprived. "It has an impact on cognitive restraint," study researcher Marie-Pierre St. Onge told ThirdAge. "High-fat food is tempting, and maybe on short sleep you can't restrain yourself as well, while on full sleep you can resist more easily."
WHERE you eat your food could also factor in to how much you eat and whether you're eating food even though you're not hungry, according to research from the University of Southern California. Researchers had movie-goers say whether they were regular popcorn-eaters or not, and then they had them eat either stale popcorn or freshly popped popcorn. The regular popcorn-eaters ate just as much stale popcorn as fresh popcorn, while people who didn't consider themselves regular popcorn-eaters ate significantly less stale popcorn than fresh since it didn't taste as good. "The results show just how powerful our environment can be in triggering unhealthy behavior," study researcher David Neal said in a statement. "Sometimes willpower and good intentions are not enough, and we need to trick our brains by controlling the environment instead."
Research from Cornell University shows that we are three times more likely to eat the first thing that we see, compared with the fifth thing we see. In that study, researchers took photographs of 100 kitchen cupboards and asked the owners to keep records of what they ate. Researchers also tried moving the food around in the cupboards to see if that impacted their food choices -- and found that it did. The research shows that "we end up being masters of our own demise, to some extent," study researcher Professor Brian Wansink, Ph.D., author of "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think," told HuffPost.
Research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows that eating with your non-dominant hand can help you to decrease the amount of food you consume, CNN reported. The finding was part of the same movie-theater/popcorn study, where it was discovered that environment plays a part in mindless eating. Like in that experiment, researchers gave study participants either fresh or stale popcorn. They found that people who used their non-dominant hands and ate the stale popcorn ate 30 percent less than if they used their dominant hands, CNN reported.
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