There’s nothing more frustrating than working hard towards a goal and not seeing any progress.
If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, maybe you can relate: you start making changes to your food, adding in more fresh produce and eating out less, yet after the first few pounds, the weight just doesn’t seem to budge. This dilemma leads many people to try extreme and unsustainable strategies for losing weight.
When I coach weight loss clients and they aren’t seeing the results they were expecting, we don’t start meticulously counting calories, controlling portions, or cutting out entire food groups. Instead, we focus on uncovering the underlying reasons why each person may be eating just a little bit too much. Once these underlying concerns are addressed, it becomes much easier to create consistent weight loss without going hungry or feeling deprived.
Here are five of the biggest reasons why you may be overeating without even realizing it, and how you can create solutions that will work for you.
1). Your meal looks too small
There’s a well known saying that chefs love: “you eat with your eyes first.” This is true not only because beautiful food seems to taste better, but interestingly, also because food that appears larger is more filling than food that appears smaller.
The research of Dr Barbara J. Rolls, author of the The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet has shown that a variety of foods injected with air, whether it be cheese puffs or milkshakes left people more satisfied while consuming fewer calories. Even a partially smashed hamburger will be less satisfying than one where the bun and lettuce and toppings haven’t been condensed together.
While the skeptics will say that larger volumes of food also are more filling to the stomach, remember we’re talking about air here. Air does not fill up the stomach and prevent room for more food as fiber or water would, suggesting that our brains and visual cues play a large role in determining whether or not our food is satisfying.
The solution to tiny meals: pump up the volume. While we may not have the means to inject our food with air, and volumizing conditioner won’t work here, we can increase the veggie content of each meal. By adding more veggies to each meal, you pump up the volume of the meal and help yourself feel more satisfied with less food.
2). You don’t chew your food well
We live in a fast paced society, and it can become really easy to get into the habit of quickly biting into your food then swallowing immediately without thoroughly chewing each bite. Not only is there a looming threat of a trip to the emergency room when a big enough piece of chicken gets lodged in your throat, but not chewing your food well may keep you eating past the time that you are actually full. Multiple research studies have shown that thoroughly chewing food decreases the amount of food eaten, and even may improve the blood sugar response that our body has to the meal.
The solution to not chewing enough: chew your food more thoroughly, aiming for 20-30 chews per bite.
3). You eat while distracted
How often do you find yourself eating in front of your desk at work, while watching a movie, or reading a book? This habit of multitasking while eating may be causing you to eat too much.
Multiple research studies have shown that distractions during eating leads to more food being eaten at the meal, and also at following meals. Not only will you eat more when you’re distracted, you’ll also likely get hungry sooner, and eat more at your next meal too.
The solution to distracted eating: carve out time to enjoy your meal without distraction. Put on some pleasant music, enjoy it with a friend, and pay attention to your food.
4). You rely on external cues rather than internal cues
There’s a lot of talk about why “French women don’t get fat” and it’s a great question. With their cheese and wine and pastries, any number of us would be struggling not to overeat. But according to Dr Brian Wansink from the Food and Brand Lab at Cornel University, the difference is that they listen to their body cues, rather than allowing external cues to decide how much they will eat.
Dr Wansink surveyed a group of Chicagoans and Parisians, and found that overall, the Parisians stopped eating when they were no longer hungry, while the Chicagoans stopped eating when they ran out of food. Interestingly those who were heavier, both from Paris and Chicago, were more likely to rely on external cues, like how much food is left, rather than internal cues, like fullness.
The solution to relying on external cues: Leave the clean plate club! Listen to your body’s hunger signals to decide when you’ve had enough rather than eating until the food is gone.
5). You munch and graze
Let’s talk about BLTs. I’m not talking about bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches, but bites, licks, and tastes that happen between regular meals. For example, a cookie from the office break room, a handful of M&Ms on the way past the reception desk, and a few chips from the chip bowl during the big game.
There are a few things that you need to know about these BLTs. For one thing, when it comes to food eaten out of larger containers, like chips or popcorn, research shows that we tend to eat to the size of the container rather than our actual hunger. That small handful of chips ends up being a few chips more, and a few more, and eventually we’ve eaten half the bowl without ever tasting one of them.
A second thing to know about BLTs is that our bodies don’t compensate for them in our next meal. If we ate an extra food as a snack, it’s easy to assume that we will naturally be less hungry for our next meal and eat less. However, a 2011 research study in the Journal of Nutrition of shows that the meal size does not actually change to compensate for that snack if we ate when we weren’t actually hungry, so we end up eating more over the course of the day than if we would have just skipped the snack.
The solution to munching and grazing: set specific meal times, or set time ranges that work for your meals, and create a habit of not eating between those meals. Some good replacement habits are drinking water, chewing gum, or listening to music.
If you’re trying to lose weight but not seeing the success you were hoping for, take a look at these five areas, and implement these tips, and let me know how it works for you. I have no doubt you’ll be seeing much better progress very soon.