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Appetite and hunger cravings seem to be one of the new villains in the battle against weight gain and obesity. Nutritional supplement companies, pharmaceutical companies and many new diet books are all targeting these as the primary factors to weight gain.
In theory this seems like a logical place to look. It sounds like it would make sense to me. Isn’t hunger what drives us to eat? Doesn’t a bigger appetite mean you will eat more food? The truth is these aren’t the only factors contributing to north Americas none stop feeding frenzy. And they probably have little to do with overeating at all.
Recent research shows that other social and psychological factors have a huge impact on not only when we eat, but how much we will eat. For starters the size of the plate, bowl, box or bag you eat food from will determine how much you will eat. A study done on people eating popcorn at the movies showed that people eating from the jumbo sized bag compared to the small bag ate way more popcorn (and the popcorn was 5 days old stale just to make sure they weren’t eating out of enjoyment for the great taste!). This result was consistent with all sorts of containers. People eat more from bigger bowls and larger plates.
The troubling part about this research is that these people are completely unaware that they are eating more. When surveyed after the study the people eating from the big bag who ate significantly more food actually thought they are eating the same amount as the people who were eating less with the smaller bags.
Other research shows that as long as food is within arms reach we will continue to eat it even if we’re not hungry. We have a better chance of eating less if food was more difficult to come by and took more effort. Even having to walk across a room will slow us down. But if that bowl of chocolate covered almonds is close enough to reach without moving, look out, it’ll be gone before you know it!
Food variety is also a major reason people just can’t seem to stop eating. If your fridge was full of your most favorite food in the world, but it was all you were allowed to eat for the next 10 days you would most assuredly get sick of eating it within the first 2-3 days. By the end of the 10 days you would probably be about 5 pounds lighter from lack of eating!
Even the perception of food variety changes how much we will eat. A study looked the difference between eating M&M’s in 5 bowls with the M&M’s poured into each bowl right out of the bag compared to M&M’s separated out by color in each bowl. People who were given M&M’s in bowls with all the colors mixed together ate significantly more than the people who were given the same amount of M&M’s divided by color in each bowl! As if! All M&M’s taste the same no matter what color they are!
This is just further (and rather disturbing) proof that there are dozens of subconscious factors influencing our food choices and a daily basis that we simply will never be able to control until we know they are affecting us.
In the battle of the bulge, appetite and hunger are factors, but research is showing they definitely are not the only factors. And I would argue they are less important that the nutrition researchers, pharmaceutical and supplement companies think. Things as simple as a bigger container, or being within arms reach of food, or even the color of the food will make us eat more. These influences have nothing to do with hunger. They are factors just outside of our awareness that are much harder to control, and in many social situations they are in fact impossible to control. For example there is no extra extra small bag of popcorn at the movies. All you have to choose from is huge, or super huge!
The bottom line is that fancy diets and products designed to kill your appetite and get rid of hunger cravings will leave most people very disappointed and wondering why they still can’t lose weight. Hunger is a normal response to signal you to eat. Trying to suppress it is probably not a good idea. Looking for better food options, or at least food ‘situations’ is more likely to be a successful strategy. For example: choose the smaller container or plate to eat from, put snack foods out of reach so you’re less likely to gorge on them. Simple changes like these will go a long way to helping you keep your consumption habits in check.
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