July 25, 2019

Let me start with the problem: eating too much.

I offer some interesting, yet hard-to-stomach, statistics about how much food Americans eat: 

  • Over 70 percent of adults age 20 and older are overweight or obese (according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • The average American consumes 3,600 calories per day (according to Business Insider)

It's clear that Americans struggle to be fit. 

What's holding us back from pursuing a healthier lifestyle? 

The list of reasons might include cost of food, taste, discipline, time, and the list goes on.

A Problem of Overeating

In this article, I want to address a basic solution: eating less.

Let's talk about why eating more makes a lot of sense psychologically and practically speaking. 

Food can taste delicious, right? 

But food that isn't as healthy is often the most delicious food! Can anyone say Blue Bell Ice Cream? 

Why do we find food to be delicious, and especially the calorie-rich, nutrient-poor foods?

Let's first talk about why we eat, then we can look at why eating less can actually do more for our health. We eat what might be "bad" for us for at least three reasons:

#1: Survival

The most obvious answer is that we need food to survive. Too much food won’t kill you that fast, but not enough food—try fasting for a few weeks—has some serious risks too. We eat to survive. 

When we eat too much, perhaps it's a survival instinct gone wrong. 

#2: Calories

Keep in mind, too, that our bodies love calorie-rich foods. Our body wants fuel and more calories equals more fuel, even if it’s not the best kind of fuel. Sometimes this results in us eating unhealthy foods just because of how many calories they contain.

#3: How We Feel

Another, more intuitive answer, is the psychological connection between what you eat and how you feel. Have you ever been sort of sad before a hot, delicious meal only to feel like a totally new person after the fact? 

This is a new field of study, and so far, many of the results have actually pointed to more balanced diets producing better moods. But nonetheless, we all tend to use food (for better or for worse) to affect our moods. 

So we eat for survival, calories, and feeling—among other reasons, no doubt!

I bring these up, though, because it helps us understand our present, and what we can do to perhaps become more healthy. 

Artifacts of Our Past?

Some research suggests that comfort foods are primarily artifacts of our pasts. I don’t buy this.

I think a more likely answer is the connection between our stomachs and our taste buds. If it tastes good, we think, it provides a lot fuel. 

The only problem is that most of us don’t need more fuel; we need less! 

So far, I've only scratched the surface of why we eat the way we do, but now that we know the problem, let's jump to some practical solutions to eating less. 

A Solution: Take Smaller Portions

That solution might sound simple, but it requires quite an overhaul of one's personal habits and routines. A favorite study of mine from the Department of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University, observed two groups of randomly selected adults eating ice cream to celebrate the success of a colleague. 

They served themselves and were allowed to have as much ice cream as they wanted. The only difference was the size of the bowls and the ice cream scoops.

The results? 

When given a larger bowl, participants served themselves 31 percent more ice cream, and when given a larger serving spoon they served themselves 15 percent more ice cream. Even the nutrition experts in the pool behaved this way. 

I think this has profound implications for people who are trying to lose weight (or gain it, if you're working in the opposite direction).

For starters, go into your kitchen and check how big your standard dinner plates are.

If they are anything like mine, they can almost fit an entire rotisserie chicken on one plate . . . that's huge!

Look at your bowls and your cups and your spoons.

Chances are if you serve yourself a bowl of ice cream, you’ll finish that bowl. It can be harder to stop than it is to start. 

Reducing your portion sizes can work across the board. 

Do you drink coke on a regular basis? Try buying smaller cans, or better yet, buy the liter bottles and pour yourself servings in small cups.

Are completely against giving up french fries? Get a small or a kid’s size instead of a medium.

This can even apply to your morning bowl of Cheerios: get smaller bowls. 

Sure, it may be asking a lot of you to go completely restock your dinnerware, but if weight is an issue for you, then I think it’s well worth it. The exponential effect of using smaller plates and cups and bowls and spoons (and maybe pots and pans?) will result in smaller meals throughout the day and less calories overall. 

The best part? We’re not changing what you eat necessarily, just how much you eat. 

Stay tuned and reach out with comments or questions.