According to the CDC more than 1 in 3 of American adults suffer from obesity. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reports that 1 in 20 adults are morbidly obese. While studies do show that genes, family history, diseases and syndromes can contribute to significant weight gain, common factors are often overeating and environmental factors.
So, what makes us eat too much? Is it because we are repeatedly blasted with fast food ads on television and radio? Is it the decadently delicious dessert recipes filling TV ads, our Facebook feeds and Pinterest boards? Is it the work break rooms and social events encircling refreshment tables? Is it that, as a nation, we are consuming more preservatives and added sugars than ever before and eating more meals from the drive-thru?
Truthfully, there are many contributing factors to study when it comes to what is causing us to overeat.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Research, Alcohol is a bigger contributor to overeating than any other factor. Scientists found that drinking increases the hormone levels that makes you feel hungry.
The University of Chicago performed a study, which showed that people who slept 5.5 hours ate 221 more snack calories than those who slept for 8.5 hours. People often use sugary and caffeinated beverages for energy after a less-than-restful night.
Every where you turn are food ads. The brain’s reward centers light up when people view images of food, causing the desire to overeat. So, we’re now we’re hungry and reaching for food quickly. Where do we go? Fast food. Unfortunately, we can easily get a high number of calories for very little cost, and when they advertise it that way we are hooked. Why not “super-size” for 50 cents more? It’s quite hard to argue with a 40 ounce Big Gulp and a jumbo hot dog for only two dollars, or a medium pizza with 8-piece hot wings for less that 10 bucks.
According to The Center for Science in the Public Interest, the average American drank just over 38 gallons of soda in 2013. That’s about 8 12-ounce cans per week. A typical 12-ounce can of regular cola contains nearly 9 teaspoons of added sugars, while The American Heart Association recommends a maximum daily intake of six teaspoons of added sugars for women and nine teaspoons for men. Soda leads to overeating and weight gain more than solid foods, because the brain’s satiety centers don’t register the calories.
How often have you found yourself eating more food, just because everyone else is? We attend social gatherings, work parties and events that surround refreshments and encourage overeating. Studies have proven that people often mimic each other’s eating behaviors. In fact, the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology published a particular study that found college students were more likely to eat M&Ms when another person offered them some.
A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed that those who skip breakfast are 4.5 times more likely to be obese. Research suggests that missing meals can slow your metabolism and make you more hungry, upping the odds that you’ll be overeating at subsequent meals.
A recent Nutrition Action Healthletter article explores these problems and solutions. Ashley Gearhardt, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, suggests that we struggle to say no to overeating and food advertisements, because “the human brain evolved in a time where food was scarce. So, it’s been optimized over the course of evolution to respond to food cues, and in particular to react to calorie-dense food.” Gearhardt explains that there is a “mismatch” between our old brains and the world of easily accessible food. The signals from our guts to our brains that indicate we’re getting full are also much slower and more subtle than our reward signals stemming from sugar and calorie-dense foods.
So, what can we do to change this? Gearhardt suggests what may help combat this:
Don’t let yourself get too hungry and skip the crash diets.
Don’t drink your calories.
Eat fresh fruit and vegetables in between meals. Choose snacks that you enjoy, but that don’t make you want to overdo it.
Find other ways to address your stress, than responding to emotions with indulging cravings.
Get more sleep.
Give yourself a break.
Gearhardt empathizes, “I ask people to have some compassion for themselves, because it is really hard. Our food environment is set up to make it hard for people to eat healthier.” Making healthy choices isn’t easy at first, but can become habit with time and consistency. We can slowly begin to make choices and changes to start fighting obesity.
Center for Science in the Public Interest. (2017, January 17). Fact Sheet on Sugar Drink Consumption. Retrieved from Center for Science in the Public Interest: https://cspinet.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Overweight & Obesity. Retrieved from CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/
Liebman, B. (2017, April). What Makes Us Eat Too Much. Nutrition Action Healthletter, 3-6.