Overconsumption of calories is a problem. A big problem. From expanding waistlines to a burgeoning health crisis, the global obesity epidemic is wreaking havoc on our health systems. So just why are we consuming so many calories?
The fact is we are all mindless eaters. Each of us makes more then 200 nearly subconscious food choices every day.
Here are 4 major reasons why you might be consuming more than you think...
1. Hidden Calories:
No, this isn't referring to some deft ability of calories to magically hide and then suddenly re-appear in the guise of your gut! 'Hidden calories' refer to those extra calories we simply have no idea we were consuming. How many people know how many calories are in their large latte? (Answer: 160). This is common when consuming sauces or eating out and not preparing your own food. For example, if a restaurant uses the word ‘buttery’ in the name of the dish it will average around 102 more calories (Wansink, 2014). Anything described with the word ‘crispy’ will have 131 more calories in it (Wansink, 2014).
It has been shown in research that when people are asked to self-report food intake they tend to under-report, often by as much as 30% (Ferrari et al, 2002). Now, for the most part this isn't about lying. This is usually due to the following reasons:
Poor re-call: Often we try to keep a food log by logging all the foods we ate at the end of the day. However, this is a notoriously bad way of trying to track calorie intake because our re-call is often very poor.
- Food label inaccuracies: Even if we are diligently tracking all of our calories using food labels to judge how many calories we are consuming, there are often inaccuracies with these labels, meaning we cannot truly know how many calories were in that pack of chips we just bought.
- Unconscious Eating: Many of us don't eat purely for hunger. Often it is habit. Or boredom. How many people have associations with certain days and situations and a certain type of food? Eating in front of the television is one of the best examples of when we mindlessly eat. Watching TV makes us over-eat for the following reasons:
- We often eat out of habit and not hunger.
- We don't pay attention to how much we eat
- We pace ourselves by the show.
However, it is not just TV - anything distracting and enjoyable keeps you eating mindlessly longer than you otherwise would.
Many of us also keep snack food within very close proximity at home or at work. For example, Wansink (2014) found that the average office worker has 476 calories’ worth of food in their desk within arms reach. People who had sweets/lollies in or on their desk reported weighing 15.4 pounds (7kgs) more than those who didn’t.
3. Social Eating:
Research has shown that people tend to eat more when dining out with other people. This is often due to the fact we are distracted when talking and interacting with others, such that we are less mindful about how much food we are actually eating. Another reason is that we are more likely to drink alcohol when socialising with friends/work colleagues etc.
We tend to eat more calories when there is a greater variety of foods, and more specifically textures and flavours, available to us (think 'buffet'!). Stephan Guyenet (2017) has coined the term 'Sensory Specific Satiety' to describe the notion of fullness in relation to foods that have similar sensory properties (sweet, salty, sour etc). This explains why we are happy to eat dessert, even after a large meal that has met all our caloric needs.
When food reward and variety increase, so does food intake.
So as you can see, there are a number of ways we can over-consume on calories. In today's society where we have an abundance of hyper-palatable and calorie dense food available at the touch of a button, and a food industry that bombards us with marketing and advertisements, it is easy to see how we can fall prey to overconsumption. So, if you are struggling to see a change in weight/body fat, sometimes you don't have to look for any obscure, detailed reason as to why the scale won't budge. Perhaps it could be that you have fallen prey to some of the reasons outlined here.
Food for thought.