REACH: Mindless eating

By Kristen Frie

Why do we continue to gain weight year after year? The simple answer is the imbalance between calories in and calories out. But learning to manage portion control and mindless eating can make a difference.

Many times we find ourselves in a pattern of mindless eating, making food-related decisions in a highly distracting environment. Brian Wansink’s research found that people underestimate the number of food decisions made each day and how environmental cues (such as music, television or dining with others) can influence our ability to react to cues of fullness can influence these decisions.

A learned technique, portion control can be difficult to master considering the number of environmental cues we’re exposed to each day. Nonetheless, it’s an important skill to learn as successful participants in the National Weight Control Registry lose weight and maintain weight loss through its use.

Serving size and portion size are often used interchangeably. However they can have very different meanings. A serving is a standardized unit of measuring foods, such as a cup or an ounce, that is used in creating dietary guidelines for consumers. A portion is the amount of food or beverage that a person actually chooses to consume or is served in a restaurant.

Most people assume the amount of food served to them is one serving. However a portion is oftentimes larger than a serving and could actually be two or more servings.

Think about the last time you went to the movies. Today’s average movie theater’s medium-sized popcorn is 16 cups and 900 calories without butter. Top those fluffy yellow kernels with butter and your snack is now around 1,200 calories! While popcorn portion sizes may have increased by 11 cups in 25 years, it can still be incorporated into a healthful diet as long as portion control is the cornerstone.

In “Volumetrics Eating Plan,” Dr. Barbara Rolls provides techniques for feeling satiated from eating fewer calories. Rolls found that participants who ate soup for an appetizer consumed 20 percent fewer calories during their meal than those who only ate a casserole that contained the same ingredients as were in the soup. The plan is based on eating a larger volume of less energy-dense foods.

Energy density is the number of calories in a given weight of food. Foods that have lower energy density, such as grapes, are more filling and satisfying due to their higher water content as compared to foods with higher energy density, like raisins.

Here are a few ideas to get you started incorporating this model into your daily food intake:
• Eat a broth-based soup or salad before eating the main course
• Top pizza with vegetables
• Fill a sandwich with vegetables in addition to the protein source
• Eat fruit for dessert
• Drink water at the beginning of every meal.

Kristen Frie is a registered dietitian at the Anschutz Health & Wellness Center.

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