We eat for energy and for the nutrients that food offers, but there’s a pleasure component to dining as well. Sometimes, that pleasure component causes us to make poor food choices. What you eat matters! Eating a diet of nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods offers health benefits and aids in weight control. That’s because whole foods are typically lower in calories and nutrient dense, so they satisfy hunger and cravings. They also supply the nutrients that healthy bodies need. In contrast, highly processed foods typically contain lots of sugar and lack fiber to help satiate appetite. But, it’s not just what you eat, how you eat it matters as well. How many of these bad eating habits do you commit without being aware of it?
Bad Eating Habits #1: Eating While Distracted
Do you eat while you’re conquering your to-do list? Noshing when your mind is focused elsewhere is a big no-no. A review of 24 studies published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that distracted eating leads to eating more at a meal and greater calorie intake after the meal. On the other hand, eating mindfully by focusing in on the food on your plate, helps curb calorie intake and helps with weight control.
Distractions come in many forms, devouring a plate of food while you catch up on email or munching while watching your favorite reality show or YouTube video. All of these things have something in common. They shift your mind away from what your plate and the sensory experience of eating. Break the habit! Learn to really appreciate the food on your plate, the way it smells, tastes and how it looks. Don’t wolf it down! Food is meant to be savored. Resist that urge to multitask by doing other things while you eat. Studies show that people are not very good at multitasking anyway.
Bad Eating Habits #2: Eating on the Run
Yes, your lifestyle is busy, but eating on the run is another form of distracted eating and it leads to unhealthy food choices. When you’re pressed for time, convenience trumps nutrition and you’re more likely to grab a bag of fast food at the golden arches. When you eat on the go, you also tend to eat faster and less mindfully.
Having regular eating habits, in general, is good for your waistline. Researchers at the University of Helsinki used research from a larger study of more than 4,900 young men and women. This data showed that irregular eating habits and dieting are both linked with weight gain. In the study, drinking drinks with added sugar, feeling dissatisfied with life, and having at least two children were also correlated with weight gain.
The take-home message? Plan your meals and try to set aside specific times to eat your meals. Eating too fast also creates stress and that can lead to an increase in cortisol. A boost in cortisol, in turn, increases appetite and cravings as well.
Bad Eating Habits #3: Eating with Friends
Eating with friends or in a social situation is another form of distracted eating. When you’re catching up on old times in a restaurant or talking business, your mind isn’t focused on what’s on your plate, and that is key to not overeating. Also, when you eat with friends or in a social situation, you’re subtly influenced by what others around you are dining on. If your buddies or business partners are ordering dessert, you’re more likely to ask for the dessert menu too. Research shows we tend to model what we eat based on what others around us are munching on. In contrast, when you eat alone, you’re less distracted and focus more on what’s on your plate. If you have a choice, eat with friends who have healthy eating habits!
Bad Eating Habits #4: Using the Wrong Plates
Strangely enough, plate size matters in terms of calorie intake. A study published in the Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that dining from larger plates and bowls encourages people to overindulge. Research shows that people serve themselves more food when they dish on to a large plate as opposed to a small one. The effect may be more significant than you think. The size of a dinner plate has increased by 23% since the 1900s.
Another subtle factor is the color of the dishes you eat from. Bright colors, like red, orange, and yellow, encourage overeating. In contrast, dull, muted shades modestly reduce appetite and calorie intake. This explains why fast food restaurants have signs in shades of red or yellow. Plus, red, yellow, and orange are activating colors. They encourage you to take action! So, the best the plates to eat from are smaller and muted in color.
Bad Eating Habits #5: Giving Yourself Too Many Choices
People overeat at buffets for a reason. You not only have an abundance of food in front of you, but you have lots of different choices. That likely means you’ll eat more. Studies show people who eat a variety of different types of food are more likely to chow down on unhealthy stuff like soft drinks, refined grains, unhealthy snacks, and processed meats. Also, when you have limited types of food at a meal, you satiate of those foods rather quickly. The first few bites are the best! But what if you have four or five other options on the table? You’ll shift to foods that you haven’t eaten yet.
The one situation where a variety is beneficial is unprocessed, non-starchy vegetables. By eating a variety of these foods, you get a diverse array of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.
The Bottom Line?
Hopefully, you don’t commit these five bad eating habits that cause weight gain. But if you do, make some changes in how you eat. It could pay off with a slimmer waistline – and that’s good for your health!
Harvard Health Publishing. “Distracted eating may add to weight gain”
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 97, Issue 4, 1 April 2013, Pages 728–742, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.112.045245.
StudyFinds.com “Research in a Nutshell”
Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences. Volume 9, June 2016, Pages 1-6.
Obes Sci Pract. 2017 Sep; 3(3): 282–288.
FoodNavigator-USA.com. “The Delboeuf illusion: Why expanding dinner plates are expanding our waistlines”
Consumer Reports. “Too Many Food Choices Can Make You Gain Weight”