Why we overeat?
No doubt you have heard of the energy balance: calories in vs calories out. In order to lose weight, you have to spend more calories than you put in. To be honest, it’s not that simple, but more about it another day. Right now I want to examine why people eat more than they should. There certainly are chemical/hormonal reasons for that, but that’s not what I want to tackle here. I want to talk about something even more important but less obvious – habits. We are rarely aware of our habits until they are really obvious or destructive like smoking, drinking etc. But there are more subtle habits and some of them stem from childhood or even further back – before you were even born. No, I am not talking any spiritual new-age stuff here. Just bear with me a little longer.
Observing my friends from different cultures, I have discovered a few interesting things. Your culture goes back much further than your birth. While growing up you automatically inherit it.
One example is that it could be rude to not offer food to your guests. To make things worse, it could be perceived as even more offensive to refuse the food offered. In this case, guests will eat up everything that is presented to them for the fear of offending the host. Are you one of them?
Another example, if you come from a culture where food is scarce and end up in a typical western country then there is a possibility that you will overeat. You were probably conditioned to eat as much as possible when food was available due to not knowing when your next meal could be. However, once food is cheap and abundant, care needs to be taken not to fill up during every meal. I see this happening to a lot to African immigrants. Within a year or 2 from arriving they go from very slim to almost obese. Another contribution to this problem is the price/quality ratio of food available. The cheapest food is usually loaded with empty calories, sugar, salt and fat – take for example McDonalds, pizza, fish and chips etc. It’s not always that immigrants can afford better quality food.
Another obvious one: more is better. In some cultures it is perceived as fortunate to be on a round side, rather than slim.
Let’s move on to when you were a baby. Babies cry for a variety of reasons. However, mothers, nannies or care givers usually end up giving the baby some food to comfort it. Even worse when it’s something sweet. The baby stops crying and everybody learns to do it again next time. I knew this girl once, very pretty but a little bit chubby at the age of 20. She told me that whenever she’s stressed, she goes to the fridge to look for some food. She came from a large family and was very close to grandparents, cousins etc. This a very good example of habit developed in early childhood, one that she wasn’t even responsible for but that stayed with her for the rest of her life.
A few more years forward – you are a small child of maybe 6 to 10 years old. You eat by yourself now. You get constantly told to by your parents to eat up everything on your plate. Sounds familiar? Now, you’re an adult and never leave food on your plate… Or worse, you go for seconds…
And here’s another one – waste not. This one, is a very sneaky one. A lot of my friends are caught out by this one, although, I must say it is more frequent with my male friends rather than female. Some of them are even pretty well off. Not sure about their childhood background, though but they hate to see good food thrown out. They will scoff down whatever their kids or partners leave on their plates.
These are only the most obvious examples. I am sure that there are many more. With practice you will be able to see the ones that affect you. Dealing with these habits is actually easier than you may think. You only have to become aware of these and your mind will do the rest. Once your attention is on them, you are back in control – you will have a choice: either continue with the habit or break it. Each time you break it makes you stronger, and you will notice a difference very soon.
(PS. not sure if you have noticed how we tend to propagate these habits between generations. Let’s say you grew up with some of these and now you are adult and have your own kids. Are you telling them to lick the plates clean???)