Do you ever find it hard to just stop eating even when you know you've had enough? Have you ever eaten something then before you even noticed you've already finished? Why is it so hard to just stop eating? Using the research from multiple scientific studies I was able to find 3 specific reasons for why this happens. My ultimate goal with this post is to make you aware of some reasons why you can stop eating to help you overcome that issue.
Eating to be effective in your own life you need to not only be aware of what your thoughts and feelings are but also be able to turn that awareness into action. One example of that action is being able to stop eating when you are full.
As a kid, I was taught that I always had to finish what I ate before I could leave the table because my parents did not want me to waste food. That sounds like a good habit to have but now that I'm grown up I noticed that it has a bad side. I trained myself to overeat even when I am full just so I can say I finished my food. I have to constantly be mindful of how much I am eating to stop myself from overeating.
There are some people out there who have an easier time than me stopping when they are full. But stopping is also important when you find yourself craving unhealthy foods or when you find yourself eating something and you are not even aware of the fact that you are eating. Here are 3 reasons why it is hard to stop eating:
The human brain is programmed to prioritize food no matter what environment we are in. You are always subconsciously looking for your next meal.
It is only recently that the majority of people have a stable source of food. There are still approximately 10% of the world who have no idea where their next meal will come from.
Even if some of us live in an environment where we don’t need to worry about where our next meal will come from, everyone has the same brain structure.
A study published a few years ago by researchers at MIT on lab mice to study the areas of the brain related to overeating.
In this study, research stimulated a region within the brain related to overeating. The neural pathway related to overeating is very close to the neural pathway of the brain stimulated during cases of drug and gambling addiction.
"In this case, they activated regions of the mouse brain that are thought to give rise to compulsive eating, connections between the lateral hypothalamus to the ventral tegmental area (which also play roles in drug and gambling addiction)."
The study showed that even though the mice were well-fed when the researchers stimulated the region in the brain related to overeating the mice continued to eat.
The researchers also stimulated the brain even without food in the area and the mice started to chew on the floor and chew empty space.
You can imagine that if compulsive eating causes your brain to act like it does when you have a drug or gambling addiction how hard it can be to stop eating.
The article that quotes the study gives some good recommendations for dealing with overeating and food addiction: "joining social support groups online or in-person, practicing mindfulness or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), logging your food intake, and substituting healthier habits for the old ones (for example, 10 minutes of exercise or yoga instead of the nightly sweets break) can be helpful."
Food that is made today is not that people ate fifty years ago.
Large scale production of food has caused scientists to engineer and genetically modify food so that food is cheaper, lasts longer, and tastes better.
These advancements brought about ultra processed foods. Ultra processed foods are foods that “go through multiple processes (extrusion, molding, milling, etc.) (and) contain many added ingredients and are highly manipulated.”
The problem with ultra processed foods is that modifying the taste has caused these ultra-processed foods to become highly addictive.
These ultra processed foods are hyperpalatable. Hyperpalatable foods are “one where the synergy between components of the food — such as fat, sodium (salt), sugar, and carbohydrates — makes it tastier than it would otherwise be”
These foods are characterized by their addicting properties, similar to a drug like cocaine.
Here is a list of properties that hyperpalatable foods have:
These foods activate the same region of the brain that drugs like cocaine or opioids do, making them extremely addicting.
Hyperpalatable foods block the signal to the brain telling you that you are full and because these foods taste so good it is easy to eat way more than you should be able to if you were eating non-processed foods.
The world that we are living in is getting more and more distracting every day.
How many times have you just started eating something while you are watching TV or watching a movie and before you know it all the food that you were eating is gone? How you ever got done eating something and then not even remember how it tastes?
The problems with eating distracted are that you are not aware of how much you are eating and you are not aware of when you should stop eating.
If you want to stop once you start eating you need to eat attentively, meaning you need to remove distractions and be focused on your food.
The science shows that attentiveness directly affects how much food you eat.
We will look at a meta-study of various studies done on attentive eating to find out to what extent your attention has on how much food you eat.
The conclusion that the study reaches is that eating while distracted results in a "moderate increase in immediate intake".
Distracted eating makes you eat more than you would normally because you are not aware of how much you are eating. When you are not mindful of how much you are eating the survival part of your brain kicks in and you eat like you don't know where your next meal will come from.
The next point the study makes is that distracted eating also "increased later intake to a greater extent".
Distracted Eating not only makes you eat more in the moment, but it also makes you eat more the next time you eat. The amount that you eat later is greater than what you eat currently when you eat while actively distracted.
Eating while distracted will make you underestimate how much you eat causing you to eat more later on.
The final conclusion that is significant is that "removing visual information about the amount of food eaten during a meal increased immediate intake".
This explains the importance of presence while eating. Not being able to see how much you eat causes you to increase the amount of food that you eat. You must learn how to tell what your hunger is while you eat so you know when is the proper time to.