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5 Reasons Why People Overeat and How To Stop

5 Reasons People Overeat

People overeat for a variety of reasons, and the results of such an indulgence can include overweight and obesity as well as an increased risk of serious diseases and complications such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, osteoarthritis, among others. Here are five reasons why people overeat-- including the latest research that involves bacteria—and how to stop.

Overeating is not always simple

If you have a tendency to binge, regularly eat too much, or overeat unhealthy foods, have you ever thought about why? Researchers have, and they have come up with some answers that may surprise you, including the latest study from France.

One. A French team from the University of Rouen has proposed that the bacteria in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract may have a role in appetite control. According to investigator Vic Norris and his coauthors, bacteria in the gut may stimulate the GI tract. These organisms also “respond both to both the nutrients consumed by their hosts and to the state of their hosts as signaled by various hormones.”

The interactions between the bacteria, hormones, and neurotransmitters are complex, but scientists are now ready to investigate whether the relationship has an impact on how people choose food. Stay tuned, for they plan to conducted “experiments correlating the presence of particular bacterial metabolites with images of the activity of regions of the brain associated with appetite and pleasure.”

Action: The role of bacteria in overeating is still in the hypothesis stage. However, previous research has indicated a possible role for good bacteria, or probiotics, in obesity.

Two. Some people who are overweight or obese may overeat because they salivate longer than people who are of normal weight. Research indicates that while saliva production declines in most people after they have become used to a certain food and consumed enough (called habituation) and feel full, others may continue to salivate, which prompts them to continue eating.

According to Dale S. Bond, one of the study’s authors, this suggests that normal salivation is impaired in people who are obese. Because they don’t get the right feeling of fullness, they continue to eat longer.

Action: Short of being tested for your salivation response, you can be aware of this possible contributing factor for overeating and practice mindful eating—chewing each morsel slowly and thoroughly, savoring the taste of the food, putting down your fork or spoon in between bites and taking time to be mindful of what you are eating.

Three: One of the hazards of keeping up with today’s fast-paced lifestyle is not paying attention to what and how we eat. The result is that many people overeat simply because they are not paying attention, engaging in what Brian Wansink, PhD, calls “mindless eating.”

Wansink, who is a behavioral scientist at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, notes that making small adjustments can make a big difference and help stop overeating. For example, use a smaller plate and you’re likely to eat less.

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“Our studies show the bigger the plate is, the more people serve, typically to the level of about 25 to 28 percent more,” Wansink explains. People also tend to drink more juice and other beverages—as much as 76 percent more--if they are given a short, wide glass compared with a tall, narrow one.

Watching television and eating at the same time tends to make people overeat as well. Another mindless eating factor is choosing fat-free or low-fat products, which lead some people to mindlessly overeat because they think they are eating “healthy” food.

Actions: Use smaller plates and taller glasses, don’t eat while watching TV, and don’t be fooled by so-called “diet” foods—read the labels carefully for calorie and fat content per serving.

Four: When the body is operating properly, carbohydrates are transformed into sugar (glucose), insulin helps move sugar from the blood to the body’s cells, and the blood sugar levels remain below 100 mg/dl. However, millions of people have prediabetes, in which their blood glucose levels are between 100 and 125 mg/dl.

When glucose levels are elevated and the body’s cells don’t recognize insulin, blood insulin levels increase and can stimulate the appetite and a tendency to overeat. If you choose simple carbohydrates, then this stimulates the overeating cycle even more.

Action: If you have not been checked for diabetes, get screened. Also, eat four to six healthful, smaller meals or snacks throughout the day to help keep your blood glucose levels steady and to avoid getting hungry. Focus on high-protein, low-fat, high-fiber foods, and be sure to drink lots of water. Practice mindful eating.

Five: Are you bored? Boredom is one reason why many people overeat. They have nothing exciting to do, their job is boring, they have no one to talk to, the weather is bad so they are stuck inside—the reasons can go on and on. Food is for nourishment and it can be fun as well, but don’t turn to food to fill your social calendar.

Action: Every time you feel bored and reach for food to fill the loneliness, stop and write down how you are feeling and what you’re about to do. Then come up with some alternatives: it can be anything from reading a book to surfing the Internet, calling a friend, taking a walk, writing a letter, or engaging in some creative activity. Also, be prepared for such moments by having cut fresh vegetables and fruits in the refrigerator or something easy to eat like grapes or baby carrots. Eating these healthy foods, however, should not replace also writing down and then practicing some alternative activity.

Overeating, overweight, and obesity are serious health challenges that face millions of people in the United States and around the world. Recognizing the reasons for overeating and then taking steps to stop them are actions everyone can start right now.

Bond DS et al. Differences in salivary habituation to a taste stimulus in bariatric surgery candidates and normal-weight controls. Obesity Surgery 2009 Jul; 19(7): 873-78
Norris V et al. Hypothesis: bacteria control host appetites. Journal of Bacteriology. Online ahead of print. American Society for Microbiology

Image: Morguefile