This story about overeating starts and ends like every story where I’m at a restaurant. First, I’m handed a gargantuan menu with more writing than War and Peace, asked what I’d like to drink, and a complimentary basket of something is lovingly placed on the table right in front of me. At first I think to myself, I’ll just have one breadstick. Just one to tide me over until I order. Then I start digging into the menu. After page 37 I’ve narrowed down my dinner choices to my top 12. The waiter comes back and asks if we need more time. What do you think? I haven’t even reached the halfway point of your menu yet. And can you please bring more breadsticks? Choosing my optimal dish from your menu is real work here. Yes I’d like a refill on my Coke too. Thank you.
An hour later I’ve eaten more food then some people eat in a month, I’m leaned back in my chair wondering how in the hell I’m going to make it to the car, and I’m debating whether the fact that I’m sweating is a sign I’m having a heart attack or maybe it’s just hot in the restaurant.
Why do I do this to myself?
First of all, I’m not alone. That doesn’t make this story less glutenous, but it does make me feel better to know I’m not alone sitting in the shovel + face = me club. Second, it’s become so much easier to overeat now. So let’s take a look at why that is and maybe I can figure out how to keep my next chair from being a forklift.
Portion size –
It turns out that portion sizes in America have been growing in direct proportion to our waistbands. And the cruel trick is that visual aspects of a meal have been shown to influence how much we eat. For example, if you put pork chops in front of my beautiful wife, and a whole pig in front of me, I’m just as likely to finish my plate and report feeling less full afterwards. Sneaky eyes tricking my brain. So it’s pretty important to be aware that you are likely to eat however much food is on your plate, regardless of amount.
So I’m at dinner and I’m on my 12th breadstick. Don’t judge. You know they’re good. After that many though, I’m getting kind of bored with breadsticks. The good news is the salad just came out. And it’s green so it must be healthy. Just when the salad is making me a little too green, out comes my soup, and then my main dish, and my side dishes are waiting for me after that, and then ice cream. You get the picture. Too much variety can cause us to eat more than we would otherwise. In fact, researchers found that people ate four times as much when given multiple different foods. Four times? Amateurs.
The TV is on tuned to Westworld, the popcorn is popped, the butter is melted, and my Coke is on the coaster. I’m ready to go. An hour later the popcorn is gone, the Coke is empty, Westworld is over, and my wife is upset because I didn’t share a single piece with her. How did that happen? Well first, let’s be honest, I don’t share well. Second, I didn’t even realize I was eating. Eating while distracted by something else interrupts the mechanisms in our bodies that would normally stop an eating session, like feeling full. I tried to explain this to her. I didn’t know eyes could roll that far back into someone’s head.
So the answer to all of this is to eat mindfully and be aware of portion size. At a restaurant now, I might eat only half of the meal brought to me and no breadsticks. Practicing mindfulness while eating helps, and I don’t need a wheelchair assist to get to the car after dinner.