Why is it so hard to eat well and maintain a healthy weight? Salon had a few related articles yesterday that shed light on this.Your Brain is Making You Fat is on how conscious awareness is just a small fraction of the brain’s capacity, used for only the most important tasks: and choosing what we eat does not often fall under the category of ‘most important task.’ So a lot of mindless eating happens. People asked to recall what they ate are usually shy by 20 to 30%.
While the article doesn’t mention this strategy, keeping a food diary is a great way to become aware of what you eat. It’s a little inconvenient, and some people can go overboard with it, even into eating disorder territory. But with those caveats, a food diary can really help. There are plenty of computer and phone-based choices available.
I use Calorie King, mainly because I started with it and I’ve already put in lots of nutrition information about products and meals that I eat. I’m using it now to shed a few pounds gained by the usual December problem: less exercise and more food.
A second Salon article, Restaurant Portions Destroy Your Diet, advocated the politically unfeasible idea of standardized portions for restaurants, but also had great information on how portion size affects how much we eat. Whatever we’re served, whether it’s a bigger or smaller portion, we tend to think that’s the amount we’re supposed to eat, and we do. We’re not less satisfied with a smaller portion, and served a bigger portion, eat all of it. It’s very hard to choose the appropriate amount to eat from an ample serving or a large bowl of food. Instead of relying on willpower (not gonna work) tricks like eating from a smaller bowl or plate can work.
Echoing the first article, the author writes, “We are beginning to recognize that people are limited in their ability to control how much they eat.” And “because eating is typically an automatic behavior, the quantity that people eat depends on the quantity they are served.”
It goes back to increasing conscious awareness of portion size and of what you actually are eating, for which the food diary is helpful– and certainly, staying out of restaurants with their overly large portions really helps, too. Which is where a third Salon article, The Only Way to Defeat the Food Industry: Cook More, comes in. It’s written by a mom who’s in a much more favorable position than most to make sure her children get non-industrial, individually prepared food. She’s living in Italy where the general culture is for children to be served the same food as adults, mostly home-cooked, and where her children’s school serves all the children a communal hot meal each day. It’s hard to even imagine a school hot meal being a healthy thing, conditioned as we are to what’s served here in the US, but it happens in other places.