Your Brain is Making You Fat: How to Outsmart It

by Mary on January 4, 2014

A healthy breakfast: soy yogurt with nuts and seeds

A healthy breakfast: soy yogurt with nuts and seeds

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.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Hannah January 5, 2014 at 2:23 am

Wise words indeed… I know I’m guilty of mindless eating and endless snacking, so it’s a very good reminder to just be more aware and conscious throughout the day. Restaurant portions don’t concern me as much because it’s a rare indulgence when I eat out, rather than the routine. It wouldn’t hurt to keep a food diary anyway, though!
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mary January 5, 2014 at 8:13 pm

I’m sure there would be all kinds of amazing creations of yours in that food diary…


Tina January 5, 2014 at 2:42 am

I keep a food diary. I use it to see if I’m doing a decent job overall with what I’m eating.


mary January 5, 2014 at 8:10 pm

That’s great, Tina, I’m glad that’s working for you!


Marcia January 5, 2014 at 1:13 pm

My eating is habitual and I stink at sticking with a food diary. Mindless snacking is my downfall! You’re a skater!!! This makes me happy. I skated for many years and my kids do now. Love it and will be glued to the TV for Nationals. : )


mary January 5, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Cool! I love finding bloggers who are current or former skaters, we are kind of rare! Have you ever thought of joining your kids on the ice? That’s how I got back into it. But I know you are a very dedicated runner and that’s where your athletic energy goes now. I just checked on the schedule for Nationals on icenetwork and put it on my calendar, they’ll be showing the same events that will be on TV (but live only, they won’t archive the video).


yummychunklet January 7, 2014 at 4:38 pm

Great and helpful post!
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mary January 7, 2014 at 5:23 pm



Rosie January 19, 2014 at 1:27 pm

A great reminder for me! Thanks Mary


mary January 19, 2014 at 3:05 pm

I’m glad you found it helpful, Rosie!


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