People underestimate their food intake, and fatter people underestimate it more. Sometimes by astonishing amounts. I saw an episode of the BBC series Secret Eaters which featured a pair of sisters who both estimated their calorie intake - by food diaries - at 1200 calories/day. Actually, one of them was eating 3700 calories/day! This is pretty extreme, and I don't know how someone forgets about entire trips to a fast food place, buying candy bars in the grocery store, etc. More commonly obese people underestimate their calorie intake by 30-40% or so, but that's still plenty to cause a major weight problem. It's easy to eat fast food and snacks mindlessly, so this is part of the problem - the high-calorie snacks that are available everywhere.
People eating and managing to forget about it might be the main cause of the obesity problem.
So if you are someone who is overweight but believes they eat very little - how can you become conscious of what you eat and actually eat in a way that promotes weight loss?
If you did become aware of what you were actually eating and that you had been deceiving yourself - how did this happen?
Cornell has done a lot of research on mindless eating.
Thanks for that link! I didn't know that the size of serving bowls, or of individual plates or bowls, influence how much food people take, and that external cues, such as your plate or bowl not being empty, can actually overpower internal cues of being satiated. (For example, people ate significantly more soup from a self-refilling soup bowl than from a regular one.)
Some heuristics that seem to be effective for beating mindless eating:
Keep healthy food visible, junk food out of sight
out of sight as in, it never came in the door.
Also they found that people buy more high-calorie food when they haven't eaten for a few hours.
Many people go grocery shopping right after work, they would be in a hungry and perhaps stressed state.
Yes, the people in the show kept food diaries - but they left out items eaten unconsciously.
I think people could get an idea of how much they're eating unconsciously, by keeping a record of quantities of food eaten and calculating the calories. If the calories are lower than their estimated resting metabolic rate, they have a problem with unconscious eating.
A person's resting metabolic rate is related to their lean body mass. Body fat contributes little to one's energy requirements.
Obese people have greater lean body mass on average, which raises their resting metabolic rate. It's probably possible to find something online to estimate one's lean body mass from BMI and weight - or perhaps get it measured someplace.
Anyway people who think they're eating 1200 calories and gaining weight, are almost always kidding themselves.
However weighing and measuring and calculating the calories one eats, can be very illuminating. See for example the story of Raul Robles in the National Weight Control Registry, a site that studies people who lose a lot of weight and keep it off for a long time. According to the NWCR, the people who maintain weight loss:
eat a low-calorie, lowfat diet
exercise about an hour/day
weigh themselves often, many once a day
don't eat more on weekends.
They're people who are exercising a lot of self-control and probably quite conscious of what they're eating.
A lot of it isn't literally unconscious, after all eating does involve voluntary muscles like hands and arms.
Tracking calories by making a rule that everything is weighed or measured before it goes into one's mouth (or calories calculated from the package) may overcome that tendency to underestimate food intake.
On the Secret Eaters show, they have people estimating the actual food intake in various ways, and they do weigh and measure. A lot of the underestimating involves not literally being unconscious, but being "approximate" about quantities. For example a "splash of oil" when videotaped, turns out to be a quarter cup of oil. Etc.
It helps to be good at numbers and calculations when doing this - e.g. if the package says 205 calories in a serving of 125 g, and one eats 370 g, what are the calories in 370 g.
Also if someone who shares one's living space could perhaps point out when they are eating and not recording the calories.
At least in my case, keeping a food diary has been helpful. I began writing down everything I eat several months ago, to get control of IBS. I'd read that among the tiny minority of people who manage to keep off weight they'd lost, long term instead of just two years, were those who kept records of everything they ate. It's worked for me. It makes it easier to only eat an ounce of nuts per day, or limit myself to three squares of chocolate.
A food diary protects one from under estimating and from automatic eating.
I enter my food intake into a computer program. I haven't been trying to regulate the calories recently, I just look at them the following day.
Eating more than one realizes resembles eating more salt than you think. I thought I was hardly touching the stuff until I started adding it up. Salt on tomatoes, in cottage cheese, on my fish, etc. I am in shock. No wonder I'm on lisinopryl (for hypertension).
Definitely. Almost evryone eats a lot of processed food, which mostly has a lot of salt. The food co's raise salt levels to compete with each other just as they do with fat and sugar.
Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and public health at NYU, wrote at one time that the FDA was considering regulating salt levels in processed food, and slowly lowering the salt level so that people have time to get used to a lower level.
I've been wondering about my own sodium intake. I've been making cultured fruits and vegetables as a homemade probiotic, hoping that in time this will help me with my terrible allergies.
But, they are cultured in 5% saltwater, to keep bad bacteria from growing. I don't drink the brine, but I might be getting a lot of sodium from that anyway.
But my blood pressure is still quite low. I don't have any added sodium in my diet otherwise, because I don't eat processed food and don't sprinkle salt on anything.