Hunger and appetite are hot topics. “How can I control my hunger?” “When do I know when I am actually full?”
It’s tricky because our appetite can be triggered by several things. Our blood sugar levels and ghrelin (the hormone that stimulates hunger) levels are major biological triggers for our hunger levels. However, there is a huge side of hunger we tend to ignore…the psychology behind hunger.
Here are some things that we can point to psychologically for our appetite: norms of portion sizes, social cues and stress.
Portion Size Norms
Since 1960, the overall surface area of the average dinner plate has increased 36%. Our portion sizes for restaurant meals and processed foods/ snacks have increased immensely over the last 30-40 years. Compared to Paris, US candy bars are 41% larger, soft drinks are 52% larger and cartons of yogurt are 82% larger. Americans tend to want to get more “bang for their buck” so in the age of bottomless pasta and size upgrades at fast food restaurants, it’s easy to lose sight of what a true portion is. This can easily lead to overeating and mass confusion on when we are actually satisfied after a meal.
How to combat this
Opt for a smaller plate – Studies show that those who used a smaller dinner plate reported more satisfaction after a meal and less caloric intake compared to those who ate the same meal but served themselves with a bigger dinner plate.
When serving food to yourself or others, think about the size of the food – If you make lasagna maybe even a sweet treat like brownies, be cognizant of how you are cutting the servings of these dishes.
Pay attention to portion sizes at restaurants – Even if you order the healthiest option on the menu, the portion sizes can still be skewed. If anything, think of it as being able to get two meals for one price. If you know you lack the control to only eat one serving, ask for a to-go box right away. Slide half of the meal in there to have the next day!
It is no surprise that many social gatherings will involve food in some capacity. But what does having that food present in those social settings do to our appetite? One study showed that those who ate in a group setting ate 60% more than those who ate alone. They identified the same level of hunger prior to sitting down for their meal as well. Now, this does not mean you need to cancel all future dinner plans in order to control your appetite. That is quite the opposite. We should be able to be in social settings without overindulging. We just have to be aware of those external cues that may be influencing us to eat more.
How to combat this:
I cannot stress this enough…Do not feel the need to isolate yourself when you are eating! Go out to eat with your friends, family and/or significant other. However, while you are out to eat or grabbing a drink, pay attention to your habits as you are eating with others. When you are catching each other up on the week, do you find yourself reaching for the chips and queso more while you are waiting for your meal to come? Identify those habits and find a solution that is best for you in those situations.
Stress can have an effect on our lives in many ways. Our appetite is not exempt from this. Stress has been shown to drive us to consume more food. One study found that stress produced a change in appetite in 81% of its participants. 62% of those participants had an increase in appetite. With the increase, the participants were more likely to choose sweets or high fat/greasy foods. 80% of those participants reported being “healthy eaters” before the study began. That number decreased to 33% after stress was increased.
How to combat this
Find ways, outside of the kitchen, to reduce stress levels. Get more active, meditate, find what works best for you. Getting more quality sleep can also help to decrease stress levels and all the wacky hormone levels that can accompany it.
It’s not always as simple as telling yourself if you are full or if you are hungry. Our bodies and minds are very complex Do you struggle with any of the points listed above? If you find it hard to control your appetite, know that you are certainly not alone. However, there are changes you can make daily to get back control of your own hunger and appetite.