Are we using our minds when we eat or are we thinking with our gut?
Americans eat too much because we eat without thinking—we allow our gut to make decisions and the gut is not concerned with the waistline.
Thinking with our Gut
I like to think that when I eat it is the result of a conscious choice. Then I find myself munching on a treat just because it caught my eye (or nose). This seeing or smelling food and then eating is not conscious choice but a response to an intuitive desire which runs under the radar—it does not analyze but works on many millennia worth of starvation experiences, it is part of our gut feeling. Many times gut feelings are helpful but sometimes they can also just be wrong. We
rarely analyze food, we just feel a desire for food and make a snap judgement – we think with our gut when eating.
It’s hard to overcome food aversions because they’re related to feelings. We like to drown our sorrows and celebrate with food. Feelings are also affected by external events and cues. Eating a meal with friends in a beautiful setting gives greater pleasure than eating the same food eaten off a test tray in a lab. The emotional pleasure of friends and comfort add to the pleasure of the food. Many of us have a favorite food from childhood, often unexceptional food, that for us is special because it recalls great memories.
In his book Mindful Eating, Brian Wansick talks about his test restaurant. There identical meals are served to customers along with a free glass of wine. This wine is described to some as coming from California and to others as coming from North Dakota. In truth the same generic wine was served to everyone. But the wine’s description affected people’s pleasure of the meal. More of the customers who thought they were getting an off brand wine left sooner and disliked the food.
Influencing our Gut Thinking
When we think with our gut, the thinking occurs subconsciously so we don’t realize or accept that we’re being influenced by outside forces. This influence can be very subtle. In a classic psychology experiment, researchers prove that holding something warm like a cup of coffee for just a few seconds predisposes you to like the next person you meet. It doesn’t make intuitive sense but tests keep confirming that bias. The speculation is that the area for warmth is very close to the area for trust in our brain. The book “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell explains other ways that gut thinking influences us.
When we are shown the same food in two different portion sizes our gut always chooses the larger portion (unless it’s a disliked food). We often see this with little kids: they want the largest cookie even if they can’t eat the whole thing.
Adults do the same, they gravitate to the larger portion. Unfortunately they can eat it all and that has hurt the waistline. Because we gravitate to larger portions the size of cookies, cake, etc. have gotten huge. The store selling the larger cookie always has the longer line so the competition then makes theirs bigger.
How to Eat Mindfully
Being mindful about portion size does not mean you lose
pleasure in food. We get the greatest enjoyment out of the first bite of a treat and then the pleasure decreases quickly. Large portions are frequently eaten quickly because we get bored with them. This is hard to believe but try this test for yourself when you have the time and are served a large portion of a treat:
- Take the treat and cut it in half;
- Eat the first half piece slowly, savor it and make it last as long as you can. Take at least seven small bites and move each bite
- Think about how that first half was.
As good as expected?
- Now bring out the second half and again try to eat it slowly, using the same amount of time as the first piece.
- How was the second half? As good as the first?
This is not an easy experiment. We find it hard to eat without distractions and there is a tendency to eat a treat in just three bites. For many who
Overcoming gut thinking to eat only half a portion is a painless way to eat less and to keep your weight in check. By eating a little slower we don’t need to eat so much!
Next time you eat out try sharing a dessert or chose a “dessert sample” if those are on the menu. When given a large cookie or piece of cake, cut it in half and pack that second half away for later.
Hope this helps keep those unwanted pounds away.
What tips do you use to avoid overeating. Please share below and Happy Holidays!