External cues are often hidden and are known to influence our appetite, having very little to do with hunger. These include family, friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colours and candles, shapes and smell, distractions and distances, cupboards and containers. Visual cues, especially, are very powerful drivers of eating.
One of the strongest psychological motivators to overeat seems to be the need to empty our plates. The dislike towards wastage drives us to eat regardless of hunger. Don’t let anyone put you on a guilt trip about hunger in Somalia and poor children. Don’t worry about leaving a morsel on your plate when pleasantly full.
Also, the larger the portion, the more we eat; the bigger the container, the more we pour. It takes about 20 minutes before the brain gets the signal that the stomach is full, meaning that if you eat fast in less than 20 minutes, then the sensation that the belly is full will arrive too late and is likely to make you overeat.
So eat slowly, pay attention to what you eat and stop when you are 80 per cent full. Put your spoon or fork down between each bite. Ask yourself whether you are hungry rather than wait to be full.
When eating out, if portions are large, don’t hesitate to ask the waiter to pack some of it before it reaches the table. For the same reasons, don’t stock undesirable food around the house.
In some cases, looking at food can make you eat less. If you are presented with an indication of how much you have already eaten — perhaps through wrappers, bottles and bones or by ‘pre-plating’ your food or even through your food diary — you may be surprised to find that you will end up eating less.
Ishi Khosla is a former senior nutritionist at Escorts. She heads the Centre of Dietary Counselling and also runs a health food store. She feels that for complete well-being, one should integrate physical, mental and spiritual health. According to her: “To be healthy should be the ultimate goal for all.”