On any given day about 45% of Americans are on a diet yet 95% (and some sources say it is closer to 98%!) of dieters will regain their weight loss within 1-5 years. This is exactly why I struggled so much to lose weight at the beginning of my weight loss journey.
Diets just don’t work. Change has to happen on the inside before it can happen on the outside. (Click here to download the first and last chapter of my book Mindful Weight Loss Method for free.)
What is clear is that the vast majority of the American population (and other populations too) are eating much more than their bodies need to keep them alive and healthy. In other words, our astronomical obesity rate is not due to excessive physical hunger.
Instead, it is due to psychological hunger cues which cause us to crave food and eat more food even when our stomachs are full.
Below you will discover 4 types of psychological hunger followed by 4 suggestions for how to stop them when they strike.
Four Types of Hunger Cues
#1 External Sensory Cues: When we think about, taste, smell, or see food we like we want to eat it.
In one study researchers gave subjects (some hungry, some full) one of three types of sensory cues including: 1) taste (trying a piece of chocolate), 2) sight (viewing a photograph of chocolate), and 3) cognition (reading a description of chocolate) to determine whether these cues would increase their hunger.
They found that the sensory cues significantly increased not only their desire to eat chocolate but also the amount of chocolate they consumed. This was the case no matter which of the 3 cues were presented and it also didn’t matter whether the subjects where hungry or full. The results were the same.
#2 External Normative Cues: If we are served a certain amount of food we want to finish it all even if we are satisfied.
In one experiment participants were either given a “self-filling” bowl of soup (refilled with sneaky little tube at the very bottom of the bowl with every spoonful taken) or a normal bowl of soup.
Participants with the self-filling bowls ate 73% more than those with the normal bowls. The interesting thing is that when they were quizzed afterwards they did not think they had eaten more than anyone else did and did not indicate they felt fuller than the other group. This shows how satiety is not defined by how full our stomachs but rather by normative cues.
Another interesting stat I came across is that in the United States, candy bars are 41% larger, our soft drinks are 52% larger, and yogurt cups are 82% larger than the same products in France where the obesity rate is only about 7% (1).
Chances are very high that our large serving sizes are adding to our large waistlines.
#3 Social cues: We eat more when we are in groups.
One study found that when subjects ate with others they ate about 60% more than those who ate alone (2). In another study participants who were placed in pairs ate more food if their partner did (3). The interesting part about this experiment was that the participants indicated afterwards that the amount they ate was not influenced by how much their partner ate even though it clearly was.
This just shows how unaware we are when these cues are causing us to eat more than we should or normally would.
#4 Stress: We eat more unhealthy food when we are stressed.
Stress is a biggie when it comes to eating food for non-physical reasons. A 2012 study found that as participant’s stress level rose so did their hunger, binge eating, and inability to regulate their eating (4). Another study found that stress changes appetite in about 81% of people and of that 81% about 62% experience an increase in appetite (5)
An increased appetite might not be so bad if the foods we craved were broccoli and carrots… but they aren’t. Of the individuals who experienced an increase in appetite the foods they reached for the most were either sweets or a mix of sweet and savory like a burger and milkshake.
What You Can Do
You know what they say, knowledge is power. Now that you know about these cues you can prepare yourself to act differently in the future. Here are a few recommendations:
Use smaller plates and bowls. This alone will cause you to eat less simply because you will not be able to serve yourself as much.
When you eat in groups, put you fork or spoon down in between each bite. Focus on fully chewing each bite fully before taking another one.
When you are stressed practice deep breathing and meditation. This will help to engage your parasympathetic nervous system (the opposite of the sympathetic/fight or flight nervous system) and reduces cortisol which causes the accumulation of belly-fat and sugar cravings.
Split meals and desserts when you go out to eat. We are served WAY too much at restaurants so spitting shouldn’t be a problem.
Do you know someone who can benefit from this important information? If so, please share this post.
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- Rozin, P., Kabnick, K., Pete, E., Fischler, C., & Shields, C. (2003). The ecology of eating smaller portion sizes in France than in the United States help explain the French paradox. Psychological science, 14(5), 450-454.
- Redd, M., & de Castro, J. M. (1992). Social facilitation of eating: Effects of social instruction on food intake. Physiology & Behavior, 52(4), 749-754.
- Vartanian, L. R., Wansink, B., & Herman, C. P. (2008). Are We Aware of the External Factors That Influence Our Food Intake? Health Psychology, 27(5), 533-538. Doi: 10.1037/0278-622.214.171.1243
- Groesz, L. M., McCoy, S., Carl, J., Saslow, L., Stewart, J., Adler, N., Laraia, B., & Epel, E. (2012). What is eating you? Stress and the drive to eat. Elsevier, 58(2), 717-721. DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2011.11.028
- Kandiah, J., Yake, M., Jones, J., & Meyer, M. (2006). Stress influences appetite and comfort food preferences in college women. Elsevier, 26(3), 118-123. DOI: 10.1016/j.nutres.2005.11.010