We are fortunate enough to live in a country where food is plentiful, both in quantity and variety. But, the many choices we have available, especially in regard to convenience foods, might be partially to blame for the obesity epidemic.
Researchers are finding that having too many food choices can lead to calorie intake which over the course of time translates into weight gain. We like variety, but it can get us into trouble. The holiday season is a good example of this. When one thinks about the out-of-the-ordinary foods that are plentiful at that time of the year, it is no surprise that calorie intake increases, along with weight during those holiday months.
We live in an environment filled with food cues. Society bombards us with food stimuli through advertising and the easy availability of foods 24/7. The sights, sounds, and smells of food are everywhere. Because of the difficulty of managing this stimulus overload, excess weight gain can result for many Americans. Therefore it would seem that if the amount of food stimuli in the environment were reduced to limit the exposure to so many choices, people might improve their ability to manage their food choices and amounts. Stimuli narrowing means we must narrow the range of food stimuli to which we are exposed, such as food-related situations, types of foods and the amount of food that is around us in our everyday life.
If you are already practicing stimulus control by putting food away and by keeping tempting foods out of the house, try limiting the number of places you eat to only one room, like the dining room. Also, try not eating in your car. If you work outside the home, choose a place at work where you eat your meal (preferably not at your desk!)
Stimuli narrowing can help with successful long-term weight management. Here are features of stimuli narrowing that can be applied to the real world:
- Routine diet – A routine diet that has limited variety will reduce the amount of exposure to food cues. Research studies on both animals and humans show that the greater the variety of food in a given meal, the greater the caloric intake. These studies, conducted by Johns Hopkins University, have also shown that the more limited the variety of food available, the lower the caloric intake
- Moderate in taste and attractiveness – Foods that are highly attractive and tasty tend to be eaten in greater amounts. This doesn’t mean that the food you eat must taste or look bad! The goal is for food to be satisfying, but not over stimulating. The everyday diet needs to be neither too attractive nor too bland to make portion control easy.
- Ease of preparation and clean-up – If the amount of time spent on preparation and cleaning up meals is reduced then the exposure to food cues is minimized as well. It may greatly help to switch these duties with other family members to minimize the amount of time you spend in food preparation and clean up.
This does not mean that you can never eat special, highly attractive foods again. The occasional splurge is not what gets us into trouble. What gets us into trouble is what we choose to eat on an everyday basis. This means that after a special food is eaten, it is back to the routine, stimuli-controlled eating pattern.
One might view this way of eating as boring and mundane. It should be viewed as a more controlled way of eating that keeps calories in check. A more positive way to view this approach is this: The way Americans are eating right now is not working too well, or the obesity problem would not be what it is today. Eating differently is the key.
If you would like more information or guidance about the stimuli narrowed approach to eating, contact any of the offices and speak to one of the registered dietitians.
Fran Matteson, MS, RD