It seems pretty simple: A person puts on weight because they consume more calories than they burn. But, it turns out that there’s more to it. There has been a lot of research in recent years about the psychology behind eating, and the results are surprising.

It turns out that we eat for a number of reasons, and most have nothing to do with being hungry! Food is now more plentiful and affordable than at any other time in history. This has led to a growing increase in obesity. Today, more than one third of adults, as well as almost 17 percent of teens and children, are considered obese. And, it isn’t just willpower that’s to blame.

Americans are eating more calories today than they did just a few years ago. Why is that? Could it just be that we have easier access to affordable food than we used to? Researchers say, “No.” Recent studies have found several underlying causes for our overconsumption.

Here are 5 reasons we tend to overeat, and tips to put you in control:

Powerful advertising. Food suppliers know how to use advertising. They can make almost anything look good! They have convinced us, sometimes in very subtle ways, that large portions are acceptable. Advertisers have successfully convinced us that the boundaries normally putting limits on what and when we eat are gone. Today, we believe that we can eat anything, any time, anywhere.

What you can do: Make your meals “events” whenever possible. Eat a healthy breakfast each morning. I like to eat breakfast while reading the newspaper. It gives me an opportunity to savor what I’m eating and think about my goals for the day. Sit down to dinner, with your family if possible, as many nights each week as possible. Make your meals less about food and more about relationships.

Easy availability. Let’s face it, food is everywhere today. In most cities, you can’t drive more than a block or two without seeing a fast food restaurant or supermarket. Most people have a pantry stocked with food at home. When you’re hungry, finding food is not usually an issue. So, the secret is to make finding healthy food easy.

What you can do: Keep plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables front and center. It’s best to keep the healthiest foods on a shelf just below eye level so they will be the first thing you see when you open the door. Get rid of candy, packaged cakes, and other dessert foods. When you’re driving, have a granola bar available in your purse, briefcase or car to snack on. And, drink lots of water during the day. Water helps fill you up, it helps your body fully digest the food you do eat, and it helps your body release essential vitamins and minerals when you need them.

Brainpower demand. It turns out that the human brain is a real energy hog. It makes up just 2 percent of a person’s weight, but can consume 20 percent or more of the body’s energy. And, it can consume energy at more than 10 times the rate of the rest of the body! If you have a job that requires a lot of brain power, you may be hungry because your brain has been consuming lots of energy and your body needs to replenish it.

What You Can Do: First, make sure you have something healthy to snack on, both during the “brain work” and immediately afterward. Since you will likely eat whatever’s available (see “easy availability” above), make sure it’s healthy. Second, if you can, take frequent breaks from your focused brain activity. This gives your brain a chance to recharge. Get up from your desk and walk around. Find something soothing to look at, even if it’s just outside the window. This helps calm your brain and gives it a chance to draw energy from the rest of your body.

The “buffet effect.” Studies show that we eat more when we have a variety of foods to choose from – like at a buffet. If you eat at a restaurant that has 50 different kinds of foods to choose from, the fact is that you’re likely to eat more.

What you can do: This can work in your favor, since it works with almost all foods – even healthy ones. One recent study found that participants ate more vegetables when they were served three types at a meal. Cook meals that feature a variety of vegetables. Many Italian foods, like Pasta Primavera (with a light pesto sauce; not a heavy cream sauce), can be very healthy. Also, many Oriental foods feature a variety of vegetables. Shepard’s Pie and chicken pot pie can be veggie-rich dishes too. Just try to avoid the heavy, calorie-rich sauces that are included.

Food “addiction.” Can you actually be addicted to certain foods? Researchers think so. The jury is still out on whether or not food addiction is an actual physical addiction or disease, like those associated with drugs or alcohol. But, recent research has found that certain foods can activate the same brain areas as other addictive chemicals. The most addictive responses are generated by foods high in salt, fat and sugar.

What you can do: Avoid processed foods, since these tend to be high in salt, fat and/or sugar. Instead eat fresh foods as much as possible; especially those made with fresh fruits and vegetables (fresh frozen vegetables are good too). Fast food, packaged lunch meat, frozen meals and many restaurant meals are among the worst offenders. Salads, steamed or broiled veggies, fresh fruit, and freshly cooked meats are best. You don’t have to eat all natural, organic or vegan to be healthy (unless you want to). Just avoiding heavily processed foods can make a huge difference.

Willpower alone is often not enough to avoid overeating. Recent studies have shown that many factors affect what and when we choose to eat. Be aware of these 5 reasons we tend to overeat and use the tips to stay in control, make healthier choices, and avoid temptation.

Remember, healthy choices you make each day can transform your family for generations! What choices will you make today?

Do You Wish Your Kid’s Ate Better? Check out our FREE eBook at Many of the strategies in this book can be used by both children and adults.
You may also want to read: Eat Right: Don’t Let It in the House, All You SHOULD Eat, Healthy Eating: Try the “Rule of 2″

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