Environmental Eating Cues

Lots of factors can lead to eating more than we need in one sitting. Be aware of commonly unrecognized eating cues and how to avoid overeating.

Temperature: cooler temps can increase intake. The body needs to be at a specific temp for everything to work right. When we feel cold, our bodies try to raise the temp. Interestingly, a Calorie is defined as: the amount of energy from food needed to raise the temp 1 degree celsius. It is clear, then, why we are inclined to eat more when cold. The body wants Calories for heat! Next time you go out to eat, consider bringing a jacket to keep from getting chilled.

Lighting: bright lights can increase intake. Relaxed environments can increase meal satisfaction and decrease Calorie intake. Bright lights are not usually considered relaxing, and can stimulate us to over eat. Dim, yellow lights may help you feel more satisfied with your meal. Try dimming the lights in your dining room and you may actually eat less!

Music: loud and upbeat music can increase intake. Like lighting, music can create relaxing or stimulating environments. Think about it: when exercising, what kind of music do you listen to? Why? That same “hyped-up” feeling that helps you exercise may over stimulate your hunger! Consider soft, quiet music to enhance your senses and meal enjoyment.

Number of people: more people can increase intake. Eating with a large group can be relaxing, but also distracting. When lots of people eat together, we sit longer than normal and end up “picking” when food is left sitting in front of us. We may not be hungry; but, the food is there, so we eat. Try to avoid “family style” meals in groups. Keep serving dishes in a separate room to avoid reaching for food just because you are sitting with it! When eating with a group at a restaurant, ask that your plate be removed and packed in a “to-go” box as soon as you are finished.

Distractions: like company, many things distract us during meals or snacks. A common offenders is the television. How many of us have sat down to watch a show with a bag of chips or box of cereal and ended up with an empty container before the show ended? Measure your snacks and sit down at a table when eating, because standing, too, can lead to overeating! It is easy to be distracted while eating, but it is also easy to let food distract us from other things. We could miss an important part of a friend/child’s big game or story because we spilled popcorn or dropped mustard on a shirt!

Eating should be fun! We should enjoy our food, but also know that what is going on around us can make us eat more than we need. Pay attention to your body. Why did you decide to eat at this moment? How will you know when you are done? Try not to let your environment speak louder than your gut!


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