Environmental Factors that Encourage Overeating and Recommended Solutions

A man holding a knife and a fork with a stack of raw steakStudies have shown over and over that external environmental factors have slowly changed the perception of “normal consumption” behaviors. The size of plates and portions have increased, along with packaging amounts. In addition, more people now eat during times they are distracted, such as watching television, when intake awareness is lower. Some claim that our society has turned into a population of “mindless eaters.”

Below are a few environmental factors that contribute to increased consumption. In addition to being aware of these environmental factors, it is important to take action to alter your personal environment to help reduce overeating.

Eating atmospherics: A long meal duration can lead to overeating. Socializing during a meal can also lead to overeating due to being distracted. 
SOLUTION: Decide how much to eat prior to the meal instead of during it. Before completing a meal, have the breadbasket removed or have an entree portion wrapped “to go.” Thus, the eating and socializing during a long and relaxing dinner can then be enjoyed without the temptation to overeat.

Eating effort: The less effort you have to make to consume a certain food, the more likely you are to consume it. This includes factors like location, packaging and cook time.
SOLUTION: Store tempting foods in less-convenient locations (such as in a basement or in a top cupboard). Do not leave serving bowls and platters on the dinner table and keep second servings a safe distance away.

Salience of food: The mere presence of food that’s set out can trigger consumption even when you are not hungry.
SOLUTION: Eliminate the cookie jar, or replace it with a fruit bowl. Wrap tempting foods in foil to make them less visible and more forgettable. Place healthier, low-density foods in the front of the refrigerator and the less healthy foods in the back.

Size of food packages and portions: Packaging and portion sizes are now larger than ever, which creates a distorted perception of calorie intake and may contribute to increased eating. 
SOLUTION: Repackage foods into smaller containers to suggest
portions. Plate smaller dinner portions in advance. Never eat from a package. Always transfer food to a smaller plate or bowl in order to make portion estimation easier.

Serving containers: Containers that are wide or large create consumption illusions. You may be consuming more than you think. 
SOLUTION: Replace short wide glasses with tall narrow ones. Reduce serving sizes and consumption by using smaller bowls and plates. Use smaller spoons rather than larger ones when serving
oneself or when eating from a bowl.

*This article references material from “Environmental Factors that Increase the Food Intake and Consumption Volume of Unknowing Consumers” by Brian Wansink in the Annual Review of Nutrition.

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