Train your brain

A man thinking with apple on the headAccording to a new study, most eating in developed countries is prompted by psychological factors, not by hunger. This is something I’ve talked about before. But this is the perfect time of year to offer a reminder. Especially since, as this study pointed out, psychological factors play a significant role in when it comes to choosing portion sizes, second helpings, and the kinds of foods you eat.

This phenomenon goes hand-in-hand with something called “consumption norms”— or our understanding of what’s normal to consume in a given situation.

For example, it’s “normal” to eat at certain times of day. And to eat certain foods at certain meals. And it’s also “normal” to eat more when presented with enormous servings, whether they’re dished out at home or in a restaurant.

I can attest to the concept of “consumption norms” first-hand. As I’ve mentioned before, I come from an Italian-American family. And the portions served at my home, especially around the holidays were unbelievable. But it was “normal” for us all to clean our plates.

These cultural consumption norms are embedded in our psychology. And they can be very difficult to break. Even to this day, I have to make a conscious effort to take small servings at family dinners. And to politely decline second helpings and dessert.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: few people eat only when they’re hungry. Eating as a result of how you feel, where you are, or who you’re with is part of human nature. But my advice is and always has been: eat consciously and defensively. Think about what you’re eating—and why.

It is possible to make better, healthier choices in those situations. It only take a few seconds to step back and make sure you’re choosing what’s best for you—vs. what SOUNDS best. But the payoff is tremendous.

Need some help along the way? Do a quick review of my advice on ways to knock out common cravings for good. It’ll give you some simple tools to help you change your thought process and redefine what your own “consumption norms” really are—and should be.


“The psychology of food intake and portion control,” Institute of Food Science and Technology, 11/27/14