It’s hard to look anywhere without finding some dismal statistic about the weight problems prevalent in our society. The 2011-2012 CDC statistics for the rate of obesity in Americans found that 35% of adults were obese; the 2009-2010 statistics found that 18% of children above 6 were obese, too.[1] It’s considered such a problem that First Lady Michelle Obama has developed a campaign to address the prevalence of childhood obesity. We are bombarded with information like this and told that we must, simply must, change for the sake of our health, yet still there’s only been modest improvement in the numbers. A 2007 study in Australia found that although people trying to change their diet usually undertook that change, only 26% of those people were sticking to it rigidly six months in.[2] Even when faced with the life-or-death decision to change one’s diet following a heart attack or stroke, in a 2013 study only 39% of patients reported eating healthier food after such a life-shattering event.[3] Why is it so hard to maintain healthy eating habits, even in the face of so much societal pressure and personal incentive to do so?

     A recent study found that although its participants’ conscious evaluation of the calories in various foods was off, their implicit judgment of the food’s caloric content drove them to value higher-calorie food more.[4] So it doesn’t matter what we know or what we tell ourselves; the human subconscious will still be drawn to what it knows will provide more fat to keep in reserve for hard times. The past few decades have made food abundantly available to most people in the West, but that cannot override thousands upon thousands of years of evolutionary instinct telling us to be prepared for starvation. Some cravings might shed light on what nutrients we need more of, but in general the brain will prioritize and crave calories first and anything else later.[5]

     With the brain in full revolt, anyone trying to change their diet for the better needs to be prepared and informed on how to combat it. Of course, there are so many suggestions put forth by anyone and everyone professing an interest in the subject that it can be difficult to sort through the dross and find what’s backed by reliable science. One of the more common but useful pieces of advice is not to undertake diet changes alone. For example, a 2013 University of South Carolina study found that its participants were more successful at losing weight when they communicated with other participants and their weight loss counselor over Twitter.[6] It makes sense that peer feedback is helpful in keeping urges counter to one’s conscious desires in check, considering that support groups have been used to great effect by others combating unhelpful brain chemistry: namely, organizations that help people suffering from addiction. Making sure you eat foods with a high level of satiety – that is, feeling full – helps to curb hunger and prevent overeating, too.[7] Eating foods that make you feel full more quickly keeps you from consuming more than you should to achieve feeling like you’ve had a full meal, and high-satiety foods keep you feeling full for a longer time, so you are less likely to have more meals and snacks than you need.

     Still, it’s important to note that while these tips might be helpful, they are only a starting point. There is far too much advice, even scientifically sound advice, to discuss in one article, and there are plenty of reputable sources to be found that can discuss it more clearly and thoroughly. The most important thing to remember is that in trying to change your eating habits, your subconscious is your greatest enemy, and it is therefore best to arm yourself consciously with whatever tools available to combat its desires.

 

[1] National Center for Health Statistics, 2014, Obesity and Overweight. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm, accessed 11/26/14.

[2] Rebecca Matthews, Helen Lindner and Angela Nicholas, 2007, Health behaviour change: eating habits and physical exercise. Available at: http://www.psychology.org.au/inpsych/health_behaviour/, accessed 11/26/14.

[3] Tara Kulash, 2013, 25 percent do not change bad health habits after heart attack, stroke. Available at: http://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/health-med-fit/percent-do-not-change-bad-health-habits-after-heart-attack/article_f30164af-2368-5cf5-8bdc-3f641a7607b8.html, accessed 11/26/14.

[4] Deborah W. Tang, Lesley K Fellows, and Alain Dagher, 2014, Behavioral and Neural Valuation of Foods Is Driven by Implicit Knowledge of Caloric Content. Available at: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/10/08/0956797614552081.abstract, accessed 11/26/14.

[5] Katie Fesler, 2014, The Craving Brain. Available at: http://now.tufts.edu/articles/craving-brain, accessed 11/26/14.

[6] Jeff Stensland, 2013, Twitter can help you lose weight. Available at: http://www.sc.edu/news/newsarticle.php?nid=5604#.UQaZMkpU6aI, accessed 11/26/14.

[7] Leanna Skarnulis, 2009, Satiety: The New Diet Weapon. Available at: http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/satiety-new-diet-weapon, accessed 11/26/14.

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DIET AND NUTRITION: OUR INSTINCTUAL TENDENCIES TO CONSUME MORE CALORIES THAN NEEDED by UrbanSculpt Staff Writer Elektra Christensen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.UrbanSculpt.com.
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