Why Do We Eat Too Much?


If you think that the only reason you eat too much is that the food is simply too delicious to stop or that you just don’t have self control, think again. Did you know that there are actual triggers to eating more than we should? Recognizing the triggers can help us gain some of our control and waist line!

National experts have narrowed the reasons why we overeat into three interesting categories:

1. lack of sleep

2. stress

3. biology

The experts tell us that lack of sleep actually affects our metabolism and encourages weight gain. A study was done to measure two particular hormones that affect our appetite: leptin and ghrelin. The study, from the Annals of Internal Medicine, compared people who slept four hours each night with those who get more sleep on a regular basis:

“People who slept only four hours a night for two nights had an 18 percent decrease in leptin (a hormone that signals the brain that the body has had enough to eat) and a 28 percent increase in ghrelin (a hormone that triggers hunger), compared with those who got more rest. The result: Sleep-deprived study volunteers reported a 24 percent boost in appetite.”

It makes sense. When I’m tired, I’m more likely to snack on foods that lack any real nutrition. I tend to grab chips and sugary foods, rather than protein and raw fruit and vegetables. Often when we’re tired, we’re not in our natural environment or routine, so junk food is what’s most convenient to eat.

Constant stress also triggers the release of excess hormones that can lead to weight gain. Cortisol is one of the hormones released in excess when we’re under stress for a period of time. Elissa Epel, PhD, an associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), Department of Psychiatry and a leader of the UCSF Center on Obesity Assessment, Study, and Treatment, has this to say about the impact of cortisol on our eating habits:

“Cortisol and insulin shift our preferences toward comfort foods — high-fat, high-sugar, or high-salt foods.”

How many of us actually stop to realize that there are physical things going on in our bodies that may encourage us to make poor eating choices? It’s good to know what to expect so that we can prepare when those moments come.

The third reason the experts give is one by which I’m not very convinced. Dr. David A. Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and author of “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite,” has this to say about why we crave foods we shouldn’t:

“We’re hardwired to hunger for fatty, sugary, salty foods because, back when our ancestors were foraging for every meal, palatable eats meant extra energy and a leg-up on survival.”

I’m not so convinced that Dr. Kessler’s reasoning explains my cravings for brownies or potato chips. As a matter of fact, I’m more convinced that the cavemen ate a whole lot healthier than we do! They didn’t process foods. They ate what nature presented them!

Whatever the case, it’s good to know what to expect from our bodies so that, if we would like to, we can prepare or simply acknowledge that our cravings, if we are stressed or not sleeping, do not need to be satiated. Sometimes just a little preparation, having fruit, nuts, healthy snacks around is all it takes, whether or not you’re brain thinks like a caveman!

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