Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution have programmed us to eat when we see food because we might not know where our next meal is coming from. When food was hard to find that made sense, but it does not serve us well now. Health experts refer to our current food environment as “obesogenic”; meaning that it tends to cause obesity.
Some of the aspects of an obesogenic environment include:
Variety of foods available - more variety = more consumption.
Portion sizes – when we are served more, we eat more.
Availability of highly-palatable energy dense foods – these are the high calorie fast foods and convenience foods that make up a large portion of the American diet.
Distraction – we eat more when we are not paying attention to what we are eating, like when sitting in front of the television.
To protect our health in an obesogenic environment we need to be mindful and establish habits that keep us on the right track. Here are a few tips that you can use whether you are eating at home or away:
Keep meals simple – Put together a healthy plate that includes a serving of lean protein (grilled, broiled, or baked meat, chicken, fish), two servings of vegetables, and a healthy starch (plain potato, rice, or a whole grain like rice or corn.) Meals like this are satisfying and don’t contain a lot of calories or ingredients that contribute to food cravings.
Portion sizes – Use your hand or familiar objects as a guide. Protein servings should be about the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of cards. Vegetable servings are about the size of your closed fist or a baseball. Starch servings about the size of a tennis ball or what will fit in the palm of your hand.
Slow down – Turn off the television and set aside your phone at meal time. Take smaller bites of food and chew them thoroughly. Pay attention to fullness cues that tell you when you have had enough to eat. It takes time for the message to get from your stomach to your brain.
Limit sweet and salty foods – Limit sugary drinks and desserts. Save them for special occasions. The same goes for salty foods. Salt and sugar are appetite enhancers and just make you want to eat more.
Experts suggest that sedentary behavior and environments that don’t support walking, biking, and other forms of physical activity also contribute to obesity. Since we no longer walk around all day looking for food, we must also be mindful of moving more each day.