It’s a well-known fact that with the summer season winding down, staying in shape and dieting are common discussions on campus.
It’s also a well-known fact that humans love to eat. We count down the minutes to our next meal and gasp in excitement when a waiter appears with our dish. Food is always on the brain, and excessive food intake is directly correlated to weight gain and obesity.
What is excessive food intake exactly? And why do some meals or snacks result in binge eating more than do others?
In a study done by Levistky, Iyer and Pacanowski, the results showed that the greater the number of foods offered at a meal, the greater the intake of those foods was. This comes into play at buffet-style restaurants often visited by hungry students.
Nutrition Action interviewed Brian Wansink, a nutritional science professor at the University of Illinois. In this interview, Wansink discussed American’s need to “get their money’s worth.”
Wansink said that the more people eat, the lower they tend to rate the quality of their food. This is because eating more decreases satisfaction. People should leave a restaurant satisfied but not full, because then they appreciate what they have just eaten.
As college students, it may be hard to resist eating as if it is the last meal, but doing so will make the food more memorable and pleasurable.
Another factor in overeating is variety perceived. Wansink did a study with jelly beans that all tasted the same. He noted that people ate 40 percent more jelly beans when they had six different colors to choose from than they did when they had only four colors.
The reason for this large increase in mindless munching of the same boring flavor – more colors to munch on. A larger variety of colors is more inviting, causing people to want to eat more before they are satisfied, according to Wansink.
Variety in foods is not bad. It merely needs to be monitored.
Dr. Lora Beth Brown, a nutrition professor at BYU, gives some tips to college students to help keep off that “Freshman 15” and keep the swimsuit-confident figure all year long.
According to Brown, the most important key to eating better is eating actual meals.
“And there is a big difference between snacks and meals,” Brown added. “Snacks are just sort of there—quick, eaten quickly and convenient. They aren’t treated the same as meals, and they don’t reward the body as much as meals.”
Meals, on the other hand, take more preparation, tend to have more nutrients and are more satisfying. They are eaten sitting down and are the focus for the time.
“Snacks don’t have those features,” Brown said. “Snacks don’t satisfy the body, so the body tends to want more.”
Brown encourages students to make a grocery list with recipes planned for the week. Plan snacks as well as meals so when hunger strikes the healthy choice is prepared and expected.
Planning meals also prevents excessive snacking or convenience food consumption.
Participate in dinner groups
Brown is currently doing a study on the benefits of dinner group participation. She said students think it is better, cheaper and more fun than eating alone.
“Dinner groups also tend to be healthier and more enjoyable,” Brown said. “We are researching dinner group participation and will find out this fall more about the nutrient intake associated with dinner groups.”
Brown said she feels that so far it is universally a smart choice for students.
Eat with company
For most people, Brown said eating with company—be it spouses, friends or even acquaintances—brings more satisfaction to the meal than eating alone. It’s just more enjoyable.
Avoid late night eating
Metabolically, there is no difference in calorie consumption during the day or the night; the body processes it all the same. But when people eat late at night, they tend to eat more calories in that meal than if they ate a regularly scheduled meal.
Brown associates the excessive calorie intake with other factors as well.
“I think it’s that we’ve been doing homework or something, it’s been several hours since we’ve last eaten and, gosh, everyone gets hungry after all that. All of a sudden, an opportunity to go out with friends and eat that hard-earned pizza sounds much more fun than continuing to study,” Brown said.
Brown also stressed that while a healthy lifestyle and healthy food choices are important, no food item should be considered “bad” or “off-limits.” All foods provide some nutrients and are to be enjoyed.