Bad news for compulsive plate-clearers: The average size of many of our meals — whether from fast-food chains, sit-down restaurants or even the grocery store — has increased by as much as 138 percent since the 1970s, according to data from the American Journal of Public Health, the Journal of Nutrition and the Journal of the American Medical Association.
You can’t entirely blame food providers for thinking we always want more, since many of us mindlessly clear our plate no matter how much food is piled onto it. But why is this? Why can’t we help but finish every last thing we shoveled onto our trays at the all-you-can-eat buffet or at a family potluck or barbecue? Experts point to a few plausible explanations:
You’re Afraid of Being Wasteful: “Whenever we sit down to eat, we’re unconsciously thinking, ‘If I don’t finish this, it’s money down the drain,’ or ‘I’m going to be hungry in half an hour,’” psychologist Aida Vazin explains.
You Need to See an Empty Plate to Feel Full: “We’re programmed to finish what we started, and the feeling of fullness is often tied to the visual absence of food on the plate,” says board-certified weight loss expert Matthew Pinto. That is, we assume we have to finish everything in front of us in order to be satiated.
Modern Food Is Just Too Tasty: “Many of today’s foods are hyper-palatable, meaning food scientists have worked hard to find the perfect combination of texture, mouth-feel, flavor and appearance that makes certain foods almost impossible to stop eating,” Pinto explains. “Why is it easy to eat an entire bag of chips but not an entire bag of lettuce? Because the chips have been engineered to contain just the right amount of fat, salt and crunch to overwhelm our body’s food reward system; the lettuce hasn’t.”
You May Not Be Getting Enough Vitamins and Minerals: Most of the food that’s pushed on us these days — specifically junk food — is lacking in the nutrients our bodies need to feel satiated. “If our body is missing certain vitamins and minerals, it can trigger the urge to overeat in search of those nutrients,” explains natural health and holistic nutrition coach Brandy Gillmore. So basically, we’re clearing our plate simply because our bodies are hoping there may be some real food on it somewhere.
Now that we know why we’re all gluttonous pigs, here are a few tips to keep you from eating beyond your fill:
Stop With the Junk Food: This might sound obvious, but avoiding starches (like potato chips) and sugary foods (like doughnuts) is by far the most effective way to avoid compulsive plate-clearing. “These foods cause a spike in our blood sugar levels, which, in turn, increases our insulin levels, which, in turn, increases our appetite,” Pinto explains. “These foods also increase our cravings due to their ability to hijack our brain’s reward center, much like other addictive substances.”
Don’t Wait to Eat Until You’re Starving: “When you wait until you’re extremely hungry to eat, it dramatically increases your chances of both eating too fast [which can disrupt your ability to properly absorb the vitamins and minerals in your food] and overeating,” Gillmore explains. “So if you know that your next meal is going to be a little later than usual, be sure to grab a healthy snack.”
Drink Some Water: “Sometimes our bodies confuse thirst for hunger,” Gillmore says, so try downing a glass of water before grabbing that third handful of peanuts. It could be the difference between finishing the entire carton of nuts and having just a few.
While eating healthier and drinking water probably weren’t the tips you were looking for (are they ever?), they’re the tips that work — at least, according to the experts. So if you want to quit plowing through snacks and pizza like a wild animal, get used to eating your vegetables.