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'Why Am I Fat?'

8 reasons you may be eating too much.
By
WebMD Expert Column

You're stuffed after a big restaurant dinner -- but then the dessert cart rolls around, and you just have to order that gorgeous chocolate mousse. Or you're munching from a big bag of chips while checking emails, and when you look up, the bag is empty. Sound familiar? 

Environmental factors -- like package size, portion size, the variety of food you're served, and the size of your plate -- can influence your eating more than you realize, experts say. Indeed, if we always ate only when we were really hungry and stopped when we were full, there would be no obesity epidemic.

The key, experts say, is to become more aware of these causes of overeating, which can help you resist the temptations and avoid weight gain.

"Once you become aware of the environmental cues that can sabotage your diet, you can react accordingly and make smart decisions," says nutrition expert Susan Moores, RD. Simple things such as bringing tempting snacks into your house, moving the candy jar at work out of sight, making fruits and vegetables more visible in your refrigerator, and eating more deliberately and slowly, can cut down on overeating and help you lose weight, Moores says.

Here are eight factors that can cause overeating and weight gain:

1. Sights, Sounds, and Smells

Overeating can be triggered by the alluring smell of bacon cooking, the sound of popcorn popping, advertisements for junk food, and so on. "You are influenced by your surroundings, and our studies show these kinds of cues result in eating more food," says Cornell University researcher Brian Wansink, PhD, author of Mindful Eating.

2. Distracted Eating

"Eating amnesia" is the act of almost unconsciously putting food in your mouth, usually from a big bag or bowl while sitting in front of the television, reading a book, checking emails, or during happy hour.

It's also easy not to register the tastes you take while cooking, or those last few bites from the kids' plates that you finish off. 

Multi-tasking can lead to overeating because you're not paying attention to what you are eating. When you eat more mindfully, you really taste the food -- and are more likely to feel satisfied sooner. "Food should touch more of your senses to be satisfying, instead of just filling in the hole," Moores says.

3. Food, Food Everywhere

Everywhere you turn, there are opportunities to eat -- at drive-through restaurants, vending machines, even gas stations. And when food is in front of us, we tend to eat more of it, experts say.

Wansink and colleagues found that when candy was easily accessible on workers' desks, they ate an average of nine pieces a day, and didn't realize how many they ate. But when the candy was kept in their desk drawers, they ate about six pieces per day. And when they had to get up from their desks to reach the candy six feet away, they only ate four pieces.

Curb your instinct to overeat sweets and snacks by moving them out of sight -- and putting more healthful foods into plain view. Resist the urge to splurge on unhealthy foods by carrying your own healthy snacks.

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