You’ve just had some great Pasta Puttanesca at a friend’s place. Quite full and satisfied you plan to resist dessert or at least only have only one bite. A delectable chocolate mouse is brought out and you help yourself to a very small portion but then your senses get the best of you and you end up eating two more servings.

Sitting with the family for dinner, you plan to have only one roti and some subzi, but the food is exceptionally good and you end up eating 3 rotis and lots of subzi!

These are scenarios we have all lived through many times. Two thousand calories is the estimated average calorie intake needed for women to maintain their weight. Unfortunately most women are overweight simply because too many calories are consumed and too few calories are expended. You may be working out hard at the gym but if you are chomping down too many calories weight loss will never come.

Easier said than done — It is not very easy to control overeating, as we can see from rising obesity rates. But being aware of certain environmental factors will help. Watch out for these pitfalls:

1. Sights, Sounds, and Smells— Overeating can be triggered by the alluring smell of wada frying, the sound of dosa batter being put on the tawa, pictures of foods in advertisements, and much more. “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. Mindless Eating – Wansik’s research points out that concentrating on the task at hand always give better results and the same holds true for eating. If we focused on our food instead of the television, other conversations or simply wandering thoughts then we would realize that we are full and satisfied. Food meditation – just pay more attention and the bowl of chivda will not all be gone!

3. Food, food everywhere – Social gatherings, office birthdays and stepping into the kitchen when you are home alone are all weight gain hazards. Some stay at home moms complain that they are prone to eat because they have easy access to the kitchen and some working women complain of constant office celebrations and lunch meetings. The fact is that there will always be food around. We are a food focused society and it is our reaction to it that is important. You do not have to say no all the time but must be aware when you are saying yes and make sure you set limits.

4. Portions – This point is perhaps the most difficult to overcome and is the underlying premise of overeating. Our taste buds just want more and more of the same great taste, after all eating is more of an act of pleasure than an act of survival. It takes 20 minutes for the stomach to comprehend that it is full; eat slow and savor food. Pay attention to the amount you eat and remind yourself that you have enjoyed the food and are full.
Do not have the attitude — “Oh well, I have eaten this much, might as well eat more and I will make up for it tomorrow.” Learn to have control over your eating at all times—or at least most of the time.

5. Too much variety – Avoid buffets. Buffets at restaurants seem like a great bargain but the fact is we lose out by taking in too many unnecessary calories. There are rarely any low calorie items in a buffet spread unless you stick to undressed salads and even if you take a small taste of some of the rich entrees the calories add up.

Private dinner party buffets are unavoidable. A simple trick is to not go to the party hungry. Have a small snack beforehand and at the party stick to a small portion of one of your favorite foods such as dal-chawal or chicken masala-roti. If you take both of these on your plate along with some of the other dishes, then chances are you will overeat.
Eating a variety of foods is important to get the nutrients you need, however do not eat them all in one sitting.

6. Not Wanting to Waste Food – With over one-third of our country’s population undernourished it is true you should not waste food and generally as adults we do not leave things on our plate; it is a different story for moms who see their children wasting food. Just remember that by eating the remains of your child’s food you will not solve India’s hunger problem. It will however enlarge your waist and cause you more harm than good. Serve less food to your child; it is never too early to learn about portion control. Also teach them the importance of not throwing away food. If you have leftovers that you feel you must finish, no matter how expensive or time consuming it was to make, giving them to your maid is a better idea than overeating.

7. Large dishware — We tend to eat more from larger plates and when served from larger serving bowls. Wansink found that when students were given food in larger bowls, they served themselves 57% more and consumed 53% more than those who used smaller bowls.

When smaller, plates, bowls, spoons, and glasses are used there is no feeling of being deprived because the food will look more plentiful, Wansink says. Delicate dishware and smaller utensils and serving containers can also help you control your portions.

8. Too Much Time in between Meals – Do not be famished at mealtimes, in addition to the extra calories of overeating, large meals tax the digestive system, making it work harder. Eat 5-6 small meals in a day. If this is not possible, eat a small snack in between meals–salted lassi, a few nuts and fruit are all good options.

Published in Marie Claire, August 2010