10 Reasons You’re Eating More Than You Realize

Whom you eat with, how you feel about working out, and more surprising moves could be what's leading you to mindless munching and weight gain. Here’s how to stop overeating.

Your cereal has small flakes.

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You’ll eat more calories if your cereal bowl is filled with smaller flakes than larger ones, even if your serving size is smaller, according to interesting recent Penn State research. Researchers took a basic wheat flake cereal and crushed it down to various smaller volumes (80 percent, 60 percent, and 40 percent of the original size). They asked 41 adults to eat cereal for breakfast once a week for four weeks; each week they poured a different-sized flake version. As flake size was reduced (meaning the cereal looked more crushed), participants poured a lower volume of cereal, but still ate more in terms of calories. “Without us even knowing it, these variations can have a big impact on how much we're eating,” study author Barbara Rolls, PhD, professor of nutritional sciences, said in a press release. “For cereals with small pieces, the recommended serving size should be reduced to account for the uncharacteristically low volume, in the same way that the recommended serving size is increased for voluminous foods, such as puffed cereals and leafy greens.”

It's not you. It's the people around you.

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A recent study in the journal Appetite found that our fellow eaters’ appearance and food selection do influence our own choices. In the study, 82 participants were randomly assigned to watch a normal-weight actress serve herself a meal of salad and pasta in one of four different scenarios; then they helped themselves to the same meal. In one video she ate more salad than pasta; in another more pasta than salad. Then she did the exact same thing in a prosthetic suit that made her look 50 pounds heavier. Participants who saw the "overweight" actress overweight took and ate almost 32 percent more pasta, regardless of what she ate. The lesson? Being with overweight people may make you less in tune with your own health goals. Try checking menus in advance so you’re not as tempted by this subtle environmental cue.

You think your choice of restaurant matters.

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Is a neighborhood cafe healthier than, say, McDonald's? New research in the journal Public Health Nutrition found that people consume about 200 more calories daily when they eat out, regardless of whether it’s at a full-service restaurant or a fast-food joint. Experts point fingers at portion size. Stay on track by making sure your meat is about the size of a deck of cards and your pasta or rice the size of half a tennis ball.

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You work out, but act like it's a chore.

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In one study, participants walked the same one-mile course, but half were told it was exercise, while the rest thought it was purely for the pleasure of listening 
to music. Afterward, the “exercisers” were more tired and grumpy and scarfed down more sugary treats at a lunch buffet. Focus on the fun in your physical activity, and you may feel happier and less like snacking later.

You think a smaller snack won't satisfy.

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It’s 3 p.m. and you're feeling hungry—but before you take a huge helping from the office candy bowl, try starting with a smaller one. In a study published earlier this year in the journal Food, Quality and Preference, researchers found that people who ate large and small portions of the same snack reported being equally satisfied after 15 minutes, even though the group who ate the larger snack consumed 77 percent more calories.

Your eat nearly all of what you serve yourself.

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The average adult eats 92 percent of what he plops on his plate, found a new study in the International Journal of Obesity. "Just knowing that you're likely to consume almost all of what you serve yourself can help you be more mindful of appropriate portion size,” lead author Brian Wansink, PhD, professor of marketing and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, said in a press release. Better to take less initially and a small helping of seconds than serve yourself a jumbo plate to start.

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You don't have a wine "rule."

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A typical serving of wine is 5 ounces and 120 calories—but it’s easy to pour double that in a giant glass. A recent study from researchers at Iowa State and Cornell Universities found that people who used their own rules for pouring—say, only fill half the glass—poured significantly less than people who didn’t. According to Laura Smarandescu, lead author and an assistant professor of marketing at Iowa State, about 70 percent of people used a “half glass” rule, and they served themselves 20 percent less wine than other participants in the study.

Your ice cream's in the wrong bowl.

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In a classic Cornell study, nutrition experts served themselves 31 percent more ice cream in a 34-ounce bowl than they did in a 17-ounce bowl—without realizing they had done so. Scoop out the sweet stuff in smaller mugs or dessert-sized bowls instead of those for salad.

You eat a bite of this, a bite of that.

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Studies show that people eat more during a meal with a variety of foods rather than a meal with fewer options. “When you eat just one food, the pleasure of its taste and appearance decreases; eating a variety of foods does the opposite,” according to nutritionist Katherine Tallmadge on USNews.com. If you want a mix on your plate (especially at a party), stick to one indulgent food and then add many different veggies or other healthy options. Tallmadge writes that vegetable variety is actually linked to leanness.

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You eat too fast.

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Bad for the scale: University of Rhode Island research published in 2011 found that people with a high body mass index (BMI) ate faster than those with a low BMI. How fast is fast? Speedier eaters consumed about 33 percent more ounces of food per minute than slower eaters did (ie, 3 ounces versus 2).

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