Picture this: You sat down on your couch with a box of cookies to have “just one” but you ended up finishing the box. The serving at that restaurant was HUGE but you still finished your plate…does it ring a bell? Don’t worry you are not the only one – We are all guilty of it at least once in a while.

But the issue is when it happens more often than not….

Instead of feeling guilty and blaming it on your lack of will power, let’s have a look at why we crave unhealthy foods, and why we have the tendency to overeat them.

First let’s understand what happens in there when we eat.

Our body is a wonderful machine. Organs communicate to each other. One of the wonders that happen when you eat a meal is the communication between your stomach and your brain.

As you are filling your stomach with tasty (and healthy) food, its walls will stretch and nerve stretch receptors will send signals to your brain to stop eating. While this is happening, a hormone called ghrelin (the hormone that makes you realize you are hungry) is satiated.

It sounds like our bodies had prepared everything for us to avoid over-eating but guess what, we still find a way to do so. How come?

We eat too fast


Our bodies are good but they aren’t supercomputers on 500 mbps internet speed. It takes some time for the message to reach its recipient (your brain).

It is said it takes approximatively 20 minutes for your brain to get the fact that you are full. Your body is going Minitel speed…so you have to adapt!

During these 20minutes, your body doesn’t need food, but you just don’t know it yet, so mathematically, the faster you eat, the more calories you will ingest in this time frame.

Your mum or your auntie probably told you this before but you need to slow it down. No one will steal your food I promise, it might not even go cold (we are in Singapore!) you will probably lose a few kilos and actually enjoy the taste of the food.

I can already hear some of you saying: “Yes but I am super hungry when I get my food!” Yes but trust me, if you take your time, your digestive system and your weight goals will say thank you!  This is where your will power has to come in. Don’t let your hanger (hungry anger) take away the pleasure of your meal! Holiday season is the perfect moment to start. Just put down your cutlery once in a while and have a quick chat with Uncle John. It will make a big difference!

We are not focused


Do a quick check. Sit down at Raffles Place food hall at 12:30pm on a Monday and look around. Most of us are eating while looking at our phones or reading a newspaper. Same goes at home, TV is on, we are texting a friend…and that’s one of the main reasons we overeat when we’re alone.

As we said earlier our bodies have created a (slow but) perfect feedback system to tell us we are full. But just like someone talks to you when you are “multi-tasking” you are not fully listening to them. First message or two goes unnoticed, and soon enough you are uncomfortably full.

Eating should be an experience, it should be celebrated. Put your phone down, turn off the TV, put on a nice song and look at your plate. You have 5 senses and they all build up the flavors of your meal – so use them all! It will instantaneously make your meals more enjoyable and you will eat less. It is worth trying to focus!

The best way to start is with dessert. None of us are still hungry for dessert but we all feel like “something sweet”. Try to eat very slowly and to enjoy each and every bite of that dessert. You will realize that your craving will go away after a few bites!

Then you have to go to the good side of the force and listen to your body –leave some cake on that plate!

Grandma’s tip: if you are not so sure if you are full yet, just stand up. As you stand up you will have a much better idea of how full your stomach is  🙂

OK so if we are more focused on our food and eat slower, we will eat less. But what about the bad food cravings? Why do we have those?

We have to fight our BRAINS


Since you are a kid, your brain has been wired on sugar, fat or salt. This is due to 3 aspects:

  1. The circumstance in which we ate those foods
  2. The chemical reaction you get while you eat those foods
  3. Our “homo sapiens” brain tells us to eat heavy food so they can use its high energy content later if food gets rare.

When you eat sugar, salt or fat your brain gets a message of pleasure, releasing dopamine and serotonin (the happy chemicals).

This chemical reaction leaves us feeling GOOD. Bad news: unhealthy foods are FULL of saturated , sugar and salt, making them the ultimate rewarding food according to our brains.

Our brain will do just anything to get pleasure and pretty much anything to avoid pain – in any aspect of our life!

You heard well, ALL our actions are dictated by this pleasure / pain dilemma.

Why don’t you like to steal? Because the pain of getting caught is way to high to balance the “thrill” of stealing something without being caught.

Why do you want to eat a donut not a salad? Because your brain associates the donut and its content with so much more pleasure than salad!

So what should we do? Re-program your brain. Find an awesome salad bar that does appetizing salads and associate pain with bad food choice.

What kind of pain? Being over weight, having high cholesterol, not fitting in this beautiful bikini…your choice!

We have to fight against our environment


When is the last time you’ve watched a TV commercial for organic veggies?

When is the last time you saw an ad for Snickers or McDonalds..?

You get my point. Marketers are using our 5 senses to make us buy unhealthy food without thinking about it. It is called impulse buying and let’s be honest here, you never bought a salad on impulse…

Our environment will push you to get unhealthy foods – as these are full of saturated fat, sugar and additives they are cheap to produce, leaving a lot of money to market them! To avoid reacting that way you need to recognize those triggers and acknowledge them. Then if you still want that cake great but at least you know WHY you want that cake, and it has nothing to do with hunger.

That sudden craving for croissants when you walk past a bakery? Brain reaction to environment – your stomach wants you to leave it alone, it’s full! Did you even think about eating croissant 20 min ago? No, but now that you see / smell it…

Useful tips:

  1. Be conscious of your food choices and make your meal decisions before you leave the office / house.
  2. If you have a craving, distract yourself with some activity. The carving might go away in a few minutes.
  3. Lastly, find other ways to reward yourself – like…exercise! It also releases endorphins…

Now you know a bit more about why we crave unhealthy food and why we tend to overeat them.

If you are on a journey to a fitter / healthier you, the best way to get there is to limit unhealthy foods and avoid over eating. I didn’t say it will be an easy process nor I gave you an excuse to indulge (sorry I have to answer my brain stimulus!) but knowing a bit more about how it works can make you realize what is happening and how you can fight it. Stop feeling guilty about over eating and take action!

May the force be with you!

Alicia xx