Forget “the dog’s eaten my homework”, when we want to feel better about how many calories we’ve consumed, we’re full of excuses. But which ones are actually true? Experts recently warned that record numbers of women under 50 are getting diagnosed with breast cancer – with overeating and obesity getting most of the blame (as well as consuming too much alcohol and an inactive lifestyle.)
Seasonal feeding frenzy
Can hayfever really make you eat more? Well, apparently certain drugs including antihistamine cyproheptadine can trigger an increase in our appetite. The drug can also be used to treat migraines and antidepressants can also have an effect on our calorie consumption. Despite this the reason for it is not clear. Generally people with depression can be less active, and there is a school of thought that believes if your mood is being increased by drugs then you may feel more compelled to eat as your appetite increases.
Cutting out carbs from our diet – in diets such as the once hugely favoured Atkins diet – can now actually push you to overeat, according to research. A study from Ohio State University found that people who skimp on carbohydrates at lunchtime tend to compensate by eating more of them later. Experts say that as carbohydrate foods all release glucose into our bloodstream when we digest them, if we cut them out our brain tells us to eat, as glucose is the brain’s primary fuel.
‘The longer we leave it before eating some carbohydrate, the stronger these signals become and the more likely we are to overeat when the next meal- time comes.’
Working up a thirst
When you need to rehydrate, the brain can confuse needing liquid with being hungry. The symptoms of mild dehydration, such as feeling weak, tired or dizzy, mimic those of hunger. The solution would be to reach for a glass of water before you reach for the biscuits, as it may just satisfy any cravings you have. Remember water, juices, and fruit teas will all help to hydrate you, but alcohol will do just the reverse. By causing fluctuations in blood sugar levels a large amount of insulin is released into the bloodstream. The function of this is to mop up blood sugar, and when your levels drop you’ll feel intense hunger because the body wants to restore levels. That’s why when we’re drunk a big piece of cake, or anything stodgy or sweet is just what we reach for.
Can’t get no satisfaction
Another potential cause is our taste buds. As we age, these effectively die off.
In addition to this, our taste buds can also become damaged by viral infections, medicines (such as amphetamines) and inflammatory conditions in the mouth, such as severe acid reflux.
When this happens we feel the need to eat more to gain the same kind of satisfaction as we used to. And if you can no longer get satisfaction from taste, the binging can occur.
Research by University College London has discovered that people who eat chocolate on an empty stomach are more likely to develop a psychological craving for it.
Hunger makes any high-calorie food taste extra good, so you’ll just want even more of it.
It’s far better – if you’re going to eat a sweet treat, to eat after a meal rather than before.
Watch out for those post-gym “rewards”
After exercise it’s understandable to think that you deserve a treat to reward yourself. But unless you’ve done a highly intensive workout, the number of calories you’ve actually burned can be pretty small.
And so on comes the slow, silent creeping on of weight.
An hour of step aerobics for the average woman burns 450 calories, but a grande latte with semi-skimmed milk afterwards contains 300 calories.
If you were to then have a low-fat muffin as well, your total post-exercise snack would be 100 calories more than what you burned off through exercise.
Guilt can be the enemy
Often if we’ve had a bit of a binge on the calories, we start to feel guilty about it. But by feeling guilty can actually make us more susceptible to overeating.
Researchers from Northwestern University in America discovered that if you are guilty about something that was pleasurable – eating for example – then the guilt itself becomes a pleasure.
During a study, over 1,000 people were given sweet treats, with half of them primed to experience feelings of guilt before eating them.
This group was shown to enjoy the treats more than the other group. So the more forbidden something is, the more we enjoy it, it would seem.
Best friend – diet enemy
We eat 18 per cent more food when with friends, according to research from Marion Hetherington, professor of Biopsychology at the University of Leeds.
Eating with strangers doesn’t seem to have the same effect and it’s thought that the distracting effects of chatting and enjoying ourselves, mean we don’t realise when we are full.
With friends we can also relax more, and so often it’s not just food that is consumed, but quite a bit of alcohol as well, which is packed with calories.