Hello everyone! I am Anna, a dietitian at the Weight Center who specializes in helping patients lose weight with long term success. I’d like to say a special thanks to Janet for allowing me once again to guest-post on her blog.
I’ve been thinking a lot about food cues lately. A cue is something that is said or done that serves as a signal for a something to begin. For example, an actor may have a cue from his director to enter on stage and begin his monologue.
Food cues follow a similar structure, but the thing they signal is often an eating behavior. One example might be the clock. Have you ever been plodding along with your day, no feelings of hunger in sight, and all of a sudden you see the clock reads 12:00? You begin to feel hungry even though 30 seconds ago you weren’t thinking about food at all. Timing is a very common food cue.
Another common food cue is seeing or smelling a certain food. Driving by McDonalds and smelling their French fries may cue you to stop and eat, even though you’re not hungry and it’s not meal time. Going to the movies and smelling their popcorn may have a similar effect: you spend $9 on popcorn you didn’t even know you wanted before you smelled it!
As I get to thinking about food cues, a certain type stands out in my mind: television commercials. Many of you may have heard that increased “screen time” is associated with being overweight or obese. Most people attribute that to being sedentary while watching TV, but did you know that the power of television commercials has a huge effect as well?
Study after study has shown that watching food related television commercials can cue people to eat. When ½ to 1/3 of every commercial played is food related, the effect of this can really add up!
In addition, those studies also show that overweight or obese people are especially prone to falling victim to these cues. To put that another way, someone at a desirable body weight may see a pizza shop commercial and have little or no reaction to it. An overweight person may see that same commercial and start craving pizza. The person at a desirable body weight may continue on with the home made dinner they had planned. The overweight person may scrap that plan and call their spouse to pick up a pizza on their way home from work.
The scary part is, the whole process of falling victim to a food cue usually happens without the person even realizing it! Advertising has become so pervasive in our lives that we become desensitized to the amount of promotions we see every day.
Here are some helpful tips for dealing with food cues:
- Become aware of your own food cues. It may help to keep a journal of times you’re eating when you’re not hungry. Do you tend to get up to get a snack when your favorite show ends? Do you stop for a milkshake when you take the back roads home from work (the back roads that take you right by McDonalds?)
- Come up with a plan for the next time that cue arises. If/Then statements are really helpful here. Try to make your plan simple and specific. If I take the back roads home then I am not going to stop at McDonalds. If my show ends and I am bored, then I will begin knitting/reading/playing with my kids.
- Avoid cues that you have difficulty dealing with. Try investing in a DVR and recording your shows so that you can fast forward through the commercials. Limit your television time to 1 hour or less per day. Take the longer route with less fast food places home from work.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please share anything you’ve got to say in the comments of this blog post.