Tackling the issue of mindless eating, these five strategies can help avert fat accumulation in the liver.
Although we don’t like to admit it, most of us know what mindless eating is. Usually what happens when planted in front of a television, movie or computer screen, mindless eating is when we chow down on food without truly being hungry. Unfortunately, mindless eating is a major culprit of excessive weight gain – a problem that leads to fatty liver disease in about one-quarter of American adults.
About Fatty Liver Disease
Seeming to coincide with the rising incidence of obesity, high cholesterol and adult-onset diabetes, fat accumulation in the liver is increasingly prevalent. Despite some fatigue or a dull pain in the upper right abdomen, the early stages of fatty liver disease generally do not produce any symptoms. This is unfortunate because, if fatty liver disease is detected early enough, it can be reversed. However, if not addressed swiftly, fatty liver disease could cause irreparable liver harm.
Fatty liver disease is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in those who don’t drink excessive amounts of alcohol. When fat accumulates in the liver, its severity can vary:
- The early stage is a simple fatty liver, also called steatosis.
- In the next stage, liver fat accumulation is accompanied by inflammation. This is known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).
- As NASH advances, fatty liver can lead to cirrhosis, a severe condition defined by irreversible, advanced scarring of the liver.
About Mindless Eating
Mindless eating is what happens when polishing off a tub of ice cream or a family size bag of chips – even when you are not particularly hungry. It also can happen when a person doesn’t recognize that a modest-sized plate of food has been substituted with a jumbo platter; but the larger portion is nonetheless consumed. As studied in depth by Cornell University food psychologist Brian Wansink, Ph.D., mindless eating describes subconscious eating habits that can lead to unnecessary weight gain.
Based on various studies, Wansink has revealed the following:
- Upon asking 150 Parisians how they knew they were through with dinner they said, “When we’re full.” Upon asking 150 Chicagoans the same question, they said, “When the plate is empty.”
- When watching 168 moviegoers, people ate 34 to 45 percent more popcorn if it was served in extra large buckets than in regular-sized containers – even if the popcorn was stale.
- By using a bottomless bowl of soup that was pressure-fed under the table and refilled slowly from the bottom without the person eating it knowing, those with bottomless soup bowls consumed 73 percent more soup than those with regular bowls. Interestingly, those with bottomless bowls didn’t rate themselves as any more full than those who ate less.
Wanasink’s studies demonstrate how easy it is to mindlessly overeat, a likely contributor to many cases of fatty liver disease.
Strategies to Curb Mindless Eating
In an effort to prevent the development of a fatty liver, or at least to prevent steatosis from progressing to NASH or cirrhosis, the following tips can help stop mindless eating.
- Plan – By thinking ahead for how to handle snacking desires or second helping urges, you can develop an effective plan of action. For example, having fresh fruit and veggies cut up and ready to go for seemingly persistent hunger is a healthful snacking approach that won’t perpetuate fat accumulation in the liver.
- Record – Take the extra time to record the foods you consume in a day. With written documentation of the type and quantity of food eaten, it is relatively easy to spot mindless eating trends. In addition, it helps keep you accountable for everything making its way into your stomach.
- Water – Since being dehydrated is often mistaken for hunger, always keep a large container of water at your side. Besides filling the stomach to ease hunger cravings, drinking plenty of water is a liver-friendly habit. Once you get used to drinking more water, most people find that they actually crave it and their desire to mindlessly snack is diminished.
- Focus on eating – When eating a meal or snack, place all of your focus on the food. Since a majority of mindless eating occurs in front of the television (where the mind is not on eating), consider banning food from entering the TV room. This will help transform your experience into mindful (as opposed to mindless) eating.
- Learn to gauge fullness – Jean Kristeller, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Indiana State University, says that while it’s true many of us are mindless eaters, we can train ourselves to better know when we’re full. She suggests starting with this simple mindful eating technique. “Pour yourself a 20-ounce glass of water, drink half, and concentrate on what it feels like in your stomach. Then drink the other half. Kristellar says, “People notice an immediate difference. The water stretches the stomach and they feel full.”
These five eating strategies can help foster mindful eating – a way of life that not only protects against obesity, hypertension and diabetes mellitus, but is also puts another obstacle between having a healthy liver and developing fatty liver disease.
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