From the fast-food ads we encounter on our daily commutes to the decadent dessert recipes that pop up in our Facebook feeds, our lives are filled with food cues. On top of that, science suggests that lifestyle factors like drinking alcohol regularly, skimping on sleep and watching hours of TV can drive us to take in more calories than our bodies need.
Before stress-eating your way through another day, read on to discover some of the common behaviors that could be turning us into bottomless pits.
Alcohol is a bigger contributor to overeating than camping out in front of the television or falling short on shut-eye, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Research. Scientists say that drinking increases levels of ghrelin, a hormone that makes you feel hungry, so don’t be surprised if you shovel in more dinner after downing a glass of wine.
Having a drink with dinner may also leave you hungry after a meal that would typically fill you up. In a study at Laval University in Canada, subjects had either a high-fat appetizer along with an alcoholic beverage or a lower-fat (and therefore less filling) appetizer without alcohol at lunchtime. The high-fat/alcohol consumers ate more of their entrees — and more of their dinners later that day — than those who didn’t have a drink.
2. Too much TV
People who watch TV for more than two hours a day are more likely to be overweight, according to a study from the USDA. Close to 60 percent of Americans fall into that category, and researchers found they tend to consume larger amounts of high-calorie snack foods, pizza and sugary soft drinks. They also help themselves to higher-calorie dinners than those who watch less than an hour of TV a day.
3. Inadequate sleep
When you can’t tear yourself away from a late-night rerun of Law & Order, you won’t just be tired the next day. People ate 221 more calories worth of snack foods the day after getting 5.5 hours of sleep compared to the day following an 8.5-hour snooze, according to a study from the University of Chicago. At that rate, you could pack on almost a pound after two weeks of sleep deprivation.
Skimping on sleep lowers levels of the fullness hormone leptin while increasing levels of ghrelin, a combination that revs up your appetite, according to researchers at Stanford University. What’s more, lack of rest stimulates areas of the brain that associate food with pleasure, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
4. Food porn
If you’ve spent even five minutes perusing recipes on Pinterest, you understand that looking at food makes you want to eat. Viewing images of delicious dishes lights up the brain’s reward centers and can make those with active mental responses to food overeat, according to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Food porn also drives up levels of ghrelin, even if you just ate a meal, according to a study published in the journal Obesity.
If you’re trying to lose weight, you’re even more likely to be seduced by food imagery. Dieters ate 60 more calories of candy after watching a television program that featured the sweet treat, while non-dieters ate the same amount of candy whether it was on TV or not, according to a study in Appetite.
5. Gluttonous pals
Your friend just ordered a steak, and you feel silly going with a salad for dinner, so you chime in, “Make that two.” Sound familiar? People tend to mimic each other’s eating behaviors, even down to taking bites of food at roughly the same time, according to a study published in the online journal PLoS One.
If you’re trying to impress your dinner date, this effect can go even further. College students who identified themselves as having eager-to-please attitudes were more likely to eat M&Ms — and take more of them — when another person offered them the treat, according to a study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.
6. No breakfast
People who miss their morning meal are 4.5 times more likely to be obese, according to a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Researchers suggest that forgoing meals slows down your metabolism, makes you hungry, switches your body into fat-storage mode and ups the odds that you’ll overdo it at your next meal.
In a University of Missouri study, teens who ate a 500-calorie breakfast that included cereal and milk every day for three weeks reported feeling less hungry when lunchtime rolled around compared to those who skipped the meal.
7. Scarfing it down
Grabbing a bite before rushing into a meeting may ward off an afternoon junk food craving, but if you scarf it down, it might not satisfy you the way it should. When you eat too fast, your stomach doesn’t have time to release the hormones that tell your brain you are full, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. The longer that study participants spent eating a bowl of ice cream, the fuller they felt afterward.
8. Tiny treats
A small “fun size” candy bar may be worse for your waistline than you think. When high-calorie snacks come in small packages, people tend to eat more of them than when they come in bigger sizes, according to a Journal of Consumer Research study. Researchers say petite packages help people give into treats in the first place. Plus, single-serving snacks are usually sold in multiples, making it hard to stop at just one.
An overbearing boss or heavy workload could impact your eating habits, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Among 230 women studied, those who felt burned out at work were more likely to report emotional or uncontrolled eating compared to those who were satisfied with their jobs.
10. Diet soda
The can says “diet,” but your favorite zero-calorie beverage may actually help you pack on pounds. Blame sugar substitutes, which mess with the brain’s ability to control how much you need to eat, according to a recent Physiology & Behavior study.
The brain uses a learned relationship between sweetened foods or beverages and the calories they provide to help regulate food intake, according to researchers at University of California-San Diego and San Diego State University. Routinely drinking diet soda throws off the brain’s sweet sensors, as you’re consuming something sweet, but your body’s not getting the calories it expects. Once confused, the brain stops associating sweets with having calories and your control around sweet-tasting foods starts to weaken.