31 January 2011,

In the last few entries, I have been bordering dangerously close to offering dietary advice.

In my previous posts, I was trying to give some bare bones basics to explain the whole premise behind why we like to sample bits and pieces of food, and how this can lead to unconscious overeating. I often hear or read advice about including a ‘variety’ of foods in a diet, but this contradicts much of what our lab results show (basically, that you will eat less if you have fewer choices). The SSS rule does not apply to the quantity of potatoes or pasta, because we seem to be able to eat lots of these, without feeling overly full. Ditto for cereal!

Of course, it’s much nicer to say (and to hear) “‘include a variety of foods in your diet”’. In this case, ‘variety’ pertains to the types of Radicchio you eat, and protein sources, but that’s about it.

Accessing different types of protein is about as joyful as you might think. There’’s turkey breast, eggs, steak with no fat, garbanzo beans (oh – um, chick peas), and peanuts. I need not be so cynical: there are plenty of decent recipes that use high protein foods, raw foods, raw veggies, and fiber in your diet. Just not here for the time being. Sensory Specific Satiety is so far from my area of expertise, but I always think of it when I hear about the magic of high protein diets.

Here in Spain, we are particularly lucky with the protein issue and including high protein foods in our diet. Chorizo, jamon, lomo, cecina – indeed, those are the cured meats. For those stalwart advocates of the Atkins diet, Spain is paradise.

Speaking of Spain, I have never seen a culture defy typical rules of Healthy Eating, and look so lean. Of course, obesity in Spain is increasing, but given that the staples of our diet include:
salt, salt, and some fat,
that we eat dinner at 10.00 pm,
that breakfast consists of coffee,

…You’’d have thought that we would at least be winning the European race by now? Or at least, the Western European Race?
If there is one thing that I could, with certainty, differentiate between my Spanish and Occidental girlfriends, it is a huge dose of skepticism with regard to the idea that a diet is going to be easy. Also, the diet fads don’’t really spread quickly here.

Do you remember 2003? The halcyon days of low carb mocholate and bacon bits…

The idea that you can eat as much as you please (just that it didn’’t have ‘net carbs’ or whatever they call them) never reached Spain. Never!

I recently had someone send me an ad to join ‘Livin La Vida Lo Carb’ for a ‘wonderful promising business venture’ contingent upon pushing no net carb foods. If I were to ask my sister in law to purchase ‘No Net Carbohydrate Foods’, she would think I was using secret swear words.

Is diet responsible for obesity or overweight? Of course. But the ways that you eat are also crucial. Are you eating with friends, or in front of the computer? Do you have at least two, if not three, meals a week with your friends or family?

In addition to knowing the basics (and I do mean basics) of SSS, I think including a healthy dose of socialization would also minimize the amount of food consumed. It has been argued that food intake increases with the number of people involved in an ‘eating episode’ (um… i.e. lunch or dinner) (De Castro, 1990; de Castro, Brewer, Elmore, & Orozco, 1990). The idea is that social agents (um, also known as people) increase the amount of time spent in front of the table, and hence more is eaten. So, the idea is that people who are perpetually social, are going to be heavier.

Really?! From my experience, it is the complete opposite. Those people I know, who are most social, are typically quite lean. This of course, may pertain to what is called the Feminine Ideal – i.e. eating less is associated with being ‘feminine’ (Pliner, 1990). This is true for both males and females (Pliner, 1990), and has also been recorded in the lab. The idea is that women will eat less (i.e. behave in a more ‘feminine’ way) in the presence of a desirable male companion, as opposed to a female companion or less desirable male companion. Mori (1987) suggests women eat less to present ourselves as more feminine in front of ‘ideal partners’.

Again: Really?! Hmm. My unscientific studies of people don’t really verify this. Generally, I have found people eat less in social situations, that itˊs not totally contingent on an ˊideal male partnerˊ hanging about. Then again, maybe I’’m paranoid. Or stunned. Maybe people are binge eating in front of me, and I just have no idea about it. Or maybe our eating motivations have changed radically in the twenty years since that idea was posted…

In any case: this whole ˊdesirable matesˊ concept certainly simplifies things: letˊs all just check out pictures of Andres Velencoso before diving into the high protein Hagen Dazs.
De Castro, J. M. (1990). Social facilitation of duration and size but not rate of the spontaneous meal intake of humans. Physiol Behav, 47(6), 1129-1135.
de Castro, J. M., Brewer, E. M., Elmore, D. K., & Orozco, S. (1990). Social facilitation of the spontaneous meal size of humans occurs regardless of time, place, alcohol or snacks. Appetite, 15(2), 89-101.
Mori, D., Chaiken, S., & Pliner, P. (1987). “Eating lightly” and the self-presentation of femininity. J Pers Soc Psychol, 53(4), 693-702.
Pliner, P., Chaiken, S. (1990). Eating, social motives, and self-presentation in women and men. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 26, 240-254.

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