overeating
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Treat or health threat? A poor diet contributes to one in five deaths, a study has revealed.
A comprehensive study of global disease has found that a poor diet now contributes to one in five deaths around the world. Unhealthy eating was shown to kill more people than smoking, while obesity and excess weight was revealed to be the fastest growing cause of death in the world.

The Global Burden of Diseases study, published in The Lancet, also showed that while people are living longer, they're also spending more years in ill health.

While the average man can expect to live until 79, he can only expect to enjoy good health up to the age of 69. The average woman lives to 83, but maintains good health only until the age of 71, it was reported.

John Newton of Public Health England, who worked on the study, highlighted that people in developing countries are successfully minimising the health risks associated with infectious diseases, malnutrition and dirty water - only to then turn to junk food in lieu of fruit and vegetables.

So, if overeating is the biggest risk to our health today, how can we cut back? According to Alison Whitworth, a state registered dietician, the Body Mass Index (BMI) is a good way to ascertain whether you are overeating or obese.

The healthiest range is 20 - 25, but anything above 25 is classed as overweight, and anything above 30 is classed as obese. "As it gets higher, the more risks there are," she explains. "If you've got a healthy BMI, it's unlikely that you're overeating."

Whitworth also notes that busy modern lifestyles mean that many people either miss meals or eat more late at night, which puts them more at risk of putting on weight. For Whitworth, regular eating and portion sizes are the most important thing to get right.

That said, overeating is not a simple issue, and varies from person to person. According to qualified nutritionist and weight loss expert Kim Pearson, overeating can be defined simply as the excess consumption of food.

"It results in a greater intake of energy (calories) than is required for us to function," she explains. "The excess is normally stored as body fat and can lead to us becoming overweight or obese. But the causes of overeating can be many and varied, and they can differ from individual to individual."

Expert advice: How to cut down if you're overeating

1. Portion sizes

According to Harley Street nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert, portion sizes are absolutely crucial. "You also need to get the quantity of each food group correct to help weight loss and to steer clear of over eating.

"It isn't fun to be weighing your food every day and this can become quite obsessive, so try using your hands as a portion guide. I explain this further in my book Re-Nourish, which recommends two handfuls of vegetables, 1 palm of protein, 1 cupped hand of carbohydrate and a thumb sized portion of healthy fat, like olive oil.

"You can also create more of the happy hormone, serotonin, if you combine carbs and protein which may result in more satisfaction and less over eating. Healthy fat also keeps you full alongside protein and the fat helps aid absorption of some of the vitamins found in the vegetables."

2. Beware of emotional eating

"Before eating, ask yourself why you are about to eat," recommends Kim Pearson. "Sadness, stress and boredom are common triggers. It can help to keep a food diary, noting down not only what you eat, but also how you felt at the time. You might be surprised how often you are drawn to food when you're not actually hungry."

Rhiannon Lambert takes things a step further. "The best thing you can do is to remove yourself from the environment you normally associate with emotional eating such as the lounge; switch off the TV and breathe, acknowledge the feeling and then go and source the item you're craving as well as the healthy option you feel 'you should have'. Then you may decide to switch to the healthy item after all."

3. Get enough sleep

"Not getting enough sleep can be a trigger for overeating because it interferes with the hormones that regulate our eating behaviour," says Pearson. "When you haven't slept enough, levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin increase. You're likely to feel hungrier than normal which can lead to to overeating."

Sleep also regulates how much leptin the body produces - the satiety hormone that lets us know when we've had enough to eat, and sends signals to the brain that we're full. Lack of sleep reduces levels of leptin meaning that our 'stop eating' messages don't get through."

4. Chew food thoroughly

Pearson also recommends taking time to eat more slowly: "It helps us to recognise when we are getting full. A good way to get started is to count your chews - 30 chews will ensure your food is completely soft before you swallow it. As you get into better habits it will become natural to chew until your food is a soft pulp."

Not convinced? According to Lambert, there's plenty of science behind this. "After eating, your gut suppresses a hormone called ghrelin which controls hunger," she explains. "It also releases the anti-hunger hormones cholecystokinin (CCK), peptide YY (PYY) and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). These hormones relay a message to the brain, letting it know that you've eaten and that nutrients are being absorbed. This reduces appetite, makes you feel full, and helps you stop eating.

Interestingly, this process takes about 20 minutes, so slowing down gives your brain the time it needs to receive these signals."

5. Focus on your food

"Computers, mobile phones, and televisions all act as distractions from food," Pearson stresses. "When we don't fully engage with what we are eating it's easy to forget to stop."

Additionally, Lambert points out that taking pleasure in food and experiencing it with your senses is all a key part of the digestive process.

"If you are watching TV, on your mobile phone, or eating at your desk, distractions can even interfere with digestion, meaning you can easily eat more. You start to digest food just by looking at it, and producing saliva," she says. "Make sure you acknowledge the taste, texture, smell and sight of the food and try and take your time. After all, food is there to be enjoyed!"

6. Beware of trigger foods

"Trigger foods are those foods that you find it hard to resist, and that often lead to over consumption," Pearson adds. "Common trigger foods normally combine either salt and fat, or sugar and fat. Pringles (with their slogan 'once you pop, you just can't stop') are a classic example. Most people know which foods they just can't help but overeat, and it's best to avoid keeping them in the house."

Lambert agrees, and also warns against artificial sweeteners. "I always advise my clients to keep the kitchen free of foods they associate with a binge. There are also certain foods that act as stimulants and can make you hungrier. Artificial sweeteners are now linked to changes in gut bacteria and stimulating appetite, and these are found in fizzy drinks, chocolate bars and many 'low calorie' diet products."

7. Intermittent fasting

There's some debate about this one. "There is now significant evidence to show that there are many health benefits of fasting. It can also help to encourage mindfulness around food and consequently prevent overeating," says Pearon.

"Many individuals who regularly fast report that it helps to 'reset' their eating behaviours, and results in a greater awareness of how their body responds to food."

However, Lambert warns of the potential pitfalls of fasting: "Many studies show that it can help you lose weight and belly fat. Be wary though, as fasting can often trigger a compulsion to overeat and trigger a binge if you are an emotional eater, or have a previous history of eating disorders. Fasting can also lead to a vitamin deficiency and muscle loss if you're not careful about what you eat."