The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Freedom in Food Selection

Posted in
Eat better

Thursday, Jul 03, 2014

Happy Independence Day, America! Freedom, family, picnics, parades, barbecues, and fireworks pop into mind. And let’s not forget the over-indulgent hot dog eating contests! An earlier post pops to mind that encourages you to “think before you eat!”

How frequently do you eat? Do you eat because you are physically hungry or do you eat as a result of other internal or external factors - like because you're bored or because you're at a party?

Researchers from the University of North Carolina set out to answer these questions by analyzing data from several national surveys of food intake in the U.S. They compared meals and snacks, called eating occasions (EOs) eaten in 1977 to those eaten in 2006 and found1:

  • Both children (2-18 yrs) and adults (greater or equal to 19 yrs) increased their EOs from 3 EOs/day to 5 EOs/day on average over the past 30 years
  • Snacking occasions of beverages only increased significantly between 1994 and 2006 among children
  • Snacking occasions of beverages only increased between 1977 and 2006 in adults slightly (4% increase) but snacking occasions of food only increased more during this time period (11% increase)
  • The relative size of meals and snacks increased dramatically for children and adults; between 1977 and 2006 adults consumed about 123 more calories at meals and adults and children consumed about 180 more calories at snacks from food and about 100 more calories at snacks from beverages
  • The average time between EOs was estimated to be 3.5 hours in adults and 3.1 hours in children in 2006 - down from 4.5 hours and 4.1 hours in 1977 in adults and children
So what does all of this mean? Individuals are consuming food more frequently throughout the day than 30 years ago, with overall meal patterns shifting from 3 EOs/day to more constant eating among both children and adults. But is more frequent eating bad? Some argue that frequent eaters are at greater risk for overeating and that fasting and calorie restriction has health benefits. Others argue that eating throughout the day prevents major binging episodes and is better for blood sugar control. All agree, however, that eating should be mindful, not recreational.

Mindful eating has been described as " experience that engages all parts of us, our body, our hearts, and our mind, in choosing, preparing, and eating food. Mindful eating involves all of the senses. It immerses us in the color, texture, scents, taste, and even sounds of drinking and eating. It allows us to be curious and even playful as we investigate our responses to food and our inner cues to hunger and satisfaction."2

Who knew eating could be so complex?!? Whether you eat three times a day or seven times a day think before you eat!3

1. Why am I eating - for fuel because I'm hungry or because of an external trigger or emotional cue?

2. What will I eat - a healthy choice based on preference and health goals or food that's tempting or convenient?

3. How will I eat - intentionally, with freedom or mindlessly, quickly or secretively?

4. How much will I eat - enough to satisfy hunger or until all of the food is gone?

Share your mindful eating plans for the Fourth with on us on Facebook!

1Popkin, B.M. (2010). Does hunger and satiety drive eating anymore? Increasing eating occasions and decreasing time between eating occasions in the United States. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91, 1342-1347.

2Bays, J. (2009). Mindful Eating. Boston and London: Shambhala.

3Fletcher, M. (2010, Spring). Understanding mindful eating. Weight Management Matters, 4, 1-3, 16-17.