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why Do We Overindulge?

Being distracted while engaging in enjoyable activities can reduce satisfaction, lead to overcompensation.

Do you watch television while eating dinner? Do you work on your computer during lunch? If so, you may be running the risk of over-consumption according to research published by the American Psychological Association.


The study looked at how distraction affects "hedonic consumption". One reason for this overconsumption may be distraction, according to the authors. When people are distracted while engaged in a hedonic activity, research suggests they are likely to experience less enjoyment from it than if they were fully focused. That may lead to feelings of dissatisfaction and drive more consumption to compensate for that shortfall.


To better understand the role of distraction in overconsumption, the researchers first conducted an experiment involving 122 participants. They were then asked to eat their lunch under one of three conditions: no distraction, moderate distraction (watching a video), and high distraction (playing Tetris). After lunch, participants reported on their actual enjoyment, satisfaction, desire for further gratification and amount consumed. They also reported on their snacking later in the day.


Participants who ate while distracted reported lower enjoyment and satisfaction, which was associated with increased snacking afterward and a more general desire for further gratification. The researchers believe that this proposed effect, which they called "hedonic compensation," likely applies to other activities beyond eating. For example, people who are distracted while watching a movie or playing a game may be more likely to engage in additional consumption (e.g., checking social media) to compensate for a diminished enjoyment of the original activity.


The researchers also followed 220 participants aged 18 to 71 for a week to investigate this broader effect, beyond food. Participants filled out seven brief surveys per day via their smartphones (ironic) regarding their hedonic consumption, distraction and satisfaction. As with the food-based experiment, researchers found that when people were distracted during consumption, they were likely to enjoy a product less than they hoped, felt less satisfied, and experienced an elevated need for further gratification.


Putting it simply, overconsumption often results due to a lack of self-control. This may be driven by the human desire to reach a certain level of enjoyment from an activity. When distraction gets in the way, it's likely we may try to compensate by consuming more. We have become so "numb" to stimulation, that we constantly seek more to achieve gratification. Our hedonic, instantly gratified, pleasure-seeking culture has turned us all into addicts whether we realize it or not.


The fast-food industry has capitalized on this by scientifically researching things like "mouth feel" and making everything "Super-Sized" in the US.

American food portions are exponentially larger than those elsewhere in the world. In one study, portion sizes in Paris, France were on average 1/4 the size of Philadelphia sizes, when comparing 11 similar eateries between the two cities. Even within the US, fast food portions are 4 times larger now than they were dating back to the 1950s. You literally cannot get these portion sizes anywhere outside of America!


What we can do

Interventions need to be initiated to help people pay more attention to their consumption experiences, in an effort to lower the likelihood of overconsumption.

By understanding the key drivers of hedonic overconsumption, we can develop strategies to help prevent its occurrence.


A Cornell study also demonstrated that people eat more if they are given more to eat. It is of no surprise that larger portion sizes lead to increased caloric intake and increased pounds for many Americans who dine out on a regular basis.


An equally concerning issue is the rise of a sedentary lifestyle amongst Americans. Up to 84% of Americans spend at least 2 hours a day watching TV. According to a study that followed American behavioral patterns over a span of 15 years, total sitting time increased from 7 to 8.2 hours a day among adolescents and increased from 5.5 to 6.4 hours for adults. The less active Americans are, the less calories that get burnt throughout the course of the day, and the more likely it is that calories accumulate eventually leading to increase pounds on the weight machine. The ubiquitous rise of screen time with technology such as cellphones, iPads, and computers also does not help the cause of increasing fitness and activity for Americans.


According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans published in 2018 by the American Department of Health and Human Services, adults should engage in 150-300 minutes per week of moderate physical activity or 75-150 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity.


Obesity will only be curtailed through a public health approach that targets structural factors like discrimination, food insecurity, and lack of access to key health resources. As an example, food insecurity refers to the inability to consume healthy foods because of insufficient funds or resources. This is of particular importance amongst the poorest populations in America, who often cannot afford more costly foods at supermarkets that have the highest nutritional value. Instead, they must purchase cheaper fast foods that tend to be higher in calories but lower in nutritional value. It is of no surprise that obesity is more prevalent in minorities and those of lower socioeconomic status. Non-Hispanic Blacks have the highest prevalence of obesity in America, followed by Hispanic adults, and this is often a result of where they live and their lack of resources to purchase healthy foods.


Ending obesity is not rocket science. It starts with the decisions we make (eating healthier, in smaller quantities, and staying active).

Speaking of instant gratification, isn't it ironic how fast Ozempic is flying off the shelves?

Stomach paralysis anyone?



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