London’s Euston Station must be one of the unhealthiest places in the country. It’s a vast hall, seemingly always crammed with tired and stressed-out people, and its walls are lined with shops that sell sweets, crisps and sugary drinks and fast food outlets that pump the tempting scents of cooking meat and bread out over the crowds.
Before lockdown, I spent a lot of time at Euston because it’s where I catch my train back home up north. Time and time again I’ve found myself there, exhausted and irritable, staring at bags of tempting sweets. And, on many occasions, I’ll crack. I’ll look over my shoulder to check I’ve not been spotted, grab what I want, rush to the checkout and then hide the bag in my coat pocket, shoving the sweets in my mouth one by one.
But afterwards, when I’m on the train, I don’t beat myself up like I used to. Yes, I cracked. But that doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. It means I’m tired, stressed, tempted and human. In a way, all of modern life is a bit like Euston Station.
Stress and sedentary living make weight gain easier
You could hardly design a better scenario than 21st-century life for making a lot of people overweight. We’re sleep-deprived, and that makes us crave more calorie-dense foods. Our jobs make us sit at desks and in trains, buses and cars, so we’re not moving enough to send our bodies the signal that we are active, thriving humans.
We’re stressed out in our work, family and home lives, which makes our bodies think we’re in a hostile place, so they hold on to more fat. On top of all that, it’s hard for many of us to get easy access to healthy and affordable wholefoods. And what’s the result? Soaring obesity rates. In 1992, 53 per cent of the UK population were overweight or obese. In just 20 years that number has climbed to 62 per cent. And it’s still climbing. Maybe your parents’ and grandparents’ generations could get away with eating whatever they wanted, but they weren’t living in the world of today. They didn’t have access to the types and varieties of foods that we do. I don’t believe it’s your fault if you’re carrying excess weight. By now, I hope you agree.
Eat from smaller plates
One handy hack that’s great for tweaking your hunger signals is eating your meals off smaller plates. Surprisingly, there doesn’t currently seem to be any reliable scientific research on this, but many of my patients have reported it works really well for them, and that’s good enough evidence for me.
They tell me that reducing the size of their plate by a couple of inches nudges them into eating smaller portions and being satisfied with less. This is probably because, when we’re judging anything like a portion size, the brain does so by making a comparison. What’s a large coffee in Starbucks? It’s the one that’s bigger than the medium. The same is true for food portions. A decent-sized meal will look plentiful on a smaller plate. But put it on a large one and it will seem small.