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Don’t Eat Anything Larger than your Head and 5 Other Health Rules to Live By

Portion Control is Out of Control in America

Portion control is out of control in America. With a third of the American population considered obese (with body mass index scores at 30 or above), two-thirds considered overweight (with body mass index scores of 25 and above), and with obesity rates increasing especially among the youth, doing the right thing for your body means eating less and exercising more. Of course, this is much easier said than done. Gratefully, First Lady Michelle Obama, is taking this on but she needs a lot of help.

Santa Clara University, where I teach, is well known for their high fit and attractive student body and tends to score very high on various polls as one of the fittest campuses in America. There are a variety of reasons why Santa Clara is a pretty fit campus. Having great weather year round in Northern California helps for sure as well as having modern fitness facilities and a campus culture that supports healthy habits. However, even young, healthy, and smart college students living within a fit college campus culture can develop some pretty poor health habits. In my Health Psychology class, I ask students to work at changing a problematic health habit that they have developed. As expected, diet and exercise often are selected. Students get used to various conveniences that result in minimal exercise and low cost "all you can eat" establishments around campus can be appealing to students on a tight budget. Late night eating is a problem too. Among other things, I encourage them to keep a few rules in mind that they often report they find helpful. These include:

1. Don't eat anything larger than your head.

I know that this sounds silly and they laugh when I say it but portions have gotten so out of control in America. We often eat enormous size meals that really can be larger than our heads. By being mindful of this rule they are more attentive to portion control in general.

2. Don't go to bed without getting 10,000 steps each day.

I'm a big fan of pedometers that measure step count. In order to encourage exercise, I ask student to wear a pedometer and not go to bed until they reach 10,000 steps per day. Getting the immediate and ongoing feedback provided by a pedometer reminds them to move their bodies regularly.

3. Don't snack after dinner.

Late night eating is a problem for many and perhaps especially among college students who often study late into the night (at least I hope they are studying). I encourage them to not eat anything after dinner and suggest that they brush their teeth soon after dinner signifying that they are done eating for the day.

4. Don't eat anything out of the container.

I love Costco but the down side of shopping at places like Costco means have large containers of food around. I encourage students to be careful not to eat anything out of a large container (e.g., ice crème, chips, nuts, cookies) but to select how much they want to eat and put that portion in a small bag or bowl putting the rest away.

5. Don't eat in front of any electronic devices (e.g., TV, laptop, cell phone).

Eating must be mindful, not mindless and eating in front of anything that is electronic encourages one to eat too much. I tell them to not to eat in front of anything that was invented after the 19th century.

6. Watch the alcohol.

People tend to eat more and make bad food choices when they have alcohol on board. Of course students aren't legally able to drink until they are 21-years-old but of course many do drink alcohol prior to that age. Research suggests that 20% of American college students are binge drinkers (i.e., drinking 5 or more drinks at a time) which is not only a problem in and of itself but contributes to problematic eating and sexual activity as well.

Health habits develop early in life and are hard to change once they become stable. Michelle Obama needs a lot of help if she is going to make any progress on attacking the obesity problem in America. There is lots to do to make progress on this front and as a college professor (even at a generally high fit and healthy college community) there are many health habits that students need to attack to maximize health and fitness. If they (and you) can follows these six rules hopefully you'll make good progress.