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Buffet Service Difficult to Handle; Fixed Serving Sizes better

Abstract: Why have people with eating disorders problems with eating at buffet services?

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Buffet Service Difficult to Handle; Fixed Serving Sizes better

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Written by: Gunborg Palme, certified psychologist and certified psychotherapist, teacher and tutor in psychotherapy.
First version: 22 Jul 2008.
Latest revision: 14 Aug 2008.

Why have people with eating disorders problems with eating at buffet services? Is it better with fixed serving sizes?


Those with overweight and/or eating disorders have poor contact with their feelings of physical hunger and satisfaction. This causes them to be more influenced by the environment, what they see and hear and what other people say or show. External influences make an attractive smorgasbord irresistible. Since they don't have an effective satisfaction feeling which says stop, an abundance of food on a buffet becomes very difficult to manage. There is a risk that they will eat far too much and then feel desperate about everything they have taken in.

Those with no eating disorder have a functioning feeling of satisfaction. When they have eaten sufficiently they can feel it. Buffet services are therefore no problem for them, as they stop eating when satisfied, regardless of how much food there is put on the table. This satisfaction feeling unfortunately doesn't function with those who have eating disorders. They continue until the food is finished or until they feel so sick that the can't eat anything more. They don't eat according to their bodily needs.

In order to recover from eating disorders and/or overweight it is necessary to make contact with physical hunger and satisfaction feelings and use them. It is also necessary to understand feelings and needs in order to decide on sensible and wise ways of acting on them. It is easier to do this if food is not so easy to access. When you read a menu and choose what to eat, it is easier to be wise because the food is not there in front of your eyes right away. It is by all means easier for a person with an eating disorder to manage his or her life if you arrange it in a way so that instant gratification is not so easy to achieve. It is not only buffet services and restaurants you should stay away from, but also to avoid going past sweet shops and kiosks, and keeping junk foods at home. This is no stranger than a former alcoholic not keeping alcohol at home in order to avoid temptation.

There are two reasons that people with eating disorders have problem with buffet services: On the one hand, they have poor contact with the body's true signals of hunger and satisfaction. On the other hand, they are more governed by impulses from their surroundings. Experiments have been made in which normal and overweight people have been told that if they are hungry they can take sandwiches. It was found that those with overweight took, by preference, the sandwiches they could see, not so often the ones in a closed food cupboard. Those without eating disorders chose to eat solely on a basis of hunger and the length of time since they last ate.

The aim for those with overweight and/or eating disorders is learning to recognize real hunger and satisfaction so that they can achieve the same internal control of eating as healthy people have. They also have to learn to recognize different feelings that they mistake for hunger or need to eat. Before they have progressed to this extent, it is best to avoid going to a buffet service. Those with normal hunger are also tempted by good food, but when they have eaten to the point of satisfaction, the food loses its attractiveness.

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