Avoid mindless eating

photo: Marissa Donovan

photo: Marissa Donovan

Many of us do not realize how much our environment affects our eating. Everything from your mood, to the friends you eat with, to the size of the plate you’re using can have huge impacts on your food choices. Brian Wansink, PhD is a psychologist who studies just this.  His book “Mindless Eating” describes ways to effortlessly eat less and eat better.  Here are my top 5 tips from Wansink’s book:

Tip # 1 Choose small plates and tall glasses

As portion sizes in this country explode, dish manufacturers are making bigger plates to keep up.   Believe it or not, studies show that most of us do eat differently according to the size of our plates. In one study, Wansink found that people eat 57% more ice cream when using a large bowl as compared to a small one. Another study done in a college dining hall found that students who chose short wide glasses poured 74% more beverage than those with tall thinner glasses. Choose smaller plates when you can, this can include “salad plates” and “appetizer plates” and when drinking, choose tall thin glasses.

Tip # 2 Make eating healthy the more convenient option

Make healthy foods easier to access and unhealthy foods more difficult to access.  This includes using opaque candy dishes, taping (instead of clipping) snack bags shut, and organizing your cupboard and fridge, putting the healthier choices in the front.  It is amazing how effective “out of sight, out of mind” can be when it comes to food. Keep serving dishes off the table as you eat, so you have to get up if you want more.  Likewise, keep healthy choices such as vegetables on the table for easy access. Additionally, if you have certain trigger foods that you tend to overeat, don’t even bring them into you house or work.

Tip # 3 Be aware of how other people affect your eating

When eating with friends, try to match the pace of the slowest eater; eating slower will decrease the amount you eat. Try to focus on the conversation and the company less than the eating. A recent article published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics explains that eating behaviors can be transmitted socially. Several studies were done showing that if others were making low-calorie or high-calorie food choices, it significantly increased the likelihood that participants made similar choices. In addition to the quality of food, social norms can also influence the quantity of food eaten, with the studies showing that when others ate large portions it increased food intake by the participants.  Be aware of these influences; don’t let your co-workers, friends, family or spouse unknowingly dictate what foods and how much food you are eating.

Tip # 4 Dish out 20% less than you think you want to eat

According to studies done by Wansink, people can eat 20% less without even noticing. When making your plate, dish out 20% less than you think you can eat, if you find yourself hungry you can always go back for more.  This will be easier to do if you are using smaller serving plates and bowls as discussed in tip # 1.

Tip # 5 Visually see what you eat

Those who pre-plate their food eat 14% less than those who eat a small amount and keep going back for more.  When snacking especially, portion out your snacks instead of eating out of the package.  Keep empty plates and glasses on the table to visualize how much you have eaten. Wansink found that people ate 28% fewer chicken wings when they left the bones on the table as they ate. Visually seeing what you will eat and what you have eaten can help you mindlessly eat less food.

Mindless Eating” has plenty of other helpful tips for people who need to take control of their food habits.  I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to improve food choices and control food intake.

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