7 ways to stop mindless eating

The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on” (page 11), declares marketing and nutritional science professor Brian Wansink in “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think” (2006).

In the book, there are no recipes, menus, or point-systems. It’s all about reengineering your environment to lose weight without feeling hungry, and it’s full of insights that can change the way you think about what you eat.

“We can move from mindless overeating to mindless better eating” (page 212), Wansink encourages. Here are seven small changes you can make to your eating habits and kitchen:

1. Big plate, small plate: We eat more when we have big plates (and plate lunches). Try using a smaller plate (or mini-plate lunch) instead. Here’s another tip: use smaller serving spoons!

2. All glasses are not equal: We drink more when we use short, wide glasses. That’s great if you’re drinking water. But if you can’t resist a high-calorie or alcoholic beverage, try drinking from a tall, skinny glass instead.

3. You see what you eat: The more we see, the more we eat – like snacks in clear packaging, candy in glass dishes, or snacks in clear jars. Put vegetables and fruits front and center, so you can grab an apple instead of a bag of chips. Put snack foods out of sight and out of reach (in a cabinet or on the refrigerator), so that it takes more effort to eat it.

4. Portion-size it: We eat more when we eat straight from the bag. Put snack foods in portion-controlled plastic bags to create your own 100-calorie packs.

5. Work for it: The easier it is to eat, the more we will eat; and the more hassle it is, the less we eat. So put tempting foods farther away, and make sure that there are only vegetables and fruits at the dinner table (you’ll have to get up for a second serving).

6. Distraction-free snacking zones: We eat more when we’re distracted by television, radio, books, computers, and our phones – even when we’re not hungry. When snacking, don’t get distracted by anything else, and don’t eat straight out of the bag!

7. Turn everyday dining into fine dining: We often taste what we expect to taste. To encourage people to eat healthier (especially kids), use expressive names to describe your food. It’s not just chicken, but pan-seared home-style chicken. Tell kids that it’s not just broccoli, but dinosaur trees for growing dinosaurs. Set the scene with softer lighting and relaxing music to encourage eating.

The goal is to find the “mindless margin” in which we “can either slightly overeat or slightly undereat without being aware of it” (page 30) – and lose 100-200 calories each day without feeling hungry. That means losing up to 10 pounds each year – or at least, not gaining any weight!

I highly recommend “Mindless Eating” and making small changes to create better, mindful eating habits. For more information about “Mindless Eating,” visit www.mindlesseating.org.

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