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Timely tips from the author of "Mindless Eating"

Why we eat more than we think

According to eating-behavior expert  Brian Wansink, the author of the book  "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think" the mind makes food-related decisions more than 200 times a day, and many of them are just automatic; we don’t really pause to actually think about them. 

That’s what he refers to as mindless eating. We are surrounded by countless cues that lead us to overeating. Seemingly innocuous details like the size of our plate, or the diameter of our glass, are cues we use subconsciously to gauge how much to eat and drink. According to Wansink:

“Regardless of how well we think we are tuned into our eating decisions, we will serve 25% to 35% more on a larger plate than a smaller plate.”

Bad Habits By Design

We find this to be one of our favorite books on diet/nutrition because we come back to it again and again. This time of year in particular is a time we often catch ourselves leafing through it to remind us of how rigged the world around us is when it comes to promoting the right (and  wrong!) eating behaviors. 

Because while most of us know what we  should  be doing in terms of diet, it all comes down to what we  are  actually doing. And that, it turns out, is largely influenced by endless tiny details in our environment that have snuck in as societal norms and best practices in the playbook of food marketers.

So as with everything: the best, first step to fixing a habit is to be aware of it. This book goes behind the scenes of fascinating science experiments and research labs dedicated entirely to studying human eating behaviors and shows us that, perhaps our (bad) eating habits aren’t entirely (or at all) our fault... 

Beware the Environment

The approach largely advocated in his book is to reengineer our eating “environment” to send the right cues. If we think about this as we go through our day, we will start noticing that subtle cues to eat more exist everywhere. Particularly in America, and particularly around the Holidays.

This awareness opens up the possibility of approaching our diet and eating habits from a completely different point of view. Rather than focusing onwhat we eat, we can be thoughtful abouthow we eat by adapting our environment to neutralize the prompts that lead us to overeating. 

What You Can Do

Given that we are heading into the time of year when most of us are easily swayed into overeating even more than usual, here are a few things you can look out for:

Bigger is not better

  • When serving the meal, use the smaller serving spoon and serving bowl. We tend to size the portion we take in relation to how much there is. The bigger the bowl, the more we are inclined to take
  • Also pick the smaller plates to eat the meal. That is another element that we use to gauge the size of a “normal” portion. The bigger the plate, the bigger the portion.

Out of sight, out of mind

  • If possible, leave the serving dishes in the kitchen or a separate room. In fact, the bigger the hassle to get that extra helping of mashed potatoes, the longer you’ll delay. Hopefully, long enough to realize you are already full! (We only tend to feel full about 20 minutes after we’ve had enough).

Slow and steady wins the race

  • Be the last one at the table to start eating.
  • Remember that the bigger the group we are breaking bread with the likelier we are to overeat
  • Find a pace setter. Look around to see who is eating the slowest and pace yourself with them.

Keep it messy

  • Keep empty glasses, turkey bones, used plates etc. on the table a bit longer. These are good cues that the meal is done. 

Take a break

  • Delay serving the dessert. It will give people a chance to realize they are fuller than they thought.

For more tips on how to tilt your eating environment in your favor, check out this short video:

You can pick up the “Mindless Eating” book  here


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