Do you eat without even noticing? This book promises to shift the pounds – and you won’t even realize you’re on a diet. How? Apparently it’s all in the mind.
The average person makes well over 200 decisions about food every day. Breakfast or no breakfast? Bread, bun or bagel? Part or all of it?
Every time we pass a dish of sweets or open up our desk drawer and see a piece of chewing gum, we make a food decision. Yet we can’t really explain most of these 200-plus decisions.
Time for a change: Putting tempting foods out of sight will help cut your intake
But what if we could? Most of us are blissfully unaware of what influences how much we eat. We all think we’re too smart to be tricked by packages, lighting or the size of plates. We might acknowledge that others can be tricked, but not us.
Yet every single one of us is influenced by what’s around us when it comes to deciding what and when we will eat.
In other words, we over-eat not because of hunger, but because of family and friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colors, shapes and smells, cupboards and containers.
The list is almost as endless as it’s invisible. That’s what makes mindless eating so dangerous: we are not aware it is happening to us.
Since founding the Food & Brand Lab in 1997, I have designed and conducted more than 250 studies into why we eat what we eat.
I’m on a mission to find out why people eat mindlessly – and to help them break the habit with strategies that change how they think about food.
Food for thought: The average person makes over 200 decisions about food every day
Food is a great pleasure in life – not something we should compromise. We simply need to shift our surroundings to work with our lifestyle instead of against it.
Traditional diet books lead most people to throw up their hands in frustration and deprivation – and to buy another diet book that might promise a less painful way to lose weight.
My book shows you how to remove the cues that cause you to over-eat in the first place, and how to change your kitchen and your habits. You won’t be a swimsuit model in the next week – but you will be back on course and moving in the right direction.
Because although you can eat too much without knowing it, you can also eat less. Because, let’s face it, the best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on…
Remove the Mindless Margin
Just ten extra calories a day – one stick of gum or three jelly beans – will make you a pound heavier in a year.
And 140 calories a day – or one can of soft drink – will make you put on approximately 14 pounds a year. And you won’t even notice.
Fortunately, the same thing happens in the opposite direction. This is known as the mindless margin: those few extra calories that you can consume – or not consume – every day that you really don’t notice.
By cutting out 100 to 200 calories a day, you can lose weight. That can mean not having one of your daily Starbucks. Or not reaching into a bag of chips when you get in from work.
Cutting out your favorite foods entirely, however, is a bad idea: you’ll just feel deprived.
Cutting down on how much you eat of them, on the other hand, is mindlessly do-able.
Simply dish out 20 percent less than you think you will want before you start to eat. You probably won’t miss it.
In most of my studies, people will realise if they eat 30 percent less, but not 20 percent.
For fruit and vegetables, though, think 20 percent more. If you cut down the pasta you eat by 20 percent, increase the veggies by 20 per cent.
Health tips: Cut down your next pasta meal by 20 percent, but increase the amount of vegetables you serve up
Another trick is to be more aware of why you’re eating. A friend recently lost 14 pounds in a year.
He told me that if he had a craving when he wasn’t hungry, he’d say out loud: ‘I’m not hungry, but I’m going to eat this anyway.’
Having to make that declaration would often be enough to prevent him from indulging mindlessly. Try it.
See All You Eat
When people put their food on a plate, they eat about 14 percent less.
So instead of eating directly out of a package or box, put everything you want to eat on a plate before you start eating – whether it’s a snack, dinner, ice cream or even chips.
Leave the packaging in the kitchen and eat elsewhere.
You’ll also eat less if you are able to see what you’ve already eaten. This was proved in an experiment when we gave a group of 53 students an endless supply of chicken wings as they watched a football match.
We split them into Group and Group B, and as they tucked into their chicken and discarded the bones, we kept removing the bones from Group A’s plates.
Group B kept their bones on their plates.
Without being able to see the evidence of what they eaten, Group A ate 28 percent more than the students who kept the discarded bones on their plate.
So keep any evidence of what you’ve eaten, such as chicken bones or ribs, on the plate as you’re biting into the next one.
Be Your Own Tablescaper
Your tablescape – the innocuous-looking item on your table, such as dishes glasses and packages – can increase how much you eat by well over 20 percent.
The good news is that can also be used to decide how much you eat. Mini-size your boxes and bowls. The bigger the package you pour from, be it cereal boxes on the table or pasta jars in the kitchen, the more you will eat.
Repackage your jumbo box into smaller Tupperware containers and you will eat less.
Make visual illusions work for you. If you serve 6oz of stew on an 8in plate, it looks like a nice serving. If you serve 6oz on a 12in plate, it looks like a tiny starter. Down-size your plates and you will eat less without thinking about it.
Healthy choices: Replace unhealthy snacks with plenty of vegetables
Buy tall, slender glasses if you want to be slender yourself. You’ll tend to pour 30 per cent more into a wide glass than a tall, slender one. Get rid of your wide glasses.
Beware side dishes. If you have lots of little bowls of leftovers on the table, you’re likely to eat more. This doesn’t matter, of course, if it’s a bowl of carrot sticks or celery.
Make Overeating A Hassle
My researchers and I gave a group of administrative assistants clear-lidded sweet jars that we rotated among three locations in their office.
In the first week, the sweet jar was placed at the corner of each assistant’s desk.
In the second week, it was put in the top left-hand desk drawer. In the third week, it was on a filing cabinet, six feet from her desk.
You can guess what happened. The assistants ate an average nine sweets a day when they were on the desk, six when they were in the drawer and only four when they were on the filing cabinet.
Give yourself the chance to rethink whether you really want food.
Leave serving dishes in the kitchen because that gives you the opportunity to ask if you’re really hungry and need more when you have cleared your plate.
Put tempting foods such as crisps and chocolates in hard-to-reach cupboards. Wrap the most tempting leftovers in foil and put them in the back of the fridge.
Snack only at the table and on a clean plate. This makes it less convenient to serve, eat and clean up after an impulse snack.
Of course, a better idea still is not to bring impulse foods in the house to begin with. Eat before you shop, use a list and stick to the perimeter of the store.
That’s where you’ll find the fresh food.
Rescript your diet danger zones
We all have eating ‘scripts’ for the five most common diet danger zones: dinner, snacks, parties, restaurants and desks/ dashboards.
One common dinner script, for example, involves eating second helpings until everyone else at the table is finished.
If you want to ‘rescript’ this, you might want to try being the last to start eating, pacing yourself with the slowest eater or not having any bread.
Similarly, after-work snacking could be re-scripted by chewing a piece of gum rather than raiding the fridge.
Distract yourself before you snack. Distractions are good when they prevent us from starting to snack, but bad when they prevent us from stopping.
In one study, eaters who were listening to the radio while they ate consumed 15 per cent more than those who ate in silence.
At home, you can make your snacking life less distracting and less alluring by eating in one room only, such as the dining room or kitchen.
Make Comfort Food More Comforting
The best way to begin changing habits is to do so in a way that doesn’t make you feel deprived.
So, keep your favorite comfort foods, but eat them in smaller amounts.
Our studies show that most people have at least some comfort foods that are reasonably healthy – chicken soup or dark chocolate – and small doses take you a long way.
Start pairing healthier foods with positive events. Instead of celebrating a personal victory or smothering a defeat with a ‘death by chocolate’ dessert, why not choose a smaller bowl of ice cream with strawberries?
It may be low in fat, but does that give you an excuse to eat more of it?
It’s still tasty, it’s not a big sacrifice and before long it will come to inch up your favorites list.
Watch the Fast Food Tricks
Beware of the ‘health halo’. Our studies show that people who chose ‘low-fat’ granola ate 21 percent more calories than those eating ordinary granola.
Meanwhile, customers who chose a ‘healthy’ sandwich in a shop also rewarded themselves by having cheese, mayo, chips and chocolate to go with it.
Who really overeats? The person who knows he’s eating a 710-calorie fast-food burger or the person who is eating a 350-calorie sandwich that, with added extras, actually consists of 500 calories?
And while super-sizing at the fast-food restaurant may seem like a bargain, a large bag of chips will be cold by the time you get to the greasy bottom.
If the bread basket is on the table, you’re going to eat bread. So ask the waiter to take it away or keep it on the other side of the table.
Candlelight, nice table linen and music will make you relax. Restaurant customers eat for an average 11 minutes longer than those who are in a less relaxed eating environment.
Portion sizes in restaurants are often more than ample, so why not split a main course; have half packed to take home or simply order two starters instead.
Similarly, if you want a dessert, see if someone will share it with you. The best part of any dessert is the first two bites.
Establish a ‘pick two’ rule for when you eat out. Starter, drink, dessert – choose any two, but not all three.
• EXTRACTED from Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink 2009.