I just read this powerful article by Brian Wansink, PHD in my IDEA Health & Fitness Journal and feel compelled to share a modified version (with published permission) and insert a few of my own thoughts and tips for this week's Healthy Lifestyle Tip. Many of my clients - and a lot of us in general - struggle with mindless eating. By now (half way through March), most people have abandoned their healthy eating goals and gym memberships, unless their gearing up for Spring Break Season!
Most of us know on a rational level what we're supposed to do and what to eat and not to eat to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, but it's the day to day application of these practices that's the hard part. As one of the quotes in my training studio says "The Formula's Simple, But It Ain't Easy" - TVH.
Brian's researched based article offers every day solutions to replace mindless eating habits. If you find yourself struggling with mindless eating, portion control and unhealthy eating behaviors, I encourage you to read this and check out how Changing Your Eating Environment Can Help Change Your Mindless Eating Behavior. I've highlighted in bold the main points for all of you "skimmers" out there and outlined it in 6 Easy Steps
One sentence summarizes 25 years of research: It’s easier to change your eating environment than to change your mind!
It’s hard to resist the candy dish sitting on your desk—it’s easier to move it across the room. It’s a pain to remind yourself not to overserve on a big plate, but it’s a breeze to use a smaller plate. Make sense?
While there are many solutions to mindless eating, most of them go undiscovered because we don’t look for them. Instead, we’re too focused on the food and not on our surroundings. We’re too focused on eating less of one thing and more of another or on trying that new “Yeast and Potting Soil Diet” we read about on the Internet.
For 90% of us, the solution to mindless eating is not mindful eating—our lives are just too crazy and our willpower’s too wimpy. Instead, the solution is to tweak our homes, workplaces, schools, restaurant dining and grocery shopping so we mindlessly eat less instead of more. It’s easier to use a small plate, face away from the buffet and Frisbee-spin the bread basket across the table than to resist.
Willpower is hard and has to last a lifetime. Rearranging your life to be slim by design is easy. If we want to automatically eat better at home, we don’t have to change our minds; all we have to do is make a few changes to our home and how we behave there.
- Take color: The color of your plate can make you fat. If it’s the same color as the food, you’ll serve yourself 18% more. Wow! Who knew?
A research study on plate color and portion sizes showed that After participants served themselves, if they served either white pasta on a white plate or red on red, they piled on 18% more calories than those with opposite-colored plates (van Ittersum & Wansink 2012). This is news you can use: When you’re eating at home, choose plates that contrast with the color of your food. Since white starches—pasta, rice and potatoes—are the big diet busters, using darker plates is smart. If we want to automatically eat better at home, we don’t have to change our minds; all we have to do is make a few changes to our home and how we behave there.
The Syracuse Study
What does a slim person’s kitchen look like? If we knew that, we could set up our own kitchens in a similar way. While it’s no guarantee we’d lose weight overnight, at least it might tilt the scale in the right direction.
2. It's not the size of the kitchen, it’s what’s in and where stored in the kitchen.
The average woman who kept potato chips on the counter weighed 8 pounds more than her neighbor who didn’t. That makes perfect sense. Chips are the good-tasting bad boy of nutrition—they’re irresistibly tempting, you can’t eat just one, and they make you fat. But potatoes aren’t anywhere near the most dangerous counter food. The most dangerous food is the meek, whole-grain, vitamin-enriched breakfast cereal in the white box that’s covered in sunshine, rainbows and pictures of skinny smiling women with gleaming teeth - otherwise known as the Health Halo Effect!
Women who had even one box of breakfast cereal visible anywhere in their kitchen weighed 21 pounds more than their neighbors who didn’t. Cereal has what we call a health halo. The boxes are covered with phrases like “Contains Whole Grain” and “Now With 11 Essential Vitamins and Minerals,” so we underestimate the calories and overeat the contents to reward ourselves for being so healthy. But having cereal on the counter adds weight to women more than to men. In fact, it had no impact on men—possibly because they’re in the kitchen less. The more time you spend at home, the more important it is to hide the food (Wansink, Hanks & Kaipainen 2015).
“In sight, in stomach.” We eat what we see, not what we don’t.
First Seen, First Eaten
Suppose the first cereal you see in the morning is Fruity Pebbles and the next four cereals are versions of bark- and twig-flavored granola. Which are you going to choose? Our studies show you’re three times more likely to eat the first food you see in the cupboard than the fifth one. Rearrange your cupboard, pantry and refrigerator so the first foods you see are the best for you.
Why not just totally vanquish all tempting foods from your house? First, it’s fine to have an occasional treat. Second, it’s not realistic if you have growing kids who constantly forage and bring friends over to feast. Set up a designated “kids’ cupboard” that’s off-limits to you. One mother of teenagers even put childproof locks on the cupboard. For herself.
Those huge wholesale clubs like Sam’s and Costco are filled with great food bargains. But once you get the forklift home, those bargains turn into a burden for your cupboards—and your diet. We found that people who had filled their cupboards with chips, juice boxes, cookies and even ramen noodles ate half of everything they bought within the first week of buying it. They ate it twice as fast as they normally would. Beware - If you’re buying food in bulk, you’ll eat it faster and in greater quantities than you otherwise would.
One solution is to repackage any supersized boxes into single-serve Baggie sizes. A second solution is to store it as far away from reach as possible—in the basement or a distant cupboard. You’ll get the cost saving without the calories (Chandon & Wansink 2002).
3. Wineglass Class
Love wine, but hate headaches? Here’s how to automatically drink 10% less. We brought 85 wine drinkers in for Happy Hour and gave them different glasses and different wines and made them either sit or stand (Walker, Smarandescu & Wansink 2014). Here’s what we found:
- We tend to focus on the height of what we pour and not the width, so we pour 12% less wine into taller white wineglasses that hold 10 ounces than into those wider red wineglasses that hold the same.
- When we look down at a glass, it looks more full than when we look at it from the same level as the liquid. As a result, we’ll pour 12% less in a glass when it’s sitting on the table compared with when we hold it.
- Because red wine is easier to see than white wine, we pour about 9% less white wine into a glass.
But it’s not just wineglasses. One winter we visited 86 Philadelphia bartenders and asked them to pour how much alcohol they used to make a gin and tonic, a whiskey on the rocks, a rum and Coke, and a vodka tonic. It didn’t matter if they had worked there for 32 minutes or 32 years: The typical bartender poured 30% more alcohol into short, wide 10-ounce tumblers than into 10-ounce highball glasses. They focused on the height of the liquid and not the width. Even when we asked them to pour again 2 minutes later, we had the same result (Wansink & van Ittersum 2003).
4. Family-Style Seconds and Thirds
Some families serve family-style meals and crowd all their serving bowls onto the table. Other families pre-serve their food directly off the stove or counter. We found that people who served from the stove or counter ate 19% less total food compared with those serving themselves right off the table (Payne, Smith & Wansink 2010). Having to get up and walk another 6 feet for the food was enough for people to ask, “Am I really that hungry?” The answer’s usually “Nope.” On the other hand, if you want to eat more salad, plant that salad bowl right in the middle of the table.
If eating family-style—piling all of the serving dishes on the table—is a nonnegotiable must in your house, there might be a workaround. Serving out of bowls with lids might cut down on seconds or thirds. In one of our candy dish studies, simply putting a lid on a candy dish cut down how many Hershey’s Kisses people ate by about a third (Painter, Wansink & Hieggelke 2002; Wansink, Painter & Lee 2006). When food is out of sight, it’s out of mind. The same idea might work if you cover the casserole instead of temptingly leaving the top off.
These tablescape changes are easy. What keeps us from making them, however, is that we think we’re smarter than a bowl. As a result we think, Oh, now that I know this, it won’t happen to me, so we don’t make any changes. But during the day’s chaos, our automatic behaviors lead us to make the same mindless eating mistakes we’ve always made.
5. Show Me to a Slim Table
Does where you sit in a restaurant influence what you order? We recently visited 27 restaurants across the country, and we measured and mapped out the layout of each one. We knew how far each table or booth was from the window and front door, whether it was in a secluded or well-traveled area, how light or dark it was, and how far it was from the kitchen, bar, restrooms and TV sets. After we’d mapped out the layouts and diners began arriving, we were able to track what they ordered and how it related to where they sat.
Check This Out! Are there fat tables in restaurants? This is preliminary, but so far it looks like people ordered healthier foods if they sat by a window or in a well-lit part of the restaurant, but they ate heavier food and ordered more of it if they sat at a dark table or booth. People sitting farthest from the front door ate the fewest salads and were 73% more likely to order dessert. People sitting within two tables of the bar drank an average of three more beers or mixed drinks (per table of four) than those sitting one table farther away. The closer a table was to a TV screen, the more fried food a person bought. People sitting at high-top bar tables ordered more salads and fewer desserts.
Some of this makes sense. The darker it is, the more “invisible” you might feel, the less easy it is to see how much you’re eating, and the less conspicuous or guilty you might feel. Seeing the sunlight, people or trees outside might make you more conscious about how you look, might make you think about walking or might prime you for a green salad. Sitting next to the bar might make you think it’s more normal to order that second drink, and watching TV might distract you from thinking twice about what you order. If high-top bar tables make it harder to slouch or spread out like you could in a booth, they might cause you to feel in control and to order the same way.
Or this could all just be random speculation. Now, the facts are what they are, but why they happen is not always clear.
We have an expression in our lab: “If you want to be skinny, do what skinny people do.” Either well-lit, elevated tables near windows make you eat better, or people who eat better like to eat at well-lit, elevated tables near windows. But while you’re contemplating the causality, the couple next to you just took the last elevated table by the window.
6. Scoring Big at Home
Mindless Eating contained about 150 proven, workable weight loss tips we’d discovered from our studies. Since then we’ve discovered more than 100 effective home-related tips and combined the hundred easiest ones into a Slim-by-Design Home Scorecard that we update each year with the best new tips we’ve discovered.
You can test this out in your own home. In 10 minutes you can take the starter scorecard and check off what you do. Is the kitchen organized? Is there fruit on the counter? Is the toaster put away? After you finish, you add up the checkmarks, and that’s your Slim-by-Design Home Score.
Earlier, shorter versions of our scorecard have been used by health-care companies in places ranging from Los Angeles beach communities to the state of Iowa. In one place, they even heroically claimed that it helped contribute to raising the life expectancy of a sample of 786 residents by almost 3 years (Buettner 2010). I think that’s a stretch, but it’s probably in the right direction.
One benefit of the scorecard is that it usually shows progress each time you fill it out. It can give you a tangible stroke that you’re doing the right things that will eventually make you slim by design, even if today’s scale didn’t budge. If you don’t care about making your house slim by design for yourself, do it for your kids. It all starts with taking 10 minutes to fill out your scorecard. One small step for you, one giant step toward fat-proofing your family.
This article is excerpted from Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life (William Morrow 2014) by Brian Wansink, PhD. Learn more about the book at www.slimbydesign.org.
What Would Batman Eat? Or for us gals, What Would Wonder Woman Eat? (SVH)
No kids in their right minds would choose apple slices over french fries—unless you ask. The secret is you can’t ask them what they want to eat; you have to ask them what their favorite friend, teacher or superhero would eat. Here are some tips our “What Would Batman or Wonder Woman Eat?” studies have shown work:
- Be specific, be nonjudgmental and make it a decision between two choices: “What would Batman eat—apple slices or french fries?”
- Don’t criticize their answer or even comment. Then simply ask, “What do you want—apple slices or french fries?”
- Give them what they ask for and move on.
Sounds crazy, right? But doing this for yourself will also help you make similar choices. Before choosing between the salad and the cheesy bacon fries, if you ask yourself something like, “What would my healthy friend Steve choose?” you’ll be a lot less tempted. Thinking about what a well-liked person would do makes us less indulgently compulsive. It’s somewhat in the spirit of when people wore the WWJD wristbands. When faced with a difficult decision, it was supposed to prompt them to ask themselves, “What Would Jesus Do?”
I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have ordered the Cheesy Bacon Fries.
Source: IDEA Health Fitness Association April Magazine. Article by Brian Wansink, PHD on Feb 12, 2016