Each of us makes more than 200 daily decisions about eating — most of them unconsciously, according to behavior scientist Brian Wansink, PhD, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and author of Mindless Eating and Slim By Design. Clueing in to these decisions can help make them work for you rather than against you. Increase your mindfulness factor with these strategies:
- Snack wisely before shopping. Grab an apple or some veggies before grocery shopping. Wansink found that healthy noshing primes you to buy healthy: Study participants bought 25 percent more fruits and vegetables than those who didn’t eat such a snack beforehand.
- Don’t supersize it. Keep smaller dishes — like appetizer plates and juice glasses — front and center in your cupboard. Researchers discovered that diners at a Chinese buffet piled 52 percent more food onto large plates and ate 45 percent more than those who used smaller ones.
- Make healthy food visible. Wansink’s research found that people who wrapped healthy leftovers in plastic wrap were more likely to see them and eat them than those who used foil. On the flip side, people ate 2.2 more pieces of candy a day out of a clear bowl than an opaque one.
- Keep a clean kitchen. In a Cornell study, people ate 44 percent more snacks in a cluttered kitchen than they did in a clean one. “If your environment is out of control, you may feel that you don’t need to be in control of your eating either,” says Wansink.
- Put food away. Researchers discovered that women who kept a box of cereal on the counter weighed 20 pounds more, on average, than those who put it in the cupboard. Keeping food out of immediate sight and reach helps reduce temptation triggers.
- Plate it up. Even if you just want a snack, put it on a plate: Plating food increases your awareness of portion size. “Dishing out a ration makes you see exactly how much you are eating,” Wansink explains.
- Minimize distraction. People who dine while watching TV, reading, or working have a harder time keeping track of what they consume — and routinely eat more.
Distracted eating is a problem for two reasons: “First, you don’t pay attention to whether you’ve had 14 or 40 potato chips,” Wansink says. “Secondly, you often won’t stop eating until the end of the show, regardless of whether you’re full or not.”
Such eating patterns become mutually reinforcing, meaning it becomes hard to watch TV without eating, he explains.