Fend off your mindless eating habits with this fool-proof diet plan
If you’ve ever asked yourself why you ate twice as much popcorn as usual at the movies last night, or what made you serve yourself that extra slice of pie (even though you were full), you’ve probably come up with some serious self-condemnation. “I have no willpower!” “I’m a sucker for sweets!” Not to mention, “No dessert for a week...no, make that a month!” Well, Brian Wansink, Ph.D., is here to tell you you’re wrong—and that’s a good thing.
In his new book, Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life, he offers a smart new healthy eating method that's way easier than counting calories. Focus on your surroundings, not on having more of this food and less of that one, and stop worrying about getting to a Zen state over your meal, he says. “Most of us are mindless eaters, but the solution is not mindful eating—our lives are just too crazy and our willpower’s too wimpy. Instead, the solution is to tweak small things in our homes so we mindlessly eat less and better instead of more.” Ready to take control? Read on for his fat-proofing tips.
Store the foods you want to eat more of in plain view. When people moved all their fruits and vegetables from the crisper bin to the top shelf of the refrigerator, and their less-healthy foods down into the crisper, they reported eating nearly three times as many fruits and vegetables as they had the week before.
Conversely, put away the temptations. Women who kept chips on the counter weighed 8 pounds more than those whose chips were not visible. Likewise, women who had even one box of breakfast cereal that was visible anywhere in the kitchen weighed 21 pounds more than their neighbors who didn’t. If you have open or glass-fronted shelves, use them to store anything but food—put the dishware there, and the box of cookies behind solid doors. Once inside the cupboard, the “treats” should be hidden even more: Place them behind containers of healthier foods. This is important because you’re three times more likely to eat the first food you see in the cupboard than the fifth.
Two ounces of cooked pasta is about 1 cup, which looks huge on a 10-inch plate. But on a 12-inch plate (the size most people have) it looks like an appetizer, so we serve ourselves another spoonful. And if your plate is the same hue as your food you’ll serve yourself 18 percent more, because food shows up better (and thus looks bigger) on a contrasting plate. Since white carbs like pasta and rice are the big diet-busters, using darker plates is simply smarter—you’ll eat less!
People dish out 17 percent more food from a three-quart bowl than they do from a two-quart one. The bigger size makes us almost unconsciously think it’s normal and reasonable to serve more, so we do.
Those huge wholesale clubs 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. In one study, 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 a week—twice as fast as they normally would. If you want the savings of bulk buying, one solution is to repackage any supersize boxes into single-serve portions. A second solution is to store it as far away as possible—in the basement or a distant cupboard.
The more you hang out in your kitchen, the more food you’ll eat. When people agreed to remove TVs and cozy seating from the kitchen, they said they spent 18 fewer minutes there each day—that’s less munching of cereal, chips, and Samoa cookies—and that their meal prep became more efficient.
You want as much of the good, healthy foods at eye level as possible. When the freezer is on top, or side-by-side with the fridge, it’s too easy to look for something frozen to microwave.
A post-birthday party experiment at the Food and Brand Lab: Half the leftover food got covered in plastic wrap or put in clear plastic containers; the other half was wrapped in aluminum foil or put in opaque containers. Within two days, all the leftovers in see-through wrapping were gone, while most of the food in opaque wrappings that concealed the contents was still there—10 days later. The good news is that this works as well for carrot sticks as for cookies: If you can easily see them, you’ll eat more of them. So the healthier a food is, the clearer the packaging should be.
Many people eat “family-style,” with serving bowls placed on the dining-room table, but people who filled their plates from the stove or counter consumed 19 percent less food than did the family-style diners. Having to get up and walk even just a few feet for the food was enough for them to ask, “Am I really that hungry?” Often the answer was no. On the other hand, if you want to eat more salad, plant the salad bowl right in the middle of the table.
Most people don’t follow recipes—instead using their finely tuned instinct of “Yeah, that looks like about the right amount”— but that can backfire. Imagine you’re making dinner, and on one day you have medium-size ingredients (say, a box of spaghetti, a jar of sauce, and a package of ground beef), and on another day you have large-size versions of all three. Food and Brand Lab studies have shown that when you use larger packages you end up making (and eating) 22 percent more food. The solution: Split them up. If you buy large sizes to save money or time, break them down into smaller containers. And if you’ve already cooked the dish, split it and put half in the freezer.
People pour 12 percent less wine into tall, narrow glasses than into shorter, wider glasses, because it looks like more. Two other bits of wine wisdom: You’ll pour 12 percent less in a glass when it’s sitting on the table compared to when holding it, because a glass looks more full from above; and people pour about nine percent less red wine than white because it’s easier to see.