Brian Wansink, a “mindless eating expert” from Cornell University, studies what factors in our environment trigger us to eat more food. The research he’s done is fascinating and scary. For most people, hunger has little to do with food intake. Other factors have a far more significant impact and if you don’t control them, they can control you! Here’s what he’s learned:
The average person today makes nearly 250 decisions about food each and every day, often without much thought. If you deliberately pay attention to what and how much you eat, you generally eat less.
One of the strongest factors influencing food consumption is related to “effort required”. Convenient food that requires little to no preparation encourages you to eat more than needed. In addition, when you stockpile, convenient ready-to-eat foods, you eat them at twice the rate of non-stockpiled foods.
Food that’s in sight and in reach encourages “grazing”. Candies placed in clear jars on a desk are eaten almost 50% more quickly than those placed in opaque jars. Candies placed 6 feet away are eaten at half the rate as those close by. Food left on the kitchen counter is eaten twice as fast as food stored in kitchen cupboards. My advice: replace the candy bowl with a fruit bowl. Make fresh, cut-up veggies the first thing you see when you open the fridge. Get unhealthy foods as far away as possible!
As portion sizes and package sizes increase, so does the amount of food consumed, sometimes by as much as 50%. This applies to food eaten at home and in restaurants. In one study, people ate 33% more popcorn from large buckets, even when the popcorn was stale! There’s never been a better time to embrace the word “small”.
The size of the bowls, plates and drinking glasses you eat and drink from also impacts food intake. Shape also matters. People pour almost 40% less liquid into tall, skinny glasses than short, wide ones.
Distractions increase calories consumed. Don’t read, watch television or check email while eating. If you do, be mindful of how much!
The more people at the table, the more food at the table and the longer you sit at the table, the more food you eat. Meals eaten with just one other person can increase your intake by as much as 33% compared to meals eaten alone. This doesn’t mean you need to become a recluse, it just means you need to be aware!
If you dine with a healthy eater, you eat healthier too. The reverse is also true! Choose healthy friends!
People often eat out of habit, not out of hunger. Ask yourself “am I really hungry right now?”
Your food environment has a huge impact on how much and what you eat. Keep healthy foods insight and in reach. Keep unhealthy foods out of sight and out of reach (better yet, don’t buy them at all). Stay away from large serving sizes and large food packages. Most importantly, be mindful – notice what and how much you eat in any and all situations!