Remember that time when you were at the movies and you "accidentally" finished that giant bag of popcorn or whole box of sno-caps before the movie even ended? Hashtag woops. Distractions are dieter's worse nightmare. It's so easy to mindlessly overeat when you're distracted because you're not paying attention to your stomach cues, i.e. "I'm full...that's enough...done-zo...stop it...no more...jeans getting tighter...uh oh...ok, wheel me out of here."
When you're not distracted (smartphones at bay) how is it that you decide to stop eating? Why is it that most times we don't stop until we're uncomfortably full?
Believe it or not, there's been TONS of research (legit research) done on how much, what and why Americans eat what they do—often without realizing it. Yep, mindlessly. It's known as mindless eating. Turns out overeating is not a result of hunger, but rather a consequence of environmental influences that we’re not even aware of. Just ask food psychologist Dr. Brian Wansink of Cornell University--he wrote a whole book on it!
Now wouldn't it be great if we could just mindlessly eat less? Well apparently you can! In the book, Dr. Wansink talks about things (non-diet things, yay!) you can do to mindlessly eat less food--which is awesome, especially if you are watching your weight. With these "tricks", the calories you save here and there might make all the difference between a couple of pant sizes at the end of the season. As Dr. Wansink states, the best "diet" is the one you don't even realize your on.
#1 - Eat out of smaller dishware.
Imagine a burger 6 inches in diameter on a plate that is 8 inches in diameter. Now imagine that same 6 inch burger on a 12 inch diameter plate. Which plate makes the burger seem bigger? That's right, the smaller 8 inch plate!
In multiple studies, Dr. Wansink found that people served more food and ate more with larger dishes--even if they didn't "need" all that food. The thing is, we are driven to fill our plate no matter what the size, because when we're hungry a half empty plate just doesn't look as satisfying. But if you were to use smaller plates all the time you would trick yourself into serving smaller portions that look like a lot since the plate is technically full.
#2 - Drink out of tall, skinny glasses.
Dr. Wansink figured out that using a tall, skinny glass instead of a short, wide glass for juice and other non-water beverages might help to cut calories. This is because tall, skinny glasses give the illusion of more liquid than a short, wide glass. Your brain is tricked into serving a smaller amount in the tall glass just because it looks like a lot.
In one study, trained bartenders were asked to pour out 1.5 ounces of liquid (an amount they were familiar with) into tall or short glasses. It turns out they poured about 20% more liquid into short, wide glasses than tall, slender ones.
#3 – Set a timer for 20 minutes as you eat.
Ok, this may not be so attractive on a date or social gathering, but try it a few times at home! It takes your brain a whopping 20 minutes to realize your stomach is full. And while this might not seem like a long time, American’s typically finish meals in 13-15 minutes! So even if you had enough food after 15 minutes your brain won’t know until 20 minutes have passed, by which time you have probably gone for seconds and overeaten.
Next time you sit down to a meal, set a timer. Pace yourself by savoring every bite and you may realize you’re actually full and satisfied from a smaller portion of food.
#4 – Remove all distractions while you eat.
Sitting in front of the TV or computer (or movies! wink wink) while you eat is probably one of the worst things to do if you are watching your weight. A number of studies by Wansink and his team have shown that TV viewing is definitely linked with higher food consumption. This is because the distractions make you less aware of what and how much you are putting in your mouth. They even found out that high-paced, action programs trigger almost double the eating than slow/calm shows.
There’s no doubt that this probably happens at sports bars and restaurants with big bright TVs or at work if you are eating in front of your computer. Removing these distractions will allow you to focus on your food, your fullness and help to avoid overeating.
#5 – Get enough sleep.
Finish your last meal at least 3 hours before bedtime and then get enough sleep (whatever that magic number of hours is for you). This will ensure that during sleep, the body relies on (and burns) fat stores for energy—rather than all the food you just ate. Sleeping actually burns more calories than sitting idly. Too little sleep can lead to an irregular appetite and even overeating the following day. But too much sleep isn't good either, as it can lead you to feel fatigued throughout the day and make you feel like you need to eat for energy (even if you’re not really hungry).
#6 –Wear non-stretchy, slim-fitting clothes regularly.
We know winter is not winter without boots, leggings and big comfy sweaters, ladies. But clothing like this can actually work against you if you're watching your weight over the holidays! They facilitate weight gain. If you think about it, your big sweater or leggings don’t fit or feel much different if you had a huge meal or gained a few pounds. Rotate your comfort clothes with non-stretch pants or bottoms on a weekly basis so that you are aware of any minor weight changes. It'll also make you aware of when you've overeaten. A couple pounds is easier to fix than waiting until the season is over only to find out you need to lose 10 or more pounds.
#7 - Remove non-nutritious foods/snacks from sight.
Or make them harder to get to. If your kitchen counter is decorated with cookie jars and candy, it’s almost an invitation to eat them every time you see it. The same goes for the treat jar at work.
#8 – Keep nutritious snacks in sight or at arms reach.
To piggy back on the previous tip—while removing non-nutritious snacks from sight, you can (and should) replace them with nutritious ones. Keep fresh cut veggies (e.g. baby carrots) on your desk at work so you reach for them instead of a holiday chocolate. Keep fresh fruit or shell-on nuts on your kitchen counters. (Shell-on nuts take longer to eat, so you will end up eating less of them). Put the salad or fresh cut veggies, hummus or yogurt at eye level in the fridge so it’s the first thing you see—you’re more likely to reach for it these items when hunger strikes.
#9 – Don’t eat straight from the bulk bag/container.
Put a whole jar of nuts in front of you and see if you can stop eating after only 1 small handful. Few of us actually have the willpower to. The same thing happens with bulk bags of chips, cookies, candy, etc. When there’s an unlimited amount available, we tend to overeat. Divide your bulk bags into multiple single-serving baggies or containers to help control your intake. Or you could buy the pre-portioned snacks available at stores these days. Alternately, you should serve a small portion of the snack on a plate/napkin and put the rest of the bag away and out of sight so that you're not tempted to continue eating.
#10 - Prepare and pack your lunch for work.
Overeating is easy at restaurants especially when serving sizes are grossly exaggerated and there are typically few things you can control. Impulse eating is also more common when you eat out: As much as you thought you’d be having a salad, you decide last minute the Philly cheesesteak sounds more satisfying. Packing your lunch is the way to go if you are watching your weight because you have sole control over the amount and type of food you eat. You can put as many veggies in your meal as you want, have your fish grilled rather than fried (with who knows how much oil)—oh, and even get 6 ounces rather than 8. By the time hunger strikes, you already know what you’re going to eat—there’s really no room for impulse eating.
#11 – Strategize & pre-plan if you ARE going to eat out.
The menu options, people you are with, lighting, music and overall ambiance can greatly influence your intake and food decisions at a restaurant without you realizing it. Planning ahead of time can help to minimize mindless eating and overeating. If you know you're going out to eat, review the restaurant's online menu and decide on a healthy option before getting there. Be the first to order so that you stick to your decision and are not influenced by others. Ask the server to remove the bread basket and nosh on a side salad or ice chips while you wait for your food. Ask the server to pack half your meal to-go ahead of time. If you are done eating with food still left on your plate, ask the server to clear it--you are more likely to keep eating if the food lingers in front of you.
#12 – Pre-plate your meal.
Buffet or family style service at the dinner table is definitely visually appealing. But this can actually encourage second and third servings (even if you're already full). Plate your meal (on small dishware of course) in the kitchen before sitting at the dinner table. This way, you eat only what's in front of you without extra food being easily accessible. The only dishes which should be served buffet-style are veggies!
By: Scarlett Full, in-house Registered Dietitian