Often, a new year brings resolutions to get healthy, eat better, and lose weight. As most of us know, this is much easier said than done. It becomes more difficult when we have issues with challenging work schedules, family responsibilities, and the office candy bowl, which is so tempting. Mindless eating can sabotage our resolve, so what can we do about it?
“Most of us don’t overeat because we’re hungry,” said Brian Wansink, PhD, John Dyson Professor of Consumer Behavior at Cornell University and author of the best-selling book “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.” “We overeat because of family and friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colors and candles, shapes and smells, distractions and distances, cupboards and containers.”
He attributes rising overweight and obesity rates in America to the availability of food, the affordability of food, and the attractiveness of food. The solution, however, is not to make food less available, affordable, or attractive. The solution is to change your personal environment, Wansink said.
Mindful eating is deliberately paying attention, being fully aware of what is happening both inside yourself — in your body, heart, and mind — and outside yourself, in your environment.
Wansink made the following suggestions for changing our thought process and our environment to improve our resolution success and create better long-term eating patterns.
Using a 9.5-inch plate vs. a 12-inch plate means smaller portions and feeling fuller after eating an entire plate of food. Studies have shown food consumption is 22 percent less when eating from a smaller plate.
Smaller serving utensils
“Mini-sizing” utensils can reduce the amount of food consumed.
Out of sight, out of mind
Keeping serving bowls and entrees away from the dinner table can prevent second and third servings.
Making healthy foods more accessible in cabinets, cupboards, and even the refrigerator encourages heathy choices.
Wansink found that people eat much more food when given unlimited quantities. He advises people to eat smaller portion sizes in smaller packages.
Eat when you’re hungry
Let actual hunger cues, not emotions, guide your eating. Substitute a quick walk for a snack until actual hunger sets in. But don’t wait until you’re famished and binge on unhealthy foods.
Prepare healthy snacks ahead of time to eat throughout the day. A 200-calorie, whole-grain, high-fiber snack can satisfy hunger between meals. Fiber keeps you feeling full longer.
Keep a food diary
Write down everything you eat and what was happening at the time to identify food triggers like hunger, stress, excitement, or boredom. Be careful not to obsess over every calorie. The new American Heart Association diet and lifestyle guidelines acknowledge that overall eating patterns, not occasional indulgences, are what are most important to maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle.
Here’s where mindfulness can really come into play. During each meal, chew slowly, savoring each bite. Put your fork down between bites, and stop eating to take a drink of water (not a sugary soda). This gives the body enough time to signal to the brain that it’s satisfied, not stuffed.
Don’t eat in front of the TV or computer, while standing at the kitchen counter, or while talking on the phone. This can lead to losing track of how much you’ve consumed.
“We can actually use our smartphones and other electronic devices to help us,” said Riska Platt, MS, a registered dietitian and certified nutritionist for the Cardiac Rehabilitation Center at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York. “There are now apps that manage food records, count calories, help you track what you eat, and even provide guidance on healthy food choices at the grocery store and restaurants.”
Cindy Nelson is a Utah State University Extension assistant professor.