Post updated: August 18th, 2019
Have you ever sat down with a bag of popcorn to watch a movie with the intention of just having a little as a way to relax? Next thing you know, the movie is halfway over. Your fingers are covered in butter. And the popcorn has “magically” disappeared…
Into your belly.
Or maybe you’ve been following your diet for a week. But one night, after a stressful day of work. You find yourself in front of the freezer with a spoon in one hand and a container of ice cream in another.
We make over 200 food-related decisions a day (1), we’re bound to mess it up every once in a while. Often the mistakes we make are done without even realizing it.
It’s mindless eating at its best.
Years ago back I read 2 books by professor Brian Wansink that dealt with mindless eating and how to overcome it.
- Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think
- Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions For Everyday Life
In today’s article, I’m going to share a few of my favorite tips and tricks from these books. So that you can create healthier eating habits starting today.
None of which will require you to change the food that you’re currently eating. Or rely on motivation and willpower.
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MISSION TO FINISH EVERYTHING ON THE PLATE
The endowment effect might help to explain this a bit.
The endowment effect states that people assign a higher value to certain things simply because they own them.
This goes for almost anything. From a pair of concert tickets to your home. It even extends into our personal relationships. When something becomes “your property,” it is almost immediately assigned more value.
“…When tested experimentally the endowment effect can be surprisingly strong. One study found that owners of tickets for a basketball match overvalued them by a factor of 14 (Carmon & Ariely, 2000). In other words, people wanted 14 times more than others were prepared to pay. However, this is a particularly high one and the ratio will vary depending on what it is…” –psyblog
When we go out to eat we have to pay for that meal. This creates the feeling that we own it – it is now our property. It becomes valued much more than if we were to cook a meal for ourselves at home.
The need to finish it. To get our monies worth becomes heightened. There are a few ways you can attack this.
- Right after being seated ask the wait staff for a to-go box. Once your meal comes immediately put some of it in there to take home with you.
- Ask the wait staff if the chef is willing to make your meal with half portions sizes for half the price. If they are not, see #1 above.
YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW YOU’RE DOING IT
Mindless eating is so powerful because we don’t realize that we’re doing it. When we eat we look for cues like empty boxes, wrappers, glasses, and plates to help us figure out when to stop eating.
Dr. Wansink and colleagues conducted a study during the Super Bowl at an all you can eat wings restaurant. Half of the restaurant had their chicken wing bones removed from their tables after they had eaten them. The other half had their bones left on the table for them to see.
Those that had their chicken wing bones removed from the table ate 34% more than those that did not have their wings removed.
To help you eat a little less when you eat out or at home, you can use the anchoring effect. Reference points to help you make decisions.
- When dining out you can ask that the staff do not fill up any drink glasses when they get low. Instead, leave them on the table and have them bring you a new glass instead. This works great if you’re a big wine lover, soda, juice, or milk drinker.
- Whether eating at home or while out. Do not clear empty plates off of the table right away but instead leave them there until you are done eating so that you know how much as been consumed.
- If snacking while watching TV or a movie. Put whatever you are snacking on into a clear bag or container so that you can see how much as been consumed
- Take any snacks in boxes and put them in single-serving translucent baggies or containers
THE FANTASTIC 4
This is where most of us make the majority of our food-related decisions. So why not 80/20 it and focus most of your attention on them.
By creating a healthy environment. Or what I like to call “The Fantastic 4” you can make it much easier to choose more nutritious foods more often.
Toss out all the crap food and bring in all the good food. But this can be tough for those of you with families, kids, or roommates.
Instead, you can try a kitchen redesign. This doesn’t ask you to toss out anything but instead shuffles things around a bit to make the good stuff easier to get to and the not so good stuff a little more difficult to get to.
The Syracuse Study, which compared the average weight of women who had various foods on their counter versus women who did not have the same foods on their counter.
Foods on the counter and the average increase in weight versus those that did not have the same foods on their counter:
- Breakfast cereal: +21 lbs.
- Crackers or chips: +8 lbs.
- Cookies: +9 lbs
- Soda/cola/pop: +29 lbs.
- Diet soda/cola/pop: +21 lbs.
- Any fruit: -7 lbs.
We’re not just going to set your counter top-up for success, we’re going to take care of the entire kitchen, the fridge, freezer, the utensils and plates you use, and the cupboards. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
- Remove any breakfast cereals, crackers, chips, cookies, soda, diet soda, and bread or other baked goods from the countertops and put them in a cabinet where you cannot see them. If they are placed on a shelf put them either on the lowest or highest one.
- Put one fruit bowl on the countertop with some of your favorite fruits in it to snack on.
- Precut any fruit or vegetables that you buy and put them in clear bags or containers towards the front of the middle shelf so that you can easily see them.
- Put caloric beverages like alcohol, soda, juice, and like on the lowest or highest shelf and towards the back behind some of the healthier options.
- Take any boxed snacks, cereals, chips, cookies, or baked goods and divide them into individual serving sizes and place them into containers or bags that you cannot see through. You may need to check labels for serving size recommendations (ex: 1/4 cup of Cheeze-Its, 3/4 cup cereal, 1 oz. chips, 2 cookies, etc…)
- Mini-Me your dishes and glassware. In his books, Brian recommends using plates that are no larger than 10 inches, bowls that are smaller than 16 ounces, and juice glasses that are 8 ounces or less.
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Aside from some of the tips, we mentioned earlier about asking for a to-go box before your meal comes. Or checking if the chef is willing to do a 1/2 serving of your meal for 1/2 the price. Try the following ideas.
A. Identify the healthiest options on the menu before you go out by looking on-line.
If you are not sure you can always ask the wait staff or look for some buzz words.
- Red sauces
Some of the not now healthy buzzwords to be on the lookout for:
- Loaded (damn you potatoes)
- White sauces
B. Wear tight-fitting clothing.
I like to call this the “Thanksgiving day effect.” At Thanksgiving, you can eat until you’re terribly uncomfortable in your jeans because you have the option of putting on sweat pants. Don’t give yourself this option when you eat out. Dress your best and wear form-fitting clothing so that you can feel your body expanding if you’ve started to eat too much.
C. Tip your waiter or waitress $10 to $20 as they seat you.
They’ll be more likely to help you out with any requests that you have.
D. After you’ve eaten half your meal excuse yourself to use the restroom.
Take a few minutes to stop eating and assess how full you are. On a scale from 1 to 10. With 1 being not full at all and 10 being you wish you would have brought the sweat pants.
OFFICE SPACE MAKEOVER
“Ah, ah, I almost forgot… I’m also going to need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday, too. We, uhhh, lost some people this week and we sorta need to play catch-up. Mmmmmkay? Thaaaaaanks”. – Bill Lumberg, Office Space
A. Any candy dishes, chips, snacks, baked goods, flavored nuts, chocolate, or “unhealthier foods” are in the lowest drawer and towards the back.
Try and avoid keeping important papers or documents in this drawer
Brian and other Cornell University researchers discovered that women eat twice as much Hershey Kisses when they’re in clear containers versus when they are in opaque containers on their desk. They ate even fewer when the candies were at least 6 feet away from them. (2)
B. Place a small bowl of fruit or 1 piece of fruit on top of your desk.
Another option is a bag of raw veggies (carrot, celery, cherry tomato, bell pepper, etc.)
C. If your office has a break room
Place bread, baked goods, chips, candy, chocolate, flavored nuts, donuts, etc…. are off of the countertops and placed in drawers, cabinets, or in the fridge. Preferable on the bottom or highest shelf and behind the healthier options.
D. If your office has a vending machine
Have less healthy snacks on the lowest rack in the vending machines with the healthier options placed on the middle racks. You may have to ask the vending machines operator to do this.
THE GROCERY STORE
I’m willing to bet you’ve heard that all the real food is found on the perimeter of the grocery store. And for the most part, that rule is pretty true. However, if you have a family, roomates, or do any of the grocery shopping for other people then you may have to venture into the dark abyss know as the isles.
If that sounds like you then there are a few other things that you can do to get your grocery shopping game strong.
A. Create a list of what you need. Use the 5-3-3-2 rule
Bottled water or containers of water. At least 5 vegetables, at least 3 proteins, 3 low sugar fruits, and at 2 healthy fats.
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B. Divide your grocery cart or basket in half
With your purse, bag, jacket, duck tape, cardboard, or another basket. Half of your cart is dedicated to fruits and vegetables only. The other half is for whatever else you decide to buy.
C. Before checking out take a look into your cart
Evaluate if there is anything you should put back.
NO DEPRIVATION ONLY SEPARATION
When you deprive yourself and set strict rules about what you can, cannot, are allowed, and not allowed to do. You create an environment where that’s all that you’re thinking about.
What happens when you tell someone to NOT think about a pink Elephant? They think about a friggin pink Elephant.
Cutting out is hard, but cutting back is easier. Trying to completely overhaul your lifestyle overnight can feel overwhelming, daunting, and damn near impossible. But making one change today, that can significantly impact your life is much easier.
Most of us already know that we should eat more vegetables, low sugar fruits, grass-fed protein sources, and healthy fats. It’s not that we choose to ignore this – it’s that it’s actually hard to do because the alternatives can often be easier and cheaper to get to.
Make doing the good stuff easier to and automatic by creating an environment for yourself that promotes and makes those decisions easier to make.
Are you capable of making any of the changes mentioned in this article? What are some changes you’ve made to your environment things that have helped promote a healthier lifestyle? Post to the comments below.
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Photo by Travis Yewell