May 3, 2007

You want to eat less from your plate? Make your plate less

One of the easiest changes I made in my diet had nothing to do with food. And everything to do with eating.

After reading Brian Wansink book, "Mindless Eating" I decided to take much of his advice to heart. (And help my heart.)

Like most American dinner plates, mine were pretty big — almost 12 inches in diameter. “Pretty ample,” as Wansink said. Fifty years ago, when Americans were a lot skinnier, plates were a lot smaller. Large plates and bowls lead to more eating for the same reason giant popcorn buckets do: they make portions look smaller. Short, wide drinking glasses have a similar effect.

So I changed my plates and forks for good measure. I now eat off of salad plates and use my smaller salad fork. And in 8 months I have lost 80 pounds. I'm sure most of the reason for the weight l0ss has been the small portions I have been eating. But just a little bit of the reason has been the fact that my mind has new cues. When I load up my plate with my smaller portions, my plate looks full. In fact a few times, it looked too full. (That never happened on my old 12-inch dishes.)

I know intellectually that it's just a mind trick. But it's the same trick McDonald's uses to tell you a large order of french fries is a serving.

I was reminded of how fantastic Wansink's observations are after reading his recent interview in the New York Times.

Here are five other lessons from research by Wansink:

1. Hide the cookies; uncover the carrots.

You eat what you see. If you have to look at soda every time you open your refrigerator, you will spend more time thinking about soda and, ultimately, will drink more of it. So keep the sweets tucked away, and move your carrots and celery from the vegetable crisper to the top shelf of the fridge, where they will be at eye level.

2. The same goes for the office.

If there is a public stash of candy at work, make sure it’s not in a glass bowl. In one experiment, Mr. Wansink and another researcher, Jim Palmer, found that secretaries sitting near clear dishes filled with Hershey’s Kisses ate 71 percent more — or 77 calories a day — than those sitting near white dishes of Kisses. Over the course of a year, Mr. Wansink writes, the clear dish would have added more than five pounds of extra weight.

3. Convenience leads to consumption.

The easier food is to grab — even if the difference can be measured in seconds — the more you will eat. So before you move the carrots and celery to the top shelf, wash them and cut them up. You’ll eat more of them. And be wary of resealable cookie and cracker packages that make high-calorie snacking too easy. Leaving one of these packages open on a counter all but guarantees gluttony.

4. Don’t get rid of the evidence.

In another of Mr. Wansink’s experiments, people dining on chicken wings ate more if the bones were cleared away. When the bones were left on the table, diners had a tangible reminder of how much they had eaten. This also helps explain the results of the wonderful “bottomless soup bowl” test. When a bowl was secretly refilled with tomato soup — using a tube hidden beneath a table — people ate far more of the soup than when it disappeared from their bowl as they ate it. In effect, they were using the amount left in the bowl as a measure of how much they had already eaten.

5. Use your eyes to your advantage.

Since your stomach isn’t able to keep perfect track of the calories you are eating, you rely to a large degree on your eyes. The bigger something looks, the less of it you will eat. This is why soup is generally so healthy: the amount of water in it causes people to feel full when they actually are full — rather than a few hundred calories later.

Read the article and read the book. It will be difficult to Mindlessly Eat again

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