If you were given a container of popcorn to eat during a movie, do you think you would eat more popcorn if the container was bigger? Or do you think you’d eat only however much you were hungry for? Researcher Brain Wansink tells us that you do, in fact, eat more if the container is bigger. In fact, he has done numerous studies on how much popcorn people eat in a movie theater. He has even made sure that the popcorn was stale and tasteless. Guess what happened? People still eat lots of popcorn, always much more than they think they are eating. They eat even more of it if it’s in a gigantic container. And they eat it even if it doesn’t taste very good.
Why does this happen? This happens, as he puts it, because our stomach can’t count. In a movie, we are distracted by the sound, the lights, and the excitement of the story. And we simply aren’t paying mindful attention to what we are eating. In Wansink’s book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, he explains the results of dozens of different food studies that he has completed in his food lab, The Spice Box. Through his research, he has uncovered a wealth of information that might help you get control of your dietary habits and your waistline! The book inspired this Bonfire Health concept, and we highly recommend reading his book. Here are some helpful concepts from Mindless Eating.
The Mindless Margin
Most people gain and lose weight so gradually that they don’t know how it happened. Sometimes it seems like, all of the sudden, you don’t quite fit as comfortably into your jeans anymore. Consider this illustration: a can of coke has 155 calories. If you eat about 3500 more calories than you need for energy during the day, you will gain about one pound of excess weight. If you drink one can of coke per day for a year, you will gain over 16 pounds…just from that can of coke (not to mention the other horrible things soda does to your body). Seemingly small cheats in your diet can really add up. What if it was a muffin? An apple bran muffin from Starbucks will cost you 350 calories apiece. If you grab one of these tasty snacks on your way to work Monday through Friday, you’ll up your weight by a whopping 26 pounds per year. Your decision process while at the register is probably somewhere along the lines of, “its just a muffin, it won’t do any harm.” You’ll probably forget you even ate it by lunchtime. But it will do harm if you’re not paying attention. This is what is called mindless eating.
But don’t be discouraged! We don’t bring this up to bug you over making less than perfect food choices. This “Mindless Margin” works both ways. You simply need to practice mindful eating. For instance, if you start eating 20% less food at each meal, your stomach won’t notice the difference. You won’t feel hungry or deprived. And over time, and with a little patience, the extra weight you’re carrying around will slip right off.
The Deprivation Dilemma
Deprivation diets do not work for three reasons:
1. Your body works against them.
2. Your mind works against them.
3. Your surroundings work against them.
Your body craves food because it needs nutrients and calories to function. Your mind craves food because of how delicious it tastes. And our surroundings offer constant reminders of tasty treats, which for the most part, are unhealthy ones. In the same way your stomach doesn’t notice small additions of sugary snacks, it doesn’t notice excluding them. Don’t try to revamp all of your dietary habits overnight. Focus on progression, not perfection. Add vegetables, drink more water, cut out junk foods, add healthy fats…give yourself time to get used to each change as you make them. It’s a recipe for success!
As it turns out, our stomachs are also bad at math. Be conscious about how much food you are consuming. Practice a few special mindful eating nudges.
Get a Visual: Don’t eat from a giant jar of cashews. You will tend to eat way more than if you can see how many you are eating. Put a serving of cashews on a plate, and eat only what you served yourself. Making these small changes will help you avoid a lot of mindless eating pitfalls.
Downsize: Try using smaller plates. Research shows that if we use a bigger plate, we will serve ourselves more, and ultimately eat more food. Switch from big 12-inch plates to 8-inch ones. Reducing your dinner consumption by 20% will be unnoticeable to the eye and to the stomach.
Slow Down: Take your time and enjoy each bite of food. Chew it thoroughly and don’t rush though the meal. You are not a vacuum cleaner sucking up everything in sight. It takes time for your stomach to realize it’s full and notify the brain. You could continue to eat for 20 minutes after being full before your stomach has time to realize it’s satisfied. Slow things down – you will give your taste buds more time to enjoy your food and you’ll end up eating less. You’ll also avoid the belt-loosening, belly-clutching discomfort of over indulging.
Take the Scenic Route: Avoid walking by the candy bowl at work even if it means walking out of your way. Or drive a different route home from work to avoid that fast food restaurant, even if you’ll add two minutes to your commute. Every time you see sugary treats, or those relentlessly tempting, low-quality, processed fast foods, you have to make a decision about whether or not to indulge. Avoid having to make the decision, and you’ll make the right one every time.