Eating More Than You Think

Our ancestors probably spent a lot of time walking around looking for food. Food was scarce and if they found something they would eat as much as possible because they never knew where the next meal might be found.

That was very poor conditioning for our modern world.  In these times food is plentiful and you don’t have to go far to find it.  More calories and less activity means too many pounds for most of us.  Ergo, we need to give more thought to our eating habits (and figure out how to move more, of course.)

At the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, Dr. Bryan Wansink studies why and how we overeat. He believes that developing an awareness of environmental factors that influence our consumption can help us to avoid excess calories. Here are some examples of his work:

Bottomless Soup Bowl – In this study some participants ate soup from a bowl that was being surreptitiously filled from the bottom.  Others ate from a normal bowl. Individuals who ate soup out of self-refilling bowls ate more than those who ate out of normal bowls, but did not feel any more satisfied than the other group.

Bad Popcorn/Big Buckets – Movie goers were randomly given either a medium or a large container of free popcorn. Some of the popcorn was fresh; some was stale. The moviegoers who got the large buckets ate more, even if they received stale popcorn.

Candy Dish – A candy dish in an office setting was moved each day farther and farther away from the participants; and finally to a place where it could not be seen.  The further the distance from the participants to the dish, the less candy consumed.

These studies illustrate several things:

  • We rely on visual clues (like whether our plate is “clean”) rather than fullness clues to tell us when to stop eating.
  • The portion we are served (or serve ourselves) determines how much we eat; even if the food is not palatable.
  • The distance to food or visibility of food can affect how much we eat.

Some things you can do to change your “environment” and reduce overeating include:

  • Eat slowly and pay attention to your body’s “fullness” cues.
  • Use smaller plates, glasses, and utensils.
  • Serve meals from the stove; do not bring serving dishes to the table.
  • Keep kitchen counters clear and free of unhealthy foods (including sugary cereals.)
  • Don’t purchase “bulk” or economy size packages of unhealthy foods.
  • Never eat directly from a package – portion out small servings and put the rest away.

For more information about this research and other helpful tips please visit Dr. Wansink’s site mindlesseating.org.

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