Seeking Out Mindless Eating Solutions


I recently started a column on the Eat + Run blog for U.S. News and World Report, hope you’ll follow me over there.  My first column was 7 Mindless Eating Solutions, based on the new book by Brian Wansink, Slim By Design. Hope you’ll check it out.

Here’s a look at what I wrote about:

Throughout the day, we’re constantly nudged to eat more than we intended, says Cornell professor and food psychologist Brian Wansink, who put the concept of  “mindless eating” on the map.

Since our willpower can be wimpy, Wansink believes the best approach to achieve our goals is to change our environment – focusing on those places where most of our eating occurs. Many nutritionists today talk about our “toxic food environment” as the root of the obesity problem in this country. But I’m not one who believes the universe is conspiring to fatten us up at every turn.

Even so, there are lots of temptations – at home, during our work day, when we eat out and when we shop for food. It turns out, we buy and eat most of our calories (more than 80 percent) within five miles of where we live. Wansink calls this our food radius.

We make about 200 food decisions every day, Wansink estimates. Many of these are nearly subconscious food choices. Finish it or leave it? A little or a lot? He believes that by making a few tweaks in our food radius, we can eat healthier without even thinking about it – and without dieting (which I certainly support).

Based on years of research, Wansink has compiled these environmental design tweaks in a clever new book, out today, called “Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Every Life.” This is not another diet book. Instead, it focuses on ways you can redesign your surroundings to stack the deck in your favor.

Here are seven ways you can eat better by changing your environment:

1. Makeover your home kitchen. The goal is to make tempting foods less visible and convenient. So try clearing your counters of any food other than a fruit bowl. Put the healthiest foods out front and center in your cupboards and pantry – with a separate, hard-to-reach snack cupboard. Get rid of the clutter and take out comfy chairs and the TV to make the room less friendly for lounging, which can lead to more grazing and snacking.

2. Rearrange your fridge. Transfer all your fruits and vegetables from the crisper bin to the top shelf of your refrigerator, and move your less healthy foods down into the crisper. Keep cut fruit and vegetables in plastic bags on the eye-level shelf of your fridge for easy grabbing. Wrap indulgent leftovers in aluminum foil or put in opaque containers.

3. Do-over your dinner table. Start by downsizing your dishes, using 9 to 10-inch plates instead of jumbo ones. Pre-plate your food from the stove or counter instead of serving family-style on the table. Use tall or small glasses for anything that’s not water. Use smaller serving bowls and teaspoons as serving spoons. Use the half-plate rule.

4. Strategize at restaurants. Ask the server to bring the water and not the bread. Don’t eat things as big as your head. Check the menu descriptions – anything described as “crispy” likely has 131 more calories, and “buttery” tends to have 102 more calories. Ask for a half-size portion or commit to taking half the meal home in a to-go bag.

5. Rethink your grocery trips. Pop a piece of sugar-free gum in your mouth before you start shopping to lessen cravings and impulse spending, or eat a healthy snack before you leave home. Divide your shopping cart in half, and reserve the front half for fruits and vegetables. Shop the healthiest aisles first: produce, lean meat, low-fat dairy and whole grains.

6. Change your workplace habits. Forget about a candy dish on your desk. People who had candy within an arm’s reach reported weighing 15.4 pounds more than those who didn’t. Pack your lunch more often, and eat with a friend instead of at your desk. When going through a lunch line, pick up a piece of fruit first. It seems to trigger a chain reaction of healthier choices.

7. Use social media. Reach out to your favorite restaurant and supermarket via Twitter to make requests. Blog, Tweet, post on Facebook or talk your successes so others can start changing their food radius and make themselves slim by design. Wansink started an online community that can help:


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