According to Brian Wansink, Ph.D.’s research, we typically make 200+ food choices a day. Wansink, a professor of marketing at Cornell University and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, has devoted his career to researching why we eat and make the food choices we do. He is all about food psychology and what influences our choices.
Through his research at Cornell’s Food and Brand Labs, Wansink studies have shown that we can eat 20% more or 20% less without being conscious of it. He says we look for cues in our environment to give us indications of how much we are eating. For example, most people realize they are overeating when their clothes become tight and ill-fitting. Wansink gives the example of the prisoners who have gained a mysterious 20-25 lbs. during their incarceration. It turns out the wearing of the voluminous orange jump suits is the culprit; the prisoners had no signal that they were overeating.
Wansink suggests it all about re-engineering our environment to eat less. He says instead of counting calories or using will power, much can be changed with a conscious shift in our environment.
• The size of the plate is the biggest determinant of how much you serve yourself. Studies have shown that if you increase the side of the plate by 2” people will eat 22% more. Further, the people in the study who ate off the larger plate didn’t feel any fuller than the persons who ate off the normal size plate. Bottom line: go for a smaller plate – as well as bowl, serving spoons, and eating utensils, too.
• If the candy dish is opaque, as opposed to clear, there is less candy consumed. Out of sight is out of mind. The same holds true for putting snack foods in the back of the cabinet and putting the fruit bowl front and center.
• If the serving dish or candy dish is six feet away, you will eat less.
• The more light there is in a room, the less you eat.
• The shape of a drinking glass matters. What you pour into a tall, skinny glass looks more than a short, wide glass. In this study, seasoned bartenders repeatedly poured 22% more into the short, wide glasses.
Wansink says we use our eyes to eat and, needless to say, this can have repercussions on our stomachs:
• The more variety we have, the more we eat.
• The more perceived variety we have, the more we eat. His study used the same three snacks at a party; one group with three big bowls and another group with 12 smaller bowls. The party goers with 12 different bowls perceived more variety and ate more. Same with M&M studies, be it 5 colors or 8 colors, the greater the perception of variety, the more consumed.
• If we see what we have consumed, we eat less.
• The more well-lit the room, the less we eat.
• Big bag and big box goodies lead to increased eating. (Go for creating smaller, individual servings.)
Wansink studies indicate that if individuals give up 300 to no more than 400 calories per day – what he says we can forego without realizing it physically or psychologically – there is success. This is a weight loss strategy without the struggle and angst.
How to drop the 300-400 calories from your daily routine? Adopt three of Wansink’s behavioral change strategies, i.e., smaller plate size, eating in a well lit room, pass on second helpings, minimize variety, drive another way to avoid the daily donut fix, etc., for 30 days.
Here is Wansink’s strategy for those who tend to overeat at restaurants; it is called the “Restaurant Rule of 2.” Order anything you want for an entrée and in addition to the entrée you may have two other items, i.e., a glass of wine and a piece of bread, two pieces of bread, a glass of wine and appetizer, salad and coffee, coffee and dessert. You get the idea, your entrée plus two other items of your choosing.
If this interests you, check out www.mindlesseating.org for some fun exercises and suggestions on what strategies might work for you. Food psychology is here to help.