How could I not jump on the band-wagon and bring mindfulness into our discussion. It sure has become a buzz word associated with sensory experiences, thoughts and emotions.The practice is aimed at helping us to be mindful in how we respond to the stimuli around us. But instead of writing about mindful eating, I’d rather tell you a little about the opposite, mindless eating. Come and cook with us!
I’ve recently participated in an online conference about the psychology of eating. One of the speakers mentioned a book called Mindless Eating, written by Brian Wansink. The author is a Stanford Ph.D. educated food psychologist – I didn’t even know this line of business existed – and he based his book on many years of research performed in a dedicated research restaurant which is part of the University of Illinois Hospitality management program, at the U.S. Army Natick Labs and at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. The basic concept is that most of us eat more than we think we do, primarily because of what is around us: the (generally) friendly company of family and friends at the dinner table, packages and plates, labels and lights, cupboards and containers, shapes and smells, distractions and distances. The issue is that we are utterly unaware of how much we eat, believing that we are primarily influenced by how much we like a certain food, how hungry we are and in what mood we’re in. What really happens, is that we are almost never aware that mindless eating is happening to us. Here are a few suggestions that help us reengineer how we can eat more mindfully, or at least not as mindlessly:
- Think 20% More or Less: While most Americans stop eating when they are full, other, leaner cultures stop eating when they are no longer hungry. Over time, this can make a huge difference. It’s best to think 20% less when it comes to dishing out our meal. We will still be full, but won’t notice that we ate less. When it comes to vegetables, think 20% more as most of us don’t get an adequate amount of fiber and nutrients from enough plant-foods in our diet. As a general rule, filling half your plate with salad and vegetables is a great way to make sure we get enough of what is good for us.
- See All You Eat: Researchers have found that when people pre-plate their food, they eat on average 14% less than when they take smaller amounts and keep going back for more. Put everything on the plate before you start eating, including snacks and desserts. That way you don’t have to count and remember how much you ate.
- Be Your Own Tablescaper: A tablescape is the placement and types of dishes, silverware, drinking glasses and serving bowls. Generally, the rule is that the bigger the box, bowl or plate, the more we eat: on average, 20 to 30% more for most foods. So keep your serving dishes, snack boxes and dinner plates on the smaller side. It will help you not to over-eat.
- Make Overeating a Hassle, Not a Habit: Make having seconds a little more cumbersome by leaving serving dishes in the kitchen or the side-board. Turn this around for salad and veggies placed in the middle of the dining table, as eating a little more of them is often a good thing.
- Crown Yourself as the Official Gatekeeper: If your are the one who decides what is being bought, cooked, consumed in your family, remember that you can use this to help create positive lifetime food patterns. Particularly children eat what tastes good, what’s convenient and what portion size they see as appropriate. Be good food marketers by positioning our (healthy) food choices as fresh, crunchy, refreshing and delicious meals that make us strong and smart!
As you know from reading our blog, we are not about dieting. We love food. And we love cooking. Having said that, on average, Americans have increased the amount of food they eat by 10% from 1970 to 2006. So it is a good idea to be reminded that we make most of our food decisions unconsciously. Most often, how we decide has nothing to do with the actual food we eat. So let’s be a little more mindful about eating. Come and cook with us!