How to Eat Better (With Less Effort!)

The Annual Meeting for Diabetes Educators was held last August in Indianapolis. I attended for two days and thoroughly enjoyed the workshops and the displays in the exhibit hall. One of my favorite speakers was Dr. Brian Wansink from Cornell University, who has spent years studying why we eat the amounts of food we do, and how changing the eating environment might help us eat better with less effort—or, as he says, “mindlessly” (in the good sense of that word).

I was fascinated by Wansink’s remarks because my own conversations with clients often deal with “mindless” eating (in the bad sense of that word)—that is, our habit of eating unconsciously, without noticing or remembering what we've eaten. Mindless eating leads to overeating, which leads to the consumption of excessive calories.

Mindless eating, in the bad sense, is sitting down with a bagful of chips, planning on eating a single little handful, and then, 15 minutes later, “waking up” and realizing that the bag is empty. Or, it’s eating dinner so fast that you’re the first one done and you’re wondering where all the food went!

This is why I often talk with my clients about how to eat more mindfully, so they can reduce their food intake and calories.

Strategies that encourage mindful eating

  • Chew each bite enough times so that you become aware of the food in your mouth. Then concentrate on experiencing the flavor and texture of the food.
  • Put your fork down after each bite.
  • Put the desired amount of food on your plate and then eat slowly.
  • Eat when you’re physically hungry, not when you’re merely bored, stressed, or craving some food. 
  • Stop eating when you’re satisfied (but not full).

Wansink’s approach

Dr. Wansink has said, however, that for most us the solution to mindless eating is not to eat more mindfully. He believes that most people—with their full-time jobs and 60-item to-do lists in their heads—will find it too difficult to cultivate an always-in-the-present or “be-here-now” mentality. “For more of us,” he says, “it’s just a lot easier to change our environments.” Here are his suggestions for simple changes that will help us eat less and better:

  • Use smaller bowls or plates.
  • Use a tall, skinny glass instead of a short, wide glass.
  • Instead of eating from a box or carton, put the desired portion of food into a bowl.
  • Always keep fruit on the counter in an attractive dish.
  • Put cut-up vegetables at the front of the refrigerator.

I am still an advocate of listening to the body’s internal cues (hunger and satiety) while we eat, but I also like these ideas and I’m certainly willing to try some new approaches. If changing the eating environment, and if the plates and cups in the kitchen can promote smaller portions and healthier food choices, I’m all for it!

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