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Mindless Eating- Small Actions with Big Impacts

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February 29, 2016

By Joel Kreisberg, DC, ACC

“Slim by Design is about changing your eating environmentwhat I call your food radiusso that you, your kids and even your neighbors will eat less and  eat better”  

-Brian Wansink

Turns out when we eat on a bigger plate, we eat more….choose smaller plates.  What we have out in the kitchen is the most likely the food we will eat….leave fruit out, only!  If we use larger serving bowls, we serve bigger portions.  When the food is the same color as the plate, we’ll eat 18% more.  The food on your table is the food you will most likely eat, so if you leave the salad on the table and put all the carbs back in the kitchen where you have to get up to get seconds, you’ll eat more salad, less carbs.

While we often hear that 90% of all dieters gain all the weight back within 2 years-plus, we don’t hear much about how we can set up our eating environment to favor fewer calories. Brian Wansink, a Cornell behavioral scientist, and author of Slim by Design:Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life, has broken the code.  Rather than paying attention to what you are eating and having to rely on willpower, his research reveals how our environment  significantly impacts our eating habits.

Wait a second – what is he really saying?   Take a quick trip to www.slimbydesign.org  and do one of his 10-question quizzes and rate your kitchen.  What Mr. Wansink is saying is that attending to the structure of our environment, what he calls our Food Radius, significantly impacts the amount and types of food that we eat. Thus, rather than focusing on individual behaviors—often called volition and the attending awareness that goes along with it in many theories of coaching, such as Minds at Work, Narrative Health Coaching or Mindful Eating programs, Wansink suggests that we set up the conditions for success in the system—where we eat and prepare food.  When we put our attention here, we eat less food and make better choices, without using any willpower or ongoing effort.

Slim by Design
 is chock full of fasciniating research, information and tidbits. Some of the bigger ideas worth mentioning to our readers include the Kitchen Makeover, Tablescape Redesign and Snackproofing.  I’ve given some examples at the beginning of this blog, but below are a few more you can use today.

The Kitchen Makeover uses kitchen design to organize and impact how much and what you eat.  Sure, what is out in the kitchen is what is eaten first, but what about media distraction? Is there a TV or computer in your kitchen? If so, you’re likely to eat more while watching.  Even a microwave makes it easier to eat more. Actually, we tend to eat what is convenient, so an empty kitchen increases the chances of eating out or eating more snack food.  On the other hand, healthy snack foods available all the time, in the most convenient places in your kitchen, will support eating healthier food.  Think individual serving sizes of veggies, fruits, even cheese and yogurt.

Tablescape Redesign is about the size of everything you eat with and on.  Larger plates, serving bowls and serving utensils all lead to more food consumption. Larger glasses?  More beverage. Bigger wine glasses? More wine.  The solution is  9 or 10-inch plates rather than 12-inch plates.  10 to 12 ounce glasses rather than 16 ounce glasses.  Smaller serving bowls and serving spoons.  Put the salad on the table and leave the high calorie foods in the kitchen, requiring a trip back in the kitchen for seconds.  A really simple tidbit is the half plate rule.  At all meals, half the plate needs to be fruits, veggies or salad, and the other half whatever you want.  AND, when you go for seconds or thirds, rather than having more of your favorite dish,  again, half a plate of salad or fruit.

Snackproofing makes easy to access food the most available and likely to be eaten.  Make healthy snacks the go-to-first line.  Keep healthy snacks in the front of the fridge at eye level.  Put away sweets and chips; make them hard to find.  Think small bowls when taking chips out of the cupboard.

The tips and information about our eating habits that Wansink, and his team at the Cornel Food and Brand Lab, has studied and uncovered are comprehensive.  His book covers food in restaurants, in supermarkets, at work and of course in school.  Without having to work too hard, you’ll change the way your environment is set up such that it will be easier to eat less and maintain a healthier body weight.   Since so many clients seek health coaching for weight loss, Slim by Design is a must-read for health coaches and health practitioners ready to take a new and well researched approach to a growing concern—healthy nutrition.  From the health coaching perspective, Wansink’s work is a key resource for creating the conditions that heal.  I’m still working through my copy today!


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