Mindless Weight Loss

By London Nutritionist Sylvia Hensher


Brian Wansink from Cornell University has spent much of his scientific career trying to understand what influences our food choices. His conclusion is that most of us are unaware of what influences how much we eat. We all think we’re too smart to be tricked by packages, lighting or the size of plates. We might acknowledge that others can be tricked, but not us. Yet every single one of us is influenced by what’s around us when it comes to deciding what and when we will eat.

In other words, we over-eat not because of hunger, but because of family and friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colours, shapes and smells, cupboards and containers.

Read on to hear about his fascinating findings from decades of research into behaviour and eating patterns.

Brian Wansink on how to lose weight without thinking about it

The average person makes well over 200 decisions about food every day. Breakfast or no breakfast? Bread, bun or bagel? Part or all of it?

Every time we pass a dish of sweets or open up our desk drawer and see a piece of chewing gum, we make a food decision. Yet we can’t really explain most of these 200-plus decisions. Most of us are blissfully unaware of what influences how much we eat. Because although you can eat too much without knowing it, you can also eat less. Because, let’s face it, the best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on…

Strategy 1- Remove The Mindless Margin

Just ten extra calories a day – one stick of gum or three jelly beans – will make you a pound heavier in a year. And 140 calories a day – or one can of soft drink – will make you put on a stone. And you won’t even notice.

Fortunately, the same thing happens in the opposite direction. This is known as the mindless margin: those few extra calories that you can consume – or not consume – every day that you really don’t notice. By cutting out 100 to 200 calories a day, you can lose weight. That can mean not having one of your daily Starbucks. Or not tucking into a packet of crisps when you get in from work.

Cutting out your favourite foods entirely, however, is a bad idea: you’ll just feel deprived. Cutting down on how much you eat of them, on the other hand, is mindlessly do-able.

Simply dish out 20 per cent less than you think you will want before you start to eat. You probably won’t miss it. For fruit and vegetables, though, think 20 per cent more. If you cut down the pasta you eat by 20 per cent, increase the veggies by 20 per cent.

Strategy 2- See All You Eat

When people put their food on a plate, they eat about 14 per cent less. So instead of eating directly out of a package or box, put everything you want to eat on a plate before you start eating – whether it’s a snack, dinner, ice cream or even crisps. Leave the packaging in the kitchen and eat elsewhere. You’ll also eat less if you are able to see what you’ve already eaten.

Strategy 3– Be Your Own Tablescaper

Your tablescape – the innocuous-looking item on your table, such as dishes glasses and packages – can increase how much you eat by well over 20 per cent.

The good news is that can also be used to decide how much you eat. Mini-size your boxes and bowls. The bigger the package you pour from, be it cereal boxes on the table or pasta jars in the kitchen, the more you will eat. Repackage your jumbo box into smaller Tupperware containers and you will eat less.

Make visual illusions work for you. If you serve 6oz of stew on an 8in plate, it looks like a nice serving. If you serve 6oz on a 12in plate, it looks like a tiny starter. Down-size your plates and you will eat less without thinking about it. Buy tall, slender glasses if you want to be slender yourself. You’ll tend to pour 30 per cent more into a wide glass than a tall, slender one. Get rid of your wide glasses.

Beware side dishes. If you have lots of little bowls of leftovers on the table, you’re likely to eat more. This doesn’t matter, of course, if it’s a bowl of carrot sticks or celery.

Strategy 4– Make Overeating A Hassle

Leave serving dishes in the kitchen because that gives you the opportunity to ask if you’re really hungry and need more when you have cleared your plate. Put tempting foods such as crisps and chocolates in hardto-reach cupboards. Wrap the most tempting leftovers in foil and put them in the back of the fridge.

Snack only at the table and on a clean plate. This makes it less convenient to serve, eat and clean up after an impulse snack. Of course, a better idea still is not to bring impulse foods in the house to begin with.

Strategy 5- Rescript your diet danger zones

We all have eating ‘scripts’ for the five most common diet danger zones: dinner, snacks, parties, restaurants and desks/ dashboards. One common dinner script, for example, involves eating second helpings until everyone else at the table is finished. If you want to ‘rescript’ this, you might want to try being the last to start eating, pacing yourself with the slowest eater or not having any bread.

Similarly, after-work snacking could be rescripted by chewing a piece of gum rather than raiding the fridge. Distract yourself before you snack. Distractions are good when they prevent us from starting to snack, but bad when they prevent us from stopping.

Strategy 6 -Make Comfort Food More Comforting

The best way to begin changing habits is to do so in a way that doesn’t make you feel deprived. So, keep your favourite comfort foods, but eat them in smaller amounts.

Our studies show that most people have at least some comfort foods that are reasonably healthy – chicken soup or dark chocolate – and small doses take you a long way. Start pairing healthier foods with positive events. Instead of celebrating a personal victory or smothering a defeat with a ‘death by chocolate’ dessert, why not choose a smaller bowl of ice cream with strawberries?

Strategy 7- Watch The Fast Food Tricks

Beware of the ‘health halo’. Studies show that people who choose ‘low-fat’ granola eat 21 per cent more calories than those eating ordinary granola. Meanwhile, customers who choose a ‘healthy’ sandwich in a shop also rewarded themselves by having cheese, mayo, chips and chocolate to go with it.

Who really overeats? The person who knows he’s eating a 710-calorie fast-food burger or the person who is eating a 350-calorie sandwich that, with added extras, actually consists of 500 calories? And while super-sizing at the fast-food restaurant may seem like a bargain, a large bag of chips will be cold by the time you get to the greasy bottom.

Strategy 8- Eating Out

If the bread basket is on the table, you’re going to eat bread. So ask the waiter to take it away or keep it on the other side of the table.

Candlelight, nice table linen and music will make you relax. Restaurant customers eat for an average 11 minutes longer than those who are in a less relaxed eating environment.

Portion sizes in restaurants are often more than ample, so why not split a main course, have half packed to take home or simply order two starters instead. Similarly, if you want a dessert, see if someone will share it with you. The best part of any dessert is the first two bites.

Establish a ‘pick two’ rule for when you eat out. Starter, drink, dessert – choose any two, but not all three.

Extracted from Wansink B ( 2009) Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think Hay House

If you would like to lose weight and are sick of endless  dieting fads that don’t work please call us on 0207 724 4445/07812 163 324 or email us at info@yournutritionalhealth.co.uk  for a FREE 15 chat to see how we can help you lose weight without dieting.

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