Thorough all my years of personal training and counseling clients on healthier eating choices with our in home personal training there are simple solutions to break the habit of mindless eating and cutting those calories. For example, it’s easier to change your eating environment than to change your mind. It is hard to resist the candy dish sitting on your desk—it’s easier to move it across the room. It’s more difficult to remind yourself not to over serve on a big plate, however it’s a breeze to use a smaller plate.
While there are many solutions to mindless eating, most of them go undiscovered because we don’t look for them. Instead, we’re too focused on the food and not on our surroundings. We’re too focused on eating less of one thing and more of another or on trying that new “Yeast and Potting Soil Diet” we read about on the Internet.
For 90% of us, the solution to mindless eating is not mindful eating—our lives are just too crazy and our willpower’s too wimpy. Instead, the solution is to tweak our homes, workplaces, schools, restaurant dining and grocery shopping so we mindlessly eat less instead of more. It’s easier to use a small plate, face away from the buffet and Frisbee-spin the bread basket across the table than to resist.
Willpower is hard and has to last a lifetime. Rearranging your life to be slim by design is easy. If we want to automatically eat better at home, we don’t have to change our minds; all we have to do is make a few changes to our home and how we behave there.
Color Me Slim
There are hidden persuaders around our home that trick us into overeating—things like serving spoons, spouses, cupboards and colors. But most of these (except maybe spouses) can also be reversed to make us slimmer rather than fatter. Take color: The color of your plate can make you fat. If it’s the same color as the food, you’ll serve yourself 18% more.
One study discovered one afternoon when the study invited 60 lunch-goers to a free pasta lunch at Cornell University’s summer Alumni Reunion. Researchers gave them either a red plate or a white plate and sent half the diners over to a red pasta buffet (marinara sauce) and the other half to a white pasta buffet (Alfredo sauce).
After they served themselves, researchers secretly weighed how much they took. If they served either white pasta on a white plate or red on red, they piled on 18% more calories than those with opposite-colored plates (van Ittersum & Wansink 2012). This is news you can use: When you’re eating at home, choose plates that contrast with the color of your food. Since white starches—pasta, rice and potatoes—are the big diet busters, using darker plates is smart. If we want to automatically eat better at home, we don’t have to change our minds; all we have to do is make a few changes to our home and how we behave there.
First Seen, First Eaten
Suppose the first cereal you see in the morning is Fruity Pebbles and the next four cereals are versions of bark- and twig-flavored granola. Which are you going to choose? Studies show you’re three times more likely to eat the first food you see in the cupboard than the fifth one. Rearrange your cupboard, pantry and refrigerator so the first foods you see are the best for you.
Why not just totally vanquish all tempting foods from your house? First, it’s fine to have an occasional treat. Second, it’s not realistic if you have growing kids who constantly forage and bring friends over to feast. Set up a designated “kids’ cupboard” that’s off-limits to you. One mother of teenagers even put childproof locks on the cupboard. For herself.
Those huge wholesale clubs like Sam’s and Costco are filled with great food bargains. But once you get the forklift home, those bargains turn into a burden for your cupboards—and your diet. Studies have found that people who had filled their cupboards with chips, juice boxes, cookies and even ramen noodles ate half of everything they bought within the first week of buying it. They ate it twice as fast as they normally would. If you’re buying food in bulk, you’ll eat it faster and in greater quantities than you otherwise would because you have spent your money (made a commitment) and you do not want it to spoil or go out of date.
One solution is to repackage any supersized boxes into single-serve baggie sizes. A second solution is to store it as far away from reach as possible—in the basement or a distant cupboard. You’ll get the cost saving without the calories.
Family-Style Seconds and Thirds
Some families serve family-style meals and crowd all their serving bowls onto the table. Other families pre-serve their food directly off the stove or counter. One such study found that people who served from the stove or counter ate 19% less total food compared with those serving themselves right off the table (Payne, Smith & Wansink 2010). Having to get up and walk another 6 feet for the food was enough for people to ask, “Am I really that hungry?” The answer’s usually “Nope.” On the other hand, if you want to eat more salad, plant that salad bowl right in the middle of the table.
If eating family-style—piling all of the serving dishes on the table—is a nonnegotiable must in your house, there might be a workaround. Serving out of bowls with lids might cut down on seconds or thirds. In one candy dish study, simply putting a lid on a candy dish cut down how many Hershey’s Kisses people ate by about a third. When food is out of sight, it’s out of mind. The same idea might work if you cover the casserole instead of temptingly leaving the top off.
These simple table changes are easy. What keeps us from making them, however, is that we think we’re smarter than a bowl. As a result we think, “Oh, now that I know this, it won’t happen to me“, so we don’t make any changes. But during the day’s chaos, our automatic behaviors lead us to make the same mindless eating mistakes we’ve always made.
Scoring Big at Home
There are 100’s of simple workable weight loss tips that have been discovered through many studies. I have combined just a few of those tips for this blog and are below.
• Salad and vegetables are served first before the entree and starches are brought to the table.
• The main dish is pre-plated at the kitchen counter or stove.
• Your dinner plates are 9-10 inches wide.
• You eat at a table with the TV turned off.
• There are two or fewer soft drinks in your fridge at any one time.
• Your kitchen counter is organized (not messy).
• Precut fruits and vegetables are now on your middle refrigerator shelf.
• At least 6 proteins are in your fridge: eggs, yogurt, string cheese, tofu…ect.
• Your snacks are kept in one inconveniently place in your pantry.
• The only food on your kitchen counter is a fruit bowl.
You can test these tips out in your own home. In 10 minutes you can take the tips and check off what you do. Is the kitchen organized? Is there fruit on the counter? Is the toaster put away?
I suggest write out a tip checklist and place it on your refrigerator so you see the tips daily. One benefit of the tip checklist is that it usually shows progress each time you go through the tips and follow them. It can give you a tangible meter that you’re doing the right things that will eventually make you slim by design, even if today’s scale didn’t budge. If you don’t care about making your house slim by design for yourself, do it for your kids. It all starts with taking 10 minutes to fill out your tip checklist. One small step for you, one giant step toward fat-proofing your family.
For more information on this subject or to see what programs Cronus Health & Fitness has to offer you contact Eric Collier 256.509.9807 or visit our website here.
Eric J. Collier
Cronus Health & Fitness