Losing weight can often be a battle of willpower. If willpower seems to be your stumbling block, try some simple changes in your surroundings that result in healthier eating habits to lose weight naturally.
"Our homes are filled with hidden eating traps," said Brian Wansink, PhD, a consumer food psychologist at Cornell University, who presented his findings and strategies for a healthier lifestyle at the American Psychological Association’s 119th Annual Convention, held Aug 5, 2011 in Washington DC.
Wansink identified several myths about eating behaviors as a way to explain why Americans, on average, have been getting fatter. This extra weight is increasing our risk of serious chronic illnesses, including certain cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Could it be that we are just eating mindlessly, or is it that we “trained” to simply want the "best value" for our money?
In either case, America is the land of “super-sized” meal and snack portions, and the long held mantra of “waste not, want not” and our waist and hip-size is proof.
Wansink says "Most of us have too much chaos going on in our lives to consciously focus on every bite we eat, and then ask ourselves if we're full. The secret is to change your environment so it works for you rather than against you."
Something as simple as the size of a bowl can influence how much an informed person eats, he says.
Believe it or not, several studies show exactly that, including Wansink's study of 168 moviegoers who ate either fresh or stale popcorn from different size containers. In the study, People with extra-large containers ate 45 percent more fresh popcorn than people with large containers. People who were eating stale popcorn ate 34 percent more from the extra-large buckets than people eating fresh popcorn from smaller buckets.
They just don't realize they're doing it," said Wansink. This strategy applies to what we drink too. His research found that people pour about 37 percent more liquid in short, wide glasses than in tall, skinny ones of the same volume.
Even a kid's cereal bowl can be a trap, according to Wansink. One study showed children of different weights who were given a 16 ounce bowl were more likely to serve themselves twice as much cereal than children given an 8 ounce bowl.
One of Wansink’s studies showed that people lost up to two pounds a month after making several simple changes in their environment, including:
- Eating off salad plates instead of large dinner plates.
- Keeping unhealthy foods out of immediate line of sight and moving healthier foods to eye-level in the cupboard and refrigerator.
- Eating in the kitchen or dining room, not in front of the television.
"These simple strategies are far more likely to succeed than willpower alone. It's easier to change your environment than to change your mind," Wansink said.
Another myth is that people know when they are full and will stop before they overeat. His Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University tested this idea on 60 unsuspecting consumers by offering them a free lunch. They gave 22 ounce bowls of soup filled to half to 30 people and the other 30 people were given specially designed 22 ounce bowls that were pressure-fed under the table to slowly refill. People with the "bottomless bowls” ate 73 percent more than those with normal bowls, yet when asked, they didn't realize they had eaten more.
"The lesson is, don't rely on your stomach to tell you when you're full. It can lie," Wansink said. “Simply being aware of such findings can help people make healthier choices, especially those who are already trying to eat healthier foods.
Lynette Summerill, an award-winning writer and scuba enthusiast lives in San Diego, CA. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, her work has been seen in newspapers and magazines around the world.
"Modifying the Food Environment: From Mindless Eating to Mindlessly Eating Better," Brian Wansink, PhD. Invited Address, American Psychological Association’s 119th Annual Convention. 5 Aug 2011. Press release via Eurekalert:
Read more eating tips and tricks at the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab Research Web site.
Reviewed August 9, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith