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Is Your Home filled with Eating Traps?

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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

Add a Comment4 Comments

One of the most common reactions when we are feeling down is to use something to eat. Our research showed that up to 75% of people instinctively reach for comfort food when they're feeling down, stressed or angry.

But what we're eating (or drinking) make us feel worse.

Discover the 5 most common food traps that may be wrecking your mood.

Trap 1: Sugar
Use something sweet when we are so instinctive feeling low, you'd almost think it is hard-wired. Carbohydrates and refined sugars will give us a short-term boost, but it can lower blood sugar after we get that result in mood swings and even tantrums in children.

What could you do instead?
University researchers have shown that cravings for sweet foods, especially the late night munchies, really cravings for water - we are not very good at reading the signs.

To balance your blood sugar, a protein-based snack to be more helpful. You could try first.

Trap 2: Caffeine
It is in coffee, tea, cola drinks and plenty more besides. Caffeine is a stimulant that can take us by way of "fight or flight", making us edgy and irritable. So, if you are already stressed or angry, it's the last thing you need.

What could you do instead?
You may rehydrate your system and give an instant energy boost, cool glass of water to make a difference for yourself. If you are feeling tense and irritable, you might prefer camomile tea. And, of course, do not breathe - take 3 deep breaths, breathing in through your nose. Fill your lungs from your stomach up and then breathe out through your mouth with a sigh. Works!

Trap 3: Sweeteners & Additives
We think we are doing the right thing going for the low-cal, low-fat options, but they do something for the taste and texture you'd have had from the sugars and fats. Unfortunately, this is often in the form of sweeteners and chemical additives. There are various agencies approved for food use, but there is growing research evidence that they can affect your mood.

One of the leading artificial sweeteners now officially linked to mood swings and even depression, regular users. And we have known for years that the infamous "E-numbers" can be behavioral problems in children.

What could you do instead?
Labels in the supermarket checkout. As a rule of thumb, if any ingredient on the list you would not cook with at home, think twice before putting it into your basket. Consider purchasing the non-diet versions, but they are eating less ...

Trap 4: Alcohol
How many times we can get to the end of a tough day and think, "I could really do with a glass of wine / a beer?"

And research is showing that some alcoholic beverages with health benefits, in moderation.

But alcohol is a toxin to the body itself. And it also suppresses brain activity depressant and dehydrates your body. So if you want to feel happier, stiff drink probably not the best place to start.

March 6, 2012 - 3:23am

As a stay at home mom, I have a no snacking policy for myself. I don't eat between meals. It was how my grandparents grew up and it is helping me maintain my weight loss and lose more.

January 13, 2012 - 4:53pm

I struggle with having eating traps in my house. I know I'm not supposed to have wheat or dairy products in my diet. My brother shops and buys a lot of carbohydrate foods high levels of wheat in them. He knows nothing about healthy or balanced eating. I struggle with Bulimia so often I crave sugar most of the stuff that has sugar in it has wheat in it also.
I'm trying to come up with healthy plan to avoid these foods.

December 14, 2011 - 1:42pm

A couple of other good tips is investing in a cheap kitchen scale and measure your food portions and to buy single serving snacks instead of big bags of chips and candy so you can still have an occasional treat but it's already measured out and when the bag is empty you are done.

August 15, 2011 - 7:47pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.