Better known as the Sherlock Holmes of Food and the Wizard of Why, Brian Wansink has helped improve the deeper scientific understanding of food eating and food shopping. Wansink, professor and director of the famed Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, has penned over 100 academic articles and books, including the best-selling book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think and Marketing Nutrition (2005).
Over the years, one of his fundamental findings is that our environment —the way a food is labelled, presented, stored or served—biases our eating habits and taste preferences. His Mindless Eating explores the diverse messages and influences that constitute our eating habits, which we tend to follow “mindlessly.”
Wansink, a leading expert in changing eating behaviour, believes we have a “see food” diet: “You see food and you eat it just because it’s there.” The average person makes a staggering 200 food decisions a day without even realising and it’s essential to ensure that your surroundings prompt you to make healthy choices.
The professor believes – and he has evidence to back him up — that just as “we can mindlessly overeat, we can mindlessly eat better”.
Follow his practical tips on how to exploit subconscious influences to inculcate healthy eating habits and help meet your health or weight-loss goals.
- Eat something hot for breakfast within the first hour of waking up
- Avoid going more than 3-4 hours without having something small to eat.
- If you want to consume lesser at each meal, replace your regular dinner plates with smaller ones.
- Put down your fork and knife between bites to slow down your eating. Minding your table manners has its benefits!
- Putting the fork and spoon away and picking up chopsticks will also slow your eating. Research has shown that chopsticks were the utensil of choice of non-obese people in a Chinese restaurant.
- To slow down your drinking, pour your bubble in the champagne flute instead of the short stubby glass.
- Keep your kitchen counters clear of all foods. Only the healthy ones – fruits and veggies – can make a home there.
- A small change like putting a fruit bowl on your kitchen counter helps remind you every day that you should eat more fruit.
- Never eat directly from a package. Always portion food out onto a dish before you start eating.
- Keep the candy dish out of view and move healthier foods to eye-level in the cupboard and refrigerator.
- The colour of our plates also affects how much we eat. If there is a huge contrast between the colour of the food and the colour of the plate – say pasta in tomato sauce on a white plate – you’re more likely to eat less. Remember this tip when eating out!
- Eat in the kitchen or dining room, rather than in front of the TV, where you’re likely to lose track of how much you’ve eaten.
- Don’t stay on at the dinner table just to be social. This one time you can give dining etiquette the go-by. Or else, you are likely to end up overeating.
- Environmental factors, such as music and lighting, also affect eating habits. If you adjust music and lighting to extend a person’s dining experience, they end up eating less. This is because the more relaxed the person is, the slower they eat, and the quicker they say “I think I’ve had enough”.
Beware of “health halos”. A couple of healthy items on a restaurant menu does not ensure that all the food there will be the healthy and low calorie.