Controlled environment will help you lose, says author
By STEPHANIE R. OLSON
"Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think" by Brian Wansink (Bantam Books, 276 pages, 25)
Weight problems and obesity are soaring among Americans. Some take drastic measures to reduce, such as gastric bypass surgery, while others try the latest fad diet (although 95 percent of such dieters regain lost weight within a year).
To the rescue comes Brian Wansink's brilliant book, "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think."
Using the tricks of his trade, the food psychologist explains why it can be so hard to control what we eat yet so easy to control our environment to help us eat less.
According to Wansink, it is nearly impossible to be in full control of our eating. He says we make at least 200 food decisions each day, most of them mindlessly -- for example, snacking and overeating when distracted or when prompted by our environment, such as a bowl of candy at the office or people around us eating.
So, maintaining a healthy weight is more about controlling our environment than about controlling ourselves.
Food psychologists have conducted countless experiments to prove this point. One, described in the book, involved giving free popcorn to movie-goers, half of whom got a large bag and half a medium-size bag. Although some from each group left some popcorn in their bags, those with the larger bags ate more -- an average of 53 percent!
It's surprising that anybody ate any popcorn at all -- it was five days old and so stale that it squeaked when chewed. However, the context -- being at the movies with others chowing down -- trumps the taste of the food and the earters' hunger level .
Deciding when to stop eating rarely has to do with feeling full, Wansink says. Perhaps as a result of our hyper-consumer culture, Americans have lost any sense of when they are full. Unlike people from many other cultures, we take all of our cues from our environment.
There are visual cues such as the size of the plate or bowl. People given a large bowl for ice cream scooped out about one-third more than those given a smaller bowl.
Taste follows sound
There are auditory clues: If something sounds good, we expect it to taste good.
And there are social cues (we eat more when those around us are eating); and psychological cues (we eat more of something labeled "low-fat").
The good news: As easy as it is to mindlessly eat, it is almost as easy to mindlessly not eat. There's no miracle diet involved; it's just a matter of eating less by controlling our environment -- using smaller plates, buying smaller packages.
Although such changes won't lead to drastic weight loss, cutting 100-200 calories here and there each day will lead to losing about 10 to 20 pounds in a year.
And the best diet, as Wansink says, is the one you don't even know you are on.
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