Mindless Eating

(As seen in The Telegram on Tuesday, May 24th 2011)

Without thought you’ve eaten half a pack of Jamjams while browsing Facebook. Or perhaps it was the full bag of chips while watching Republic of Doyle. We’ve all been guilty of it at one time or another. It's called mindless eating.

Many things tend to influence what we eat. Smells, shapes, containers, cupboards, labels, lights, packages, plates and even people. Believe it or not, it is thought the average person makes over 200 decisions a day about food! Not all of these decisions are what we would consider mindful however. Have you ever wondering after the fact why you ate the last week's homemade bread even though it wasn’t all that enjoyable and didn't taste fresh? We often do these things not because of hunger, but because there are signals and cues around us that tell us to eat.

There are many strategies that can help us to put a little more thought in our eating habits. One that works well is to think 20% more or less. When putting food on your plate put on 20% less than you think you'll actually eat. Science tells us the more food on our plates the more we are likely to eat. For fruits and veggies have 20% more. The second strategy you can try is to view all that you are going to eat before and while you eat it. This can work for a meal, snack and even beverage. It's easy to forget how much you've already eaten when there is nothing visually to remind you. To put this into perspective think of wing night at your favourite local restaurant. It’s easy to know how many wings you’ve eaten if the bones are left on the table, however if the bones are continually taken away chances are you’ll have a poor (and likely inaccurate) estimate of the food you consumed.

Pre-portioning all food before you eat whether it is a meal, snack, or beverage again is a good idea. Minimizing bowls, plates, cups and also cartons, boxes and bags also helps. Did you know that when using short wider glasses (rather than tall) people tend to pour more? Think too of how 6 ounces of spaghetti would appear on a 7 inch (side) plate. Significant and certainly the illusion of having more when compared to the same amount on a standard dinner plate of 9 or 10 inches. In addition to this, what is interesting is also the larger the food packaging the more likely people are to portion and consume more. Bigger packages, similar to big portions suggest this is a consumption norm and the ‘appropriate’ amount of food to eat. Think small or super-share. Supersizing may appear like a bargain to your pocketbook but it isn't to your health or waistline. The volume of food we eat also appears to be an important contributor to determining fullness. Science tells us if we normally eat a half pound burger and switch to a quarter pound burger we’re likely to still feel hungry after consumption. You may think the reason is common sense and has to do with the amount of food being less. This may be so, however it appears to be as much to do with the appearance and volume of food maybe more so. If you fill the quarter burger with lettuce, onion, tomato and other healthful fillings to make it appear the same size as the regularly consumed half pound burger, you’re more likely to remain full after eating it. Interesting.

Reformulating comfort foods is another way to be mindful while having your cake and eating it too. If ice cream is your thing, continue to have and enjoy it but have a smaller serving and top with fresh berries. If you enjoy baked nachos, cut back on the chips and cheese and pile on extra veggies and beans. Before long you'll notice that it’s out with the old and in with the new as these foods become your new comforts.

Rather than making overeating a habit, change to make it a hassle. In our house we keep the chocolate in the basement or hard to reach cupboard. That way someone really wants it they have to go through the extra trouble to get it!

If you are interested in more information on how to eat mindfully pick up the book by Brian Wansink entitled, 'Mindless Eating.' It's an excellent leisurely read and will certainly have you thinking more consciously about your 200 plus food decisions!