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Mairlyn Smith


How to Avoid Mindless Eating

Posted: 04/11/2012 9:38 am

Grab a pencil and write down everything you ate for dinner yesterday.

Stumped? Can't remember every last morsel? You're in the majority.

All too often we sit in front of the TV, at our desks, in our cars, multitasking through our meals; not allowing our brains to become part of the eating process. It's called mindless eating and most of us are becoming pros at it. Coined by Cornell University food psychologist Brian Wansink, PhD, mindless eating is a contributing factor to our ever-expanding waistlines.

It takes at least 20 minutes for the brain and stomach to connect with the "I'm full signal." For the majority of North Americans, at 20 minutes, we've gone way past full and are headed full throttle for stuffed.

The French are known to eat slowly, making a meal, any meal, an occasion. The Pixar animated feature film Ratatouille was right bang on when the skinny rat with chef aspirations yelled at his fat rat brother after literally inhaling a cheese platter -- "Don't hork it down, savour." OK, I know I messed up the quote but the gist was: slow down and enjoy what you're eating.

By and large, Canadians are a society of rapid eaters. We power eat and then dash off, bypassing the time-consuming part of the meal: the enjoying of the flavours part. Dinner hour is melting down to dinner five minutes as our behinds get bigger and bigger.

Wansink asked 150 Parisians when dinner was over and they responded with, "When we're full." When he asked the same question to the same number of Chicagoans the answer was, "When the plate is empty."

Here's a plan -- let's slow down, stop eating when we're full and not when we've cleaned out plates; which, when compared to the 1950s dinner plates, are about four inches bigger. A bigger plate equals bigger portions equals more calories and yields bigger behinds.

Let's re-introduce ourselves to the piece of furniture formally known as the dining room table and have a sit down meal. No dining room table? The kitchen table totally works.

Just in case it's been a while, here are the sit down meal rules:

• Eat at the table, or anything that has four legs and isn't your desk or a TV table
• Grab placemats and lay out the eating areas
• Grab a plate one size smaller than what is normally used
• Place food on plate in the kitchen (that would be the room with the stove)
• Set the plated food on top of the placemats
• Take a long look at what you are about to eat -- ask everyone to do the same
• Be grateful for the food
• Pick up fork slowly and don't do anything but eat slowly. OK you can talk, but no reading or watching TV
• When you just start feeling full stop eating, put down your fork, back away from the table, and clean up

OK, I'm being flip. But the point is we need to sit down, slow down, and enjoy our meals.

6 Ways To Avoid Mindless Eating:

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  • Use A Bigger Fork

    A study published in the <em>Journal of Consumer Research</em> shows that restaurant-goers who <a href="http://www.jcr-admin.org/files/pressPDFs/071311193612_mishra.pdf" target="_hplink">eat with really big forks</a> (20 percent bigger than a normal fork you'd find at a restaurant) eat less food and leave more on their plates than people who eat with really small forks. A possible explanation for this finding is that when people use small forks to eat, they feel like they are not making any big <a href="http://healthland.time.com/2011/07/15/using-a-big-fork-may-help-you-eat-less/?xid=huffpo-direct" target="_hplink">progress in eating their meal</a> and quelling their hunger pangs, <em>TIME</em> reported. In addition, the restaurant-goers who ate with the smaller forks and were given bigger portions of food at much more food than if they just had the smaller forks or if they just had the bigger portions.

  • Eat From A Smaller Bowl

    Research from the Georgia Institute of Technology shows that people eat 31 percent more ice cream when they eat out of a 34-ounce bowl, rather than 17-ounce one, ScienceDaily reported. Researchers explained that's because people eat about 92 percent of what they serve themselves -- so if you <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/08/060803082602.htm" target="_hplink">serve yourself more, you'll eat more</a>.

  • Get Some Sleep

    Columbia University researchers found that <a href="http://www.thirdage.com/news/sleep-deprivation-may-increase-hunger_3-26-2011" target="_hplink">sleep deprivation can also lead to more calories consumed</a>. They found that women who only got 4 hours sleep the night before ate 329 more calories in a nine-hour period compared with if they weren't sleep deprived, while men ate 263 more calories when <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-michael-j-breus/sleep-more-lose-weight_b_857080.html" target="_hplink">sleep-deprived</a>. "It has an impact on cognitive restraint," study researcher Marie-Pierre St. Onge told ThirdAge. "High-fat food is tempting, and maybe on <a href="http://www.thirdage.com/news/sleep-deprivation-may-increase-hunger_3-26-2011" target="_hplink">short sleep you can't restrain yourself</a> as well, while on full sleep you can resist more easily."

  • Mind Your Environment

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/02/mindless-eating-environment-location_n_945712.html" target="_hplink">WHERE you eat your food</a> could also factor in to how much you eat and whether you're eating food even though you're not hungry, according to research from the University of Southern California. Researchers had movie-goers say whether they were regular popcorn-eaters or not, and then they had them eat either stale popcorn or freshly popped popcorn. The regular popcorn-eaters ate just as much stale popcorn as fresh popcorn, while people who didn't consider themselves regular popcorn-eaters ate significantly less stale popcorn than fresh since it didn't taste as good. "The results show just how <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/02/mindless-eating-environment-location_n_945712.html" target="_hplink">powerful our environment can be</a> in triggering unhealthy behavior," study researcher David Neal said in a statement. "Sometimes willpower and good intentions are not enough, and we need to trick our brains by controlling the environment instead."

  • Hide The Junk Food

    Research from Cornell University shows that we are three times more likely to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/29/see-first-eat-visible-food_n_984004.html" target="_hplink">eat the first thing that we see</a>, compared with the fifth thing we see. In that study, researchers took photographs of 100 kitchen cupboards and asked the owners to keep records of what they ate. Researchers also tried moving the food around in the cupboards to see if that impacted their food choices -- and found that it did. The research shows that "we end up being masters of our own demise, to some extent," study researcher Professor Brian Wansink, Ph.D., author of "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think," told HuffPost.

  • Eat Using Your Non-Dominant Hand

    Research published in the <em>Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin</em> shows that <a href="http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2011/09/20/overeating-which-hand-are-you-using/" target="_hplink">eating with your non-dominant hand</a> can help you to decrease the amount of food you consume, CNN reported. The finding was part of the same movie-theater/popcorn study, where it was discovered that environment plays a part in mindless eating. Like in that experiment, researchers gave study participants either fresh or stale popcorn. They found that people who used their non-dominant hands and ate the stale popcorn ate 30 percent less than if they used their dominant hands, CNN reported.

  • How to Avoid Mindless Eating

    Food Think with Wansink: Economy-size snacks can cause you to eat more


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