There a millions of people around the world who are a victim of mindless eating – or eating without being hungry. The phrase is coined by Cornell University food psychologist Brian Wansink, PhD, to describe subconscious eating habits that can lead to unnecessary weight gain.
Professor Wansink says mindless eating can be turned into mindlessly eating better and maybe even weight loss simply by making little changes such as eating off smaller plates. At the American Psychological Association's annual meeting, Wansink described his experiments into mindless eating and strategies for mindlessly eating better.
He explained, “We asked 150 Parisians how they knew they were through with dinner and they said, 'When we're full.' When we asked 150 Chicagoans the same question, they said, 'When the plate is empty'.”
Other experiments suggest that dish size influences how much we eat. In one test, 168 moviegoers who had just finished dinner were given fresh or stale popcorn from different-size containers. “People ate 34% to 45% more popcorn if it was served in ‘extra-super-size ginormous buckets’ than in regular large containers -- even if the popcorn was stale”, Wansink says. People tend to pour about 37% more liquid in short, wide glasses than in tall, skinny ones of the same volume he explained. Even a kid's cereal bowl can be a trap, according to Wansink. Children poured about twice as much cereal into a 16-ounce bowl than into an 8-ounce bowl, he says. In another experiment, 30 people were served soup out of a “bottomless bowl” that was pressure-fed under the table and slowly refilled from the bottom without them knowing. Another 30 people were served soup in regular bowls. The people with bottomless bowls ate 73% more than those with regular bowls, but they didn't rate themselves as any more full than those who ate less.
“Don't rely on your stomach to tell you when you're full. It can lie,” Wansink concludes from these experiments.
To combat mindless eating his suggestions include simple measures like eating more off on salad plates rather than large dinner plates. He suggests keeping the candy dish out of view and move healthier foods to eye level in the cupboard and refrigerator. He advises eating 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. “These simple strategies are far more likely to succeed than willpower alone,” said Wansink. “It's easier to change your environment than to change your mind.”
Jean Kristeller, PhD, professor of psychology at Indiana State University, says that while it’s true that many of us are mindless eaters, we can train ourselves to better know when we’re full. She suggests starting with this simple mindful eating technique. “Pour yourself a 20-ounce glass of water, drink half, and concentrate on what it feels like in your stomach. Then drink the other half. People notice an immediate difference. The water stretches the stomach and they feel full.”