In the battle between mindful and mindless eating, sometimes mindless wins
At the beginning of the year, I wrote a New Year’s Day story about how to have a more mindful attitude about food.
A few months later, I interviewed an author at an event at UT who takes a totally different approach to eating healthy.
That guy, Brian Wansink, who runs the foremost food behavior lab in the country at Cornell University, has written several books based on his research that finds, again and again, that environmental changes to how we eat are far more effective than relying on humans’ willpower not to eat that one more piece of chocolate sitting right in front of you on your desk.
I still try to stick with the mindful approach for my own eating because it forces me to confront the underlying emotional and physical reasons behind what/why/how I eat, but I’m also become quite an advocate for Wansink’s philosophy about conquering the “mindless” eating habits that we all end up doing anyway.
In his latest book, “Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life” (William Morrow, $26.99), Wansink walks readers through the five primary sources of food and surroundings in which families eat: at home, work, school, grocery stores and restaurants.
We fall into habits in each setting: always ordering the same kinds of dishes and cleaning the plate at our favorite eatery, buying that extra case of soda because it’s on sale at the grocery store, and crazy, unconscious things like facing the buffet line at an all-you-can eat restaurant.
For instance, researchers noted that 73 percent of “slim” diners participating in the study sat facing with their backs to the buffet, and “heavy” diners sat an average of 16 feet closer to the mountains of tempting food.
It’s a science-based approach to re-training your brain and body away from the “see food” diet, and one that’s hard to argue against in this world full of subtle influences on what we eat. If you’re trying to get your food intake under control, you absolutely should check out his work and try out some of the suggestions in your own home and workplace, like buying smaller plates or storing fruits and vegetables on the fridge rack instead of in the bottom drawers.