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Cues to Eat Healthy

Most of my blogs are on the psychology of eating—the why and how of it. However, there’s a different set of whys and hows that are based on perceptions regarding food—how it’s presented or served and why our appetites react as they do. In addition to changing our brains, we can change our environment to eat more healthfully.
According to author Brian Wansink, a professor in the fields of consumer behavior and nutritional science (“Fooled by Food,” Nutrition Action Healthletter, 4/13, pp. 3-7), people overeat or choose non-nutritious over nutritious foods for many reasons, some of which are outside of our awareness. Here are his easy, effective suggestions.

  • Did you know that you’re better off using a tall, thin bowl or glass than a short, wide one? According to his research, people eat less using the former than the latter.
  • Make nutritious foods more visible and non-nutritious foods less visible. Just switch them around in your pantry or refrigerator so healthy foods are more visible.
  • For non-hunger cravings, Wansink recommends having one bite of a food, then moving away from it for 10 minutes by doing something else. I’d add that you’ll do better deciding whether to continue eating or not if you’re not having the debate with the food in front of you, so move yourself elsewhere.
  • To manage your food intake in a restaurant, choose a window seat or one with good lighting. Avoid sitting near the TV, bar or dark corners. Wansink also suggests going to restaurants that are relaxing. In my mind, that means those that don’t have loud music blaring or tables so close together that you have to shout to be heard.
  • At home as well, create a pleasant meal environment: no loud TV, maybe soft music, and perhaps even “candlelight instead of fluorescent light.” Wansink advises that “The more relaxed the environment, the more relaxed you are. You eat more slowly, you like the food more, and you end up eating less.”

Consider your reaction to these suggestions. They’re simple enough, but you may not have thought of them before. If they sound appealing, decide how you’ll remember them. How about changing your plates and serving meals on large salad plates rather than standard-size dinner plates? Visualizing the restaurants you generally eat in and where you might sit to make the atmosphere more conducive to mindful eating? What could you do this minute to make changes: move around nutritious and non-nutritious foods in your cupboard or fridge? If you make even a few of these small shifts, you might see big changes in your eating.