Dr. Day is a cardiologist and Medical Director of Heart Rhythm Services at his practice in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowship in cardiology at Stanford University. He is board certified in Cardiology and Cardiac Electrophysiology.
21 Ways to Stop Mindless Eating
Most people gain one to two pounds a year. If you do the math, that works out to overeating by about 10 calories a day. In this article, I’m going to show you how to stop mindless eating and effortlessly get you back to a healthy weight. In addition, you’ll also learn simple tricks to get your family eating better as well.
Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think
This past week, I just read the book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Dr. Brian Wansink. Dr. Wansink is a famous Cornell University professor who has published hundreds of scientific studies on mindless eating.
This article covers the key 18 lessons I got from his book. I have also included my own three favorite ways to stop mindless eating for a grand total of 21 ways to stop mindless eating.
As my readers know, I carefully back up all my articles with scientific studies. If you want to refer back to the science behind each of these ways to stop mindless eating, please read Dr. Wansink’s book. His book is extremely well written and you’ll be glad you did.
1. The 20% Rule
Dr. Wansink’s studies show that you can eat 20% less without feeling physical hunger. To capitalize on this scientific finding, eat 20% less of the main course and 20% less of the desert. To keep your plate looking “full,” add 20% or more vegetables.
2. Make it Look Big
Feeling full at the end of a meal usually has more to do with satisfying psychological hunger rather than physical hunger. If you see a lot of food on your plate, your brain naturally thinks all that food will make you feel full.
To make your plate of food appear as big as possible, load up on the vegetables. As long as you are eating vegetables in a healthy way, you can eat as much as you possibly can with next to zero calories.
3. Only Plate What You Plan to Eat
Going back for a second or third helping almost always causes overeating. Dr. Wansink’s studies show that if you put everything you’re going to eat on your plate from the beginning, you’ll eat 14% less.
The key to making this work is to put your leftovers in the fridge as soon as you are done plating your food. By doing this, you won’t be tempted for seconds or thirds. The only exception to this rule is for vegetables. Always keep vegetables on the table throughout the entire meal so that you will be encouraged to eat as many vegetables as possible.
4. Make Vegetables Easy
The more food choices you have the more people will eat. Use this trick to your advantage when it comes to vegetables. Offer lots of vegetable choices.
Of course, the opposite is also true. If you want to prevent overeating of desert, only offer one choice.
It is also important to remember that when it comes to eating, most people are basically lazy. If it is easy, they’ll eat it. Once again, use this to your advantage. Make vegetables as easy as you possibly can.
Always have vegetables cut up. One neighbor we have keeps fresh cut up vegetables on her kitchen table all day long. She keeps the vegetables cool with ice underneath them. You could also use this approach to keep fresh veggies on your coffee table for TV viewing.
5. Make Junk Food a Hassle
If people have to work for their food, they probably won’t eat it. This is why junk food free homes work so well. If you have to get in the car and drive to the store for a sugar fix, then you probably won’t do it.
6. Tall Glasses and Small Plates
Tall glasses look like you are drinking more. So if you want to minimize the empty calories of fruit juice or alcohol, always serve them in tall glasses.
Likewise, as most people need to eating everything on their plate to psychologically feel full, use small plates for everything but vegetables. This way you won’t load up on the stuff that adds to your waistline.
7. Out of Sight Out of Mind
You want what you see. Thus, if you can’t achieve a junk food free home then at least keep this stuff out of sight.
This principle also works for eating more of the healthy stuff. Make vegetables as visible as possible. The more often you see vegetables the more likely you will be to eat them.
8. Restaurant Tips
People tend to eat more in groups. This is especially true for men who often subconsciously feel that overeating is a sign of masculinity.
If you are at a restaurant with a group of people skip the bread basket, split the entree, and pass on the desert. Here is how you manage this.
When the waitress first comes to your table ask the group, would it be reasonable if we skip the bread. No one wants to be “unreasonable” or be the one singled out as the person who just wants to eat bread.
Next, split your entree with someone. If you can’t find anyone to split your meal with then have the waiter pack half your meal in a to go box before it is ever served.
Last, when the waitress asks, does anyone want desert always be the first to respond. Quickly say no thank you. Generally speaking, the first to reply signals to the group if it is OK or not to have desert.
9. Don’t Multitask
If you try to multitask while eating you will eat way too much. Studies consistently show that distracted eaters eat more. A lot more. It really doesn’t matter if it is the newspaper, TV, computer, or a good book the result is always the same.
If you enjoy eating while doing something else then either have preprepared portion sizes or eat vegetables. Never eat from the box or bag when multitasking.
10. The 20 Minute Rule
It takes at least 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal you’re full. Thus, pace yourself to take at least 20 minutes to finish your plate of food. This way, you’ll be full and won’t need seconds.
Two great tips to slowing down is to use chopsticks or eat with your non-dominant hand. Dr. Wansink has observed that obese people are far more likely to eat with a fork than with chopsticks at Chinese restaurants. An added benefit of eating with chopsticks, or your non-dominant hand, is that you will form new brain connections that may help to prevent dementia.
11. Gum Over Snacks
Sometimes you just need something to chew on when you’re not in the mood for vegetables. While there is some debate as to how healthy sugar-free gum is, I would argue that a piece of gum is a lot healthier than a bag of Oreo cookies.
12. Never Eat from the Bag or Box
If you eat from the bag or box, nine times out of ten you will eat more than you should. Thus, unless you are snacking on vegetables, always put your snacks into small bags.
This approach is especially helpful with kids. Small bags have been proven to help with eating the right portions.
13. Set the Right Mood for Healthy Dinners
Dr. Wansink’s studies show that the right dinner environment makes food taste better. Use this to your advantage when you want your family to eat better. With the right mood music, candles, and your your nicest plates and cups those vegetables will taste amazing.
14. Make Comfort Foods More Comforting
We all have comfort foods. Foods that we like to eat when we are happy or sad.
Rather than deny yourself this comfort, reengineer them to be healthier. Substitute in better ingredients. If you are unwilling to substitute in healthier ingredients, then limit portion sizes by the techniques described above.
15. Pair Healthy Foods to Happy Events
Rather than having your kids associate junk food with happy events or holidays for the rest of their lives, change the script. Who says you can’t have a great-tasting healthy vegetable dip and raw vegetables for your Super Bowl party or birthday party?
The same holds true for Christmas and Thanksgiving. Create great tasting vegetable traditions for every holiday. By making positive associations with healthy foods you can save your kids a lifetime of pain in trying to deal with food addictions.
16. The Power of the Grocery Store Shopper
The person who does the grocery shopping has a big responsibility. According to Wansink’s studies, whoever does the shopping ultimately controls 72% of what the family eats. Use this as a great opportunity to keep your family healthy.
17. Never Believe Healthy Food Labels
Most of the healthy food labels you see are for foods that aren’t really heathy. When was the last time you saw a healthy food label on a bag of broccoli or carrots?
The scary thing is that processed foods with a “healthy food label” subconsciously cause people to eat more. Don’t be fooled by clever marketeers. Just remember, if it requires a healthy food label then it isn’t really healthy.
18. Healthy Food Rules
Create rules for yourself to strengthen your willpower. For example, one rule you could create is that you can only have a desert on days when you have worked out at least an hour.
19. The Fork in the Salad Dressing Trick
Did you know that a McDonald’s salad has more calories than the Big Mac? How can this be when raw vegetables have next to zero calories?
The problem is with the salad dressing. All of the calories, sugar, and unhealthy oils in most salad dressings can completely undo any potential health benefits of the salad.
If you are not in a position to make your own salad dressing with a little olive oil, vinegar, and other ingredients then use the fork in the salad dressing trick. While this trick was not in Dr. Wansink’s book, this is what I do whenever I eat a salad outside of our home.
First, always ask for the salad dressing on the side. Next, after you have taken a big bite of salad then lightly dip your fork in the salad dressing. I find that by eating salads this way I barely touch the salad dressing and don’t feel deprived in the process.
20. Brush Your Teeth
What should you do if you’re sitting at the table, you know you’re full, but yet you feel compelled to keep eating? If this is something that also happens to you then there is a simple trick, brush your teeth. Psychologically, I have found that once I get up and brush my teeth I no longer feel compelled to keep eating.
If you’re at a restaurant, and you just can’t leave the table to brush your teeth, an alternative strategy is to chew a piece of gum. For me, chewing a piece of gum also signals to my brain that I am done eating.
21. The Broccoli Test
Are you really hungry or are you just trying to self-medicate or avoid something you really should be doing? Sometimes it is hard to tell.
If you really want to know if your hunger is physical or psychological, try the broccoli test. This test is simple. If you are hungry enough to eat broccoli, then you are really hungry. If you don’t feel like eating broccoli, then you’re hunger is just psychological.
Take Home Message
In my experience, it usually is no mystery as to why someone is overweight or not eating as healthy as they should. If all it takes is eating 10 less calories a day to not gain weight, here are 21 ways to stop mindless eating that should make it easy. Try them out and keep the tips that work for you.
What are you doing to stop mindless eating? Please leave your own tips below.
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.