Eat mindfully

Avoid mindless eating over the holidays with these practical tips.

The holidays are traditionally a time to indulge in great food – mashed potatoes laced with butter, creamy cheeses, and rich desserts. And splurging a little isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What can expand your waistline – and make you feel overfull and groggy – is overeating. But new research can help you keep control over your eating, so that you can have your cake – and your health too.

Slow down
Advice to slow down when eating has been around for years. The theory is that it takes some time for the signal that you’re full to reach your awareness. New research conducted at the University of Rhode Island, presented at the North American Association for the Study of Obesity (NAASO)’s conference this October, seem to prove this dieting lore right.

In the study, 30 women made two visits to Melanson’s lab. Each time they were given a large plate of pasta and told to eat as much as they wanted. When they were told to eat quickly, they consumed 646 calories in nine minutes, but when they were encouraged to pause between bites and chew each mouthful 15 to 20 times, they ate just 579 calories in 29 minutes.

They also reported feeling more satiated at the end of the slower meal, and even an hour later. As well, the women said they enjoyed the meal more when they ate more slowly.

Watch – no, really, watch – your portion size
In his new book Mindless Eating, Brian Wansink, Ph.D., of Cornell University, describes an experiment in his opening chapter. Moviegoers were offered a free bucket of popcorn, some large buckets, some medium, and some small. All of the popcorn was stale – relatively unappetizing, especially compared to holiday goodies.

After the movie they were asked about what they ate. Here’s his account of what happened:

“When the people who had been given the large buckets handed their leftover popcorn to us, we said, ‘Some people tonight were given medium-size buckets of popcorn, and others, like yourself, were given these large-size buckets. We have found that the average person who is given a large-size container eats more than if they are given a medium-size container. Do you think you ate more because you had the large size?’ Most disagreed. Many smugly said, ‘That wouldn’t happen to me,’ ‘Things like that don’t trick me,’ or ‘I’m pretty good at knowing when I’m full.’

That may be what they believed, but it is not what happened.

Weighing the buckets told us that the big-bucket group people ate an average of 173 more calories of popcorn.”

The lesson for holiday eaters? Use a small plate, and choose your fare carefully. It’s probably best not to sit in front of the chips and dip, or keep a platter right by your plate.

Dr. Wansink’s book provides a lot more information on the research into eating habits and how to apply it.