Improve food choice through 'mindless eating'

LOS ANGELES "Americans live by a lot of food myths, but I'm going to talk about two food myths that are huge," said Cornell researcher Dr. Brian Wansink.

You may not know Brian Wansink, but he knows a lot about your food choices.

"The biggest determinant of how much we serve ourselves ends up being what the size of the plate is in front of us," said Wansink.

Wansink's "Mindless Eating" study proved the larger the plate, glass or bowl, the more we will eat.

One of his first studies invited people to eat soup for lunch, but unbeknownst to the diner the bowl would refill, replacing the soup as sips were taken. So visually, it didn't look like they had eaten much. Everyone who sat down ate far more soup than usual -- which helped him reveal two food myths.

"They believe that they are smarter than a bowl," said Wansink. "The second myth is the fact that they know when they are full."

We'll drink more if a glass is short and fat versus tall and thin, and eat more when a plate is 12 inches, not 9.

Apparently this is an American problem. When the French were asked how they knew they were full: "Their number-one answer was: They knew they were through eating dinner when they no longer were hungry," said Wansink.

But when he asked 150 Chicagoans: "They know they are through eating dinner when the plate is empty," said Wansink.

Since the research was published, various companies now offer taller, thinner glasses and smaller plates. Even restaurants are catching on.

"They found out that having a 10-inch plate, for instance, makes that 6-ounce tenderloin look huge," said Wansink.

His findings helped launch "The Smarter Lunch Room Initiative" that has changed the way students choose food. It involves strategic placement of healthier food along with putting healthy eaters at the front of the line.

"But they're a tremendous herd animal, so if you get one person who's leading the group of four kids to all of a sudden go toward the salad line instead of toward the chocolate, fried, potato-chip line, the others follow," said Wansink.

But Wansink doesn't think we should be mindful about our eating because frankly, that's too much effort for most of us. He does recommend the power of three. Make three easy 100-calorie changes that you can make without much sacrifice.

That new mindless habit could help you lose up to 30 pounds in a year while making some health gains.

It could be something as simple as opting for mustard rather than mayo; oatmeal in lieu of granola; no whip on our coffee drink; and water instead of soda. Or maybe measure a tablespoon of salad dressing instead of two. The idea is to create a natural environment that has you eating less and liking it.

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