Dr. Brian Wansink is author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, a bestseller which examines the psychological reasons for why we eat, and why we eat more than we should, without being fully aware of it.

As director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, Dr. Wansink has conducted extensive research some of which he discussed in a lecture at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association, on Aug. 5, 2011, entitled, “Modifying the Food Environment: From Mindless Eating to Mindlessly Eating Better.”

He discussed strategies people can begin using immediately to make the titular shift to better eating habits and shift away from mindless eating. He stresses the importance of being conscious of our food choices, and part of this is changing the environment in which we eat.

empty plate

While you may find eating on a small plate among the typical list of tips to lose weight, Dr. Wansink revealed a study that shows just how intensely the size of our plates or bowls or other food containers directly influence how much we consume. He noted that in a study, children poured twice as much cereal into a 16 ounce bowl than an 8-ounce bowl.

He noted a study of 168 moviegoers who who had just had dinner were given either fresh or stale popcorn, in containers of differing sizes. Those who were given what he termed “extra-super-size ginormous buckets” ate 34 to 45 percent more popcorn regardless of whether or not it was stale.

And of course, it should be noted that movie theater popcorn is notoriously high in calories — racking up as much as 1,200 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat one of those “ginormous buckets” depending on the particular movie chain.

See more details at the official press release from the APA

As Dr. Wansink explains it you will have better success in changing your environment than in changing your mind. Here are some of his additional recommendations:

  • Rearranging your kitchen so that your healthy foods are at eye-level in your refrigerator and cupboards, and and unhealthy ones are kept out of sight.
  • keeping unhealthy foods out of immediate line of sight and moving healthier foods to eye-level in the cupboard and refrigerator.
  • Avoiding eating in front of the television and opt instead to eat in the dining room or the kitchen.

Check out a video of Dr. Wansink discussing these principles of mindless eating and how to combat it below. This is not the APA lecture, but an earlier one. We will post the latest one as soon as it is available.

Yes, it is no secret that portion sizes — as well as plates, bowls and glasses and cups — have expanded. The key is to consume foods dense in calories in smaller portions, while at the same time, capitalize on consuming foods low in caloric density in higher quantities. Non-starchy vegetables, prepared without oils and butters, and spiced up with the likes of balsamic vinegar and herbs and spices, can be our allies.

Capitalizing on calorie density of foods is the cornerstone principle of a variety of diets including the Volumentrics Diet, as well as the McDougall Plan and Dr. Fuhrman’s Eat to Live and Rip Esselstyn’s Engine 2 Diet, just to name a few. Diets like these help us gain control of our eating, as we shift towards eating foods that will help us lose weight as well as weight management.

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