The Mindless Margin

13 May

Hello all!
This is my first real post and I’m very excited about it. I am in the midst of a WONDERFUL book right now. You know it’s good when you’re only halfway through and you’re already raving about it. It’s called Mindless Eating and it’s written by food psychologist Brian Wansink. Much of his research took place at U of I in Champaign, IL so that makes it a little more interesting to us midwesterners. The book details all the “invisible” things that cause us to mindlessly eat more than we need. Some may call this blissful unawareness, but I call it dangerous. If we mindlessly eat just 100 extra calories a day (18 mini pretzels, 10 almonds, 1 slice of American cheese, 2 TBSP mayonnaise, 1 TBSP butter), we’ll gain 10 pounds by the end of the year! The scary part is we usually aren’t sure where the 10 pounds came from. Now, I’m NOT saying that you have to ban grilled cheese from your life or that if you’re hungry for some pretzels you better just forget about it. Because we can mindlessly eat 100 extra calories everyday, we can just as easily mindlessly cut those 100 calories (or even more!) out. This is what Wansink calls “The Mindless Margin”– the margin of calories that you consume or don’t consume without even knowing it. The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up from the book so far…

1. Downsize Your Dinner Plates

Since the 1960’s, the average American dinner plate has increased from 9 in. to 12 in. Think about your parents/grandparents dinner plates or the ones you find in antique stores- most likely they are significantly smaller than the ones in your kitchen today. We now have an extra 3 in. of plate space to fill with food. And let’s all be honest, we sure as heck aren’t leaving that extra space empty. Bigger plates = bigger portions. And since many of us are long-time members of the “Clean Plate Club”, you better believe that extra food we serve ourselves is going straight into our mouths. (**Side Note: if you are a parent, pleeease I beg you do NOT force your children to clean their plates. Children are way better at listening to their internal hunger and fullness cues than adults are, and this is a dangerous habit that will stick with them forever!) Here’s a little optical illusion to prove my point:

Which dot is bigger? The one on the right looks bigger, but they are actually the exact same size. If you serve yourself a slice of pizza on a 9 or 10 in. plate it’s going to look a lot bigger and more filling than if you served it on a 12 in. plate. It might look lonely on the 12 in. plate so you’ll be tempted to grab another slice to keep it company. Don’t have the extra dough to buy new dishes? This illusion also works in reverse. Use your large dinner plates for salad and vegetables (you’ll probably dish out more than usual) and use your smaller salad plates for the more caloric foods. Try it, I bet you won’t even miss those 3 in. Mom/Grandma always knows best 🙂

2. See Your Food

If every bite of food you had eaten appeared on the kitchen table at the end of the day, would you be horrified? If every handful of chips you had just eaten while watching Days of Our Lives suddenly appeared in front of you, would you think twice before reaching in the bag again? Research shows that if we don’t preplate our food, we almost always overindulge. This applies to potato chips, M&M’s, popcorn, and ice cream. NEVER eat straight from the package because you will inevitably lose count. Whether you are having a snack at home or enjoying hors d’oeuvres at a party, put everything you want to eat on a plate before you start eating, then put the package away or sit far away from the food table. This way, you are conscious of how much you are eating and less likely to reach for more.

3. Full vs. No Longer Hungry

There are two words that are very common among American households and they are uttered at the end of a meal to signal that the meal is over. “I’m full”. This seems like a reasonable, ordinary phrase, but it is only ordinary to Americans. Instead of “I’m full”, other cultures can be heard uttering some version of the words “I’m no longer hungry”. These cultures believe in eating until you are about 80% full. I’m not asking you to deprive yourself or to only eat enough to take the edge off your hunger. Most studies show that people can eat 20% less without even missing it. Next time you dish out pasta or mashed potatoes, give yourself 20% less and see if you miss it. If you’re decreasing high calorie foods by 20%, then you can increase your fruit and vegetable servings by 20%.

4. Out of Site, Out of Mind

Many of us may have cute little candy dishes set out around the house. We claim that “they are for guests”, a small display of hospitality. But when the house is quiet and there are no “guests” in sight, we are faced with that evil little candy dish every time we walk through the living room. The same goes for that half-eaten apple pie covered in cellophane that we see every time we open the fridge and that leftover puppy chow sitting on the counter in a clear tupperware container. Having to ask ourselves whether or not we should have a piece of candy corn every time we walk by the coffee table is an unnecessary (and cruel, I might add) test of our willpower. Think about it- if you don’t see the puppy chow every time you walk in the kitchen, how likely are you to consider eating it every hour? Out of sight out of mind. You have to make overeating inconvenient. Don’t leave treats out around the house. Or if you do, put them in opaque covered containers or cover them with aluminum foil instead of clear cellophane. If you aren’t constantly faced with them, then you won’t constantly think about them. On the flip side, make healthy eating convenient. Leave fruit out on the kitchen counter and stock your fridge with cut-up veggies in clear tupperware. Have a candy dish on your desk at work? Put it somewhere else farther away from your desk or tuck it away in a drawer out of sight. If you have to get up to get to it, you might decide it’s not worth it.

5. Zen Dinner Table

Why are fast food restaurants always decked out in bright lights, bright colors, loud noises, and hard surfaces? And fancy Italian restaurants are decorated with muted tones, soft music, white table cloths, and relaxing music? This is no accident. The atmosphere in which you eat effects how much you eat and how fast you eat. If you’re feeling alert and a bit agitated (the sound of 20 small children screaming in McDonald’s Play Place anyone?), you are more likely to scarf down your meal and get out of there. Eating quickly is dangerous because it takes 20 minutes for our brain to get the message that we are full. When you only spend 10 minutes inhaling your supersize value meal, your body doesn’t even get the chance to tell you when you’re full. When the atmosphere is soothing, you feel more relaxed and you can take the time to focus on what and how much you’re eating and enjoy your meal more because, believe or not, a pleasant atmosphere also makes us perceive the food as tastier. However, lingering over your meal can also be dangerous. It gives you more time to dip in to the bread basket and more time to order another drink. Set up your at-home dinner atmosphere so it’s relaxing and soothing, but keep an eye on how much you eat (use those smaller plates, perhaps?)

I know this post is a little long, but thanks for sticking with me! Let me know if any of these tips work for you! Also, if you’re interested in reading this book (I urge everyone to read it! It’s very eye-opening but also witty. I find myself laughing out loud) I provided a link to Amazon. Just click on the book title. Don’t want to buy it? Check it out from the Library of Kayli. I’m happy to share 🙂 Like I said, I’m only halfway through the book so stay tuned for more tips….


4 Responses to “The Mindless Margin”

  1. Deb May 14, 2010 at 12:37 am #

    I am so excited about your blog. Maybe this will be the motivation I need to get back on track.

    • kp May 14, 2010 at 1:46 am #

      I’m so glad you like it! Let me know if you have any burning questions or topics you’re interested in 🙂


  1. Diet Do or Diet Disaster? « Running on Sunshine - May 28, 2010

    […] another bite and realize it’s gone already and you don’t remember eating it! No more mindless eating! When you are tempted to keep chowing down even when you know you aren’t hungry, remind […]

  2. The Grand Finale « Running on Sunshine - August 6, 2010

    […] 4) Watch your portions. You’ve heard this one a million times. Restaurants are known for their HUGE portions. Many include 3-4 servings. You can use the old “can you please wrap half the portion in a doggie bag before you bring the meal out” trick OR you can test your willpower (I never suggest this) and only eat a proper-sized portion. Another trick: use your smaller salad or bread plate to serve yourself from your platter dinner plate. (Remember the plate size rules?) […]

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