I find the conundrum of developed societies gaining weight (and having an irritable, difficult time ‘losing it’) to be a fascinating study.
What I find most interesting about it is that unhealthy eating habits are largely linked to emotional/psychological causes. This is something most people are not aware of, and in effect lie to themselves about how much they are eating, or eat more than they need because deep down, there is a source of happiness not being met and realized.
For that reason, I am studying psychology of healing at Naropa University (in Colorado) this fall to merge with my holistic nutrition practice and culinary “food as medicine” approach. I do believe that by learning how we can heal emotional ties to food and remedy insecurities, optimal well-being and higher rates of success sticking to healthy lifestyle choices long-term will be experienced.
But the purpose of this article is not for me to ramble about my excitement to delve further into this field, but to share 11 Psychology Tricks you and others you know can use to easily eat less, and find your balanced weight naturally.
*Note* As I promote a predominantly plant-based, live food diet, there will be some 80/10/10 fruit fanatics reading this who might propose that we can “eat as much as we want”, and similarly ketogenic die-hards who believe that “unlimited fat is healthy”. Guys, if there’s anything I’ve learned from almost 7 years of experience and research, it’s that moderation and balance really are key.
The body doesn’t thrive (in my opinion) when stuffed with unlimited amounts of food. If we consume super high-quality products and eat only what we need, our bodies actually can become more efficient at utilizing the nutrition consumed. It also gives the digestive system a much-needed break, and most peoples’ stomachs, colons, livers, kidneys – you name it – are taxed and demanding a short stint of relief.
Simply, we – as a collective – in our country (and in other areas around the world – Australia, Britain, Mexico, etc… – are not really dealing with a food shortage crisis (though from an environmental perspective, yes, there are some concerns), we are experiencing diseases of affluence from an excess, and this theory continues to be backed by more findings.
And you see, though the general expidenture of energy hasn’t really changed in the last 100 – 150 years, we as a population are eating more. This is a big problem, because that means too much food is being consumed, and the body has to do something with it.
Interestingly, Eric Barker at “Barking Up the Wrong Tree” covered a study which identified by how much men and women are on average overeating. The results follow:
“Reported consumption [of food] increased by 268 calories for men and 143 calories for women between the two surveys. This increase is more than enough to explain the increase in steady-state weight… The available evidence suggests that calories expended have not changed significantly since 1980, while calories consumed have risen markedly.”
The overview of the findings can be found here (and will likely make more sense if read through, as we’re not going to fully delve into them in this piece).
Brian Wansink is a Cornell University researcher who studies how we eat, and he was appointed by the US White House to head up changes to US Dietary Guidelines.
In the course of his research, Wansink has found that: modern-day populations eat for a lot of reasons – but not usually because they’re hungry.
“Everyone — every single one of us — eats how much we eat largely because of what’s around us. We overeat not because of hunger but because of family and friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colors and candles, shapes and smells, distractions and distances, cupboards and containers. This list is almost as endless as it’s invisible,” says Brian.
In other words, we are slaves to context. We eat because we’re around friends, a food is ‘free’, things are tasty, etc… And in result, those living in developed locations have been trained how to respond to “food cues” rather than “feelings” and signs from the body signaling it is hungry.
And to prove that what we see is usually more important than what we eat, Wansink carried out a fascinating research experiment:
Wansink rigged bowls to be “bottomless”, meaning a hidden tube made sure that no matter how much soup a subject ate, the bowl would not be empty. Then he fed 15 people.
What do you think happened?
People with normal bowls ate 15 ounces. But some with the rigged bowls ate more than a quart.
What made people “full” was their eyes, not their stomachs. And his experiment proved this.
“Surely diners realized that they ate more from the refillable bowl? Absolutely not. With a couple of exceptions, such as Mr. Quart Man, people didn’t comment about feeling full. Even though they ate 73 percent more, they rated themselves the same as the others—after all, they only had about half a bowl of soup.”
What Wansink realized is that you can increase or decrease the number of calories someone eats by 20% without them realizing. He calls this the “mindless margin”, and over a year it can help someone lose or gain ten pounds.
“If we eat way too little, we know it. If we eat way too much, we know it. But there is a calorie range—a mindless margin—where we feel fine and are unaware of small differences. That is, the difference between 1,900 calories and 2,000 calories is one we cannot detect, nor can we detect the difference between 2,000 and 2,100 calories. But over the course of a year, this mindless margin would either cause us to lose ten pounds or to gain ten pounds.”
This is fascinating stuff, right?!
Being slaves to context, we can then use this research to help us effortlessly eat less, live more balanced lives, and lose weight if it is a goal. (And 6 out of 10 Americans at present are trying to reduce their waist lines).
Here are 11 tips taken from Wansink’s research:
1) Change What’s Visible:
Obviously I push for you to choose only healthy ingredients to have in your house, but if you have difficulty saying “no” to certain foods, just make sure they are not sitting out. Have them tucked away in the cupboards for a snack every few months.
“Out of sight is out of mind. If the candy dish sits on your desk, you consistently have to make a heroic decision whether you will resist the chocolate that has been giving you the eye all day. The easy solution is to lose the dish, move the dish, or replace the candy with something you personally don’t like.”
2) Sit Facing AWAY From The Buffet
Again, this research is fascinating to me. When Wansink studied slim people vs overweight people at an all-you-can-eat buffet, he found that slim people were more likely to sit facing away from the buffet, while chubby people were 3x (!) more likely to sit facing it.
“Moreover, they were three times more likely to sit facing the food, where they watched all the people who went back for seconds and thirds and fourths. Every time they saw someone take another lap around the stir-fry, it reminded them that was “normal” behavior.”
3) Use Smaller Dishes
Interestingly (and I watch a lot of food psychology programs), those people who tend to eat on smaller plates rather than large eat about 29% less food when studied – yet both groups report satiation.
““In sight, in stomach.” We eat what we see, not what we don’t. Our Syracuse Study showed that we could roughly predict a person’s weight by the food they had sitting out.” says Brian Syracuse who studied how by looking at what people have in their home, their size/health can be predicted.”
(Have tons of fruit on your counters or tons of junk food? You’re likely to either way 8 pounds more if it’s junk food, and 8 pounds less if not).
4) Sit Away From Office Goodies
When friendly staff members bring donuts, candy, and/or any other unhealthy food into the office, people tend to reach for one, two, three servings without giving it a second thought. Again, it’s about the context. It’s “free”, so somewhere in our brains (likely when our parents gave us treats and reprimanded us for not finishing all the food on our plates) we subconsciously write off such indulgences.
But you see, that’s where low-grade habits are formed. These foods physiologically cause cravings, and little by little, can add up and cause massive weight gain down the road.
“Slim people even acted differently after taking their food. They trotted back to faraway booths along the walls, and— here’s what’s cool— 73 percent faced away from the buffet. Heavy diners did the opposite. They sat at tables that were on average sixteen feet closer to the buffet.”
“People who had candy in or on their desk reported weighing 15.4 pounds more than those who didn’t.”
So you see? Mindless eating can cause stored excess later on. Bring healthy snacks and you won’t feel deprived, and you’ll likely have more realized energy and a happier mood. It’s not just optimism, it’s science.
5) Plan Ahead
This one is huge, and I have been sharing this for years with clients, family, and friends. “If you fail to plan ahead, you plan to fail.” It’s that simple.
(One of my favorite tricks is to take green smoothiesto work and keep in the fridge until lunch. They take 5 minutes to make and are so nutritious and filling!)
Our society has not yet worked itself out to offer affordable, convenient, healthy options (unless you’re willing to drive 20 minutes out of your way to go to a health food store – still…), therefore you have to be the master in your life and pack a healthy lunch, do responsible grocery shopping (by skipping most of the middle aisles and their offerings), keeping healthy treats in the car for you and your kids, and stocking up on natural, organic, and quality, plant-based snacks to keep in your desk at work.
And if you can, bring green smoothiesin mason jars to sip on throughout the day, keep a healthy salad dressing in your office fridge so you can use it when you get a salad bar at lunch, and keep fresh fruit around – like all the time.
Research validates what is being shared:
The same study comparing skinny people against overweight individuals at all-you-can eat buffets determined that “The skinny people at the buffet looked at everything, made a plan, and then grabbed their food. The heavy people just dove right in.”
“Slim diners “scouted” out the buffet before grabbing a plate— before even picking up a plate, 71 percent of them walked around and scanned the salad bar, the steam trays holding fourteen seemingly identical chicken dishes, the sushi station, and the dessert bar. Only after they figured out the lay of the land did they grab their plate and swoop down to cherry-pick their favorites, with an eagle eye on the stir-fry. Heavier diners did the opposite. They were twice as likely to charge ahead to the nearest stack of plates, take one, and fill it up. They didn’t skip to the foods they really liked. Instead they served themselves a bit of everything they didn’t hate.”
From physiological urgencies to eat (parasites, candida, emotional suppression, food addiction), those who are overweight do have more drive to just ‘get in there’, but it’s a habit that is not healthy, and will contribute to weight gain further on.
Be like the ‘skinnies’ by giving a good, hard look (or thought) into what you want to eat and/or prepare for dinner, make a plan, and then stick to it.
And let’s face it guys, when you just feel accomplished by your choices to eat healthier and actually succeed, you feel pretty darn good. So plan ahead.
6) Eat A Little Bit, THEN Go Shopping
Oh goodness, I am guilty of this quite often. You know, you’ve done it too. You’re ravenous when you go shopping, and end up spending and buying near 60% more food than you anticipated, just because you keep forgetting what you put in your shopping cart.
But for the majority of the population who hasn’t trained their senses to only buy healthfully, they in fact tend to buy worse food rather than larger quantities. It’s interesting, right?
By the same book I keep quoting (Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life):
“They don’t buy more, but they buy worse. When we’re hungry, we buy foods that are convenient enough to eat right away and will stop our cravings. We don’t go for broccoli and tilapia; we go for carbs in a box or bag. We go for one of the “Four C’s”: crackers, chips, cereal, or candy. We want packages we can open and eat with our right hand while we drive home with our left.”
So pretty simple, right? Have a couple pieces of fruit or healthy protein bar, and then waltz into the store. Your wallet and waistline will thank you.
7) Be Present
Americans LOVE their TV dinners, but being distracted while eating is one of the worst things you can do for your health and intended longevity.
Anything that distracts us tends to cause us to eat more, because we’re not paying attention to the flavor, consistency, texture, contrast, etc.. of the food, and in effect may not feel as satiated. I believe the same can be said for working and eating as well.
Via Bryan’s book “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think”:
“The basic rule: distractions of all kinds make us eat, forget how much we eat, and extend how long we eat—even when we’re not hungry… The longer they watched TV, the more they ate. In fact, if they watched TV for an hour, they ate 28 percent more popcorn than if they watched for a half hour.”
Plus, when you’re present food tastes better. You can express and share your day with loved ones, and you’re likely to appreciate more in life if your attention isn’t being absorbed by a silver screen.
8) Read Food Labels
This tip has been shown to be more effective than exercise. (Got your attention there, didn’t I?!)
Being aware of the types of ingredients in your food (and their less-than-optimal effects, if any) can deter you from binging on foods you know aren’t food for you.
“Label users who did not exercise displayed a slightly greater likelihood of weight loss than those who exercised but did not read food labels.”
And just from reading food labels. It’s likely to be a habit of those who have learned to override their impulsive behavior:
“Impulsivity was the strongest predictor of who would be overweight, the researchers found. Study participants who scored in the top 10 percent on impulsivity weighed an average of 22 lbs. more than those in the bottom 10 percent, according to the study.”
That is why strengthening that Manipura chakra (will-power, 3rd) is so powerful at helping you create a life you love. You need to strengthen your determination to succeed, and you will.
9) Slow Down…
I’ve cooked / made food (raw, vegan) for doctors and had them wolf it down within 30 seconds flat in front me. Partly because it tasted so darn good, and second because they had not been educated on the necessity to chew every mouthful 30-50 times for optimal digestion and to aid their stomach’s ability to recognize when it is full.
This step is critically important, as research shows that eating slower gives time for the “fullness” signal to kick in:
“That study found that women who were told to eat quickly consumed 646 calories in nine minutes, but the same women consumed just 579 calories in 29 minutes when encouraged to pause between bites and chew each mouthful 15 to 20 times before swallowing.”
How long does it take for the “fullness” signals to ‘kick in’? About twenty minutes.
The issue is that most people have trained themselves to eat super fast for work breaks, and before that time is up, have polished off a large double cheeseburger, milkshake, side of fries, and a dessert. Which is waaaay too much food, and NOT of good quality.
By being mindful (#8) and chewing your food more than 30 times each bite, you WILL experience better digestion and likely lose weight as you give your stomach enough time to recognize the amount of food you’ve consumed.
10) Love Simplicity
Variety is NOT the spice of life. Just because you don’t try something this time around, doesn’t mean you are going to miss out. (We have this collective phobia of deprivation). And the same goes for when you eat out and/or go to a buffet.
Give people 3 options, and they eat 23% MORE food than if they only had one choice.
According to Wansink:
“Increasing the variety of a food increases how much everyone eats. To demonstrate this, Dr. Barbara Rolls’ team at Penn State has showed that if people are offered an assortment with three different flavors of yogurt, they’re likely to consume an average of 23 percent more than if offered only one flavor…”
What does the expert recommend?
Never have more than two items on your plate at any one time. You can always go back for more, but lack of variety and having to get up will encourage you to eat less.
11) Be Mindful Of Who You Eat With
THIS is so interesting to me. WHO you eat with likely determines HOW MUCH you will consume, yet you’ll rarely realize it.
From Mindful Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think:
“On average, if you eat with one other person, you’ll eat about 35 percent more than you otherwise would. If you eat with a group of seven or more, you’ll eat nearly twice as much—96 percent more—than you would if you were eating alone at the Thanksgiving card table in the other room. If you get a reservation for a table for four, you’ll end up right in the middle—you’ll eat about 75 percent more calories than if you reserve a table for one.”
And guess what?
Eating with overweight friends? You’ll eat more.
Is your waitress overweight? You’ll eat more.
Are you a woman eating with a man? You’ll eat less.
Who is most dangerous to be around with while eating? Skinny overeaters.
But being ‘large’ isn’t the biggest concern. What is, is that being overweight puts you at increased risk to develop osteoporosis, heart disease, Type II Diabetes, neurological issues, depression, and many, many more issues.
TO PREVENT all of these, you can begin eating food that loves you back by choosing to mindfully consume more plant-based, live food, and wholesome options that naturally fill you up but have less calorie-density than standard American fare. You’ll also feel better as they are rich in vital nutrients and flooded with enzymes, amino acids (building blocks of protein), and fiber (for great colon health).
If you’re not sure where to start, why not book a FREE 20-Minute Consultation with me, Amanda, here. I’ll send you a Health Questionnaire to fill out and we’ll go from there.
Not sure what it entails? Check out the packages right here.
What do you guys think about all the listed tips? Please share your feedback and any more suggestions you have for emotional eaters or individuals new to healthy eating below:
You Deserve to Live a Life You Love.