8 Tips on How to Eat Less

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in current health articles, Environment and Health, Food and Health, Healthy Lifestyle

Avoid Mindless Eating

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

Weight loss season is just around the corner. In just a few days you will probably be making your New Year’s resolutions, and weight loss will probably be near the top of the list. You may be considering the latest new diet fad – never mind that you’ve tried lots of diets in the past and have always regained the weight you lost.

What if you could learn just a few tricks that would help you discover how to eat less every day? Would that be of interest to you? Do you think it might help you lose some weight and keep it off?

This week I’m going to share 8 tips for eating less every single day from Professor Brian Wansink of Cornell University. He is Director of their Food and Brand Lab. He has devoted his career to studying how external clues influence our eating patterns. He is the author of the best-selling books “Mindless Eating” and “Slim by Design”. He is the world expert on this topic.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of attending a seminar he gave. Here’s a quick summary of what I learned.

8 Tips on How to Eat Less 

Tip #1: The Size Of The Container Matters

how to eat lessIn one of his research studies he gave moviegoers who had just eaten dinner either a big bag or a small bag of stale popcorn. Those given the big bag ate 34% more. Think about that for a minute. The subjects in his study weren’t hungry. They had just eaten dinner. The popcorn wasn’t particularly tasty. It was stale. Yet they ate 34% more based solely on the size of the bag!

The take home lesson is always to choose the smallest container when given a choice. This is also why you want to serve your meals on small plates and drink your beverages in small glasses or cups. If you want to snack while you watch TV, place your snack food in a very small container and store the rest out of sight.

Tip #2:Don’t Fall For Marketing Hype

He was asked to consult for a cafeteria serving health food because they weren’t attracting enough customers. He just advised them to change the names of their menu items (e.g. “Succulent Tuscany Pasta” instead of “Italian Pasta”). Sales increased by 27%.

The take home lesson is not to fall for the marketing hype. Restaurants and food manufacturers know all the tricks. They know how to make even ordinary foods sound delicious. Make your food choices based on the ingredients of the food, not on the marketing description.

Tip #3: Make Junk Food Inconvenient

avoid overeatingIn another study he put clear glass dishes of candy either on a secretary’s desk or 6 feet away on a cabinet. The secretaries consumed 125 more calories/day from candy when it was on their desk. Think about that for a minute. 125 excess calories/day could amount to around one pound of weight gain/month, 12 pound/year, 60 pounds every 5 years, and a whopping 120 pounds over 10 years!

The take home lesson is to make high calorie snacks and junk foods inconvenient. Put them in the back of your refrigerator, on the top shelf of your cabinets, or other out of the way places. Even better, don’t bring them home in the first place.

Tip #4: Watch The Refills.

When he used a refillable soup bowl (it never goes below half full) people ate 73% more soup than those given a regular bowl of soup. When he asked the people with the refillable bowl if they were full, they replied “How could I be? I only ate half a bowl of soup”.

Of course, most of us will never experience a refillable soup bowl. However, if you are having a meal with friends and enjoying the conversation, it is easy to ignore the refills – either from your waiter at a restaurant or your favorite aunt at a family gathering.

Tip #5: Low Fat Doesn’t Mean “Eat More”

lowfatWhen he took a batch of trail mix and labeled some as “low fat” and some as “regular” people ate 21% to 46% more calories of the “low fat” trail mix. This was not an idle exercise. In fact, many low fat foods aren’t low calorie, but people assume that they are and use that as an excuse to eat more.

The take home lesson is to not assume you can eat more just because a food is labeled low fat, gluten free or some other healthy sounding description. In many cases, it has just as many calories as the full fat version. Even if it is, in fact, lower in calories, the only way you benefit from the reduced calories is when you consume the same portion size as you would for the full fat food it replaces.

Tip #6: Health Foods Are Not Necessarily Healthy

When he showed people an Italian sandwich and told them that it was from either “Jim’s Hearty Sandwich Shop” or from “Good Karma Healthy Foods”, people estimated the calories as 24% lower if they thought it came from Good Karma.

The take home lesson is that health foods are not necessarily healthier. Food manufactures know that health food is in, and they market their products accordingly. If you walk down the aisles of your favorite health food store, you will find foods that are just as high in sugar, fat and calories as the junk food you can buy at the convenience store down the street. They may contain “natural” fats and sugars, but those have just as many calories as the “unhealthy” fats and sugars in the junk foods. You still need to read labels and choose unprocessed fruits, vegetables and whole grains whenever possible.

Tip #7: Don’t Call It Exercise

make exercise funWhen he took students on a walk around a lake before dinner, they ate more calories at dinner if they were told that it was an exercise walk than if they were told that it was a sight-seeing walk – and most of the extra calories came from dessert. Think about that for a minute. It is a human tendency to reward ourselves for virtuous behavior, but when that reward involves eating, it becomes self-defeating.

The take home lesson is two-fold.

  • Reframe our virtuous behavior. If we call it exercise or a work-out, it implies that we have done something virtuous and deserve a reward. If we call it a nature walk or think of it as a sport, it becomes its own reward. If we think of substituting a salad for a dinner of fried chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy as virtuous behavior, we may think we deserve a dessert as a reward. If we think of the salad as a gourmet experience, it can become a reward in its own right.
  • Rethink our rewards. The reward doesn’t need to be food related. It could involve reading a book, watching a show, or whatever you favorite activity might be.

Tip #8: Knowing This Stuff Isn’t Enough.

The fascinating thing is that his research shows it doesn’t matter how intelligent or well informed you are.

He did a study with 60 graduate students. Just before winter break, he gave them a lecture on external eating cues in which he specifically told them that they would eat more from a big bowl of Chex Mix than from a small bowl. The students then spent 90 minutes in small group exercises designed to show them how to overcome external eating cues.

After winter break he invited those same students to a Super Bowl party in which he divided them into two rooms and gave them, you guessed it, either large or small bowls of Chex Mix. The ones given the large bowls ate 53% more!

He later gave the same lecture to a meeting of The American Diabetes Association (Those are the experts) and then repeated the same experiment with them – and they still ate more from the large bowls.

How Can You Avoid Mindless Eating?

Dr. Wansink’s research clearly shows that overeating is mindlessly dependent on external eating cues, AND that you can’t avoid being influenced by those external clues even if you are intelligent and motivated! How to eat less?

Dr. Wansink recommends planning ahead. For example:

  • Serve your food on small plates and don’t leave food lying around where you can see it or get to it easily.
  • If you bring home a box or bag of snack food (hopefully healthy snack food), divide it up into healthy portion sizes as soon as you bring it home.
  • Put the healthy food choices in the front of your refrigerator or cupboard where you will see them easily and hide the unhealthy foods in the back (or don’t bring them home to begin with).

However, the most important thing is to realize most of this behavior is mindless. It is not enough to simply understand these external eating cues at an intellectual level. We need to be constantly vigilant for external eating cues, or we will find ourselves overeating without really understanding why.

Hopefully, these tips will help you eat less and attain a healthier weight next year than you did this year. However, these 8 tips are just the tip of the iceberg. If this article has piqued your interest and you’d like to learn more, I recommend you read one of Dr. Wansink’s books.

 

The Bottom Line

 

  • Brian Wansink’s research has shown that overeating, to a large extent, is mindlessly dependent on external eating cues, and that you can’t necessarily avoid being influenced by those external clues even if you are intelligent and motivated!
  • I have distilled his research into 8 simple tips to help you eat less and attain a healthier weight next year than you did this year.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (4)

  • Dorothy Zwirn

    |

    The information I receive from this site is very helpful. I am going to try to utilize the info on how to eat less. Thanks!

    Reply

  • Mimi Vollum

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    Useful as always. And good to be reminded about the ones we “knew.”

    Reply

  • Merlena Cushing

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    Thank you for your work in creating/maintaining this great website!

    Dr. Oz recently published Dr. OZ’s Swimsuit Slimdown Drink: 1 c. grapefruit, orange or pineapple juice; 1 tsp apple cider vinegar; 1 tsp honey…Drink before each meal. He says it “breaks down fat cells faster than anything else.” This recipe seems unbalanced to me…uses too much juice and honey to be wise w/o adjustment (e.g. lowering calorie intake accordingly, too much sugar, etc.) I recall being told by a trusted doctor that it is healthier to dilute your juice half and half with water.

    I’ve been considering incorporating Bragg Cider vinegar into a daily routine. A few on the SS FB site say they use it regularly. One Med Tech says she uses a tsp. with each meal most generally. I wonder what value the following recipe I found online would have as a drink before eating anything else in the morning:
    2 Tbsp of Bragg Apple cider vinegar
    2 Tbsp lemon juice
    1 tsp of cinnamon with a dash of cayenne pepper in 12 oz of water.
    I usually do a LifeShake for breakfast each morning.

    I do like the Bragg Drink available at our grocery store…Bragg organic Apple Cider Vinegar All Natural Drink – Ginger Spice. All it has in it is Water, vinegar, ginger and stevia – 16 oz for $2.99. Costly!

    I appreciate your evaluation of this. Thanks so much!

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Dear Merlena,
      Dr. Oz has lost all credibility, and this is just another example of why. I agree with you assessment that his recipe is not nutritionally sound. However, a bit of apple cider vinegar in water can be a good idea. While it seems counter-intuitive, when vinegar is metabolized it is alkalinizing. That’s beneficial, but it won’t break down any fat cells.
      Dr. Chaney

      Reply

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Latest Article

High Protein Diets and Weight Loss

Posted October 16, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do High Protein Diets Reduce Fat And Preserve Muscle?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Healthy Diet food group, proteins, include meat (chicken or turkAre high protein diets your secret to healthy weight loss? There are lots of diets out there – high fat, low fat, Paleolithic, blood type, exotic juices, magic pills and potions. But recently, high protein diets are getting a lot of press. The word is that they preserve muscle mass and preferentially decrease fat mass.

If high protein diets actually did that, it would be huge because:

  • It’s the fat – not the pounds – that causes most of the health problems.
  • Muscle burns more calories than fat, so preserving muscle mass helps keep your metabolic rate high without dangerous herbs or stimulants – and keeping your metabolic rate high helps prevent both the plateau and yo-yo (weight regain) characteristic of so many diets.
  • When you lose fat and retain muscle you are reshaping your body – and that’s why most people are dieting to begin with.

So let’s look more carefully at the recent study that has been generating all the headlines (Pasiakos et al, The FASEB Journal, 27: 3837-3847, 2013).

The Study Design:

This was a randomized control study with 39 young (21), healthy and fit men and women who were only borderline overweight (BMI = 25). These volunteers were put on a 21 day weight loss program in which calories were reduced by 30% and exercise was increased by 10%. They were divided into 3 groups:

  • One group was assigned a diet containing the RDA for protein (about 14% of calories in this study design).
  • The second group’s diet contained 2X the RDA for protein (28% of calories)
  • The third group’s diet contained 3X the RDA for protein (42% of calories)

In the RDA protein group carbohydrate was 56% of calories, and fat was 30% of calories. In the other two groups the carbohydrate and fat content of the diets was decreased proportionally.

Feet_On_ScaleWhat Did The Study Show?

  • Weight loss (7 pounds in 21 days) was the same on all 3 diets.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused almost 2X more fat loss (5 pounds versus 2.8 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused 2X less muscle loss (2.1 pounds versus 4.2 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • In case you didn’t notice, there was no difference in overall results between the 28% (2X the RDA) and 42% (3X the RDA) diets.

Pros And Cons Of The Study:

  • The con is fairly obvious. The participants in this study were all young, healthy and were not seriously overweight. If this were the only study of this type one might seriously question whether the results were applicable to middle aged, overweight coach potatoes. However, there have been several other studies with older, more overweight volunteers that have come to the same conclusion – namely that high protein diets preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss.
  • The value of this study is that it defines for the first time the upper limit for how much protein is required to preserve muscle mass in a weight loss regimen. 28% of calories is sufficient, and there appear to be no benefit from increasing protein further. I would add the caveat that there are studies suggesting that protein requirements for preserving muscle mass may be greater in adults 50 and older.

The Bottom Line:

1)    Forget the high fat diets, low fat diets, pills and potions. High protein diets (~2X the RDA or 28% of calories) do appear to be the safest, most effective way to preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss in a weight loss regimen.

2)     That’s not a lot of protein, by the way. The average American consumes almost 2X the RDA for protein on a daily basis. However, it is significantly more protein than the average American consumes when they are trying to lose weight. Salads and carrot sticks are great diet foods, but they don’t contain much protein.

3)     Higher protein intake does not appear to offer any additional benefit – at least in young adults.

4)     Not all high protein diets are created equal. What some people call high protein diets are laden with saturated fats or devoid of carbohydrate. The diet in this study, which is what I recommend, had 43% healthy carbohydrates and 30% healthy fats.

5)    These diets were designed to give 7 pounds of weight loss in 21 days – which is what the experts recommend. There are diets out there promising faster weight loss but they severely restrict calories and/or rely heavily on stimulants, they do not preserve muscle mass, and they often are not safe. In addition they are usually temporary.  I do not recommend them.

6)    This level of protein intake is safe for almost everyone. The major exception would be people with kidney disease, who should always check with their doctor before increasing protein intake. The only other caveat is that protein metabolism creates a lot of nitrogenous waste, so you should drink plenty of water to flush that waste out of your system. But, water is always a good idea.

7)     The high protein diets minimized, but did not completely prevent, muscle loss. Other studies suggest that adding the amino acid leucine to a high protein diet can give 100% retention of muscle mass in a weight loss regimen – but that’s another story for another day.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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