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

A Low Carb Diet and Weight Loss

Posted January 15, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

low carb dietTraditional diets have been based on counting calories, but are all calories equal? Low-carb enthusiasts have long claimed that diets high in sugar and refined carbs cause obesity. Their hypothesis is based on the fact that high blood sugar levels cause a spike in insulin levels, and insulin promotes fat storage.

The problem is that there has been scant evidence to support that hypothesis. In fact, a recent meta-analysis of 32 published clinical studies (KD Hall and J Guo, Gastroenterology, 152: 1718-1727, 2017 ) concluded that low-fat diets resulted in a higher metabolic rate and greater fat loss than isocaloric low-carbohydrate diets.

However, low-carb enthusiasts persisted. They argued that the studies included in the meta-analysis were too short to adequately measure the metabolic effects of a low-carb diet. Recently, a study has been published in the British Medical Journal (CB Ebbeling et al, BMJ 2018, 363:k4583 ) that appears to vindicate their position.

Are low carb diets best for long term weight loss?

Low-carb enthusiasts claim the study conclusively shows that low-carb diets are best for losing weight and for keeping it off once you have lost it. They are saying that it is time to shift away from counting calories and from promoting low-fat diets and focus on low-carb diets instead if we wish to solve the obesity epidemic. In this article I will focus on three issues:

  • How good was the study?
  • What were its limitations?
  • Are the claims justified?

 

How Was The Study Designed?

low carb diet studyThe investigators started with 234 overweight adults (30% male, 78% white, average age 40, BMI 32) recruited from the campus of Framingham State University in Massachusetts. All participants were put on a diet that restricted calories to 60% of estimated needs for 10 weeks. The diet consisted of 45% of calories from carbohydrate, 30% from fat, and 25% from protein. [So much for the claim that the study showed low-carb diets were more effective for weight loss. The diet used for the weight loss portion of the diet was not low-carb.]

During the initial phase of the study 161 of the participants achieved 10% weight loss. These participants were randomly divided into 3 groups for the weight maintenance phase of the study.

  • The diet composition of the high-carb group was 60% carbohydrate, 20% fat, and 20% protein.
  • The diet composition of the moderate-carb group was 40% carbohydrate, 40% fat, and 20% protein.
  • The diet composition of the low-carb group was 20% carbohydrate, 60% fat, and 20% protein.

Other important characteristics of the study were:

  • The weight maintenance portion of the study lasted 5 months – much longer than any previous study.
  • All meals were designed by dietitians and prepared by a commercial food service. The meals were either served in a cafeteria or packaged to be taken home by the participants.
  • The caloric content of the meals was individually adjusted on a weekly basis so that weight was kept within a ± 4-pound range during the 5-month maintenance phase.
  • Sugar, saturated fat, and sodium were limited and kept relatively constant among the 3 diets.

120 participants made it through the 5-month maintenance phase.

 

Do Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss?

low carb diet maintain weight lossThe results were striking:

  • The low-carb group burned an additional 278 calories/day compared to the high-carb group and 131 calories/day more than the moderate-carbohydrate group.
  • These differences were even higher for those individuals with higher insulin secretion at the beginning of the maintenance phase of the study.
  • These differences lead the authors to hypothesize that low-carb diets might be more effective for weight maintenance than other diets.

 

What Are The Pros And Cons Of This Study?

low carb diet pros and consThis was a very well-done study. In fact, it is the most ambitious and well-controlled study of its kind. However, like any other clinical study, it has its limitations. It also needs to be repeated.

The pros of the study are obvious. It was a long study and the dietary intake of the participants was tightly controlled.

As for cons, here are the three limitations of the study listed by the authors:

#1: Potential Measurement Error: This section of the paper was a highly technical consideration of the method used to measure energy expenditure. Suffice it to say that the method they used to measure calories burned per day may overestimate calories burned in the low-carb group. That, of course, would invalidate the major findings of the study. It is unlikely, but it is why the study needs to be repeated using a different measure of energy expenditure.

#2: Compliance: Although the participants were provided with all their meals, there was no way of being sure they ate them. There was also no way of knowing whether they may have eaten other foods in addition to the food they were provided. Again, this is unlikely, but cannot be eliminated from consideration.

#3: Generalizability: This is simply an acknowledgement that the greatest strength of this study is also its greatest weakness. The authors acknowledged that their study was conducted in such a tightly controlled manner it is difficult to translate their findings to the real world. For example:

  • Sugar and saturated fat were restricted and were at very similar levels in all 3 diets. In the real world, people consuming a high-carb diet are likely to consume more sugar than people in the other diet groups. Similarly, people consuming the low-carb diet are likely to consume more saturated fat than people in the other diet groups.
  • Weight was kept constant in the weight maintenance phase by constantly adjusting caloric intake. Unfortunately, this seldom happens in the real world. Most people gain weight once they go off their diet – and this is just as true with low-carb diets as with other diets.
  • The participants had access to dietitian-designed prepared meals 3 times a day for 5 months. This almost never happens in the real world. The authors said “…these results [their data] must be reconciled with the long-term weight loss trials relying on nutrition education and behavioral counseling that find only a small advantage for low carbohydrate compared with low fat diets according to several recent meta-analyses.” [I would add that in the real world, people do not even have access to nutritional education and behavioral modification.]

 

low carb diet and youWhat Does This Study Mean For You?

  • This study shows that under very tightly controlled conditions (dietitian-prepared meals, sugar and saturated fat limited to healthy levels, calories continually adjusted so that weight remains constant) a low-carb diet burns more calories per day than a moderate-carb or high-carb diet. These findings show that it is theoretically possible to increase your metabolic weight and successfully maintain a healthy weight on a low-carb diet. These are the headlines you probably saw. However, a careful reading of the study provides a much more nuanced viewpoint. For example, the fact that the study conditions were so tightly controlled makes it difficult to translate these findings to the real world.
  • In fact, the authors of the study acknowledged that multiple clinical studies show this almost never happens in the real world. These studies show that most people regain the weight they have lost on low-carb diets. More importantly, the rate of weight regain is virtually identical on low-carb and low-fat diets. Consequently, the authors of the current study concluded “…translation [of their results to the real world] requires exploration in future mechanistic oriented research.” Simply put, the authors are saying that more research is needed to provide a mechanistic explanation for this discrepancy before one can make recommendations that are relevant to weight loss and weight maintenance in the real world.
  • The authors also discussed the results of their study in light of a recent, well-designed 12-month study (CD Gardener et al, JAMA, 319: 667-669, 2018 ) that showed no difference in weight change between a healthy low-fat versus a healthy low-carbohydrate diet. That study also reported that the results were unaffected by insulin secretion at baseline. The authors of the current study noted that “…[in the previous study] participants were instructed to minimize or eliminate refined grains and added sugars and maximize intake of vegetables. Probably for this reason, the reported glycemic load [effect of the diet on blood sugar levels] of the low-fat diet was very low…and similar to [the low-carb diet].” In short, the authors of the current study were acknowledging that diets which focus on healthy, plant-based carbohydrates and eliminate sugar, refined grains, and processed foods may be as effective as low-carb diets for helping maintain a healthy weight.
  • This would also be consistent with previous studies showing that primarily plant-based, low-carb diets are more effective at maintaining a healthy weight and better health outcomes long-term than the typical American version of the low-fat diet, which is high in sugar and refined grains. In contrast, meat-based, low-carb diets are no more effective than the American version of the low-fat diet at preventing weight gain and poor health outcomes. I have covered these studies in detail in my book “Slaying The Food Myths.”

Consequently, the lead author of the most recent study has said: “The findings [of this study] do not impugn whole fruits, beans and other unprocessed carbohydrates. Rather, the study suggests that reducing foods with added sugar, flour, and other refined carbohydrates could help people maintain weight loss….” This is something we all can agree on, but strangely this is not reflected in the headlines you may have seen in the media.

The Bottom Line

 

  • A recent study compared the calories burned per day on a low-carb, moderate-carb, and high-carb diet. The study concluded that the low-carb diet burned significantly more calories per day than the other two diets and might be suitable for long-term weight control. If confirmed by subsequent studies, this would be the first real evidence that low-carb diets are superior for maintaining a healthy weight.
  • However, the study has some major limitations. For example, it used a methodology that may overestimate the benefits of a low-carb diet, and it was performed under tightly controlled conditions that can never be duplicated in the real world. As acknowledged by the authors, this study is also contradicted by multiple previous studies. Further studies will be required to confirm the results of this study and show how it can be applied in the real world.
  • In addition, the kind of carbohydrate in the diet is every bit as important as the amount of carbohydrate. The authors acknowledge that the differences seen in their study apply mainly to carbohydrates from sugar, refined grains, and processed foods. They advocate diets with low glycemic load (small effects on blood sugar and insulin levels) and acknowledge this can also be achieved by incorporating low-glycemic load, plant-based carbohydrates into your diet. This is something we all can agree on, but strangely this is not reflected in the headlines you may have seen in the media.
  • Finally, clinical studies report averages, but none of us are average. When you examine the data from the current study, it is evident that some participants burned more calories per hour on the high-carb diet than other participants did on the low carb diet. That reinforces the observation that some people lose weight more effectively on low-carb diets while others lose weight more effectively on low-fat diets. If you are someone who does better on a low-carb diet, the best available evidence suggests you will have better long-term health outcomes on a primarily plant-based, low-carb diet such as the low-carb version of the Mediterranean diet.

For more details read the article above.

 

 

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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