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Mindless Eating Melissa Bess Nutrition and Health Education Specialist FNEP STAFF TRAINING ONLY, DO NOT USE WITH FNEP PARTICIPANTS 07/2007 Outline Introduction Mindless margin The forgotten food Surveying the table-scape Hidden persuaders around us Re-scripting your dinner

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mindless eating

Mindless Eating

Melissa Bess

Nutrition and Health Education Specialist



  • Introduction
  • Mindless margin
  • The forgotten food
  • Surveying the table-scape
  • Hidden persuaders around us
  • Re-scripting your dinner
  • The name game
  • In the mood for comfort food
  • Nutritional gatekeepers
  • Fast food fever
  • Mindlessly eating better
  • Questions?
  • Fad Diets

By Brian Wansick, Ph.D.


  • We make over 200 food decisions each day!
  • Food is a great pleasure in life, not something we should compromise.
  • We need to shift our surroundings to work WITH our lifestyle not AGAINST it.
  • The best diet is the one you don’t know you are on.
mindless margin
Mindless margin
  • Why do we overeat foods that aren’t good?
  • 2 studies:
    • Stale popcorn – those with larger buckets ate 173 calories more than those with medium buckets
    • Same meals, same wines. Different labels, different reactions.
mindless margin7
Mindless margin
  • 100 – 200 less calories a day would prevent weight gain in most people
  • We probably won’t miss these calories
  • Cutting out favorite foods = bad idea
  • Cutting down on how much we eat them is do-able
mindless margin8
Mindless margin
  • Strategy #1 –
    • Think 20% less when you start your meal, probably won’t miss it
    • For fruits and veggies = think 20% more
the forgotten food
The forgotten food
  • Study on chicken wings – clean plate, clean table, get more, eat more.
  • Orange jumpsuits in prison = weight gain because they don’t notice 1 lb a week gain
  • We eat the volume we want, not the calories
  • Parisians stop eating when no longer hungry, not when plate or glass is empty
the forgotten food10
The forgotten food
  • Strategy #2 – See all you eat
    • See it before you eat it
    • Put snack on separate plate and leave box in the kitchen
    • See it while you eat it
    • Leave empty glasses on table, leave food on plates without clearing food
surveying the table scape
Surveying the table-scape
  • We consume more from bigger packages, whatever the product
  • We think we get more from tall, skinny glasses than short, wide glasses
  • Bigger bowls = bigger servings
  • We eat more when there is variety
surveying the table scape12
Surveying the table-scape
  • Strategy #3 – Be your own table-scaper
    • Mini-size boxes and bowls
    • Use mid-size or small plates, rather than large
    • Think slender with glasses
    • People tend to pour 30% more into a wider glass than a slender one
hidden persuaders around us
Hidden persuaders around us
  • Visibility – people will eat more candy from a clear dish than a white one
  • Make healthy foods easy to see and less healthy foods harder to see
  • Move candy dish further away, convenience = impulse
hidden persuaders around us14
Hidden persuaders around us
  • Strategy #4 – Make overeating a hassle, not a habit
    • Leave the serving dishes in the kitchen, put salad and veggies on table
    • Put tempting foods in the back of the cabinet or in a basement, inconvenient
    • Repackage jumbo sizes into smaller containers
    • Hide the extras from view
    • Reseal packages. Tape works better than a clip
re scripting your dinner
Re-scripting your dinner
  • Be the last to start eating
  • Pace yourself with slowest eater
  • Leave some food on your plate, helps avoid one more serving
  • Think about how much you will eat before the meal
  • Ask breadbasket to be taken away or other side of table
re scripting your dinner16
Re-scripting your dinner
  • Pick two rule: appetizer, drink, dessert – pick only two
  • Best part of a dessert is the first 2 bites
  • Strategy #5 – Create distraction-free eating scripts
    • Distract yourself before you snack
    • Eat snacks in only one room
    • Dish out how much you want before you eat
    • Minimize distractions
the name game
The name game
  • We taste what we think we will taste (strawberry vs. chocolate yogurt)
  • Lemon jello with red food coloring, said it was cherry, no one suspected it
  • Menu names and descriptions, lead to more appeal and tastier
  • Presentation is key
  • Brand loyalty
the name game18
The name game
  • Strategy #6 – Create expectations that make you a better cook
    • Add two-words that are descriptive to the name of the meal or food (Cajun, homemade, succulent)
    • Spend time on prepping the atmosphere – soft lights, soft music, tablecloth, nice glasses, etc.
in the mood for comfort food
In the mood for comfort food
  • Comfort food connections are subconsciously formed
in the mood for comfort food20
In the mood for comfort food
  • Strategy #7 – Make comfort foods more comforting
    • Don’t deprive yourself
    • Keep comfort foods, but in smaller amounts.
    • Pair healthier foods with positive events. Celebrate with strawberries and a small bowl of ice creams rather than a chocolate brownie sundae.
nutritional gatekeepers
Nutritional gatekeepers
  • Gatekeepers controls food decisions
  • Children start learning what they like and don’t like before 4 months old, due to cues and reactions by parents
  • Use positive associations with foods to make children more likely to eat them
nutritional gatekeepers22
Nutritional gatekeepers
  • Strategy #8 – Crown yourself as the official gatekeeper
    • Be a good marketer
    • Offer variety
    • Use the half-plate rule – half the plate should be veggies and fruits, the other half protein and starch
    • Put snacks in containers and hide extras
fast food fever
Fast-food fever
  • Healthy restaurants = free reign?
  • Reduced fat or low fat really better?
  • 10-20 rule
    • Thin drinks = about 10 calories per ounce
    • Thick drinks = about 20 calories per ounce
  • We underestimate the calories we drink by 30%
fast food fever24
Fast-food fever
  • Strategy # 9 – Portion size me
    • Healthy restaurants – not everything is always healthy, watch the extras
    • Think small, or share
    • Food companies could create packages with pause points – i.e. Every 7th Pringle chip is colored a different color
    • Adding air or water can add volume but not calories
mindlessly eating better
Mindlessly eating better
  • Eating better means different things to different people
  • Reengineer your food environment
    • Food trade-offs – I can eat X if I do Y, I can have popcorn at the movie, if I have a healthy salad for dinner, etc.
    • Food policies – No 2nd helpings of X, never eat in front of the tv, only half-size desserts, etc.
mindlessly eating better26
Mindlessly eating better
  • The power of three
    • Three small 100 calorie changes per day is do-able
    • Takes 28 days to break a habit
    • Keep a log or checklist, so you don’t forget
  • The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on