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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

Mindless eating

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 margin1
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 margin2
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 food1
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 scape1
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 us1
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 dinner1
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 game1
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 food1
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 gatekeepers1
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 fever1
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 better1
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