Create a Mind-ful, Instead of a Mind-less Eating Environment

Our surroundings both at home and when we are eating out play a huge part in our food choices and the amounts that we eat. There are external cues all around us that encourage us to eat.

Everything from package size and plate size, advertising, wording on menus and our friends and family can impact our eating habits and encourage mindless eating.

The key to gradually making better-for-you eating choices is to instead create a healthy mindful eating environment. If we can create an environment that works with us instead of against us we can cut calories, fat, and sodium easily almost without even knowing it. Here are some tips for doing just that.

1. Eat from smaller plates and bowls.
Downsize to a 8-10 inch salad plate vs. a 12-14 inch plate for serving up meals. If you are trying to decrease portions, a healthy appropriate portion will look more satisfying on a smaller plate or bowl. One study conducted by Brian Wansink from Cornell University and Koert van Ittersum from the Georgia Institute of Technology found that just a two-inch difference in plate diameter – from 12 inches to 10 inches – resulted in 22 percent fewer calories served. If a typical dinner has 800 calories, a smaller plate would lead to a weight loss of around 18 pounds per year for the average adult.

2. Glass or cup size matters too. Wansink also found that people tend to pour 30% more into a wide glass vs. a tall skinny glass. Liquid calories can really add up. So when buying glasses think tall and skinny.

3. Mini size your boxes . The larger the package you eat from the more you will consume. You can buy single serving sizes or just repackage larger (Costco & Sam’s) size packages into single-size baggies or containers.

4. Place healthy foods at eye level in the pantry or refrigerator. Don’t bury your fruits and vegetables in a drawer in the bottom of your fridge. Have them rinsed and ready to grab at eye level. You will be more apt to eat them. Same thing goes for your pantry.

5. Turn off the TV, computer, iPad, iPhone, etc. While you are eating try to pay attention to just that, eating. The more distractions we have while we eat, the less tuned in we are to hunger and fullness and the less likely we will stop eating before we eat more than we should. Make eating an event – even when eating snacks. Sit down at the table and fully take in your food focusing on the appearance, smell, taste, and texture. Limiting distractions while you are eating will make for a more enjoyable eating experience and help to avoid overeating.

6. Start your meal off right. Start every meal by downing a good size glass of water. Take a few deep breaths before you begin eating and ready yourself to eat mindfully. Take a moment to rate yourself on a hunger and fullness scale with 1 being famished and 10 being stuffed.

7. Don’t let yourself get ravenously hungry. Think about it…when you are famished do you crave carrots and apples or a burger and fries? When most of us allow ourselves to get too hungry we crave unhealthier options and we tend to overeat.  Try not to skip meals and eat healthy, balanced choices at regular intervals throughout the day. Start your day with a good breakfast to set yourself up for success throughout the day.

8. Try the Two-Plate Approach.  We are especially vulnerable to our environment when we are eating out.  I love the Two-Plate Approach from the book “Discover Mindful Eating” by Megrette Fletcher, M.Ed.,R.D.,C.D.E. This method creates a boundary by using two plates instead of one.  It gives the opportunity to mindfully approach dining out and allows you to pause to assess hunger and fullness. Here are the steps:

  1. Ask your server for an extra small plate and use your original plate (the one your food was served on) as your Serving Plate, and the new smaller plate as your Eating Plate.
  2. From your Serving Plate, take some of each food and place it on your smaller Eating Plate. Trust yourself to put a portion on the plate that makes sense based on your current level of hunger and fullness.
  3. Eat the food on your Eating Plate – slowly, mindfully, and thoughtfully.
  4. When you’re done with all the food on the Eating Plate, stop. Evaluate. Ask yourself: do I need more? Do I really need more? If not, you’re done. If you do need more, go on to the next step.
  5. Bring half the food from the Serving Plate onto your Eating Plate. Eat slowly, mindfully, and thoughtfully.
  6. Again at this point, stop and evaluate. The idea here is to make deliberate decisions at stopping points during the meal, frequently evaluating if you need more food. How often will you cross the boundary between the two plates? How much food is really enough?

These may seem like small things, but each and every choice you make adds up. With a little conscious attention we can arrange our eating environment to be a positive thing instead of a negative.  By making a few small changes in our surroundings we can eat less and eat healthier without a whole lot of effort.