‘Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life’ by Brian Wansink, Ph.D.

Slim by DesignstarstarstarFirst of all, this is not a diet book, it is a book about healthy eating. You may remember when Brian Wansink’s first book came out and introduced us to the concept of what he calls Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. That bowl of chips (or even stale popcorn) will mindlessly disappear while watching TV. Studies tell us that the size of bowl or plate matters (because we tend to finish it regardless). Getting most of our foods from the perimeters of the grocery store matters (because that’s where all the fresh stuff is). Planning ahead and having cut up fruits and veggies in a convenient form matters (because we tend to grab what’s handy).

‘Slim by design’ works better than ‘slim by willpower’. It’s easier to make a few small changes to our environment rather than depend on self-restraint alone. It is better to use a smaller plate so that we don’t have to make the choice to only fill half of it. But who knew that it matters what colour the plate is, or where we sit in a restaurant, or which door we use to enter the house? Brian Wansink, behavioural economist and food psychologist, provides scientific research into how our environment can turn us into ‘mindless healthy eaters’ and about how to make healthy options become more natural and normal.

At home, keep unhealthier snack food tucked away where it isn’t visible. It doesn’t mean we can never eat chips again. Make sure healthy foods are more convenient and attractive. Come home through the front door instead of the kitchen door, so you might not grab something to eat right away (because you are not really hungry, just exhausted) and take a short nap instead. At work, remove the candy dish from your desk and bring a bag lunch from home instead of eating in the cafeteria where you are more likely to mindlessly impulse buy. Home lunches are usually made the night before after dinner or in the morning when you are more likely to include healthier options. At a restaurant, remove the bread basket from the table, ask for a large glass of water, think about asking for veggie substitutions or half-sized meals, and if your plate is too full, take the rest home. At a buffet, scan the food selections first before choosing, begin with some salad, use a small plate, sit as far away from the food counter as possible (with your back turned to the buffet), use chopsticks, and chew longer. At the grocery store, start in the vegetable aisle and fill half your cart with vegetables first.

Wansink’s scientific studies are fascinating, but there are really only a few main ideas that are repeated for different situations and contexts. We can make small positive changes in our own homes and perhaps even be bold enough to humbly ask for small changes in our cafeterias and grocery stores (like apples and granola bars at the checkout instead of candy and chocolate). Restaurant and grocery store managers are always delighted to find creative ways to make the same amount of money by serving up less food. One amazing example Wansink uses is about the 100-calorie snack bag. In a movie theatre study, they gave some people a bag of 400-calorie M & M’s and others four bags of  the 100-calorie size. Same amount of product in different packaging. The ones with the large bag, ate all of them up. Most of the ones with the smaller bags, ate only one or two. The advent of these ‘snack’ calorie control portions means the manufacturer makes more money from selling less food, and the rest of us stay healthier. Win-win all around!

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