2014-05-15 / Opinions

The science and art of eating less


Sheri Lynn Essian NETA certified Personal Trainer Sheri Lynn Essian NETA certified Personal Trainer I bought a package of vintage paper placemats for a special event. When I used them, I noticed that the modern plates were larger than the placemats - an indicator of an unfolding cultural pattern.

Truth is, since 1960 the average size of a dinner plate has increased 36 percent. Our plates have gotten larger, and so have our appetites. This has been proven in a couple of interesting ways that I’d like to share.

In 2010, in a study done by two brothers, one a food psychologist and the other a religious studies scholar, the plate sizes in 52 of the best-known paintings of The Last Supper were compared. They found that over the last millennium the size of the meal increased by 69 percent, the plates increased size by 66 percent and bread size increased by 23 percent. Before that in 2005, the food psychologist brother, Brian Wansink of Cornell University, established the fact that this “portion distortion” is no respecter of persons and seems to affect all consumers.

Here is an outline of that research: Wansink educated 65 graduate students on this subject with a 90-minute lecture. He explained that people eat more from a larger vessel than from a smaller vessel. Six weeks later, he invited them all for a SuperBowl party - half to the party where Chex Mix was served from a one-gallon bowl, and half attended the party where the Chex Mix was served in two half-gallon bowls. Researchers observed that those eating from the larger vessel served themselves 53 percent more than those eating from the smaller serving bowls. They ate 92 percent of what they took. When asked at the end of the party if the participants felt that their choices were influenced by the size of the serving bowl, every attendee denied the possibility except for one person. So the moral of the story is, if we consume using larger bowls, cups and silverware, we will in fact eat more - even if we know better.

Those studies segue the first strategy in using science to help you not overeat, or in today’s lingo, to help with portion control.

• Use smaller everything to eat and serve. Research proves that we eat more when using larger vessels and utensils. That being said, many of us have lived our whole life unconsciously being encouraged to eat more simply by the subliminal message of the vessel size.

• Avoid curved glasses (except in the case of water). Curved glasses tend to make you drink faster, and henceforth, you tend to drink more. OK, this study was used in the case of beer drinking, but the overall principle applies to consuming liquids.

• Avoid short, wide glasses, too, because you will drink more - unless you’re drinking water. (Just go with tall, straight-sided, narrow glasses!)

• Sit down and enjoy your meal. There’s a satisfying psyche that goes with enjoying your food, tasting each bite, and taking pleasure in the intake rather than standing at the counter, or eating on the run or in the car. I don’t need research to prove this point.

• Keep a food journal. Writing it down helps you honestly assess how much of what you are eating. It’s your mind keeping your body accountable. Also, writing your intake down helps you be mindful of every bite and drink going in. So, if you find a piece of candy in your purse and pop it into your mouth, you must write it down. Or, if you take a swig of your buddy’s beer, you have to include that, too.

• Using an overall visual approach - take a look at your meal before you eat and say to yourself, “Everything here is going to fit into my stomach.” Is it too much fuel for what task you will be doing?

• Research also proves that those large sizes, which encourage us to eat, set us up to fail when it comes to keeping track because we tend to underestimate our calorie intake. (We eat more than we think.) This affirms one of my personal sayings about weight loss, calorie counting, and being active, “We’re all cheaters!” So essentially, don’t trust your judgment when it comes to estimating calories.

• Eat nutrient rich foods over processed foods. Proteins in particular offer a sense of fullness that refined foods do not.

Research is constantly being done on the science of eating less, now that getting and staying in shape is important to so many people. It’s the opposite of what has been done by food industry businesses in more recent times, who have been trying to figure out how to get us to buy and eat more.

Now let’s talk about the art of eating less. One must almost con the stomach into letting it know that it is no longer in charge. This may be done subtly or abruptly.

Here are some subtle ways to let your stomach know that you are now in charge:

• Eat slowly and enjoy every bite. Allow the spices, salt, flavors, sugars and other features of the food to register on your tongue and be communicated to your brain. Take a mental note. (Versus scarfing and “not even tasting” your food - have you ever said those words?”)

• Present your meals in an appealing fashion. Put strawberry slices on the side of your breakfast plate, arrange your wild rice around the pork chop, or put a dash of cinnamon atop your applesauce, for example. Bring out the visual appeal in the meal.

• Serve others first. Force yourself to wait until everyone else is taken care of at the meal; say grace, and practice making tummy wait until you say, “Now it’s time to eat.”

The abrupt method is not a personal trainer recommendation, but a personal strategy. To give your stomach the strong message that you will be eating what you know you should, at the appropriate time, and eating the proper amount, try not eating until your stomach growls. Let your body genuinely feel hunger, then eat a healthy meal in a controlled manner, stopping before you are uncomfortably full. As a matter of fact, this meal should be planned before you are ravishingly hungry, and don’t change your mind. This abrupt method is good for when you’ve overdone it, and you know it. It’s similar to hitting the reset button on your Internet modem.

Couple eating less with being moderately to vigorously active as a welcome lifestyle adjustment, and you’ll slim down and get, then stay, in great shape.

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