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Can changing your eating environment make you slimmer?

How you arrange the eating environment in your home can make a big difference to how much food you and your family eat. Knowing the triggers around the home which prompt ‘mindless eating’ can help your family from piling on the pounds.

What is mindless eating?

Mindless eating is a term coined for eating when we are not hungry and not really aware of how much we eat. This kind of eating is a reason why people put on weight.

How do we know our eating environment affects how much we eat?

Psychologist Professor Paul Wansink has spent more than 20 years conducting secret studies on how people eat. He and his team have discovered things around the home that can trigger us to eat more than we need – things like the size of the spoons  we use when we serve a meal, whether we keep food in cupboards or on worktops and how much television we watch.

What are the key things you can change in your home?

Simple changes to how you store and serve food in your home and where you eat can really help you and your family stay on track with healthier eating.

Reduce your plate size

Most people serve themselves more food on larger plates. Replacing a 30 cm plate with a 25 cm plate results in 22% reduction in the calories served and most people don’t notice they are eating less. Reducing the size of a typical dinner plate could lead to a weight loss of over a stone in one year for an overweight adult.

Plate colour

If the plate is the same colour as food people tend serve themselves more. Professor Wansink invited 60 people to a free pasta lunch. He gave them either a red plate or a white plate and sent half the group over to a red pasta buffet (tomato sauce) and the other half to a white pasta buffet (Parmesan cheese sauce). People who ate food matched to the colour of their plate ate 20% more calories.

Where food is kept

Leaving food out on a work surface or on a table encourages people to eat more. The average woman who kept potato chips on a work surface weighed 3.6 kilograms more than woman who didn't.

Women who kept breakfast cereal visible anywhere in their kitchen, weighed 9.5 kilograms more than women who put cereal out of sight. Cereal boxes are covered with health messages giving it a health ‘holo’. We tend to underestimate the calories cereal contains and eat more than we need especially with sugar sprinkled on the top.

How family meals are served

Some families serve meals by placing all the serving dishes on the table, other families serve food from the cooking pots away from the table. Wansink found that families who serve food from cooking pots away from the table ate 20% than those serving themselves at the table. If food is in easy reach we serve ourselves more. Having to get up from the table for a second helping makes us think twice about it.

Serve food from smaller packets

The bigger the package you serve from, the more you eat. If you repackage the contents of a jumbo containers of cereal, snacks, drinks and sweets into smaller containers less will be eaten.

Snacking

Instead of eating snacks directly out of a package put snacks in a separate dish and leave the package in the kitchen. Also keep snacks away from the TV. This will encourage you to eat less.

Optical illusions

People tend to pour a third more drink into a wide glass than into a slender one. Pouring drinks into long, thin glasses gives the impression more is being served.

TV watching and weight gain

Studies show the more TV people watch, the more likely they are to gain weight. Less time spent watching TV allows more time for physical activity, less exposure to junk food advertising  and fewer high fat sugar snacks being eaten.