Keeping caloric temptation away involves thinking strategically about access to food
Keep fresh fruit on the counter, cut veggies in view when you open the fridge
Keep dishes and glasses small to keep portions of food small
Think you’re immune to temptation? Let’s be honest: Even the most disciplined healthy eater will occasionally give in to “runger” (running hunger). One minute you’re walking past a box of granola sitting on the kitchen counter; five minutes and 500 calories later, you probably wish you’d hidden that box in a cabinet instead.
Staying a step ahead of yourself by keeping food out of direct sight is just one of the many ideas in Brian Wansink’s new book, “Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions For Everyday Life.” He’s the founder of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, a think tank dedicated to promoting better nutrition by using psychology to outsmart human nature.
“[Willpower] hasn’t worked in the long run for 90% of people,” explains Wansink. “It’s a lot easier to change your environment.”
Who knew you could make weight loss more effortless, just by doing a little strategizing? Try these easy tricks to get started.
How to lose weight if you’re short on willpower
1. Put fresh fruit on the counter.
“Make it a rule that it’s the only thing allowed on there,” says Wansink, who’s done research showing that having a fruit bowl on the counter doubles the amount of fruit people consume. But make sure that bowl isn’t hidden behind the toaster, or covered with your kid’s field trip permission slip. The key, he says, is to place your fruit within 2 feet of a heavily traveled pathway in the kitchen, so it’s easy to grab a banana — as opposed to a Snickers bar — on the way out the door. “At my house, we have the bowl right by the key rack,” he says.
2. Serve meals strategically.
Here’s how to survive dinner with your diet intact: Serve an appetizer — as long as it’s a salad or grilled veggies. They’ll fill you up, so you’ll eat fewer high-calorie foods throughout the rest of the meal. Serve your appetizer course at the table, but then sit back and ask your family to help themselves to more food in the kitchen. “Don’t put the main dish or starches in the middle of the table because people are too prone to [eat] seconds and thirds,” explains Wansink. His research found the trick decreased the amount of food eaten by 30% for men and 10% for women.
3. Skillfully stock your fridge.
It’s not enough to make sure you’ve got healthy food in your fridge. How it’s displayed matters, too. Remember Wansink’s principle: “First eaten, first seen.” Keep precut fruits and veggies in clear containers in the middle of the fridge and at eye level so you consider eating them every time you open the door. Studies show that moving the veggie crisper higher causes you to eat more of the good stuff, too. Plus, it always helps to have hunger-busting high-protein snacks, such as yogurt, string cheese and sliced turkey, within easy reach.
When it comes to storing the pad thai from last night’s takeout, wrap it in foil or put it in an opaque container so you’re not constantly reminded that it would make a delicious snack.
4. Buy smaller dishes.
The jug-sized wine glasses you just bought may be fun, but they’re making your 5-ounce serving of Merlot look like just a swig. Smaller is better for dishes, too. Wansink invited his colleagues to an ice cream social and found that those with a 3-ounce spoon dished out 14% more than those with a 2-ounce spoon. He also found that people think they’re eating a lot more if they eat their meals on plates no bigger than 10 inches in diameter, as opposed to 12 inches, which is the standard size in American kitchens.
5. Make single servings easy to grab.
Even healthy snacks can go awry: We all know it can be tough to eat only a few nuts when you have the whole jar in front of you. Divvy up that supersized tub of cashews into single-portion packs to avoid accidentally downing a gazillion calories worth of your favorite nut.
Interestingly, the same tactic can increase your consumption of healthy, low-calorie fruits when snacking. Wansink and his team found that placing cut-up fruit in small bags encouraged elementary school children to triple their fruit consumption, as opposed to when they were offered whole fruit. Because the kids could clearly see the fruit, and the bag was convenient to carry around, healthy snacking increased.
Want more tips? Download Wansink’s scorecard. “Even small changes make a big difference over the long run,” he says. “Try out a few of these, and you’ll notice you’re dropping pounds within a few months, and it’s not that hard.”