What are the easiest habits that a geek can change to help them eat healthier?
This depends on what their issues are. One would be simply to use a smaller plate. A smaller plate leads you to eat 22% less than a larger plate. That only works with fresh food, because if all you’re doing is heating up frozen food, you’re going to eat all you can heat. Another one would be to serve off the counter. What we find is a person ends up being about two-sevenths as likely to go back for seconds or thirds or fourths if a dish is simply six or more feet away.
How much of those biases and those cues can we counteract by knowing about them? Do they tend to go away once we’re aware of them?
I took 60 graduate students and for 90 minutes told them that if I give them a big serving bowl of Chex Mix they will take and eat a lot more than if I give them a slightly smaller bowl. I demonstrated and showed videos. They broke into groups to figure out how they could let this not happen to them. Then I invited them to a big Super Bowl party. We had huge bowls of Chex Mix in one room and slightly smaller bowls of Chex Mix in the other. Those in the room with the big bowls ate about 200 more calories over the course of the night. When they were leaving, I asked "You ate about 50% more than the group in the other room. Do you think the size of the bowl had anything to do with it?" They said no. They would make random stuff up like, "I didn’t have breakfast last Tuesday!" Mindful eating might work for some people. For those of us who have 10 things going on, I don’t know how we could be much more mindful 21 times a week just for meals, let alone snacks.
We’ve got wives, we’ve got kids screaming, we’ve got lists that we’re making in our heads in the middle of dinner, we have four phone calls we need to make when we finish. We’re way too busy to do mindful eating, unless you live in a castle by yourself. So for most of us, the solution isn’t information; the solution is simply to change our environment so that it works for us. We find that if you give people short wide glasses rather than tall skinny glasses with the same volume, people end up pouring about 32% more into them. Even bartenders pouring a shot will pour more in a short wide glass than a tall skinny glass. They never look at the width of the glass; they just look at the height. You could say, "I must not over pour every time I have a short wide glass." That’s ridiculous. We’re not going to do that. A better solution is just to get rid of all of your short wide glasses. Now that I’m aware that that could happen it’s not going to happen; of course it’s going to happen. Just change that cue.
Change the environment. That sounds like it’s the secret.
The first line of Mindless Eating says the best diet is the diet you don’t know you’re on. I actually started the last chapter by saying it’s easier to change your environment than to change your mind.
Learn more about this topic from Cooking for Geeks.
Are you interested in the science behind what happens to the food in your kitchen? Do you want to learn what makes a recipe work so you can improvise instead of simply following a set of instructions? More than just a cookbook, Cooking for Geeks applies your curiosity to discovery, inspiration, and invention in the kitchen. It's an excellent and intriguing resource for anyone who wants to experiment with cooking, even if you don't consider yourself a geek.