I remember a dumb diet cartoon that went around when I was a kid. It was two overweight people talking and one says “I”m on the see-food (spelled seafood) diet…. I SEE FOOD and I eat it!” Ha!
Well, maybe that isn’t so dumb after all. After reading a recent article in the Newsletter Nutrition Action, I was really inspired by the work of Dr. Brian Wasnik.I’ve seen him talk at the Experimental Biology conference in 2010 and recall his enthusiasm for understanding people’s eating behaviors. He gets beyond simply looking at food from a calories in/calories out perspective.
In a nutshell, his philosphy is that mindful eating is really about the food environment: how big is your plate? How fast are others eating their food around you? What cues do you use to know that you are full? Many of us DON’T use internal cues – we instead belong to the ‘clean plate club’ or stop eating when those around us do so. Have you ever noticed that about yourself? I certainly have! I’ve also noticed how food behaviors, like eating really fast, stick around with me even when the need to do so is absent. For instance, if I have plenty of time for a relaxed lunch, I’m more apt to still eat quickly if I’m eating alone because of the many days of my life when I was rushed (real or percieved) to do so. The result: I feel like I ‘missed something’ and usually want a sweet taste, even if it’s fruit, to end the meal.
In general, this work is really important if you are trying to change your behaviors. You could have the strongest desire to improve your diet and great intentions, but if you aren’t attuned to the visual, sensory, olfactory envrionment in which you eat, your best efforts may be no match for the subconscious influences.
I love the notion of eating food on nice dishes, instead of cheap, ugly/plastic/paper dishes. It speaks to the value of food as being worthy of attention. I love the idea that food presentation can help curb serving size. I’m much more likely to stop eating when full when the food is nicely presented because it’ a feast for the eyes as well as the body.
Look around your life and observe times when you over eat or eat things you don’t want to be consuming. What triggers it? Maybe the trigger isn’t even immediately felt? There have been times when I’ve watched some of those cooking shows about cupcakes (why so many cupcake shows??) and suddenly I can’t get cake and cupcakes out of my mind. I don’t watch those particular shows now b/c they stick with me and it’s hard for me to stop the drive to eat sweets when I’ve been subconsciously primed!!
This approach to food behavior is invaluable for helping us make lasting dietary changes on a familial, community and cultural level. We cannot simply continue to produce dietary recommendations unless they encompass a behavioral component as well. If simply telling people how many fruits and vegetables to consume was enough, obesity and diabetes and eating disorders would not be as prevalent as they currently are. My hope is to advocate for behavioral change as a fundamental component of dietary change in my future professional work. While one one hand it may feel overwhelming to realize that knowledge about healthy food isn’t enough to combat the pitfalls of a poor diet, it is also exciting to realize that maybe the reasons some of us have struggled are less about facts and more about the non-nutrient elements of eating that come into play. To be sure, fatty and sugar food will ALWAYS be pleasurable and may in themselves pose a risk of overconsumption, but unless we look at environment as well it remains unknown how much of that drive can be shifted my making changes in the external landscape.
Okay, I’ll hop off of my soapbox now! I’m simply excited to see this work being published in a mainstream format (via the newsletter and Dr. Wasnik’s books), as it gives further clout to something I’ve seen to be true as well. Now, to the matter of HOW to change the food and eating environment……..and that is for another post! But, a few things you can do in the meantime, perhaps:
- Eat on a smaller plate – try it ONCE..and then again…and then for a week – change doesn’t happen overnight
- Keep the fruits out so they are ‘in sight’ and more likely to be eaten as a snack
- Tuck treats away out of visual sight- INCLUDING THE CANDY BOWL AT WORK!!
- Keep your home eating place clean and pleasant looking
- Prep vegetables when you buy them so that they can be ready to eat and place them on the top shelf in the fridge. Use resealable clear containers so you can always SEE what you have available
- Play nice music when you eat
- Portion out things purchased in bulk, like chips/trail mix/nuts/dried fruit.
- Chew your food; purposefully eat with a slow eater so you can experience what it’s like to SLOW DOWN……