There is a plenitude of research detailing the enormous costs, on so many levels, of an ‘overweight society’. In recent years, interesting studies have been published regarding the role of psychology in our food choices; notable in this respect is Cornell University researcher Dr Brian Wansink, who has played a key role in investigating this dimension and has authored two influential books on the subject: Mindless Eating: why we eat more than we think; and Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life. Other valuable research investigate the effectiveness of particular diet approaches, in some cases, to illuminating effect. Here are seven cherry-picked strategies to help you not only lose weight, but keep it off.
1. Use smaller plates
Professor Richard Wiseman succinctly summarises research by Brian Wansink in his ‘In59seconds’ video, in which he explains the importance of using smaller plates:
2. Keep offending foodstuffs out of sight
How do you resist something you really, really want, especially if you’ve convinced yourself that you ‘deserve it’? Hide it. Wansink’s research, called the “Syracuse study”, found that it was possible to estimate the comparative weights of people based on the food they had visible. Those who had fruit-filled bowls out on their kitchen counters or close at hand would weigh less (up to eight pounds less) than those who didn’t; those who had ‘unhealthy foods’ such as cookies, cereals or fizzy drinks on their counters or close by would weigh more; up to 25 pounds more than those who did not. Watch this fascinating video (it’s a long video so go straight to 55:30) to find out more about the psychology of this:
3. Plan your ‘food day’ ahead
Have you noticed that most slim people are quite ‘purposeful’ when it comes to deciding what to eat? In Wansink’s research, slim people first examined the food that was available at a buffet, particularly healthy food sections, before putting food on their plates. Contrast this with the heavier diners, who simply went for the foods they enjoyed and filled their plates straight away. Wansink also points out the dangers of shopping whilst hungry: doing so is likely to tempt you to buy the ‘wrong’ foods, rather than the foods which you should buy to help you keep the weight off. Be purposeful about your food choices. If you are distracted, for example by your hunger, reading a book or watching TV, you are more likely to make the wrong food choices.
4. Learn to say ‘no’ with effective self-talk
An effective way to say ‘no’ to temptation, according to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research and reported in LifeHack, is to frame your resistance by using the words “I don’t” instead of, for example, “I can’t”. So you would say “I don’t eat bread”, instead of “I can’t eat bread”. In the research, participants were divided into three groups: a simple “No” group, an “I can’t” group and an “I don’t group”. The “ I don’t” group had the highest success rate in terms of reaching their goals.
5. Limit your food choices
Barbara Rolls and her associates from Penn State University found that people ate one-third more when they were offered a range of choices (sandwich fillings) than when they were only offered one choice of filling. Wansink suggests having no more than two food options on your plate at any one time.
6. Understand why 500 is a ‘magic number’
If you gain 500 calories every day of this week, you’ll have added 3,500 calories by the end of the week; the approximate number of calories needed to make pound in weight. We often allow ourselves ‘just’ a couple of extra mouthfuls of a favourite food, or ‘one more’ glass of wine, which could both amount to an extra 500 calories for that day. Do this every day and you’ll have gained a pound (source: Mayo clinic).
7. Avoid eating with skinny people who eat a lot
According to research by the Journal of Consumer Research and reported in Time.com, the people to avoid if you are trying to lose weight are those who are skinny and eat a lot. The researchers found that people would mimic the eating habits of skinny people more readily than they would those who were overweight, regardless of whether the skinny people ate a little or a lot.
These insights demonstrate the effect of context, for example who we eat with, when we eat and what foods we have in our homes, and choice in our eating habits. To maintain a healthy weight, we can exercise control over our environment and make productive choices that will lead us to better outcomes.
Have you tried any of these strategies? If so let me know how successful they were!