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January 11, 2011 > Become A Mindful Eater

Become A Mindful Eater

Registered Dietitian Shares Tips on How to Avoid Common Eating Pitfalls

Believe it or not, people generally make 250 decisions about food everyday without too much thought. According to Brian Wansink author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think and director of Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab, your environment can influence what you eat and make it tough to stick to your resolution for a new, healthier you.

The mindless eating philosophy says that people don't just overeat because they're hungry, instead there are numerous environmental factors that influence what, how much, and how often you eat. Everything from family and friends to the packaging and labeling of food and much more are all common eating distractions that many times go unnoticed. Even the distance in which foods are available, whether in plain sight or stored in your cupboard, can impact your eating habits.

In fact, the Society of Nutrition Education conducted a study to show just how environment can influence how much you eat. They found that people ate an average of 2.2 more candies each day when they were more visible and only 1.8 more candies when they were proximately placed on their desk versus two meters away.

Anna Mazzei, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Washington Hospital says that making some simple changes in your environment can impact your health and weight positively over time.

"The first step is being aware of problem areas," she explains. "Mindless eating may be one of them, so making subtle changes in your environment is a great place to begin your efforts towards managing your weight."

According to Mazzei, part of changing your environment is being aware of your food choices and willing to make the necessary changes to promote more positive eating behaviors.

"Ask yourself what are the barriers for not getting you there, then address it," urges Mazzei. "At first, the change may be deliberate but over time it will become a habit."

Tips to Avoid Mindless Eating Pitfalls

Plate size, nutrient poor-foods or countless other factors can sabotage our best efforts. However, these simple tips can help you combat many common pitfalls associated with mindless eating and keep you on the path to a healthier you:

* Be a Mindful Shopper. Before you set out to do your grocery shopping, make a specific list of healthful foods packed with nutrients and don't fall prey to marketing and product placement of unhealthy foods.

* Easy Access to Nutrient-Rich Foods. Most times, mindless eating involves a lot of high-calorie junk food. Stock up on nutrient rich snacks, such as placing a bowl of fruit on your desk instead of that box of cookies you received during the holidays.

* Make Eating the Main Event. Eating should not be a side activity. Eating and doing something else, such as watching TV or driving is a common mindless eating pitfall. Instead, schedule time to sit down and enjoy your food. This makes it easier to focus on what you're eating and how much.

* Smaller Portions Are King. Huge portions in restaurants and in packaged foods sold in stores can make it challenging for you to eat the appropriate serving. To avoid this trap, simply request a to-go container for half of your meal as soon as it's served. Also, pay close attention to food labels to ensure you're eating the appropriate serving size.

* Don't Slurp Your Calories. Sugary drinks are a major pitfall for many of us. According to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, people who drink one or more sodas per day are 27 percent more likely to be overweight than those who don't drink soda. Soda accounts for 43 percent of the increase in calorie consumption over the past 30 years.

* Beware of Club Store Shopping. People are drawn to the club stores for their reasonable prices. And it's true that the price per serving is a great bargain. However, it comes at a bigger price than you may expect. Large boxes and bags of food triggers mindless eating. Many can't fight the urge to not waste that five pound tub of chips even if they don't really want to. To avoid this, try not to buy large quantities of unhealthy food. Or, at the very least, package the food in small quantities so you won't be tempted to eat more than you should.

Washington Hospital Offers Nutrition Counseling

Washington Hospital's Outpatient Nutrition Counseling program is available by appointment to provide nutrition counseling for individuals with specific needs as well as those who wish to maintain optimal health. Call (510) 745-6542 or visit

To learn more tips on being a mindful eater, visit the Center for Mindful Eating at

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