Here’s the key to developing any new habit: Make it easier to do the desired behavior and more difficult to do the undesired behavior. When your student’s desired behavior is eating healthfully, sharing these environmental and behavioral tweaks can help them succeed without requiring willpower or extra work.
- Keep less healthy foods out of sight and hard to reach. For example, move the cookies to a high-up cupboard and the ice cream to the back of the freezer.
- Buy more nutritious snacks. If you and your student are having a hard time avoiding unhealthy snacks in the house, consider not buying them in the first place. Instead, snack on fruits, veggies with hummus, low- or no-sugar yogurt, or wholegrain bread with nut butter.
- Make healthier options more accessible. For example, keep a bowl filled with colorful fruits in plain sight on the counter.
- Divide large snack items (e.g., a family-size bag of chips) into smaller serving-size packages. In a 2007 study, participants who were given snacks in large packages consumed 30–50 percent more than those who were given the same amount of food but in smaller packages.
- Use smaller plates and bowls and serve drinks in taller/slimmer glasses. Research shows we’ll consume less when using smaller dishes.
- Understand how visual cues affect our appetite: Let chicken bones and food wrappers stay on the table until the meal is over. One study found that participants ate fewer chicken wings when the bones were left on the table rather than cleared away.
- Request a window seat: In studies, diners ordered healthier foods if they sat by a window or in a well-lit part of the restaurant. At a dark table or booth, they ordered heavier food, and more of it; close to a TV, they ordered more fried foods, writes Dr. Brian Wansink in Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life (HarperCollins, 2014): “People sitting furthest from the front door ate the fewest salads and were 73 percent more likely to order dessert.”
- Skip the bread—or at least the butter. Ask for olive oil instead. In a study, people who were served bread with olive oil ate less bread overall. People who were served butter instead of olive oil ate far more bread, according to the International Journal of Obesity.
- In a fast food restaurant, it’s different: Find a dim corner. A 2012 study in Psychological Reports found that lowering the lighting and playing mellow music resulted in customers eating less.
- Eat slowly to encourage your student to slow down. When we eat with others, we pace ourselves according to how quickly or slowly they are eating, and we match our food consumption to theirs, writes Dr. Wansink in Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (Bantam Dell, 2006).
How to take back your food environment
Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think: Brian Wansink
Bantam Dell, 2006
Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life: Brian Wansink
Michael Moss, journalist and author, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (Random House, 2013)
Sabine Haake, registered dietitian, private practice, San Francisco, California.
Alexa Schmidt, registered dietitian, Sodexo Campus Services, Binghamton University, New York
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Wansink, B., & Payne, C. R. (2008). Eating behavior and obesity at Chinese buffets. Obesity, 16(8), 1957–1960.
Wansink, B., Payne, C., & North, J. (2007). Fine as North Dakota wine: Sensory experiences and the intake of companion foods. Physiology and Behavior, 90(5), 712–716.
Wansink, B., & Van Ittersum, K. (2005). Shape of glass and amount of alcohol poured: Comparative study effect of practice and concentration. British Medical Journal, 331(7531), 1512–1514.
Wansink, B., & Van Ittersum, K. (2007). Portion size me: Downsizing our consumption norms. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 107(7), 1103–1106.
Wansink, B., & Van Ittersum, K. (2012). Fast food restaurant lighting and music can reduce calorie intake and increase satisfaction. Psychological Bulletin, 111(1), 228–232.