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Forget sheer willpower, how to be 'slim by design'

Your cluttered kitchen could be your biggest hurdle to weight loss.

Editor's note: On September 19, 2018, JAMA published retractions for six food research articles written by Brian Wansink. Earlier this year, the journal issued "expression of concern" notices and asked that Cornell University conduct an independent evaluation of the articles. The university has been "unable to provide assurances regarding the scientific validity of the six studies," according to the retraction notice. [more] Wansink has been removed from all teaching and research at the university and will retire at the end of the 2018-2019 academic year.

How we eat has a lot to do with our environment. However, there are tricks we can utilize to improve our overall quality of eating.

This week on “Take Care,” Brian Wansink talks about redesigning our lives and our eating habits. Wansink directs the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab and is the author of “Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.”

Many people try to lose weight by using a “slim by willpower” approach. But Wansink says that actually works against dieters.

“It’s a whole lot easier to change your environment, to become slim by design rather than slim by willpower because willpower takes forever,” Wansink says. “You have to do it all the time. Slim by design -- you do it once and it’s done.”

Credit Chalon Handmade / Flickr

For example, according to Wansink, a disorganized kitchen enforces the idea of “why do I need to be in control when the rest of the world isn’t?”

A study done by the Food and Brand Lab showed that people who had a cluttered kitchen ate 44 percent more than those with an organized kitchen.

“Knowing something like that, it’s a very easy switch to make,” Wansink said. “It’s just one of many things a person can do to try to make yourself slim by design and not slim by willpower which doesn’t work.” 

Another trick people who want to change their eating habits can adopt is changing the size of your plate.  A study done by Wansink’s lab showed that decreasing the size of your plate from 11 to nine inches diminishes how much a person will eat by 22 percent.

“We don’t go for seconds or thirds, at that point, because in our minds we had a full plate,” Wansink says.

Wansink noticed, however, that in serving salad and vegetables first, children are nearly twice as likely to eat their vegetables if they are served first and not brought out with the main meal.

“It’s a very easy to change to make,” Wansink says.

Are your eyes bigger than your stomach?

Wansink says that shopping while hungry does not make you buy more, but it does cause you to buy more poor quality foods. 

“If you’re hungry and you’re shopping on an empty stomach, you’re much more likely to buy ready-to-eat foods whether it be snack foods, or whatever, but stuff you can open in the car and grab a handful of without having to prepare anything,” Wansink says.

But buying ready-to-eat snacks can cause you to sabotage your diet until the food is gone, Wansink says. He recommends chewing gum while shopping to reduce the amount of purchased snack food. Chewing gum, he says, makes it harder for a person to imagine taste while shopping.

An individual is less likely to add items to the cart towards the end of trip due to reasons like a full cart or they’ve reached their budget limit. According to Wansink, shopping at the fruit and vegetable aisle first creates space to continue shopping.

“The idea of shopping at the healthier parts first, before you go on your usual run really works well because what it does is it changes the balance of what you buy,” Wansink says.