Merry Mindful Eating

By Alice Inoue Posted in: Go Ask AliceImprove

The holidays are here, along with parties, seasonal goodies and festive food temptations. Shared here are helpful tips for curbing appetites this time of year

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: The holidays are here and that means more eating — which I am OK with. It’s after the holidays that I am worried about. I know this may seem like a strange question, but is there anything I can do around the home to curb overeating?

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It is not a strange question at all! We always seem to eat more over the holidays, prompting us to look at healthier eating options afterward to get us back on track. But perhaps, with some insight, we can rein in our eating habits during the holidays.

Rather than approaching this from a feng shui perspective, I’ve gathered information from various environmental psychological studies, because most of the information in feng shui is geared toward enhancing appetite, not suppressing it.

Environmental influences on food consumption

It was surprising to learn how much of our eating behavior is affected and explained by what is happening in our environment, but that just might explain why many people put on weight during the holidays, despite their best efforts not to. Numerous environmental factors explain why many of us experience a change in our eating behaviors over the holidays.

Hopefully, you can use the following questions and answers to raise your awareness and guide your eating behavior this festive season.

1. How many people are in the room?

In general, studies show that the more people in a room during a meal, the more each person will eat, because the influence of social norms is more prominent.

2. How relaxed is the atmosphere?

We tend to eat more when we are with others whom we know well. The relaxed atmosphere usually extends the time we sit down to a meal and diminishes our awareness of the amount of food we eat. On the flip side, studies show that when tension is present during a meal, we eat less — not the best solution for overeating, though.

3. How much food is visible?

The more food you can see in the room, the more you will eat. Kitchens are getting bigger and are more open than ever before, exposing us to more visual and sensory cues for eating — a table laden with holiday dishes and their distinctive smells — causing us to consume greater amounts.

4. How accessible is the food?

The more accessible the food, the faster and the more we eat. Studies showed that by moving candy bowls just 6 feet away in the same room, intake was reduced by half, showing that the longer the distance to the food, the more opportunity we have to pause and consider whether or not we really want more.

5. How much variety of food is there?

We eat more when a greater diversity, or variety, of food is visible. If you imagine a table filled with plates of food, but the only food served is fried rice, you’d likely not eat as much. When we eat at buffets, where a lot of variety is the norm, we tend to pile more on our plates, eating a lot more.

6. How many serving bowls are out and what size are they?

The bigger the serving bowls, the more we eat. An experiment showed that people who served themselves from larger bowls (4 quart) took 53 percent more and ate 59 percent more than people serving themselves from medium-sized (2 quart) bowls. (Wasnsink & Cheney, 2005).

7. How big is the portion?

Many experiments showed that we eat in proportion to the amount served. In other words, we will eat the whole portion regardless of how big it is or how hungry we are.

8. What is the shape of the food and the food containers?

We tend to eat more when the food is circular, because it appears smaller, and we eat more when it is served in wider containers. People pour greater amounts of drink into wide cups than they do into tall cups.

9. What type of tools and flatware are used?

One study showed that using straws led to smaller sip volume as opposed to drinking directly from cups. An experiment found that even nutrition experts, who were given 3-ounce capacity spoons at an ice cream social event, served themselves 14.5 percent more than those who had been given 2-ounce serving spoons.

Solution and conclusion

Rather than trying to reduce the environmental cues that cause overeating by choosing to eat with only one other person, with whom you share tension, and having no food visible except the food in front of you, keeping the variety to a minimum, portioning your food, placing it on a deep square bowl and using small spoons are ways to embrace mindful eating, which may be the more sensible solution.

Mindful eating

All kidding aside, now that you know what environmental cues cause you to unconsciously eat more, you can choose to be more mindful in how you serve yourself and how you create your eating environment in the new year.

Alice Inoue is the founder and Chief Happiness Officer at Happiness U, a friendly and warm educational establishment at Gentry Pacific Center on Nimitz Highway. At Happiness U, one can learn how to be happy, a subject you won’t find in a traditional school. Happiness U offers classes such as feng shui 101, clutter clearing plan 101, positive mindset 101, happiness 101 and more. Visit www.YourHappinessU.com.