Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mindless Eating Over the Holidays

The last thing that anyone wants to be reminded of two days before Thanksgiving is that they should watch how much they eat. However, Thanksgiving kicks off a month of holiday events that usually involve (great!!) food. I participated in a webinar last week that included a presentation by Dr. Brian Wansink, Professor of Marketing and Nutritional Science at Cornell University and author of Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More Than We Think. Included in his book were some studies he had conducted with his students and colleagues that I found very interesting. In one study, he invited students to a Superbowl event in two rooms, one where the popcorn was served in 1) three 4 liter bowls and 2) six 2-liter bowls. His results showed that 45% more popcorn was eaten from the room with the larger bowls. Some of the popcorn in larger bowls was even stale and in this room, participants still ate 34% more than the smaller bowlroom. Consequent studies with children showed that eating from larger cereal bowls encouraged them to eat larger portions. Did you know that plates have increased in size 30% since 1960? Could this be one reason why we eat more? Is the clean plate club encouraging greater portions? How many of you have a copy of Joy of Cooking on your recipe shelf? Wansink and Payne, (2009) looked at the 8 editions that have been published from 1937 – 2006. All but one comparable recipe in all editions had increased in calories or serving size. Should we be cooking from our great grandmother’s cookbooks? His most recent study (Wansink and Smith, 2010) looked at calorie trends for classic Thanksgiving Recipes 1900 to 2000. Good news! Because the Thanksgiving dinner classics haven’t changed much over the years, the calories/ounce are very similar over the century. However,are our serving sizes the same? Do we share the food with the same size families? And finally, Wansink mentioned that people eat more when expectations are high – which is true for most holiday meals. Even mediocre tasting food is consumed with gusto when Grandma is known to be a good cook or restaurants title their entrees with savory descriptions. Good company can also extend the eating period into second, third and fourth servings. This article’s purpose is not to dampen the wonderful holiday this week. However, after you stuff yourself with all the turkey and trimmings on Thursday, don’t be a mindless eater in the month to come. Most of us have a lot to thankful for but obesity isn't one of them. Enjoy the holiday season!

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