Raise your hand if you like dieting. That’s what we thought. But what if there was a way to lose weight without the dreaded calorie-counting, food restrictions, meal plans and battling of wills?
Cornell researchers recently proved this theory with the launch of the National Mindless Eating Challenge, an online healthy eating and weight loss program that focuses on simple eating habits—not dieting. Participants who wanted to lose weight were sent three customized eating tips to follow for a month to help curb mindless eating behaviors that often lead to overeating.
“For some people, writing in a food diary, counting calories, having reminders on the refrigerator and using a food app can be effective,” explains lead researcher Brian Wansink, a professor in Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab and author of “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think. “But for most of us, because we’re so busy, counting calories is probably not realistic.” Instead, he says weight loss is more about rearranging our environment so we enjoy food without feeling hungry or deprived—an area where many diets fall short.
To drop excess pounds, Wansink says we need to avoid what he calls the five “dietary dangers.” That includes meal stuffing (overeating), snack grazing, restaurant indulging, party binging and desktop or dashboard eating (chowing down in our cubes or cars). In other words, those instances where we eat and hardly notice what—and how much—we’re putting in our mouths.
To avoid these danger zones, Wansink recommends easy behavioral changes like using smaller dinner plates and smaller serving bowls, keeping snacks out of reach and using shorter wine glasses. Think that won’t add up to a shrinking waistline? Think again.
In the study, of the 504 participants who adhered to the eating tips, 42 percent lost weight. Those who committed to these changes 25 or more days a month lost an average of 2 pounds a month. All without dieting. Three cheers for that!
According to the research, which is published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, participants reported that the most effective tips they received were:
1. Keep counters clear of all foods but the healthy ones.
2. Never eat directly from a package—always portion food out onto a dish.
3. Eat something hot for breakfast within the first hour of waking up.
4. Avoid going more than three or four hours without having something small to eat.
5. Put down your utensils between bites to slow down your eating.
While Wansink agrees that some people like the “quick fix” of a crash diet, he doesn’t believe they are ultimately effective. “The problem is that these are often deprivation diets where you have to deprive yourself of things that you like.” Cue the yo-yo dieting.
But not so with simple eating behavioral changes, notes Wansink. “If it takes someone a year to lose 20 to 24 pounds, that’s better because the weight is going to stay off, and they’re kicking the bad habits too.”