Eating mindlessly to lose weight seamlessly.
As a coach, it’s my job to help people do what they know is right for them despite all the personality “flaws” we all have, all the circumstances and “buts” we think we have in our life. As a mission-driven coach, I’m obsessed with helping people, even if they don’t know I’m trying to do so.
My father is in his 60s. Even with his great stress-resistant Ukrainian genetics, supported by quite an athletic lifestyle — all the sugars in his beloved sweets and processed carbs in his favorite pasta for dinner (or what we call “macaroni” in Russia) — all that doesn’t help him to preserve the best health anymore. And because with age many of us, my father and myself including, are getting more stubborn and resistant to change, convincing my father to try Shirataki pasta instead of his favorite macaroni was never going to happen. Unless… I cooked it for him a few times without him realizing what it was, making him fall in love with it first before he could think about it. And so I did. While staying with my parents over the Christmas holidays I cooked a few pasta dinners for the whole family, saying nothing about swapping regular pasta for Shirataki noodles.
Everybody applauded my pasta creations. Nobody complained about anything “weird” for dinner. And just like that Shirataki has become a new lean and delicious family dinner tradition.
“Alan Wright and I invited 32 Natick Lab employees (in squad-size groups of eight) to rate the taste of some new strawberry yogurts the Army was testing. We told them we wanted to make sure the food tasted good even if it couldn’t be seen.
Then we turned out the lights in the lab.
And we did not give them strawberry yogurt. We gave them chocolate yogurt. It didn’t seem to matter very much. The mere suggestion that they were eating strawberry yogurt led 19 of 32 people to rate it as having a good strawberry taste. One even said that strawberry yogurt was her favorite yogurt and this would be her new favorite brand.3 Soldiers, just like us, use all sorts of cues or signals to help taste food. One of these is our eyesight. If it doesn’t look like strawberry, it doesn’t taste like strawberry. But another important cue is the name of a food. If we can’t see the food and someone tells us we’re going to taste strawberry, we taste strawberry, even if it’s really chocolate.”
“The only difference between the two labels was one prominent, three-letter word, “soy.” In reality, there was no soy protein in this PowerBar. Exactly zero. It was a phantom ingredient. If after eating one of these PowerBars, people believed they tasted soy, they would be mindlessly responding to the power of suggestion.
People were given the bars (which were introduced as a new product) and asked to take a look at the package, and then to try them. The people who ate the bars with the label “Contains 10 grams of protein” described the bars favorably: They said they were chocolaty, chewy, and tasty. The other people, the ones who had been given the bars with “10 grams of soy protein” were not so positive.15 Many spit out the bar, or excused themselves to get a drink of water. One man passed a piece of gum to his wife so that both could get the taste out of their mouths. When asked what they thought, they claimed that the bars had a bad aftertaste, were chalky, and didn’t even taste like chocolate.”
What can I tell you? We, all of us, humans, we think we are so smart and hard to fool — when in reality it’s quite easy.
Many of us find it hard to stick with “the diet”, because we think it’s gonna be hard, or tasteless, or that we will be hungry, if we stop eating out favorite “macaroni”. When in reality, what makes it hard is OUR THINKING, that it’ll be hard.
“The best diet is the one you don’t know you are on.”
Argues the author of “Mindless Eating”.
And I agree.
How do you think I and other people stick with “the diet” for life?
We find a way to make “the diet” feel like no diet at all!
To lose weight, putting aside the kinds of foods, the carbs, the fats, the ketones and fasting, sleep and stress, putting it all aside, to lose weight we somehow need to seamlessly design a lifestyle, that creates this tiny margin of 100–300 calories less a day to seamlessly lose 10–30 pounds a year.
We need to create a “mindless margin”, a term introduced by the author of “Mindless Eating”.
“This is the mindless margin. It’s the margin or zone in which we can either slightly overeat or slightly undereat without being aware of it. Suppose you can eat 2,000 calories a day without either gaining or losing weight.14 If one day, however, you only ate 1,000 calories, you would know it. You’d feel weak, light-headed, cranky, and you’d snap at the dog. On the other hand, you’d also know it if you ate 3,000 calories. You’d feel a little heavier, slower, and more like flopping on the couch and petting the cat.
If we eat way too little, we know it. If we eat way too much, we know it. But there is a calorie range — a mindless margin — where we feel fine and are unaware of small differences. That is, the difference between 1,900 calories and 2,000 calories is one we cannot detect, nor can we detect the difference between 2,000 and 2,100 calories. But over the course of a year, this mindless margin would either cause us to lose ten pounds or to gain ten pounds.”
The idea is to re-design our lifestyle to eat 100–300 calories less every day “on autopilot”, losing on autopilot 10–30 pounds over the course of the year instead of gaining a few.
How do we do that? How do we eat less in real life, when there’s so much choice, and everything in our environment is designed to make us eat more not less?
The author has a few solutions for us, solutions based on studies about how our brain works, solutions that I help my clients to use all the time, and I use them myself to never overeat and never be tempted by foods I know don’t work for me and/or my goals.
Did you know that more variety, like rainbow-colored M&Ms, or jelly beans, or a variety pack of cookies make us eat more?
We were designed by nature to crave variety, to be attracted to variety.
Because in nature we get a wide range of nutrients with a wide range of foods, a wide range of colors and textures. Not so much in our modern-supermarket environment, where with a variety of multi-colored packages, a wide range of colors and textures, all-you-can-imagine flavorings we eat a variety of junk food ingredients instead!
Never surround yourself, buy for yourself, go into places where you’ll be surrounded by a variety of items you’d like to avoid. Instead, surround yourself with multi-colored veggies and fruit — everything you’d like to eat more of! The same works for kids too! Make healthy food just as fun and colorful as M&Ms are!
*A note. When trying to eat less, buffet-style restaurants and café are not your friends for the same exact reason.
“Variety is a powerful stimulant of consumption: more options generally means more consumption, since people have a tendency to eat what’s in front of them. However, behavior is affected by perception, not reality. For example, people will eat more M&Ms from a bowl containing many colors than from a bowl containing only one color — despite all M&Ms having the same flavor. One way to reduce consumption without restricting choice altogether is by rotating variety over time, serving, say, a different dessert each day rather than five different desserts for the whole week.”
A Serving Size.
“A fat-forming transformation in our eating habits takes place between the ages of three and five. You can give three-year-olds a lot of food, and they will simply eat until they are no longer hungry. They are unaffected by serving size. By age five, however, they will pretty much eat whatever they’re given. If they are given a lot, they’ll eat a lot, and it will even influence their bite size.”
What does it mean for us and our daily eating habits? And how can we use this knowledge to help us eat less?
No matter how “intuitive” we think we are, we will always finish a serving, that’s on our plate or in a package of a snack we buy. Whether we buy a 1-oz bag of nuts or a 10-oz bag of nuts — for our brain it’s still one serving, and we won’t stop eating and thinking about it till it’s finished. It’s even more so for highly palatable snacks, that melt in our mouth.
(Honestly, when did you last guide your snack amount by the serving size written on a package? More like by the size of that WHOLE package, right?)
Big plates, bulk packages, two-for-one deals, big gulps — aren’t you wondering now that’s what made America expand its waist size?
Use small plates, small glasses for your meals to “mindlessly” restrict your portions.
Oversnacking? Can’t stop eating those nuts once the bag is open? Always eating too much cereal in the morning, sometimes putting half a box in your bowl?
Get some zip lock bags and divide nuts, your cereal and anything you tend to lose control over in single-serving bags and never think about it again.
Whenever possible buy single servings of everything as I do myself. I never could control my nut-eating habit, until I started using the zip-lock hack. Now I wonder, why it took me so long to figure out such a simple solution? We often think it’s too simple to really work in our case. Until we try it.
A pause point.
“Remember what happened to the secretaries once we moved the candy dish six feet away from the desk? They ate half as many. It was a little more of a hassle to get them, and that six-foot barrier gave them the chance to rethink whether they really wanted a chocolate. It gave them a pause point. Here are some tips to give you a chance to pause:
• Leave serving dishes in the kitchen or on a sideboard. Like the secretaries who snatched candies and ate them before they realized it, we do the same thing with serving bowls that are right in front of us. Having them at least six feet away gives us a chance to ask if we’re really that hungry. Turn this around for salad and veggies. Make sure they’re firmly planted in the “pick me” spot in the middle of the table.
• “De-convenience” tempting foods. Take those temptresses down to a remote corner of the basement or put them in a hard-to-reach cupboard. Reseal packages and wrap the most tempting leftovers in aluminum foil and put them in the back of the refrigerator or freezer.
• Snack only at the table and on a clean plate. This makes it less convenient to serve, eat, and clean up after an impulse snack. Of course, a better idea yet is to not bring impulse foods in the house to begin with. Eat before you shop, use a list,…”
Some of my personal favorite hacks, that provided me with a needed pause point, saving me from countless night munches, giving me a great night of sleep, lots of energy in the morning and no more guilt trips and stuffy feeling when I wake up and it’s time to seize the day:
- Always leaving tempting foods at a store. Having to go to a store at night, when I’m already low on energy, working on my computer, craving something to keep me going — it makes me re-think my priorities, realizing that I’m probably much better off going to bed, having good rest and finishing the work with fresh head first thing in the morning.
A note. Works for kids too! Make them walk to a store every time they wine about some fancy snack. And don’t forget to leave a fun and colorful variety of fruit and nuts easily available and visible in the kitchen. You might be surprised how much less eager your kids will be to snack on all these less desirable items, that they have to go and get themselves.
- Making myself work harder for every bite of a treat. Like setting a rule to eat carrots before chocolate. By the time I’m done with carrots I’m no longer hungry for any chocolate. And even when I am — I eat much less of it.
- Making things invisible. I leave food in the kitchen and that’s the only place where I eat it. There’s never any food lying around where I work. All the snacks are packed into single-serving zip-lock bags, into non-transparent Tupperware, put away in the cupboards. There’s nothing visible that I’m tempted to eat. Out of sight — out of mind. It seems to be true for food too!
There are many more mind-bending studies, stories, anecdotes in the book that reveal to us our complicated, often counter-intuitive and very often “fattening” nature of our minds. It might seem, that we are doomed to get fat, but actually, once we are aware of it, we are empowered to use it, to mindfully change our eating environment to help us stay leaner, fitter, healthier, enjoying our food and our looks, watching the number on the scales “miraculously” go down, whet it seems like we are doing nothing at all!
Before I let you go to enjoy the rest of your day and probably a meal or a snack, I’d like to share with you a final thought, that will help you to eat more mindfully, like that 3-year old version of you, that still knows how to stop eating when “no longer hungry”, instead of being guided by the size of your plate.
As I was doing my regular walk this Sunday morning in Zurich over a beautiful shining-with-Sun-reflections river and a park of century-old pine trees, listening to Food Unfolded podcast with a NASA food scientist, explaining how we grow food in space, I realized something, that seemed profound to me, “NASA figured out, that plants, given more light and CO2 would grow bigger and stronger, would produce more yields. What if we were just like plants? Plants, that hadn’t quite figured out yet how to modify our environment to work for us instead of against us?”
Check out FOOD SCHOOL Smarter Stronger Leaner podcast — Adventures of one obsessed nutrition coach on a mission to create a world where food makes you better!