Every day we make more than 200 subconscious food choices. That's right —from whether to have a bagel or oatmeal for breakfast to how many cookies we have after lunch, we're mindlessly eating all day. What we may not realize is how much our environment — whether we snack at our desks or grocery shop when we're hungry — affects our eating habits.
“We wanna think we’re master and commander of all these food choices, but we’re not. I mean we’re more … influenced by what the person next to us is doing, by the lighting in the room, by the noise we hear, than by our own volition,” food psychologist Brian Wansink told TODAY.
Wansink, author of "Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life," and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, and Jenna Wolfe, TODAY’s lifestyle and fitness correspondent, offer some tricks to avoid mindless munching all day:
At the grocery store
- Chew gum. “Simply chewing gum reduces the appeal of things like [junk food] because you can’t really imagine the crunchiness and the taste when you’re chewing gum,” says Wansink.
- Divide the shopping cart into two; the bigger half should be full of fruits and vegetables while the smaller half holds everything else. This means there is less room to mindlessly dump four boxes of cereal or half a dozen bags of chips in the cart.
- Don't eat at your desk. “The thing about eating at your desk is that you don’t pay attention to what you eat, so you tend to eat more," says Wansink. People that eschew eating at their desks are skinnier, happier, and more productive.
- If you eat out for lunch, sit in a well-lit area. Sitting in a bright spot makes us twice as likely to order salad and about half as likely to order dessert,” he said. People who sit at the dark booth in the back near the TV, eat and drink more. “You’re gonna order a lot more dessert, you’re more likely to order fried food,” he said. (Where the slim folks sit in restaurants)
- Follow the rule of two, meaning diners chose a diet soda and dessert or a piece of bread and an appetizer, but not all four during one meal.
In the kitchen
While bad eating habits may start at the grocery store, they end at home. Wansink says kitchens cluttered with snacks causes more mindless eating. Even storing cereal boxes in the open causes bad behaviors; people who keep cereal on their counter weigh 21 pounds more than those who don’t.
- Avoid leaving food out on your counters. People who had chips or cookies visible on their kitchen counter weighed about 10 pounds more than people with bare counters, according to one study.
- Wrap tempting leftovers in the fridge in aluminum foil. But cover anything healthy in clear plastic wrap — you'll be more likely to reach for it, says Wansink.
- Go here for more kitchen makeover tips
Get more from Jenna Wolfe: How to cut hundreds of calories every day without even trying