Mindless Eating Your Way to Better Health

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Loading your plate with more food than you can possibly eat can suggest that the eyes are sometimes larger than the stomach, so the saying goes.

But chances are you'll be able to wipe that plate clean without even realizing it.

The phenomenon is called mindless eating, coined by psychologist and Cornell University consumer behavior professor Brian Wansink, whose research suggests that our eyes, rather than our stomachs, really do dictate how much we end up eating.

In Wansink's experiment, one group of participants ate from a "bottomless bowl," one that was mechanically refilled from the bottom unknowing to the participant. The second group ate from a regular bowl of food that was not refilled once finished.

Those who ate out of the "bottomless bowls," ate 73 percent more before claiming to be full than those who ate from bowls that emptied.

Many gauge their level of fullness by an empty plate, rather than a full stomach, said Wansink, author of the book, "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think." The more they saw, the more they ate.

"People don't think that something as simple as the size of a bowl would influence how much an informed person eats," Wansink said in a press release.

Wansink suggest that this type of mindless eating contributes to unhealthier eating habits and unnecessary weight gain.

In 2007, Wansink's work earned him the Ig Nobel prize, a humorous spinoff of the Nobel Prize.

But that same mechanism of mindless eating can also be used to "mindlessly eating better," he said.

His research and strategies for mindlessly eating better were presented today at the American Psychological Association meeting in Washington, DC.

Since plate size can influence how much a person eats, Wansink recommends using salad plates instead of dinner plates for any meal.

"Our homes are filled with hidden eating traps," said Wansink.

Wansink also recommended keeping unhealthy foods out of immediate view, and eating in a dining room rather than in front of the TV, which can help you lose track of how much you've eaten.

"These simple strategies are far more likely to succeed than willpower alone," said Wansink. "It's easier to change your environment than to change your mind."

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