Have you ever gone to a dinner party and left feeling stuffed beyond belief? You may have even whispered, “Why did I eat so much?” The thoughts of the fantastic party are over-shadowed by your utter discomfort. Has this happened to you? It’s happened to me.
When enjoying the holiday season, over-eating is a common problem. I am here to say, it was not your fault! Your food environment made you over-eat! We as humans are easily tricked by subtle cues in our environment, like the size of the dishes, the proximity of food and even the number of food options.
Today, I will share my top three tricks you can use at your next dinner party to prevent over-eating. The strategies I am noting are inspired by one of my favourite books, Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink.
This is a small but powerful step that makes visual illusions work in your favour. Research shows that we serve ourselves more on a larger plate and we also tend to eat on average 92% of what we serve ourselves. Therefore, a plate that is just two inches smaller makes the same amount of food look like more! This difference is small enough that we actually cannot detect it; all we see is a full plate!
Take Action: Find out how big your dinner plates are. Use a slightly smaller plate (just 2 inches) and this will result in 22% fewer calories being served and consumed. Your guests won’t notice this difference or feel deprived.
“Family style” is when all the serving dishes are put on the table so that people can conveniently refill. The problem is that by having the main course right in front of us, we are encouraging people to fill up and eat more than they otherwise would.
Take Action: Move the main course entree at least 6 feet away from table (the kitchen counter is a good place). This now provides time for your guests to think (and get up) if seconds are desired. Use “family style dining”, only for vegetable dishes and salads. This way, your guests can easily top up and fill up! You are not trying to restrict or deprive your guests, you are simply encouraging them to eat until they feel satisfied and are welcome to have seconds (or thirds) if they wish; they just have to get up for them!
Research consistently shows that variety increases consumption. Therefore, the more types of cookies, cakes and treats offered, the more you (and your guests) will consume. This is why people eat more at a buffet, because there is more selection. Similarly, Brian Wansink found that people eat approximately twice as many jellybeans when more colours were offered.
Take Action: Offer two or three different types of cakes or cookies instead of six or seven. You can also portion your Christmas baking into smaller sizes and serve them on dessert plates.
Healthy eating is not about deprivation; it is about enjoying your foods and eating what you feel comfortable eating. This Christmas (and all other times of the year), ditch the “all or nothing” thinking where you are either dieting or feasting.
Enjoy the festivities and please let me know how the strategies worked for your celebration!