By Eileen Johnson

How many of us love the holidays but get nervous when anticipating the pounds that will be packed on with very little thought as to how it happened?

Two years ago I heard Brian Wansink, Ph.D., a professor at Cornel University and head of their Food and Brand Lab, talk about “Mindless Eating” and how our environment actually shapes how much and what we eat. He feels people make over 200 eating decisions each day, most without really thinking. This leads to nutritional mistakes and contributes to the increase in obesity rates. His book “Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More Than We Think” – cites numerous studies which show how the environment affects the number of calories we consume. One study was carried out at a movie theater on the East Coast. Adults were given either a medium or a large container of popcorn that was either fresh or stale (14 days old). They found that whether the popcorn was rated fresh or stale, people ate 34-45% more when served in the larger containers!

A few helpful questions to ask yourself will help you determine if you are increasing your risk of eating mindlessly:

  • Do you eat while watching TV?
  • Do you eat late at night?
  • Do you frequent buffets where you put no limits on the amount you are eating?
  • Do you keep high-calorie snack foods on the counter/easily accessible?
  • Are your meals rushed or on the run/in the car?

Dr. Wansink feels that the Holiday season – starting at Halloween and ending with the Super

Bowl – brings out the worst mindless eating.

Here are some tips for mindful eating during the holidays from these experts and others:

  • Create a menu and write out a specific grocery list that will help you to plan healthy, well-balanced meals during this busy time and not rely on pizza orders and trips to fast food restaurants. Include at least 5 non-starchy veggies each day to fill you up and supply minerals like chromium and magnesium that control your appetite.
  • During the busy holiday, times plan to sit down, even for a short 15 minute period, for each of your meals
  • Skip the appetizers and enjoy the meal. Appetizers are more likely to be high in fat and calories and actually set you up, psychologically, to eat more at the meal. But if you still want to serve them, check out and discover recipes for appetizers, desserts and snacks based on fruits and vegetables.
  • Put only two items on your plate at once. This encourages slower, mindful eating and is less likely to stimulate the appetite
  • Help your guests to be more mindful of their eating by setting out smaller plates

Slow or stop your eating after dinner. Mindless calories can be added on late at night when hunger inexplicably gets triggered.

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