Every January, a colossal diet wave hits the Western world. When we finish the last box of reindeer-shaped cookies, we clear our cupboards to make space for the latest weight loss products and superfoods (have you tried Chaga mushrooms, yet?). Wheatgrass smoothies and quinoa salads replace lavish turkey dinners. At the turn of the year, millions of people make good resolutions on healthy eating just to break them a few weeks later. But who can blame them? Restricting to a specific diet is difficult. Contradictory information is not helpful.
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Healthy Eating – Contradictory Scientific Studies
Nutrition experts appear to change their diet advice weekly, and this reflects in a bizarre mix of conflicting media messages around dieting. Below are some classic headlines from the British press:
- It was all made-up! But I’ve helped over 10,000 people lose weight with my diet
The Mirror, December 2012
- Eat fat and get slim: the new diet plan to lose weight fast
The Times, January 2015
- It’s time to kick the high-protein diet habit – before it kills you
The Guardian, March 2015
- Why calorie counting doesn’t work
The Telegraph, December 2015
- A crazy new fad diet may help you lose weight -but it WILL burn out your retinas<br/>/ Sunday Express, April 2016
- Cabbage soup comeback! Diet of vegetable broth could help you shed SIX KILOS in seven days, according to expert
Daily Mail, June 2017
- Six bars of chocolate a week could cut the risk of a common heart condition
The Telegraph, May 2017
- Forget the 5:2 diet, it’s time to try the 16:8 regime!
Daily Mail, June 2018
- Death of the food: why menus make you fat
Evening Standard, May 2018
- MIRACLE CURE? How a pill made from mud could be a cure for obesity – soaking up fat to stop the body absorbing it
The Sun, December 2018
Trick Yourself into Healthy Eating
Calorie-counting, intermittent fasting, low-carb, or low-fat? Which one of the many diet regimes are you supposed to follow? Too much choice can complicate decision making and lead to choice paralysis. It holds particularly true for diet regimes, which you’d expect to be supported by science. So, here’s an idea: Instead of committing to yet another diet this January, let’s try something different to lose those pesky holiday pounds.
Healthy Eating – Contradictory Scientific Studies
By using insights from behavioral economics, you might be able to “trick” yourself into Healthy Eating and ditch rigid diet rules for good. Research has shown that the decision environment can have a significant impact on the choices people make. You can use this fact to your advantage by strategically designing your environment to steer or “nudge” your decisions in the right direction. Nudges can target a wide range of behaviors, including our eating patterns. Here are five suggestions:
1. Fruit on display
A classic approach to nudging involves manipulating the array of options. To promote a balanced diet is recommended: Give preference to healthy foods, e.g., fresh fruit. By contrast, you may want to keep unhealthy choices such as cakes and chocolates hidden away or locked in a cupboard. I find the garage to be an excellent hiding place for tempting goodies.
2. Big it up
Fact is that people are bad at telling how much they’ve eaten. An essential study found that people ate more soup when presented with bottomless bowls, which made it impossible to show how much soup consumed. Not only that they have eaten more, but also that they are not aware of their larger portion size. It proves that the physical feeling of fullness is significantly influenced by vision. What can we learn from this research?
How to make healthy eating unbelievably easy
Firstly, never use bottomless soup bowls—especially not for ice cream (obviously!).
Secondly, arrange your meals to make them look bigger, thereby tricking yourself into thinking you’ve eaten a more substantial portion and, consequently, feeling fuller. One possibility is to serve meals on smaller plates. Another trick could be too big up a modest portion of pasta with lots of large salad.
3. Mirror on the wall
A somewhat surprising little method is the strategic use of mirrors. Not only might it be possible to use mirror plates to make small portions look more substantial. Another idea involves placing a full-sized mirror behind your dinner table. Seeing your reflection while Healthy Eating can reduce the amount of food you consume. If you are forced to look yourself in the eye, you are less likely to engage in selfish behaviors and might give that second piece of pie a miss.
4. Avoid distractions
Ever finished an entire tube of Pringles without noticing? Studies have shown that many people eat more when distracted. In social settings such as dinner parties with friends, for example, people tend to focus on conversation and pay less attention to their food. While chatting away, it is all too easy to empty the bread basket (oops!) inadvertently. Another source of distraction can be your TV or phone. To curb mindless eating, switch off your devices, and pay attention to your food. You can play Candy Crush after dinner!
5. Convenience food
A large part of our food selection is for reasons of convenience. It’s convenient to buy individually wrapped muesli snack bars and easy to divide packs of bite-sized chocolates. There is no effort. In comparison, the consumption of an apple is rather complicated. Its size is impractical, and it leaves behind a comparatively large amount of residue. And surely I don’t need to remind you of the effort required to peel an orange (plus it leaves your fingers smelling zesty for hours)!
However, there’s a deceivingly simple way to turn fruit into more convenient snack food—cut it up! Slice it, box it and store it in the fridge for when you need it! Sounds too easy to be true? I dare you to try it.
Of course, you can come up with additional health nudges which target your very own behaviors and habits. For example, if you find yourself repeatedly buying croissants from that cute little bakery on your way to work, you might consider taking a different (less tempting route) to the office. Perhaps one that leads you past a gym or pharmacy?
Another trick would be to highlight nutrition labels on food packages to ensure you are aware of the calorie contents. The mere knowledge and salience of this information can have a deterring effect. My personal favorite is to schedule a yoga session for just after lunch—this forces me to keep my meal healthy and light.
What are your secret tricks in Healthy Eating?