Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

January 8, 2013
Beware of hidden persuaders when trying to eat healthy

Now that the holidays are over, some of us look in the mirror and wonder just how to fix what we see. The good eating and festivities of the holidays have taken their toll.

Realistically, for many of us, the holidays probably added only a small amount of weight, but those pounds may just be an addition to problems that were there before.

If you are not among those who over-indulged on the free flowing treats, good for you. Some people are lucky enough to eat whatever they want with no worry about weight gain while others have great self-control, but most adults have to at least pay some attention to the situation.

It doesn’t seem fair that gaining weight is so easy but reversing the process is much harder. Americans are continuing to get heavier, increasing the risk of getting type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer and various other health conditions. Healthy eating can play an important role in helping to avoid excess weight and in losing weight. It can also increase the quality and length of your life. Interesting new research is revealing that part of the reason why it’s so difficult to eat healthy is that “hidden persuaders” can lead you to eat more than you think you’re eating.

According to Dr. Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, these hidden persuaders include marketing tools.

He said that the size and shape of containers can as much as double the amount of food you consume. In a field study at a Philadelphia movie theater, researchers gave participants free popcorn in large or extra large sizes. Unknown to the participants, they were randomly given popcorn that was either fresh or 10 days old. The researchers found that people eating from the extra-large popcorn containers ate 45 to 50 percent more than those eating from the large ones. Participants even ate 40 to 45 percent more stale popcorn when it was served in bigger containers.

Food descriptions affect your food intake as well. Using creative terms that appeal to the senses makes food more appealing. In an experiment a cafeteria renamed its offerings.

“Seafood filet” and “chocolate cake” became “succulent Italian seafood filet” and “Belgium black forest double chocolate cake” on the menu. People making selections from these more descriptive menus were overwhelmingly more enthusiastic about the food they received. Those making their selections from nondescriptive menus were mostly disappointed. Research shows that this common advertising technique, called descriptive labeling, not only attracts customers to selected menu items, but also causes them to eat more. Maybe giving your dinner foods a fancy name would help encourage kids to eat foods they otherwise might not prefer.

Losing track of how much you’re eating also leads you to eat more. In one study, students at a Super Bowl party in a restaurant were given free all-youcan- eat chicken wings. Plates were bused from some of the tables while bones were left to pile high on others. Those whose plates were not bused ate less. Participants from the bused tables seemed to have a harder time judging how much food they were eating. The researchers concluded that those people who saw reminders of what they were eating consumed less in the end. This conclusion was confirmed by another study showing that people wound up eating less candy when they saw their empty wrappers pile up as they ate.

According to Wansink, healthier food doesn’t always lead to healthier eating. Most people know that olive oil is a healthier fat than butter, but it’s not healthier if you eat a lot more of it. Researchers gave a group of diners at an Italian restaurant either butter or olive oil with their bread. Those with the olive oil consumed an average of 16 percent more fat with each slice of bread — but they did eat 19 percent less bread. Wansink stressed the importance of focusing not only on the targeted food but also on the companion foods. Think about eating a healthier meal rather than focusing on separate parts of the meal.

Eating healthy begins with what you buy in the first place. Wansink explained that we are highly influenced by quantities listed in signs. Our minds tend to anchor on the numbers that are suggested to us, and we then adjust our purchase from there.

That’s why signs often list items like “3 for $3” rather than just saying “$1 each.” These signs can end up as much as doubling how much we buy, because we tend to focus only on what to buy when we go shopping, not how much to buy. If you bring home more food than you need, you’ll be tempted to eat more. One ideal way to lose weight is to cut back serving sizes. Choose healthy foods and eat smaller servings. Don’t leave out modest portions of toppings like sour cream. These foods create feelings of satiety so you won’t be back poking through the fridge too soon.

There is much to be said for lingering over dinner to enjoying one another’s company. It is great family time, but eat only what you need. It may be necessary to clear away the food so you don’t keep grazing.

Also, if you need to keep tempting snack foods on hand, it is difficult not to eat them, particularly if they are sitting in plain sight. Try putting them in a place you don’t look often. “By encouraging healthy, mindful eating, we can decrease obesity,” Wansink said.

A keen awareness of all these hidden persuaders is an important step in controlling the amount and quality of food you eat.

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