"Becoming slim by design works better than trying to become slim by willpower. That is, it's easier to change your eating environment than to change your mind. It's easier to move your candy dish across the room than to resist it when it's on your desk." — Slim By Design by Brian Wansink, Ph. D.
In his book Slim By Design, Cornell University researcher Brian Wansink asserts that you may lose a pound a month just by making some small changes in the places you eat or shop for food the most. A pound of month isn't a lot; the exciting part is that it requires so little effort and thought. I found this book fascinating. I'm the type of person who loves knowing the psychology behind why we do the things we do. I'd never really thought about how the design of a restaurant menu might cause me to order certain dishes or why it matters whether I put the apples on the counter in a bowl or in the crisper in the refrigerator.
About the Book
This book is packed with studies that Brian and his team have conducted in private homes, grocery stores, restaurants, schools, and work places. He's worked with major companies like Nabisco (he pitched that "100 calorie pack" idea to them), the USDA, school systems, the military, celebrities and ordinary people. Visual types will be happy to know that in addition to the text, the book includes some simple drawings showing how different room layouts can impact eating. For example, moving a salad bar in a high school cafeteria to a center space instead of against a back wall increased the number of students eating salad at lunch.
At the end of the chapters on home, restaurants, supermarkets, workplaces, and lunchrooms, you can fill out scorecards to see how well those places encourage or discourage healthy eating. (There's a mini version on Brian's website if you want to get a snapshot of how your home is working for or against you.)
What I Liked Best
While some suggestions aren't practical (I'm not going to run out and buy a different kind of refrigerator), many of them are quite easy, such as having a fruit bowl on the counter. I found it refreshing that the author doesn't believe in outlawing certain foods. Instead, he advocates making the healthier choice the easier one. For example, it's quite common for schools to try to ban chocolate milk because it contains more sugar than plain white milk. What schools don't seem to understand is that by banning chocolate milk, kids aren't going to automatically choose white milk. Some will drink soda instead! Instead, he recommends that the chocolate milk be made less convenient by moving it to the back of the cooler or in a different place in the line. It's still there, but kids now have to decide if they'd like to spend some of their lunch waiting in line for chocolate milk or using that extra time to hang out with their friends.
What I Learned
Here's a sample of the kinds of things I learned in this book:
- The more you hang out in your kitchen, the more you eat. Take out the TV set and the comfortable chairs.
My wooden kitchen chairs don't have padded seat cushions. They're not uncomfortable, but I definitely would rather sit on the sofa if I want to relax.
- When slimmer people visit a buffet, they look at everything and decide what to get before they even pick up a plate.
I've always done that and thought maybe it was because I was a picky eater. Who knew this was good eating behavior?
- Work place gyms aren't the solution. It's better for companies to make changes so that you're forced to move more.
I've never worked at a place with a gym, but when I worked at Interweave, I had to park several blocks away from the building. I often had to attend meetings on different floors or even in different buildings. I walked quite a bit during the course of a normal work day. (The new building is a relatively small single-story building with a parking lot right outside. I wonder if the current employees have noticed the health difference?)
- The wider the grocery store aisle, the more you'll buy.
This makes perfect intuitive sense to me. Have you ever shopped when the store is so crowded that you can hardly get down the aisle without bumping into someone? I try to get out as quickly as possible when that happens. If stores want to encourage sales of healthy items, they'll make those the widest aisles. (My grocery store, by the way, has a very wide aisle for the potato chips.)
More Reading (Or Listening)
I first heard about the book Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life by Brian Wansink, Ph.D. on the NPR show The Splendid Table. You can listen to the segment "5 Things You Can Do At Home To Avoid Overeating" on their website or read a few of the author's tips.
I've already made a few changes to my home such as rearranging the items in my refrigerator. I'm curious to see if this works for me. As someone who works at home just steps from the kitchen, I know that I have to be extra careful about mindless eating.
If you've read this book, I'd love to hear what you think. Have you tried changing your eating environment as a result?