Nutritionists and scientists have long tried to unlock the secrets of overeating. But some of the best information is coming from an unexpected source: marketing experts! It turns out that even the most self-aware individuals are subject to mindless eating.

Most of the research comes from a marketing professor, Dr Brian Wansink, from Stanford University. He wrote a book called Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.

Interesting things to know

  • Package size counts
    In one study, two groups of people were given free, but stale (five-days old) popcorn while watching a movie. Half of the group got a medium-sized tub; the other got a large tub. The people with the larger tubs ate 53 percent more than those with the medium tubs. They ate the popcorn regardless of taste (five-day-old movie popcorn? YUK!) because it was there and they were distracted by the movie.

  • People use visual clues to stop eating
    In another study, Dr. Wansink rigged a soup bowl to continuously fill with tomato soup essentially making it bottomless. The eaters with the rigged soup bowls ate on average six ounces more soup than those with a regular bowl. This means that most people ignore how full they feel and eat until they clean their plates.

• Our eating is influenced by color
People will eat more M&M’s when they are multicolored than when they are all one color. People also eat more in a yellow or red room (think about the colors at McDonald’s), and eat less in a blue room.

• We are influenced by those who eat around us
People are more likely to eat faster (and larger amounts) if those around them are shoveling food into their mouths.

• Sound and distraction matters
Playing fast music while eating will cause you to eat more. And every parent knows that kids (and adults) eat more when in front of a TV.

Some tips to help you avoid overeating:

  • Eat slowly (or pick a slow eater to sit next to at the next dinner party). It takes ten to 20 minutes for your brain to register that your gut is full.
  • Use smaller bowls and plates. Since we all have a tendency to clean our plates and bowls, start small and use smaller utensils as well.

  • Never eat directly from the box or bag (think cookies and chips). You can’t see how much you’re eating, which means you won’t remember how many calories you’re consuming.

  • Beware of buffets. Use a small plate and only put two items on the plate at a time.

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Always sit down to eat and try not to eat in front of the TV. When you choose restaurants, gravitate toward the quiet ones that are painted blue! Or, choose tall tables by a window. You will be more aware of your posture and less influenced by those eating around you.

Mindless eating contributes to the gradual weight gain that many of us experience as we age. By being aware of some of the cues that trigger overeating, you can turn gradual weight gain into weight loss!