Those of us fortunate enough to be Americans have so many things to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. A huge Thanksgiving dinner isn't one of them.
In just the past seven years the typical Joy of Cooking recipe has added 44 percent more calories. A typical recipe for Thanksgiving meals used to be for six or eight people. Now it's feeding just three or four people as the average size of the nuclear family has decreased. At the same time we have bigger plates, which of course we tend to fill.
All this and much more comes out of research led by Brian Wansink, Ph.D., the author of the Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think and the Director of Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab. Three years ago I reviewed his book here.
Professor Wansink already gave us lots of great tips for eating less. Now, as Thanksgiving approaches, he offers several great ones to help us cope with the holiday season.
He invited me to participate in a conference call on Friday sponsored by the International Food Information Council where he shared the results of his new research. It shows, for example, that the French say they will stop eating when they aren't hungry any more or the food stops tasting good for them. On the other hand, Americans typically say they stop when the plate is empty, when everyone else is finished, or when the TV show is over.
I used to think that it was just people with diabetes like me who weren't in touch with their own hunger cues. Likewise, I thought that it was mainly those of us with diabetes who want to lose weight. In fact, this year 78 percent of Americans are trying to lose or maintain their weight primarily by changing the amount or type of food they eat or by exercising, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation's 2009 Food & Health Survey.
If you are the cook, you can do your family a big favor by serving the dinner yourself. Sure, it's more work for you and less for them. But the point is that your guests will tend to eat a lot less than if you have serving bowls on the table within their arm's reach, Professor Wansink's research has found.
If you're a guest and think that you might offend your host by keeping your serving sizes small, remember that Grandma will be pleased if you go back for seconds on her stuffing, even if the total amount you eat is far less than if you'd just had one heaping plate. Professor Wansink's research has shown that all of us (Grandma included) remember the number of trips for seconds and thirds but not how much is in each serving.
Usually we talk a lot before the big meal is ready. To keep our hands busy as well as our mouths (when we are in listening mode) we munch on the inevitable hors d'oeuvres. In fact, about 10 percent of what we eat typically comes from these pre-meal snacks, Professor Wansink says. Why waste room on them?
Changing our environment is so much easier than changing our minds. "Most of us have way too much on our minds than to think about overeating all the time," he says. Instead change the size of our plates and our serving bowls and the distance of the food from us. Having the food on a separate table is an easy environmental cue to implement.
He summarizes some of his best tips in a YouTube video.
Have a grateful Thanksgiving. Be thankful for all of your blessings and grateful that you ate just enough.