MU Extension MU Extension       University of Missouri    ●    Columbia    ●    Kansas City       Missouri S&T     ●    St. Louis - Food and Fitness


Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Eating Well


Simple Strategies to “Mindlessly” Eat Healthier


If you are like most Americans, you probably don’t really have a clue as to how much you really eat. We unwittingly munch our way through the day, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a few snacks thrown in here and there. Countless environmental influences often lead to this “mindless” form of overeating.


According to Lynda Johnson, R.D., University of Missouri Extension nutrition & health education specialist, unconscious overeating contributes to an unhealthy weight gain for many Americans. “An extra 100 to 200 calories per day can easily result in a 10 to 20 pound weight gain each year, especially when paired with an inactive lifestyle. Within a few years, you find yourself 50 to 100 pounds overweight,” Johnson said.


Johnson indicates food psychologists are researching ways to help Americans eat a healthier diet by restructuring their environment. Brian Wansink, PhD, recently appointed Executive Director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, spent 20 years studying environmental factors that trap people into eating more than they intend or need. Dr. Wansink’s findings are summarized in his book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than we Think, and highlights influences such as our social environment, plate and container size, distance to food, and where we eat. Wansink suggests that the solution is not trying to put an end to your “mindless” eating, instead, focus on tactics that will lead to mindlessly eat healthier.


There are effective strategies that help you avoid being “trapped” by your surroundings and unknowingly consuming unwanted, extra calories. Johnson shares ways to “mindlessly” eating healthier.


Think small when it comes to dishing out your portions.

  • Use a smaller plate to avoid portion distortion. A portion of food on an 8” plate seems more satisfying than the same amount on a 12” plate.
  • Apply the “half-plate” rule. When dining out, eat half the food on your plate, and save the rest for another meal. Or split an entrée with a friend.
  • Place one-forth less food on your plate, and make up the difference with a non-starchy vegetable. Wansink found that 92% of the time, we eat all the food we place on our plate.
  • For your snack attack, serve up single servings in a small bowl. Save money on “100 calorie snack” items by bagging up your own. Wansink’s research showed single serve snacks resulted in 20 percent fewer calories.

Keep high calorie food out of sight, out of mind.

  • Don’t keep a dish of nuts or candy in plain sight on your counter or desk.
  • Place high calorie chips and crackers on the top shelf of the pantry, not at eye level.
  • Keep the ice cream at the very back of the freezer where it won’t tempt you.

When eating, be aware and mindfully FOCUS on eating.

  • Don’t be distracted, sit down and eat at a counter or a table in the kitchen or dining room.
  • Turn off the TV. Watching TV while eating leads to “mindless” eating.
  • Eat slowly, and savor your food. A study at the University of Rhode Island found that participants eating slowly rather than wolfing down a pasta meal consumed 70 fewer calories. In one day, a savings of 70 calories per meal could add up to over 200 calories. Over time this could lead to quite an impact on one’s waistline.


For more information or to access additional resources, contact Lynda Johnson, M.S., R.D., University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist at (660) 584-3658 or e-mail



Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009








University of Missouri logo links to

Site Administrator:
Copyright  ADA  Equal Opportunity

MissouriFamilies is produced by the College of Human Environmental Sciences,
Extension Division, University of Missouri