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Why Do We Choose To Eat So Much Food?

August 2014

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

How much we eat and what we choose to eat controls what we consume each day, which is influenced by our environment. We often eat much more than we should, which is detrimental to our body weight and our health. Follow these tips from Dr. Brian Wansink and his research teams at several universities to help control your food intake:

  • The shape and size of the glasses and plates you use influence the amount you eat. Choose tall narrow glasses for beverages rather than short wide ones (saves 34% in volume) and choose luncheon plates for meals rather than dinner plates which also cuts the amount of food consumed.
  • Research shows leaving food and snacks visible at home or at work on your kitchen counter or on your desk actually encourages you to eat that food. Fruit is better than candy but it still adds extra calories due to its convenience and visibility. Hide the candy in the back of your desk and keep food hidden or not very accessible to save calories from extra food or snacks.
  • Stockpiling food from warehouse stores means more food stored in your home which accelerates consumption of those foods especially if they are visible when stored and they are versatile products. Buying foods and checking the “Use By” dates keeps food inventories fresh and helps to eliminate purchases that will end up being thrown out. Buy product sizes that you will use within a few months and save money and calories.
  • Research shows if you purchase food in big boxes, like cereals, you will take larger portions by 22%. The more you pour out of these large packages, the more you eat. We assume that the unit cost is cheaper in larger packages; however, the cost is sometimes more and how much is consumed will also be greater. No bargain here!
  • Preparing 10-12 servings when you only need 3-4 is a waste of money and may mean you will be eating more food whether the food is fresh or old. In one study, consumers were willing to eat stale popcorn in large containers at the movies because they thought they were getting more for their money. Our external environment often encourages us to eat more even when we don’t really like the food or snack.
  • To encourage healthy eating, start with small amounts of new, unfamiliar foods such as fruit and vegetables. It takes time for children and adults to accept new foods. Don’t force a family member to eat them.. Whatever we have learned about food as a child influences what we eat as adults. Making changes in food patterns takes time and a willingness to accept unfamiliar food.

Remember, taking small steps to make changes in your food habits takes time. Food visibility and the environment in your home, work, and community can make a huge difference in how much we eat.