By Eric Barker
December 19, 2014
IDEAS
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

You know you should eat healthier. But it’s not easy. Temptation is all around and willpower, well, isn’t.

The solution is in making better choices. Psychology. But most of the answers we hear aren’t legit.

So I called a guy who knows the real deal: Brian Wansink.

He leads food psychology research at Cornell University and the White House chose him to revise US dietary guidelines.

He has a great website and is author of two smart books on the subject of tricking yourself into eating better:

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life

I posted about his work before but this time I wanted answers straight from the man himself. And, man, did he ever deliver.

What you’re going to learn in this post:

  • The easy thing to do while shopping that prevents you from buying junk food.
  • How to not fall for the tricks and traps of restaurants.
  • The 2 secrets to not snacking too much at the office.
  • How to stay disciplined at events and holiday gatherings — without making the host feel bad.
  • How superheroes can help you make better food choices.

Yeah, I said superheroes can help you eat better. Seriously. In fact, let’s start there…

Ask “What Would Batman Eat?”

Cookies calling your name? Ask yourself “What would Batman eat?”

Brian’s research showed this got kids to pick apple slices over french fries. Here’s Brian:

Sound crazy? Research really does show that thinking about fictional characters we love can help us make better decisions.

In fact, thinking about superheroes can even make you physically stronger. (I’ll be asking “What would Batman lift?” at the gym tomorrow.)

But some of you might be thinking, “He said that works for kids, Eric.”

Doesn’t matter. It’ll work for you too. Here’s Brian:

Ladies, feel free to envision Wonder Woman — unless you’re more the Catwoman type. (Hey, I don’t judge.)

(For plenty more awesome tips from Brian’s books click here.)

Okay, so you’re thinking about Batman when you eat. (I’ll bet you look dashing in a cape.) But the food war is often won or lost at the supermarket.

So what can you do to make sure you’re buying the right food in the first place?

Chew Gum While You Shop

Crazy, right? Believe it or not, a stick of gum in your mouth prevents junk food from entering your shopping cart. Here’s Brian:

Here’s the important thing to remember: not all gum is created equal. Go for sugar-free bubble gum or sugar-free mint gum. Other kinds can actually increase appetite. Here’s Brian:

(For more on how the magic of gum can change your life — including make you smarter — click here.)

With superheroes on your mind and gum in your mouth you’re well on your way. But what about when you’re in a restaurant?

Now you need to think like a real estate agent: location, location, location.

Navigating The Treacherous World Of Restaurants

Watch where you sit. Did you choose a booth? You’re 80% more likely to order dessert and 80% less likely to order salad.

Sitting by the TV? You’re much more likely to order BBQ. Sitting closer to the bar? Guess who’s going to be drinking more than they thought?

Where are you safe? Head for a window seat. Here’s Brian:

And those menus aren’t haphazardly thrown together. They are often marvels of psychological trickery.

Anything highlighted, in a box or a different font is going to catch your eye and you’ll be more likely to order it.

Be careful when reading the descriptions. Clever names and appealing adjectives make you 28% more likely to pick something. Here’s Brian:

So how do you find something that’s healthy and tasty? Ask the server, “What are three of your lighter items that are most popular?” Here’s Brian:

(For more of Brian’s advice on how to eat smart at restaurants, click here.)

So you’re good in the supermarket and at restaurants. But what about all that eating you do at work?

How To Stop Snacking At The Office

Keep two words in mind: distance and happiness.

As we’ve talked about before, distance is a big, big deal. You eat less when food is farther away and more when it’s closer. Here’s Brian:

Simple barriers have the same effect.

As Dan Ariely said in my interview with him, when Google’s New York office put M&M’s in containers people ate 3 million less of them in one month:

So that’s distance. What about happiness? It’s important to understand the psychology of workplace eating.

When you aren’t having fun at work you often tell yourself you deserve to eat more because you’re working hard.

If you enjoy your job more (or have fun going out to eat with colleagues at lunch) you’ll find this happens less. Here’s Brian:

(For more on how to be happier at work, click here.)

And now we come to the most sinister and dangerous of all the scenarios: get-togethers, dinner parties and holiday gatherings.

Say “no” to food and you could insult the host… and that often turns into an excuse to binge. What to do? Brian has answers.

How To Avoid Gorging At Events And Holiday Gatherings

Here are the two tricks:

  1. Only eat the food the host prepared themselves. No chips, pretzels or stuff out of a box or bag.
  2. Take a tiny amount of what they prepared — but make sure to ask for seconds. You don’t eat much, but the host knows you liked it.

Here’s Brian:

(For more tips on how to handle eating at gatherings, click here.)

Armed with these tips you should be ready for anything. Let’s round them up and get more insight from Brian.

Sum Up

Brian’s great tips for healthy eating are:

  1. Ask “What would Batman do?” (Fill in the name of anyone you admire… though Batman is an excellent choice, in my utterly biased opinion.)
  2. Chew sugarless bubble gum or mint gum while you shop for groceries.
  3. At restaurants, be careful where you sit and watch out for menu tricks. Ask the server for popular lighter options.
  4. Enjoying your work and distance from food can prevent you from overeating at the office.
  5. At get-togethers only eat what your host actually prepared. Eat a small amount but ask for seconds.

Research shows we have a crazy relationship with food sometimes. But you can overcome a lot of this with simple deceit and trickery.

What makes this so much fun is that the person you need to trick is you.

Brian and I talked for a while so there are a number of other great tips that I’ll be including in my weekly email (including the one sentence that helps people stop overeating immediately.) Join now to learn more.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 145,000 readers and get my free weekly email update here.

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