8 Hacks to Re-engineer Your Eating Environment

The three main topics recommended by most books on diet and nutrition are

  • Food types – fat, protein and carbohydrates
  • Food quality – organic, free range etc
  • Food quantity – 1 serving, 1 cup, 1 plate, 1 spoonful.

This work as great guidelines but our eating environment can play just as important a role. What if I told that the plates you are eating from and glasses you drink from have an impact on the amount you consume?

Or the distance between you and the food. One study found people ate more candy when it was beside them as opposed to being 6 feet away. Another study found people ate more when the candy was visible as opposed to it being hidden.

We tend not to eat until we are full. We eat until what we are eating is finished. Or when the rest of the table are finished.

The great thing about this information is we can quite easily re-engineer our eating environment. Once we are aware of the areas where these mindless habits occur.

By focusing on what Brian Wansink calls “the mindless margin” mindless weight loss is possible.

What I love about his writing is he addresses the elephant in the room that is never acknowledged by most books related to nutrition and weight loss.

Todays post will explain some of these traps that we all fall into everyday and some great strategies we can use to mindlessly get out of them.

What is the Mindless Margin?

Most popular diets are based on calorie restriction. These diets fail because deprivation diets aren’t sustainable. Cutting your daily calories from 2500 to 1500 is a big shock to your body. Reducing your daily calories from 2000 to 1900 is hardly noticeable. Neither is eating 2100 calories a day.

100 extra calories a day results in an extra 36,500 at the end of the year. This equates to about 10 lbs of weight gain or weight loss (36,500/3500 = 10.42). This is how most of us gain weight. You don’t notice it day to day but after three or four years you shocked and confused about where that extra 30 or 40 lbs came from.

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How to Reengineer our Eating Environment

The following hacks are ways you can reduce your apply the “mindless margin” and reduce your daily calories by 100-200.

Hack 1 – Decrease serving sizes

The first thing we all need to accept is none of us are good judges of how much we eat.

Take a look at the optical illusion.

The centre circle on the rights looks to be larger than the centre circle on the left. But they are both the same size. This perception causes problems when we eat from a larger plate.

When using a larger plate we tend to eat more.

Why? Because just like the two circles demonstrate above, the amount of food looks less on a larger plate than the same amount of food on a smaller plate.


Be careful of bigger packages. You may save some money but you will use larger portions when serving from a larger pack. A study found those who cooked spaghetti and meatballs from a large pack used 23% more food but both groups felt they used the same amount when cooking.

Hack 2 – Glass type

Now lets have a look at another optical illusion.

What line looks longer to you?

18-20% of people think the vertical line is longer. We focus more on the length than the width.

Where this causes problems is with drinks. If our glass is shorter and wider we will drink more than if it is in a taller champagne style glass.

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Clever alcohol marketers have utilized this trick with a lot of premium beers using a taller glass, giving the impression that you’re getting a better deal.

So you can see how this will cause problems at home when you constantly underestimate how many liquid calories you’re consuming with juice, wine and so on.

Hack 3 –  The rule of 20

When serving yourself food put 20% less food on your plate and 20% more vegetables. Give yourself at least 20 minutes to finish each meal. Tips on how to spent 20 minutes over your meal? Put down your fork/spoon after each mouthful. Chew each mouthful 20 times. Eat with chopsticks. eat sitting down with company.

Hack 4 – Make snacking awkward

Don’t buy snack foods “for guests”. if there’s a plate of sweets in view you are going to eat them. Substitute with fruit and either dump the snacks or put them out of sight and out of reach. At your work don’t leave any snacks within arms reach.

Hack 5 – Pour snacks into a (small) serving bowl

If you are going to snack be smart about it. Pour the amount you want to eat into a separate dish. eating from the pack is a recipe for disaster as you have no way of tracking how much you are eating.

Hack 6 – Become a food marketer

If you do the grocery shopping you are the nutritional gatekeeper. Controlling what most of your family will eat. Become a savvy marketer. High end restaurants always use attractive descriptions on their menus. when describing there menus. Why?

Because it works.

Which would you order?

  • Chicken with asparagus and potatoes
  • Stuffed chicken breast with Cajun spices, lyonnaise potatoes and asparagus spears wrapped in Parma ham

For younger children make up names for the dishes. Wansink tells a story of one mother who found her sons loved broccoli after she started calling it dinosaur tress.

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Hack 7 – Be aware of portion distortion with healthier foods

If a food is low fat or gluten free doesn’t mean it is lower in calories. A lot of the time it is close to the regular version. So be careful when indulging in “healthier” options. A study on customers at Mcdonalds and Subway found the McDonalds customers were much more aware of the amount of calories they consumed. The Subway customers underestimated there calories much more as they felt they were making a healthier choice.

 Hack 8 – More variety = more calories

The higher the variety the more food we tend to eat. If you are at a dinner party with finger food or buffet, don’t have more than two types of food on your plate at anytime.


Becoming aware that a lot of the 200 or more food related decisions we make happen without much thought or consideration is an important first step.

The following are ways you can re-engineer your eating environment and make the mindful margin work for you, not against you.

  • Use smaller plates, bowls, spoons and serving containers.
  • Buy smaller packets or else re package large packs into smaller ones.
  • Use tall glasses at home.
  • Eat until you’re 80% full
  • Put 20% less food on your plate.
  • Eat 20% more fruit and vegetables.
  • Give yourself 20 minutes to eat a meal.
  • Chew food longer.
  • Make your meals more appealing to friends and family by simply renaming them.
  • Just because it is healthier doesn’t mean it is low in calories.
  • A wider variety of food to choose form will result in eating more food.

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