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People Make More Food Decisions Than They Think

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SUNDAY, Jan. 14 (HealthDay News) -- While people estimate that they make about 15 food and beverage decisions each day, they actually make more than 200 such choices, Cornell University researchers say.

Their study, published in the January issue of Environment and Behavior, surveyed 139 Cornell staff and students to estimate how many decisions they make about food each day.

On average, the participants estimated they made about 15 food decisions per day. But, when they answered specific questions about when, what, how much and where they ate, and who made decisions about meals, the participants actually made an average of 221 food-related decisions each day.

"So many food decisions are made on mindless autopilot," Brian Wansink, the John S. Dyson Professor of Marketing and of Applied Economics at Cornell, said in a prepared statement. Wansink said that the problem with making more food decisions than we are aware of is that each decision can be influenced by the environment.

"It's really easier than we think to let small things around us -- plate size, package size, people around us, distractions -- influence these 200-plus decisions, because we are not aware of them in the first place," Wansink said.

Wansink added that, instead of trying to obsess over food decisions, people should change the environment so that it works for them. He offers the following tips to prevent overeating, from his recent book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think" (Bantam Books):

  • Use smaller bowls.
  • Avoid eating directly from the package.
  • Bank your calories(e.g., skip the appetizer if you want to indulge in dessert).
  • Dine next to the slowest eater at the table.
  • Eat the foods you love but in smaller portions.
  • Pick two of the following: appetizer, drink or dessert.
  • Fill half your plate with vegetables, and the other half with protein and starch.
  • Keep tempting treats out of sight.
  • Sit at least an arm's length away from the buffet table or snack bowl.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about healthful eating.

SOURCE: Cornell University, news release, January 2007
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