Previous research conducted by Dr. Brian Wansink through the Food and Brand Lab has shown that making small easy changes to our eating habits on a consistent basis can lead to sustainable weight loss. The challenge lies in figuring out which changes work for each individual and how to stick with them long enough to make them second nature. To find answers to these questions, Cornell University researchers launched the National Mindless Eating Challenge (NMEC), an online healthy eating and weight loss program which focused on simple eating behavior changes, instead of dieting.
Upon signing up for the NMEC participants were asked a series of questions about their eating goals, background, and well-being. Based on their answers, they were sent three customized tips to follow for a month. All tips were founded on research and based on Dr. Brian Wansink's book "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think" (Bantam, 2006). Participants could download a checklist to track their adherence to tips and receive email reminders to keep them on track. At the end of each month they were expected to send in a follow-up survey.
Of the 2,053 people who initially signed up for the NMEC, 504 complete at least one follow-up survey. Most of them (83%) had weight loss as their goal. The rest wanted to eat healthier (10%), maintain weight (5%), or help their family eat better (2%). Over the course of the program, more than two thirds of participants either lost weight (42%) or maintained their weight (27%), and weight loss was highest among people who made changes consistently. Those whose adherence was 25+ days per month reported an average monthly weight loss of 2.0 pounds, and those who stayed in the program at least three months and completed at least two follow-up surveys lost on average 1.0% of their initial weight. Common barriers that prevented people from making changes included personally unsuitable tips, forgetting, being too busy, unusual circumstances such as vacations, and emotional eating.
These results confirm that small, consistent changes in our daily eating behavior can result in gradual weight loss and developing healthier eating habits. However, they also show that it is a challenge for many people to stick to a program for a long period of time. So what does this mean for someone wanting to lose weight or eat healthier? It means that finding an initial set of tips that are relevant and doable for you can be enough to learn the general principle, later come up with your own changes and succeed at reaching your goal!
Check out the tips that NMEC participants thought were the most effective:
- Keep counters clear of all foods but the healthy ones
- Never eat directly from a package -- always portion food out onto a dish
- Eat something hot for breakfast within the first hour of waking up
- Avoid going more than 3-4 hours without having something small to eat
- Put down your utensils between bites to slow down your eating
The above story is based on materials provided by Cornell Food & Brand Lab. The original article was written by Joanna Ladzinski and Kirsikka Kaipainen. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
- Kirsikka Kaipainen, Collin R Payne, Brian Wansink. Mindless Eating Challenge: Retention, Weight Outcomes, and Barriers for Changes in a Public Web-Based Healthy Eating and Weight Loss Program. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 2012; 14 (6): e168 DOI: 10.2196/jmir.2218
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