Where You Sit in a Restaurant Can Determine How Much You Eat

Between all-you-can-eat brunches and rushed takeout dinners, it’s easy to overeat without realizing you’re doing it.

Overeating is a common mistake many of us make, but when it comes to food, it is possible to get too much of a good thing. In fact—for an average-sized person—the recommended serving size for lean chicken is 3 ounces, which is roughly the size of your palm. And for breakfast you really only need half a cup of (uncooked) oatmeal if you’re sticking to a 2,000 calorie diet.

Granted, we’re not all going to adhere to strict rules at every meal, but there are some clever ways to combat overeating that you probably never thought of. Brian Wanskin is a best-selling author and Cornell professor who’s dedicated his career to studying the way people accidentally eat more than they planned.

In an interview this week with Mother Joans, Wansink highlighted some tips to avoid eating too much based on solid research. Here’s what he had to say:

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In a restaurant: 

  • Avoid the center area—you’re 80% more likely to order a salad if you eat by a window.
  • Don’t sit in a booth near the bar if you’re trying to avoid sweets. Wansink’s research shows that people dining there are 73% more likely to succumb to the dessert menu.
  • You’ll eat fewer calories and enjoy your meal more simply by picking a brightly-lit restaurant that plays soft music.
  • Although your intentions are good, ordering the salad instead of the steak could actually be harmful to your healthy eating plan. Instead, just got ahead and order what you feel like. “If you tell people to be mindful of what they order, they don’t like it as much and they make up for it later,” Wansink told Mother Jones. “They tell themselves they deserve ice cream since they virtuously ate a salad for dinner.”
  • Ordering at a Chinese buffet? Eat with chopsticks, use a smaller plate, and check out the entire buffet before making a decision about what you’re going to put on the plate. Wansink also suggests you don’t sit anywhere near the buffet, and eat with your back to the food, to really curb overeating.

At the grocery store: 

  • While you can still buy the bigger box of cereal that offers more value, make sure you divide it up into smaller containers when you get home. Wansink’s research shows people tend to eat less when food is served from a smaller container.
  • Give yourself at least 10 minutes to simply check out what’s on offer in the produce section–you’re more likely to buy more food and vegetables this way.
  • Don’t feel bad about buying the bagged salad–you don’t have to make everything from scratch.

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