By The Rawtarian

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In this episode, Laura-Jane The Rawtarian shares scientific tips about how to use psychology to your advantage when it comes to healthy snacking!

Most anecdotes and psychological studies mentioned in this episode come from the book "Mindless Eating" by Brian Wansink, PhD

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Podcast Transcript

Welcome to episode number 45 of The Raw Food Podcast. I’m your host Laura-Jane the Rawtarian and on today’s episode we are going to be talking all about the psychology of eating and some really practical useful tips that you can take back home into your life and really implement to help you make better food choices. Did you know that we make over 200 choices every single day about what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, all this good stuff. So we are going to talk particularly a lot about snacking and why we snack and how to make some better snacking choices and at the end we are going to really dig into some interesting psychological facts about plate size and even the color of your plate and how that impacts what you are putting on it. So stay tuned and I will be back with you shortly.

Today we are talking about the psychology of eating it is something that we probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about but the psychology of what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, is something that we are all actively practicing everyday whether we want to acknowledge it or not. The reason that I wanted to talk about this topic today actually came out of a conversation that just happened with my husband.

We were talking about a guest that we had over and we had all been sitting around the table chatting just like you do when you have family or friends over. There was a whole bunch of food on the table kind of reminiscing from dinner and one of them was just a bowl of baby carrots. My husband is not a fan of carrots. I don’t know why, I don’t know what is wrong. He is a really great eater but just carrots in particular he always says they taste like soap! He doesn’t really like them. What he was telling me the other day was that he said, “Do you remember when we had that person over for dinner? There was a bowl of carrots on the table, and I just kept snacking on the baby carrots in conversation. Normally I don’t like carrots, and that was weird.” He was saying how he ate all the carrots that were just kind of sitting there in the bowl but he doesn’t even like carrots.

He thought that was interesting, and that of course piqued my interest: that was odd, why did you eat all the carrots? But just in terms of, snacking and why we do these funny things, like eat a bowl of something that we don’t even particularly like. So anyway this all kind of got me talking and thinking about the psychology of eating. You may have heard me talking in the past episode about mindless eating and decision making or decision free life style actually where I talked about how there is every day we are making about 35,000 decisions from, should I hit the snooze, how much longer can I sleep, to what should I eat, what should I wear, what should I do today, all these decisions every day and about maybe 200 decisions that we make every day really to food. So we are actually making a lot of decisions. Sometimes unconsciously, you might be doing your work and thinking, “Do I need a snack or should I pull open that drawer and get something else?” So it is actually something that we are thinking about a lot of times.

So the main focus of this episode today is where I am going to talk a little bit about snacking as some of the psychology behind snacking and then I am also going to just brighten it up a little bit and share some of the tit bit’s that I learned from reading this really great book called “Mindless Eating” by Dr. Brian Wansink. He is a researcher at Cornell University and he really digs into all of these issues in terms of why we eat, what we eat and how to make some environmental changes in life and daily habit’s to help us eat the kinds of things that we want to eat. I might as well jump in and talk a little bit about snacking and some other tips that I learned from doing some research in anticipation of recording this for you.

One of the really key things that I learned about in terms of psychology in eating and snacking is the kind of concept about, our brain really wants to achieve goals. Usually our brain, it is kind of wired to say okay, “I am starting this project. My goal is to finish this project.” Usually that is very helpful when you are getting up the kitchen or mowing the lawn. Your brain is kind of wired to want to finish something and that is normally a good thing but when we think about snacking and eating, our brain is still in that goal oriented mode and is kind of like, “We have opened this tube of Pringles and my goal is to finish eating the entire package” and of course that is not a conscious goal but our brain, when it starts something it really likes to go all the way and it seeks that completion of the project. So eating the whole tube of Pringles as the goal, so not only are we sort of battling the fact that it tastes good and we like snacking and all those things, but also when it comes to packaging and finishing a portion that is in front of us, we are actually having to also battle this goal oriented nature that our brain is used to doing.

One of the key things we can do with that is to not necessarily bring out a whole package of whatever the things, like not even talking about the raw world, I don’t have to talk about Pringles, you know those big tubs of Medjool Dates, probably not a good idea to bring the tub with you at your desk because subconsciously, unconsciously you are going to, your brain is just going to go on auto pilot and feel like it should finish the whole container and that is probably not a good idea for anyone. Even though dates are delicious but they are actually very filling too. So really the idea here of course, so instead of bringing in the whole tub you might want to think okay maybe I will put six dates in a little bowl and bring that to my desk and then your brain is still going to think, “I should finish this goal” which is to eat your six or finish your plate kind of thing, finish all the six date. So that is a really key psychological thing that you can put into practice. So avoid taking the whole container with you and try to put something in a little bowl and of course that kind of makes you more aware too because you are going to, “Oops, I hit the bottom of the bowl and run out and think. Do I want more?” If you do then go for it and get some more but I think the idea here is to put some boundaries on your eating when you think that they are wanted. So I like that idea in terms of the packaging and I think I have certainly heard that before but I haven’t thought about it through the lens of the psychology, what I sort of just explained there. So that was one thing.

Another really interesting thing that I wanted to look into as well is, you will probably like this especially if you work on the computer a lot like I do. I find when I have something challenging, it really helps me to have some sort of bite sized snack, somehow it helps me focus or I don’t know what it is, I mean a habit of having a snack at my computer. So I did a little bit of research into the, “Why do you want to have a snack?” By snack I kind of mean some little bite sized thing to help you concentrate. So there definitely is some research behind this in terms of having little bite size snacks of something. When you have a little bite sized chunk of something it actually produces, doesn’t really even matter what the things is, it could be a bowl of candies or it could be a bowl of grapes, whatever the thing is, when you take a little bite sized snack of something whatever it is, it actually releases some dopamine in your brain which basically sort of releases a feeling a pleasure in your brain and that dopamine release is also related to I believe it is like learning and concentration. It kind of makes the learning and concentration easier when you have more dopamine floating around in your brain.

So it kind of makes sense that you might want, especially when you are doing something that requires a lot of concentration that you want to have that extra set of dopamine release in your brain. So I can understand it’s okay to have a snack but the idea is well if we can have some sort of plate sized thing that is going to give you that release and it is not necessarily like sugar craving or salty craving or a fat craving, it’s not necessarily to do with what you are actually snacking on, it could be or it could be that you are hungry. There are a lot of other reasons but based strictly on this idea of, especially when you are wanting to concentrate on something, you can get some sort of bite size thing and of course I can give you a million ideas like chop a big watermelon into little bite sized pieces or raisons, cherries, grapes, frozen grapes, nuts, seeds, you know what I can go on forever about this. But basically the idea is sure give yourself a bite size more so over something but try to make it something that is healthy of course. I think that is really interesting. I think really the most interesting component about it is particularly if you are trying to concentrate and you are not even really caring so much about what the thing is that you are eating then why not choose something healthy.

Another tangent that I was reading about in terms of snacking and, it kind of goes against what I was just saying before, but there was a couple of rules that I read online and one that was the idea that you should not be snacking unless you are feeling a little bit hungry. So of course you are reaching for a snack and you are not hungry at all well then why are you doing that? It could be because you want some help with concentration or there could be a million reasons but so one right here is to stop and think if you are having a craving, well why do you want it? Is it because you are hungry or you are bored or what is the issue that.

And this is something I have talked about in the past episodes as well. I haven’t brushed up on this so let me think because I find it really helpful. There are three reasons that people will eat. I believe one is because you are hungry. Two is because you are in a habit maybe always on your coffee break at work. You always eat during that time. The third one might be because you are bored and you don’t know what to do so you are eating.

So there are three different reasons that you might be eating in a general sense in this topic that we are talking about right now kind of reminds me of that as well. I think when you are snacking it is good to think about, “Am I hungry that is why I need a snack or bored? I always snack when I am at the computer” What is the deal here. Like I said I read a tip saying that you shouldn’t snack unless you are actually hungry and I am sure if you can make that work for you, I love you and tell me how that is working for you. The other good tip as well and again this kind of goes in the phase of what we were talking about before where snacking actually helps you concentrate is if you are going to snack, try not to snack while you are just doing the work or watching TV. Don’t do it mindlessly because you could really snack a lot. So the idea there is basically if you are hungry and you need a snack, well focus on what you are eating and maybe stop your work and have a little snack and then go back to it.

Now I do love to snack at my desk so I don’t know if that is a super practical thing that you might want to put into place. I think it is a great idea but it may be hard to actually execute but it is generally an interesting concept. So that is another one. I think that is kind of some of the main things that I learned about snacking and psychology. I thought they were quite interesting but now I want to move into just a couple of other not necessarily pertaining to snacking but just general concepts that were talked about in this book called mindless eating. They are actually both related to plate, the type of plate or bowl that you are using. Again these are not necessarily game changing, life changing tips but there are some of things that you can think about and actually probably when you are listening to this, it will just be useful stuff to file away in the back of your brain to kind of be just aware of going forward.

The first one would be the size of your plate, so the general gist here is if you are serving food for yourself or your families, when you are using a big plate and you put a little dollop of something on it, it looks a little bit sad and you are like, “Oh man, let me get some more food on that plate.” The bigger your plate is, the more food you are naturally going to load on that plate for yourself or other people in your house. This is important because when you are in particularly serving yourself, on average people tend to eat 92% of what they serve themselves, kind of whether they are serving themselves little or a lot so it is quiet important in terms of the amount of the food that you set in front of yourself to eat. It is really good to know, if you have a gigantic plate in your house and that is what you have always had and what you are using then it might be an idea to get some smaller plates or to try to get into the habit of reaching for the smaller plate when you are serving something.

You know me, I am not one for to try to starve yourself or eating super low calorie diets but I am really a proponent or let’s change the environment, let’s make some things that are going to make it easier for you to achieve the goals that you want and to eat healthy, feel better, more energized and all of that good stuff. So basically plate size is really important and that of course goes for bowls and cups and all kinds of things because I do consider myself somewhat of a food photographer. I actually love to have a lot of different plates in different sizes and different kind of random mishmash of plates and things in my kitchen and I really enjoy selecting different sized plates or like having a little bunch of bowls for my meal instead of like one gigantic plate. So they can be kind of a fun thing too as long as it does not make too many dishes for you.

Another interesting one was related to color and contrast. So picture this let’s say you have a nice medium sized white plate and you are going to load that full of let’s say alfredo pasta, so of course alfredo pasta is creamy in color. So you have got white pasta on a white plate on average people are going to put way more pasta on that plate because it kind of just all blends together. It’s hard to tell what is on the plate and generally when you are putting the same color of food on a plate, you are just going to load it up way more.

This is in comparison to let’s pretend you had a red plate like a really super vibrant red plate and then you are going to slope some fettuccini alfredo on that and you are actually going to put less because you can really see like, “I can see this pasta, it looks great, it looks delicious, it’s really taking up space on the plate. That is actually due to the contrast, the color contract between the white and the red. This is not something that you really live your life by but interesting again another reminder of all these things that come to play every day when we are just trying to figure out what to serve ourselves and what to eat.

So that was really interesting too. This book called mindless eating actually read it probably, maybe two years ago, again by Dr. Brian Wansink and he is some sort of PhD in food psychology. It really is a small book it is really easy to read kind of goes over interesting detail, not too scientific about some of these studies. It is quite interesting so I hope this has been helpful to you and let me just analyze going back to my story from the beginning here about my husband and his carrot chumping even he doesn’t like carrots. I think the idea there was really that we were all have a good conversation. It was kind of when you do work on your computer or watching TV you are not necessarily thinking about it. You are just reaching for whatever is in front of you and munching away.

So this is kind of a classic example of try baby carrots instead of candy or popcorn which doesn’t sound really exciting but when you are doing it quite mindlessly and just kind of mowing down whatever is in front of you. Just give it a try in terms of something healthy instead of the delicious snack that you might otherwise reach for. I also do this with drinking water at my desk.

Somehow I have gotten into a wonderfully good habit of, somehow I had a huge cup and with a big fancy straw in it and I also put water at my desk and I never think about drinking but somehow I keep slamming that water back all day long. That is my mindless way of getting a lot of water into my body. I wasn’t really thinking about it at all. So the idea here is we are making 200 food decision every day and it is kind of a battle we have got not only will power that we are dealing with but also our in grain habit’s, psychology and all that stuff so if this is any interest to you, I definitely recommend that book or just do a little bit of Google searching with all this stuff there is really fascinating articles and studies that there are and all that stuff. So I hope that has been helpful. Thank you so much for joining me and I will talk to you next time.

You have been listening to the Raw Food Podcast, with your host The Rawtarian. Be sure to visit me at where you can browse over 100 of my absolute favorite, simple satisfying raw vegan recipes that you’ll find pretty quick to make and with just a few ingredients and that taste spectacular. While you’re there, be sure to sign up for my newsletter, and once you’ve signed up for that you’ll get a PDF copy of 11 of my most favorite, most satisfying, most delicious recipes, including raw vegan alfredo sauce, raw brownies, and a whole host of other delicious recipes you can make at home that are raw and tastes amazing. Thank you so much for joining me, and I hope to hear from you very soon. And until next time, enjoy your raw adventure.

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