Okay. I’m not saying that the following are actually sins.
I’m also not suggesting that a buffet is a preferred venue for eating out, as it is very difficult to adhere to the principles of portion control in that setting. Nor am I recommending Chinese food as the fifth food group – most of the protein is swathed in a layer of fat, and Free Veg is a figment of another world far, far away….
However: A recent study by B Wansink and CR Payne, published in the journal Obesity, identified some important eating patterns amongst overweight people attending a Chinese food buffet. Here is a summary of their findings – and some suggestions for what can be done to improve upon these behaviors!
1. People with a higher BMI were more likely to choose a large plate than a small plate.
Studies have clearly demonstrated that the larger the plate provided, the greater the amount of food that is served up on that plate. This, in turn, results directly in a greater number of calories consumed, as compared to the same person eating from a smaller plate. Plate sizes have grown over the last few decades – in remarkable parallel to the growth of obesity.
This phenomenon stems from the simple fact that it is asthetically displeasing to have a half full plate! The solution is simple: be sure to use a smaller set of dishware. Also, make a conscious decision to choose a smaller plate whenever you are out and you have the option.
2. Thinner people browsed the buffet before loading up, whereas heavier people dished up before checking out what was available.
Taking an assessment of what is available before you make your food choices allows you to:
a. Budget your calories towards the food that you’d most like to eat (rather than choosing and eating something mediocre, and finding out after that that must-have favorite food is on the next buffet stand that you didn’t make it to the first time around); and
b. Find the healthiest options on the buffet.
3. Heavier people sat facing the buffet head on; lighter people were more likely to sit in a spot without direct view of the food.
Out of sight, out of mind! Having food in your direct line of sight makes it hard to forget that there is unlimited food right at your fingertips. The truth of the matter is, that in our society, there is always unlimited food at our finger tips – the key is to do what you can to make it less accessible and less in the forefront of your mind.
It is okay to go to a buffet for the purpose of having a great selection from which to choose – but the usual principle of one serving only still applies. This is much easier to effect if you choose a seat that doesn’t tempt with the view. The same is true for how you place food around the house – put a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter, and put the cookies in the cupboard (far, far to the back….)!
4. Chopsticks were more often used by normal weight.
Now here is something that the Chinese food restaurant does right! Chopsticks are an excellent form of portion control, as you can generally take less food with sticks than you can pierce with a fork. It therefore takes a longer time to consume food with chopsticks – as such, by the time your satiety hormones kick in to tell you that you’re full (about 15 mins into a meal), you have consumed less calories than if you had been eating with standard utensils.
If you are able to eat with chopsticks, it isn’t a bad idea to use them routinely. And although many of us have not grown up using them, there is no time like the present to learn!
5. Thin people were more likely to place a napkin in their laps than heavier people.
This likely comes down to the amount of time that is spent preparing for and enjoying a meal, and to whether or not a person plans to stand up and head back to the buffet for seconds.
6. Thinner people chewed more times per mouthful.
Chewing more per mouthful enables us to take the time to enjoy the taste and sensation of food, thereby providing more satisfaction per mouthful and decreasing the number of mouthfuls needed to feel that a good meal has been consumed. In addition, slower eating results in less calories being consumed before those satiety hormones start to act (15 minutes).
7. Thinner people left more on their plate than heavier people.
Which is the chicken and which is the egg? It is possible that the thinner people left more food on their plate because their satiety signals are better able to tell them they are full? Or are they thinner because they make a conscious decision to stop eating sooner than the overweight person? Do overweight people have better ingrained manners to clean their plates? Is this a contributor to becoming overweight in the first place?
Though it represents a change in tradition, it needs to be okay not to finish what is on our plates. Instead of teaching our children to finish everything, the focus should be on teaching them to take smaller portions, to eat slowly and to enjoy their food. If sometimes our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, an unfinished plate sometimes just has to be.