Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life is one of the most fascinating books I’ve read this year. Written by a high profile academic and public policy figure, the book is a highly readable account of the author’s decades of research into the behaviors, characteristics, and habits that make people slim or fat over time. His thesis is that rather than hundreds of rules or laws, the best way to be (or become) slimmer is to make simple changes in our homes, our stores, our workplaces, and our schools.
The book is funny and a quick read, but it’s packed with ideas and findings. For example:
- People eat less (and are still satisfied) when served from the stove or counter onto smaller plates with a smaller serving spoon.
- If you keep a box of breakfast cereal on your kitchen counter, you are statistically likely to weigh 21 pounds more than people who don’t keep cereal out on display.
- However, if you keep fruit on the counter in a bowl, you are statistically apt to weigh 7 pounds less than average people.
- Slim kitchens tend not to have toasters on the counter.
Wansink emphasizes that everyone thinks “Aha, now that I know that, I can keep my cereal on my counter and not get fat” but apparently the research does not bear this out. Just knowing the good you ought to do doesn’t help you to do it when you walk into your kitchen starving at 5:30pm.
I found the section on making your home slim by design especially helpful and practical. I was surprised to see how many of the prescriptions we already do–not out of a desire to be thin, but just because that’s how we do things. Our usual dinner plates are 9 inches wide (we do have one set that measures 10.25 inches, but don’t use them as often–and certainly nothing like the apparently average size of 12-14 inches wide!!!), we serve meals from the counter or stove not the table, and my abhorrence for clutter means cereal is never, ever on the counter (actually I rarely buy it at all). Our toaster is kept in a cabinet and only brought out when needed, we keep a bowl of fruit on the counter, the only other food visible is the set of large glass canisters holding dry oatmeal and rice.
A few of Wansink’s ideas will appeal to moderators–you don’t have to get rid of the less healthy food, just don’t keep it in the line of sight–but still won’t work for abstainers like me. When I keep the chocolate up high, in the cabinet over the refrigerator, I still know where it is and eat it. 🙂 So as an abstainer, I just don’t keep that stuff in the house at all. You can tailor the suggestions to fit either personality type.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to get our family out of a few bad eating habits that had crept in (mostly involving readily accessible sandwich bread, more on that in another book review) because life was busy. Wansink’s book was helpful in giving me a few ideas for further tweaks to our kitchen (like wrapping less healthy leftovers in foil, using smaller serving spoons, serving food out of smaller bowls, allowing seconds or thirds as long as a plate of salad is eaten in between, etc). It was also very encouraging, in that Wansink points out ways to make small, incremental changes that can really make a difference over time.
I’d highly recommend this book, whether you spend a lot of time at home or not. The sections on workplace, restaurant, grocery store, and school strategies were equally strong, and would be very helpful to people in a wide variety of lifestyles.
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