Who doesn’t like to play with their food? It’s something your mother probably told you not to do, but now that you’re an adult, give it a try. Especially since it can help you eat healthy.
That’s the message preached by Bill Wurtzel, a jazz guitarist turned healthy food guru, in his book Funny Food: 365 Fun, Healthy, Silly, Creative Breakfasts. The book features Picasso-inspired plates of edible faces and other fanciful concoctions complete with strawberry ears and parsley hair, pear guitars and carrot airplanes. A plate of cottage cheese never looked so appealing. His book is aimed at teaching kids to eat nutritiously, but he started out by entertaining his wife and co-writer, Claire, with creative eats when they first dated 50 years ago.
Funny Food made me think of other ways we can help ourselves eat healthy — and eat less. The biggest problem most people have when trying to lose weight is that our portion sizes are usually way too large. By the time our brain finally catches up and says “Enough!” we’ve already gobbled up many extra calories. So here are some other ways to control your portions and have fun with your food:
Stick to Chopsticks. My friend Tracey told me her father lost lots of weight by eating only with chopsticks. Now there’s an idea. I know I eat slower and get a lot less in my mouth when I use them. So unless you are particularly skillful with the pieces of wood, your meals are likely to get a lot smaller.
Switch hands. Another way to snack less is just as simple: use your non-dominant hand. A study at the University of Southern California found that people who snacked using their non-dominant hands ate 30% less than those who didn’t. Switching sides seemed to disrupt the unconscious hand-to-mouth pattern, making people slow down and consume less than usual.
Focus. Turn the television off. Put the book or magazine away. If you aren’t distracted while you eat, you can savor each bite, concentrating on what you are consuming, and maybe stopping when you are full — not just when you’re finished. Take each meal or snack as an opportunity to describe your food – the textures, flavors and smells.
Downgrade your dishes. Then there are studies that show people eat less when they eat from smaller plates. A serving of pasta will look a lot larger when crammed onto a small plate; thus our brains think we’re getting a full meal and we end up eating less and still feeling full. On that note, using a smaller fork instead of a large dinner fork could be helpful, too.
Go Dark. Try serving food on dark blue or black plates. Dark colors apparently make us feel full faster. Red and yellow seem to stimulate our desire to eat and white plates decrease our awareness of how much we’re eating. So the best bet is to eat on a small, black plate!
Take it all off. My favorite trick of all to eat fewer calories comes from swimsuit model Marisa Miller in Women’s Health magazine: Eat naked! “Eating smart is all about having an awareness of your body,” she says. “The most obvious way to do that is by seeing it. So when you’re trying to lose weight, spend more time wearing less. I don’t think you could eat a plate of nachos naked – could you?”
Photographic motivation. I’ve also heard of people who post a photo taken of themselves looking their fittest – perhaps in a bikini back in the day – on the fridge, where they’ll see it every time they get something to eat. That sounds like pure motivation to put down the Ben & Jerry’s.
What tricks work for you to keep the pounds off, or to eat slower so that your brain realizes when you’re full?