Yes, self-control is possible, even at buffets!
Not everyone views the idea of "all you can eat" as an invitation to, well, eat all you can. According to Brian Wansink, Ph.D., director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, some people actually manage to restrain themselves when faced with a schmorgasbord of food choices and unrestricted portion sizes.
In his research, Wansink deployed a team of research assistants to surreptitiously observe the strategies people use to navigate all-you-can-eat buffets. He found that slimmer diners (those with lower BMIs) do seem to have different salad bar habits than heavier ones (those with higher BMIs).
Based on his findings, Wansink says it's possible to survive an all-you-can-eat experience without having to unbutton your pants or loosen your belt several notches. Here, he offers six strategies for watching your calorie budget at the buffet.
Survey before serving. Wansink's research discovered that heavier people have a tendency to start at the beginning of the buffet and move from dish to dish until they reach the end of the buffet. Skinny people, on the other hand, take a lap around the table, scout out their favorites and decide what they can pass up without feeling deprived. So before you put so much as a crouton on your plate, Wansink advises mapping out your plan of attack.
Think small. Skinnier buffet goers are eight times more likely to select a smaller plate than their heavier counterparts, according to Wansink's findings. "When you're hungrier, you go for the largest plate you can get your hands on," he notes.
If you're trying to limit the damage, take a smaller plate and fill 'er up. Not only will you take less per serving, you'll probably take fewer helpings. Wansink has found that those who chose a plate with more real estate made 30 percent more return excursions to the buffet bar.
Cultivate buffet blindness. One of the biggest predictors of how many trips you'll make for additional helpings is where you sit. In Wansink's studies, diners with a clear view of the munchies averaged 2.7 trips to the bar to refill their plates versus just 2.3 trips for diners who turned their back on them.
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Wansink suspects there could be a "me too" mentality driving the extra portions. "You see everyone up at the table and you think, 'Hey, I want to be there too,' " he said. "It appears more normal to go back again and again, so that's what you do."
Of course, continual eye contact with the deviled eggs and the macaroni salad probably don't do your willpower any favors either, so it's best to face away from the food and focus on what's already on your plate.
Choose chopsticks. Slimmer diners were seven times more likely to opt for chopsticks rather than a fork when they were available, according to Wansink's research. Why? He speculates that using chopsticks slows things down and turns eating into more of a dining experience.
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"A person who wants to eat quickly and eat a lot will probably want to eat with a fork, but a person who wants to savor every bite will be happy to use chopsticks," he says.
Start light. One of the best tricks for eating less when the theme is all you can eat? Keep your initial foray vegetarian.
"Make sure your first plate is filled with salad and vegetables," Wansink recommends. "In your mind, that will count as a trip and you'll be just as satisfied."
However, resist drowning your veggies in heavy sauces and creamy dressings. Obviously, that defeats the purpose of watching your calories. Same goes for sodas and super-rich desserts, which are often part of buffets.
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Do a few. You don't have to embrace all of these strategies at once, Wansink points out.
"Just adopt one or two at a time," he says. "Little changes can make a big difference in how much you eat."
- by Liz Neporent