5 Ways to Prevent Overeating This Weekend

Picnics, cookouts, and buffets tempt us all with endless eating. But these 5 simple strategies can gorgeproof your get-togethers.

July 2, 2009

Bottle rockets aren’t the only explosive you’ll encounter this weekend. The ginormous holiday buffet, with its intense magnetism and immense quantities of mayonnaise, has the potential to absolutely explode your diet, if you allow it. That’s why we asked Brian Wansink, PhD, the endlessly inventive Cornell University professor and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (Bantam, 2006), to make us mindful of what we can do to resist its siren call. Here are Wansink’s five practical, easy-to-implement strategies for beating the buffet—and the calorie gain that often comes with it.

#1: Employ “the Rule of Two.” That is, limit yourself to just two foods at a time. “A real danger in a party situation is that food is really convenient, and it’s really varied,” says Wansink, who shares his advice about eating in a blog on Prevention.com. “And that combo is a recipe for diet disaster.” To sidestep disaster, Wansink suggests serving yourself no more than two foods at a time, but giving yourself the option to go back for more if you like. “This is a powerfully successful strategy,” he says, “because you’re not denying yourself, which can lead to bingeing, and—and this is important—you’re not getting caught up in filling your plate.”


More: 10 Commandments of Successful Fat Loss

#2: Pick a smaller dish. Research has shown that the size of the plate absolutely changes your perception of the proper serving size: The larger the plate, the more food you tend to serve yourself. “If different-sized plates are stacked next to the buffet, always choose the salad- or dessert-sized plate—or even the children’s plate,” says Wansink. “You’ll serve yourself smaller portions without even realizing it.”

#3: Count your Cokes. During extended cookouts or picnics, people tend to drink more calories than they think they do, says Wansink. An easy way to keep track, he says, is to reach for another cup every time you get a refill, and stack that new cup inside the one you already have. “This is a great self-governing strategy,” says Wansink, “because most people think they’ll look pretty silly if they walk around a party nursing a stack of six or seven cups.” Sipping out of bottles or cans? Simply stash the bottle caps or pop tabs in your pocket to keep track of how much you’ve imbibed.

#4: Reach for the tall glass. Just as plate size influences portion perception, the shape of a glass can influence visual perceptions of volume—must-know info when you’re trying to limit alcohol calories. In fact, in a study published in the British Medical Journal, Wansink found that although people believe they pour more alcohol into tall, slender glasses, even professional bartenders tend to pour 20 to 30 percent more alcohol into short, wide glasses than into tall, slender ones. So when given a choice, always choose the tall, slender glass for a, well, slenderer drink.


More: 7 Simple Ways to Eat Less & Feel More Satisfied

#5: Skip the coleslaw. Sure it’s traditional—but do you really like it? “Most people, when asked—and believe me, I’ve asked—say they think coleslaw is just okay,” says Wansink. “So my question is this: Do you really want to eat all that mayonnaise and the fat that comes with it for something that’s just okay?” If your answer is nah, skip the slaw, and the macaroni or potato salad too. “Save room for something else,” he says, “because chances are, all those dishes have a lot more mayonnaise than you could ever imagine.”