We all know the basics of losing weight—eat less and move more.
But are there some tricks to setting the table that can help us do that?
Turns out there are.
Holly Dykstra, a registered dietitian with Spectrum Health, shared tips for setting the table that remind us to be more intentional about what and how we eat.
“It’s just really important to pay attention to what we’re eating,” she said. “Especially in our culture where we tend to multitask while we eat, therefore making food the secondary event.”
1. Sit down at the table
It sounds basic, but Dykstra’s first tip is to sit down at the table to eat. If you eat in the car, standing at the kitchen counter or sitting in front of the television, you’re less likely to practice what’s called “mindful eating.”
“If we eat when we’re distracted, it can lead to overeating because our attention is elsewhere, so we pay less attention to how much we eat and how full we feel,” she said. “We’re much more likely to eat past the point of where we’re satisfied. If we sit down at the table, it makes us more likely to make the act of eating the primary event.”
2. Clear the clutter
Reducing the clutter on the table or around where you eat can help you eat less. Dykstra said research shows that sitting down to a cluttered table can increase anxiety and distraction, which can lead to overeating.
So clear off the piles of mail, put the toys away and make room for the main ingredient—healthy food.
3. Chew slowly
It’s a proven fact that during eating it takes 20 minutes for our brains to realize our stomachs are full, Dykstra said.
You can reduce your caloric intake by taking smaller bites, savoring the flavor as you chew, and finishing chewing one bite before you put another in your mouth.
“Small changes can make a big impact on how much we eat, and how we think of food,” she said.
One fun exercise to help do this is to try eating with your non-dominant hand, which may help you get used to eating more slowly.
4. Use smaller dinner plates
Over the past 30 years, the size of dinner plates in America has grown from 9 inches in diameter to 12, or even 13, Dykstra said. It’s all part of the trend of rising portion sizes, which can lead to weight gain.
“Dinner plates have grown because we tend to expect larger portions now, even though that’s not appropriate for what our bodies need,” she said.
So she suggested pulling out your grandmother’s antique china, which is likely smaller, or using luncheon or salad size plates to help reduce your portion size.
5. Section your plate
When you serve your food, mentally divide your plate into sections and fill half with fruits and vegetables, one quarter with lean protein and one quarter with whole grains, Dykstra said.
The United States Department of Agriculture created MyPlate, a guide to help people eat well balanced, nutritious meals. The visual helps people remember this idea of sectioning your plate.
Dykstra said you can even shop for plates that are divided into half and two quarters to help with this process.
“I think they can be useful, because they help us see what more appropriate portion sizes look like on a plate. We have a lot of portion distortion in this country, often eating too much of some foods and not enough of other healthy foods,” she said.
6. Color matters
Colors are linked to our emotions, and often times, so are our appetites, Dykstra explained. That’s why color can suppress or stimulate our appetites.
Brown, blue, gray and dark purple tend to be more calming.
“When we’re more calm, we may slow down our eating and then we may eat less,” Dykstra said.
Red, orange and yellow excite us more, even raising our blood pressure slightly, and therefore can stimulate our appetites.
This can apply to both the color of the food, as well as the place setting.
“If you have a brown wooden table and you put a dark gray or blue plate on it, it could make you feel calmer and possibly help to reduce your appetite,” Dykstra said.
7. Drink water
Set the table with glasses of water, and drink a glass before you eat, because staying hydrated may also help us eat less, Dykstra said.
“Sometimes when we’re thirsty, we may confuse that for being hungry,” she said. “So we may reach for something salty to eat rather than a drink of water.”
Being well hydrated can also help us live better, she added.
“When we’re hydrated we tend to make better choices,” she said. “Our bodies are largely comprised of water, so we need it for a lot of functions in our body. Our brain functions better when we’re hydrated, our metabolism works faster. And it can add volume to our stomach which may help us eat less.”
Dykstra said her tips are small changes, but they can add up to eating more mindfully, and therefore more healthfully.
So set the table and pull up a chair to a healthier future.