Photo: Margo Silver
After a healthy breakfast—Cheerios with 2 percent milk and a banana—Denise's eating habits go rapidly downhill. Vivacious and sunny, she bounces around her apartment as she details her food routine, telling the team that she knows she's overweight. Every day Denise drinks a gallon of Turkey Hill green tea. At 70 calories per serving, that's a lot of calories—1,120, to be precise. Like Jo, Denise doesn't cook. McDonald's, Subway, and Chinese takeout are regular stops on her way home from work at a Washington, D.C., brokerage firm where she works in customer relations, or from the Children's National Medical Center where she volunteers. "I adore Red Lobster. I get the Ultimate Feast, and everything is fried," she admits—the scallops, crab legs, lobster tail. "I have a baked potato with sour cream, butter, and chives. And I'll eat half a basket of biscuits. I also love Outback Steakhouse." Wansink asks if she likes their Bloomin' Onion—a massive fried onion cut like a flower—and Denise squeals, "That's my favorite appetizer!" He tells her it's 2,310 calories.
As the team anxiously starts to calculate Denise's caloric intake (oh, and about once a week she'll finish off an entire pint of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey), she proudly brings out a box of frozen Eating Right Shrimp Linguine. Reading that it's 320 calories, Wansink perks up. Denise did lose 25 pounds on Weight Watchers last year, and half the time she heats up ultra-low-cal meals or a can of Progresso soup for dinner. Wansink asks about exercise. Fairly limited. Yet Denise is filled with positive energy. She has a great relationship with her sons, both in their 20s. She quit smoking almost a decade ago, and she's been clean and sober for 18 years.
Wansink's advice: He starts with the easiest fix: her Turkey Hill green tea. Assuring her that she shouldn't feel bad for being unaware of how much sugar she's been consuming, he says, "People almost always estimate 60 percent fewer calories than a drink actually has." He suggests she cut down to no more than two caloric bottled drinks per day—such as her green tea or a sports mix; better yet, switch to water. Recommendation number two is what he calls a "food trade-off." Rather than telling Denise "never" to eat pizza or an Outback Bloomin' Onion again—it's too discouraging and easy to fail—he suggests that she'll be more successful making bargains with herself. If she wants takeout, she walks home from work (Wansink and Haven give her a pedometer and encourage her to aim for 10,000 steps a day). At a restaurant, she can order her favorite entrée, but should skip the bread and appetizer and finish only half the dessert. "That means she has the power to eat what she really wants," Wansink explains. His third trick: Stash all snacks at the office in a colleague's desk. The 6 feet of separation that applied to Diana and her chocolate (remember, people ate 50 percent less) is true for Denise as well.
Two weeks later: Denise is a star pupil. She hasn't had a sip of her beloved green tea since we left the apartment; she's switched to water. The Eating Right dinners and Progresso soup have increased, and she never replaced the snacks at the office. She's also vowed to begin walking after work for 30 minutes a few times a week. "I am more conscious now," Denise says. "If there are three cupcakes, I will eat one instead of the whole pack, and I haven't deprived myself." Even her last trip to Red Lobster was modified. She still ordered the Ultimate Feast but skipped the artichoke dip appetizer and the basket of biscuits.
We Hear You!