One-Bite-at-a-Time Diet Makeovers
The night starts at 9 p.m. We stand on the red carpet at the trendy Bowery Hotel near Manhattan's East Village, where Bravo and the CW Network are hosting a party to showcase their new season's shows. Thin and deeply tan from a recent vacation, Jo is wearing a black satin miniskirt, a skintight blouse, and white patent leather heels. For the next hour and a half, she interviews a series of television actors outside the hotel. She has eaten nothing since 2 p.m., when she had a baked potato with cheese, sour cream, and bacon bits. Women are moving from foot to foot to relieve the tension on their heels.
When we finally get inside, every corner is filled with celebrities from popular shows including Gossip Girl and The Real Housewives of New York City. But there's hardly any food. A waiter offers us cucumber slices topped with a tab of Tuscan bean, a tiny mushroom cap, a kiss of goat cheese, and a chive or two, each less than the size of a thumbnail. Jo grabs an asparagus wrapped in prosciutto off another hors d'oeuvre tray. "I like it for the prosciutto," she says, reminding me that she hates vegetables. Over the next hour, she has two glasses of red wine, a couple of cigarettes, and two more appetizers. "What will I eat when I get home?" she wonders aloud. "Feta cheese? That's all I have in the fridge. You know, I often forget to eat."
Back at Jo's West Village apartment, Wansink and Haven open her refrigerator and find—Jo was right—a lone package of Feta, along with one Greek yogurt and a child-size serving of applesauce. Wansink snaps a picture on his iPhone. The kitchen is so bare it looks like the place is for rent. Jo admits she never eats at home, except for her daily breakfast of yogurt and honey. She also says she tends to order steak and skip the veggies when she goes out; she's a meat and cheese kind of gal, and she'll eat bread only if it's served with olive oil. (Wansink tells her that, although olive oil is healthy, people take in more calories from it than butter when it's on the table.) She adds that many days she'll go from 2 p.m. until 11 p.m. without a bite to eat; only then will she snag a few appetizers at an event or, if she's "really cranky," a slice of pizza for dinner on her way home. Jo is worried that her eating habits might have something to do with her energy level, which she admits is low for a 27-year-old.
Wansink's advice: Jo's irregular eating is the first thing Wansink addresses; she needs a steadier supply of healthy calories to keep up her stamina. And he wants those calories to be mostly from fresh produce. He encourages Jo to buy a tray of precut vegetables, suggesting the platters most supermarkets sell. "It can have dip or salsa in the middle. I know you love your sauces. Just pop open that container and eat some dip by using vegetables. Also stock your fridge with precut cheese cubes." Why does Wansink think Jo will change her anti-vegetable ways? Because his research found that people who store precut vegetables on the middle shelf of the refrigerator eat 230 percent more than those who leave the produce in the crisper. Similarly, he wants Jo to keep other nutritious snacks—mixed nuts, whole wheat crackers—visible, and eat a little something before going out. He also suggests repacking the vegetable platter and taking it to work. Finally, Wansink wants Jo to trick herself into reducing alcohol. "In my studies, we found that bartenders pour 28 percent less into tall, skinny glasses than short ones. And diners pour 14 percent less into white wine glasses than red wine glasses because they're taller, so they appear to contain more wine." Therefore, he advises Jo to "always choose the tallest, skinniest glass, and white, rather than red, wine."
Two weeks later: Jo reports she has found it easy to follow the glassware instructions when she could choose. "But the thing that worked best was buying a plate of cubed cheeses and vegetables and snacking on them when I come home to change clothes—or putting them in Tupperware and bringing them to work," she says. "Now I'm eating celery, carrots, cauliflower, and Jack cheese." Acknowledging that she feels better and more energetic during the day, she finds herself less likely to grab an unhealthy pick-me-up when the party ends.